We’re suited up with white smocks and hairnets for the chocolate factory tour. Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker” is blasting out of the stereo in the industrial warehouse space as the staff go about their work. The employees of Kiva Confections are laying out chocolate bars to cool, mixing espresso beans with chocolate in a huge drum and labeling packaging with extreme precision. Today’s flavor is mint Irish cream. To the naked eye, it appears to be a pretty standard set-up for an industrial food provider in California. In fact, the average onlooker might not even guess that these elegant candy bars are actually filled with potent medicine.
Our tour starts with batches of cannabis extract, a singular component in all of Kiva’s products that makes the chocolatier’s production quality particularly amazing. Kiva founder Scott Palmer explains, “when we get the raw product – meaning the cannabis – in, it’s not standardized so we’re still not at the level where we can rely on a manufacturer to produce 100 percent [consistent] THC levels. So, every time we get a new batch of extracts in, we have to send that out to the lab, do potency analysis and then adjust our formula to compensate for any fluctuations on the potency of the raw extract.”
Sourced from the outdoor, organic trim of Northern California growers, Kiva bars begin as cold-water extract and end as a 50/50, indica/sativa blend in 60- and 180-milligram offerings. The tests Kiva conducts ensure cannabis users, particularly those who rely on Kiva bars to soothe the symptoms of serious illnesses, receive a consistent, reliable dose. Kiva bars are available at dispensaries throughout California, but the type of testing the business conducts is not mandated or checked under the state’s current medicinal cannabis law. Still, Palmer and co-founder Kristi Knoblich feel consumers recognize the quality of their creations.
“The local growers in California are very cognizant of what’s going into the marijuana when they grow it,” Palmer says of Kiva’s base ingredient. “Each batch of chocolate is lab tested. It’s just more of a food safety thing than anything else. We want to make sure it’s completely safe, especially considering that patients with compromised immune systems are using the product.”
As part of the day’s tour, we’re introduced to Jason, the man in charge of running the retrofitted 1950s machine called a pan that creates one of Kiva’s newest products, Terra Bites. The Terra Bites are espresso coated in chocolate and start with roughly 10 pounds of beans slowly dripped with hot liquid chocolate — turned into 350 pounds of product after the better part of a day. Each bite, given slight fluctuations in terms of the size of the bean, contains a 5 milligram dose of THC.
“Educating patients on the correct dose level is huge for us, because we want them to have a good experience,” he says. “Budtenders can be our best advocates and our best resource for education as well. Because when you walk up, if you’ve never done edibles before or if you’re new to cannabis or even if you’re not, if they have the right information – they’re going to be the first ones to tell you about it.”
“It’s as much art as it is science,” Palmer says of the process that goes into creating the bite-sized edibles. “We’re seeing a lot of people come over from smoking and other forms of cannabis use into the edibles space. I think having products like [Terra Bites], that you feel like you can trust, is having an impact.”
A self-confessed edibles lightweight, founder Palmer says of the main concerns he has is having someone “overdose, and have a terrible time and not want to ever come back to either Kiva or even marijuana in general.”
The chocolate bars come in several flavors and are labeled with dosing suggestions, something that began after a collective that Kiva was working with requested more information for their patients.
“Our mission statement is just to make it as easy as possible so the people don’t over or under do it,” Knoblich says.
All of Kiva’s offerings taste amazing in the almost complete absence of the herbaceous marijuana taste, but the company also understands that their chocolates will receive their first judgment in terms of their packaging.
“When you’re going to try an edible, the packaging sets the tone for the experience you’re going to have,” Palmer says.
As demonstrated, on the day of our visit several employees are putting the final touches on bars set to go out for delivery.
“The label is placed at the exact same mark on each leaf on each box,” Kristi says of an attention to detail that helps consumers trust that other aspects of the product — such as the milligram dosing — is also correct.
This detail-oriented work ethic has paid off for the company, now in its fourth year. With offices in Los Angeles and San Diego to sustain a statewide delivery system, Kiva will soon expand into Arizona. In the continually emerging and evolving industry of edibles, there are bound to be some challenges ahead.
“That’s what I enjoy the most about the cannabis industry,” Palmer says. “None of this has been done before, anything you do is going to be completely new territory.”
Published in issue 15 of Cannabis Now Magazine.
What are some of your favorite edibles? Tell us in the comments.