What’s better than a luxurious chocolate bar? A CBD chocolate bar. Enter Flor de María, the brainchild of Venezuelan-born and Brooklyn-based William Zitser. With a background in film and advertising, Zitser has been transitioning into the cannabis world with his luxury chocolate edibles company.
Currently, there’s no other CBD edibles that use the kind of high quality chocolate that’s in Flor de María. In fact, William imports some of it personally, like the incredible cacao from Usulután in El Salvador.
William explains, “I want to use Flor de María as a tool to elevate people’s consciousness through the edibles experience. Education about the source of the ingredients is a big part of this. I’ve been using cacao exclusively from Latin American producers I’ve come to know personally. Flor de Maria celebrates their traditions of excellence in every aspect of life.”
WHAT MAKES YOUR CBD CHOCOLATE BARS SPECIAL?
I grew up with the perception that Venezuelan cacao was the best in the world and that was the end of the story. So I love finding amazing cacao outside of Venezuela. I’m so excited to be able to share all my favorite Latin American cacaos in our Limited Edition bars. Our current Limited Edition is a 75% Dark Chocolate cacao from Usulután in El Salvador. They’ve made a superb chocolate by going back to the roots of the craft in their region. I can’t stop talking about its aroma!
Our main line is made with Carenero Superior chocolate from the east of Caracas, the one I grew up eating. I love our plain Dark Chocolate 70% bar, but my favorite flavor is the Ghost Pepper Caramel bar. It’s not too spicy, unless you eat a lot of it, and it pairs fantastically well with bourbon. Although I’m not a fan of the citrus chocolate lots of people are loving, our Sweetgrass bar pairs really well with a smoky Mezcal.
WHERE DO YOU SOURCE YOUR CBD FROM?
My CBD is from Tricolla Farms, a beautiful family-owned farm up in the Berkshires. I was looking to source my CBD locally, and there are some amazing organic, sustainable options in New York. I heard Brittany Carbone talking about Tricolla Farm and Tonic CBD at a Cannabis Panel and I knew I’d found my CBD. They are just amazing, harvesting whole plants, hang-drying and de-stemming by hand—really taking great care throughout the whole process. We share the same values of quality over quantity (or in their words, “grow less, yield more”), obsessing about efficiency in every stage of the process without sacrificing their craft to make the highest quality product they can. I feel so lucky that they’ve welcomed Flor de María into their family. They also recently opened Bardo Labs. I can’t wait until we can start playing with terpenes and other things I’m excited to try, like extracting CBD directly into cacao butter.
ANY PLANS FOR NEW CBD CHOCOLATE FLAVORS?
Yes, new flavors and products are coming hopefully soon, but I don’t think of Flor de María as only a CBD chocolate bar company. When I say “elevate people’s consciousness through edibles experiences,” I mean precisely that. I’m not only working in new flavors and products, I’m also working on a full edibles experiences. Before the quarantine started, I was planning a five-course cannabis-infused dessert menu. As soon as we’re allowed to socialize, we’ll be going back to experiences that go beyond delicious chocolate and edibles.
CHOCOLATE AND CBD? GIVE US A QUICK 101
How nerdy do we want to get? There are many things to consider, but let’s start with bioavailability, the portion of the substance that reaches the bloodstream. When we think about edibles (capsules or food), we are delivering CBD through the digestive system, which usually represents an absorption into the bloodstream of between 6% and 12%. The big issue with this method of consumption is that the enzymes in the liver reduce the concentration of the CBD compounds before passing on what remains into the bloodstream.
But CBD is fat-soluble (it breaks down in fat, not water), so consuming it with fat helps the body process it more effectively. Chocolate is an oil, so it’s a fantastic carrier. Your body burns these fats and puts them—and the cannabinoids they hold—to immediate use. And this is on top of the mood-enhancing effects of chocolate! I love that chocolate contains N-acylethanolamines, a fatty acid analogue of a cannabinoid that our bodies create naturally, called anandamide—the ‘Bliss Molecule’.
Typically we say that the onset of the effect starts between 30 and 90 minutes after you eat our CBD chocolate bars and lasts up to 7 hours. Personally, half a bar makes me really mellow, it gives me the perfect chill. But just like with any substance, tolerance varies from user to user.
WHERE DID THE NAME OF YOUR CHOCOLATE EDIBLES COMPANY, FLOR DE MARÍA, COME FROM?
I was meeting cacao producers from all over Latin America, and I knew I wanted to bring their product to the US. There are so many amazing chocolate producers in the US, but I couldn’t find a great CBD chocolate bar. Most of the chocolate edibles I was trying used chocolate strictly as a medium—the taste and quality weren’t important. I wanted to make great CBD edibles with the best cacao I could get my hands on, and I wanted my own brand to feature exclusively Latin American cacao. The name just came to me, a play on how we sometimes call cannabis ‘María’ and the flower ‘bud’. With the name came the aesthetics, everything was born at once.
