A Valentine’s Day love affair with chocolate at Carbondale’s new Pollinator shop

Mark Burrows, the owner of Pollinator Chocolate weighs cocoa butter he made to add to a batch of chocolate.
Cassandra Ballard/ Post Independent

It’s a love story about the birds and bees, but not in the way you’d think.

Mark Burrows, the owner of Pollinator Chocolate in Carbondale, has a love affair with chocolate and pollinators, marrying the two into Pollinator Chocolate. The store/cafe opened in late January after months of preparation in the Red Rock Plaza on Colorado Highway 133. 

“They are both really fun, and they are both very complicated,” Burrows said. “You have to be straightforward with each one of them. There’s no tricks”

The longtime hobby beekeeper has one thing he loves equally to a perfectly made chocolate bar, and that is pollinators, mostly the bees.

“Honeybees to me, are the bellwether species, where if honey bees are doing poorly because of climate change or insecticides or pesticides or herbicides or fungicides, the other 20,000 species we’re not paying attention to are doing worse,” Burrows said. 

Although he loves honeybees, too, he’s not worried about their future.

Pollen that Burrows uses to sprinkle on select chocolate bars.
Cassandra Ballard/ Post Independent

“Honeybees are insanely resilient,” Burrows said. “They bounce back so fast. They’re fine. They’re not going anywhere.”

In his pursuit of delicious chocolate, he decided to take it into his own hands and make his idea of the perfect chocolate while also making people more aware of the different pollinators that keep world populations fed.

“Chocolate is very specific about how it has to be treated,” Burrows said. “It’s called the princess tree in a lot of places because it’s very specific about how it grows. It needs a lot of water and well-drained soil.”

Burrows is just as specific with his methods and appreciation of working with the beans.

The beans are ground meticulously to a perfect cocoa butter with a machine he imported from India for the ideal texture. 

He then stores the butter in a honey vat before mixing the cocoa to his ideal texture.

Creating chocolate at Pollinator Chocolate in Carbondale.
Cassandra Ballard/ Post Independent

“Chocolate has a natural structure of six different crystal properties at any one time,” Burrows said. “So what we’re looking for is crystal structure number five, and that’s a beautiful temper chocolate that doesn’t melt in your hand easily. And snap, it’s got to snap.”

He said he likes to have a gradient of five, which is incredibly smooth in comparison to something like Mexican chocolate which is known for being more coarse.

The only ingredients he uses are cocoa and sugar, everything else is sprinkled on top when he sets the chocolate in the sleeve to be shaped into a bar.

“I sprinkle it on after shaking out the bubbles,” he said.

This way he can add flavor, but it’s more of a complimenting factor so as not to deter from the main treat, the chocolate itself. It is also easier to add than to remove ingredients in the mixing process.

Some of the most popular bars are the ones that he sprinkles pollin and or crystalized honey onto as a nod to some of his favorite flying buddies.

He features chocolate from the different countries he receives the cocoa from, like Bolivia, Tanzania and Ghana. Each country he sources his beans from produces different flavors and notes. 

The beans are bought from private brokers to avoid the humanitarian struggles that are commonly found in the chocolate trade, like slavery. His thoughtful purchasing extends to the coffee he buys, too.

“I buy from brokers who specialize in working directly with farmers to make sure there’s no slave labor,” he said.

The truffle case at Pollinator Chocolate in Carbondale.
Cassandra Ballard/Post Independent

The truffles that are also made in-house are hand painted with bright colors, popping out to people right as they walk in the door. Each truffle is hand painted and created with care by Pollinator’s chocolatier, Jewel Lerato.

“I have full creative freedom,” Lerato said of a perk she enjoys about the job.

Don’t let the beauty of the truffles fool you, though. They look too good to eat, but the flavor matches the beauty. You can have your truffle, but you should prefer to eat it, if you can’t have both.

Lerato blends flavors that would not always be expected, like mango, lemongrass and coconut, creating a flavor that almost feels heavenly. 

“They all just melt together,” Lerato said about creating the new mango truffles. “I was excited.”

She said she gets inspired by recipes she finds, and extrapolates on things she sees, she said.

Eventually, Burrows plans to have a tasting bar for chocolate that will pair chocolate and desserts with wine and cocktails. He already has the coffee machine and menu running, but most know that all coffee pairs well with chocolate. 

The wine and charcuterie bar are slated to be ready for launch by May 5, according to his manager and the person writing the menu, Crystal Colantino. Burrows considers Colantino his right hand and the person who keeps him grounded.

“She fires me at least once a day,” Burrows said jokingly.

Chocolate bars at Pollinator Chocolate in Carbondale.
Cassandra Ballard/ Post Independent

Colantino is hoping to get the grand opening and the menu launch complete by May, because that is when her baby is due. The two joked that then her baby would be happily raised in the shop.

Burrows hopes to make the location a place where people in the community can hang out and enjoy a nice atmosphere, whether it’s to enjoy some chocolate with coffee or to come after dinner for dessert and wine. 

He wants people to have their celebrations there, or to get a tarot card reading. He said the one thing he won’t do is have a shot-ski kind of bar. He’s not there for people to get drunk, he’s there for people to enjoy every sip and bite as a full experience.

That attentive attitude in every aspect of the company continues in his drive to bring the community together. Every idea he has is another way to bring in and make the space a community space.

“Community is very important to me, and I’m looking for partnerships with other community minded people like the mountain biking community,” Burrows said. “I want to invite the community in and give people the opportunity to relax and get a cocktail or coffee.”

Post Independent reporter Cassandra Ballard can be reached at or 970-384-9131.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.