TALK TO US ABOUT THE BRANDING OF FLOR DE MARÍA. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR DESIGN AESTHETIC?
As a Jew growing up in a very Catholic country, I was always fascinated by religious art. The image of the Virgin was an evolution from an idea I had with María Lionza, an important goddess in Venezuelan Santería. As a kid, I was awestruck by the statue of María Lionza by Venezuelan sculptor Alejandro Colina. Standing guard over the city of Caracas, she sits naked on a Tapir holding up a female pelvis. That image is really confusing for people who don’t know her. But I wanted a Saint and elements of Santería and Tarot—I’m very interested in the traditional Tarot de Marseille. Then, I saw a photo of a person I love dearly, and from that image, I created a sketch of the Saint, with the cacao pot as a halo, standing on the Theobroma Cacao flower. But it kept some of that badassery that María Lionza possesses.
When it came time to do the actual illustration, I wanted the aesthetics to have an Art Deco vibe with a blue and gold palette. That feels New York to me, and Flor de María was born in Brooklyn. I called every artist friend who would want to help me make the Saint, but what I was getting in return seemed too kitsch, too skater; until I found Raphael Tanghal who knew exactly what I was thinking, and as soon as I saw her, I fell in love.
WHAT ARE YOU DRINKING DURING QUARANTINE?
I mostly drink mezcal or raicilla—neat. I love agave spirits. But if I’m feeling like a cocktail, I love this drink @lilfannyfoofu made for me at @donnabklyn, my favorite bar and my favorite bartender. I can’t wait to go back there once we’re allowed to socialize.
THAT SOUNDS DELICIOUS, SHARE HOW TO MAKE IT!
It’s called Hard Knocks Lyfe and you’ll need:
1.5 oz Estancia Raicilla (if you don’t have raicilla you can substitute mezcal, but I highly recommend the former)
0.5 oz Del Maguey Vida
1 tsp agave
1 tsp yellow chartreuse
1/2 tsp absinthe
6 drops Bittermens Xocolatl mole
Shake it with ice, and serve it in a rocks glass with one big ice cube. If you want a garnish, you can top it off with a lemon peel, but I’m a no-chaser kinda guy. And yes, this is a cocktail with pretentious ingredients…but I’m a little arrogant, so it’s on brand 😉
SPEAKING OF ISOLATION, HOW ARE YOU DOING?
Just like everyone else, I’m hanging in there, trying to make the best out of it. Homeschooling is challenging, being in isolation with a kid in a high-physical-needs phase of life is intense and exhausting. Balancing that with personal space and work is simply impossible, so I’m just here trying to adapt and survive. With regards to Flor de María, it’s also a challenge, one in which I’ve found so much excitement and satisfaction.
One advantage of being an indy CBD chocolate brand is that we can work really quickly—seeing what works and what doesn’t, and reacting to it immediately. With the quarantine, we’ve had to switch our strategy from mostly wholesale to selling directly to consumers. That forced me to focus on the online aspect of my brand. Putting a product out there is intimidating and putting yourself out there on top of that is even more so. But this shared tragedy we’re all living has made us all a lot kinder, more empathetic, and much more open to showing our vulnerabilities.
FILL IN THE BLANK. I AM SUPPORTING ________ [CHARITY] BECAUSE ______
In the beginning, I wasn’t sure how to respond to COVID19. There was an onslaught of content, and I didn’t want to add to that noise. I figured I’d say something when I had something to say. Those first few weeks and the tsunami of branded content we saw made me feel really uncomfortable. Selling something when people are losing their livelihood and their lives—even though our industry is in the business of improving lives. I decided to expand the giving aspect of my business by donating part of our profits to Food Bank for New York City and to continue my work with KIND (Kids in Need of Defense) to connect with our customers in a more meaningful way.
On 4/20, we donated 100% of our sales to KIND and made a donation for every sale in the name of the buyer. Each person who purchased a Flor de María bar got an email thanking them for their donations. Usually, you do a bulk donation at the end of the assigned period, so people weren’t really expecting that. When they received their thank you emails from KIND (with the amount they had contributed), some reached out to me to thank me for the gesture and the transparency. That was the best 4/20 I could hope for, even though it was spent in isolation in my tiny Brooklyn apartment.
I’m a big believer in KIND. They provide legal representation to minors in immigration court. As a man from Latin America and coming from Venezuela, the country with the largest exodus of refugees outside of Syria, this hits me personally. Everyone knows how difficult it is to navigate the US legal system, the Immigration procedure is no less complicated, and I can’t imagine being an unaccompanied minor arriving alone in this country—especially in today’s environment. At this moment they are urging immigration courts to close during the pandemic. But they remain open, which runs counter to federal guidance to follow state and local policies to stop the spread of COVID-19. You can help by signing their petition and, obviously, by donating. A portion of the sales of Flor de María’s Limited Edition 75% Usulután, El Salvador, goes to @supportKIND
images | Catalina Kulczar