Gears, Goggles, and Ganache

Move over, candy hearts! Here comes Sweet Steam

With that sweet sweet holiday quickly approaching, chocolates are everywhere. Don’t settle for just any chocolate though. Give yourself and your loved ones quality chocolates.

When was your company founded & how did you come up with the idea for your company?

We started doing this as a hobby in 2012, and after years of getting to know the steampunk community and learning more about the chocolate making process, it became a passion. In 2020, we were hoping to turn our little Pinocchio project into a real boy by actually getting our Roustabout Bar–a milk chocolate bar that tastes like a root beer float–into stores around Michigan. Because of the pandemic, we’ve had to mostly put a bookmark in that plan. However, several stores are now carrying our products and we’re looking forward to adding more. 

What gave you the idea for the flavors you’ve created? 

Sometimes we think of flavors that we’ve always wanted in a chocolate, and sometimes we come up with a perfect punny name and search for the right flavor to go with it. For example, one of our first product ideas was a chocolate pocket watch, and of course it had to be orange flavored. Often, when we are going to be attending a convention with a strong theme, we will create a new flavor especially for that event. We created our most recent confection, the Choklava, to match Teslacon’s Murder on the Orient Express event. The original Orient Express travelled through several regions where baklava is a popular dessert. The Choklava is our chocolate version of that delicious treat.

What were the original flavors?

The Clockwork Orange was probably the first, and then we had Chocolate Cogs in dark, milk, white, spicy, mint and peanut butter. Now, we have nearly two dozen flavors, with many complex multi-layered concoctions. 

What made you decide on what shapes to come up with?

We wanted shapes that fit with the Steampunk aesthetic. Initially, pocket watches, gears, locomotives, corsets, top hats, that kind of thing. We followed with shapes influenced by other genres – horror, murder mystery and a certain wizarding world. We’re just as curious as anyone to see where we go next.

What’s the craziest flavored you tried to create? 

We haven’t created it yet–we’re always experimenting! So, keep checking in every November when we launch our newest product at Teslacon in Wisconsin.

What’s the best selling chocolate? 

It depends on when you’re asking, but right now, it’s far and away the Roustabout bar. Our new Choklava, though, is giving it a run for the top spot. (mmmm – rice crisps, honey and pistachio)

Since you also sell many flavors of hot chocolate, did you always have the idea that eventually you would sell hot chocolate or did that just kinda spout up on it’s own?

Right from the beginning we’ve brainstormed many product lines, including hot chocolate, ice cream toppings, and even beer! We figured that we’d get to hot chocolate sooner or later, but after our first couple of events, people started asking us if we had any. We experimented in the off-season, and by the next event we had several flavors of cocoa to offer.

What is the best way to make your hot chocolate? 

We each enjoy it in different ways. Jeff likes to put a teaspoon of the spicy cocoa in his coffee in the morning. Doug goes for a giant mug of mint with fresh marshmallows. Darrow prefers the butterscotch flavor with dark, spiced rum added. Joe starts with the original and adds chunks of the Roustabout bar for a real root beer experience. 

What are your favorite chocolate flavors & favorite hot chocolate flavors? 

Again, that’s a different answer for each of us. Jeff’s current favorite is the Choklava. Doug is a dark chocolate fan, so the 70% Dark Secret Key is his fave. Darrow is torn between the Choklava and the Roustabout. Joe likes the Roustabout Bar and the Butterbeard.

What is the process in making your chocolates & hot chocolates? Are you allowed to share or is it a secret? 

All of our recipes are trade secrets. We’ve discovered that we can’t really copyright the flavors, so we keep them closely guarded, kind of like the Colonel and his herbs and spices.

Who comes up with the lovely packaging?

That’s Doug’s job. It’s nice that we found some use for him. (It’s also handy that he’s been a professional graphic designer for four decades)

Is there anything left you would like to tell the readers? We look forward to conventions opening up again so we can see all our Steampunk friends. But in the meantime we are moving to the next phase of Sweet Steam and getting into stores throughout the region. If you’re in Southeast Michigan, you can find our confections at any of Comic City’s three locations. In Frankenmuth, our friends at Kernel Benney’s Popcorn carry our products — and they’re also shaving our Roustabout Bar into their milkshakes. If you’re near Hartville, Ohio, you can find our products at Chocolate Creations. Of course, if you’re not near any of those places, you can order our confections at SweetSteam.com. Follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/sweetsteamllc/ to get the latest news, and may all your days be sweet!

Publisher’s Best Pick: Anime Midwest

So you probably wonder why I picked this particular convention as my favorite in the Midwest. Actually, it’s pretty simple; it’s the most friendly, hospitable, charming, creative and fun anime convention that I have been
to so far in the Midwest. They go all out from the panels and special guests to the all you can eat for free ramen noodles, rice and sometimes even salad. They want to make sure that you enjoy yourself. There’s a lot of free things to do such as karaoke, games, watching anime and just being silly.

Everyone is so friendly. You cans stop people and ask to take their photo very easily. People love to pose for the camera and gladly do it all day. The attention to detail that the cosplayers put into their costumes is phenomenal. As for gender roles? This is cosplay and who needs them. If you want to be a guy dressed up as a Powerpuff Girl, then you can do it and no one bats an eye. This is part of why I love the cosplay community so much, they are very understanding and forgiving. No body shaming is allowed. You can be what you want to be and no one will stop you. You have so much more freedom at an anime convention than you will anywhere else in the world. Perhaps this is why anime conventions and cosplay
are starting to take over more and more of the world.

LadyBeard with fellow member of group LadyBaby

There’s a maid cafe that they take very seriously. They practice and rehearse before the convention opens to make sure that everything
is just right. The maid cafe isn’t free but it is one of the best features of the convention and the only anime convention that I have been to in the Midwest to actually pull off a real functioning maid cafe. There’s singing and dancing from the hosts and maids to games and taking photos at the end and of course let’s not forget the delicious cakes accompanied by tea. They try very hard to make the experience as close to being in Japan as possible. The health inspector has to come around and make sure that everything is up to code. It has to be inspected and approved just like a real cafe would because of serving food and drink, even though they don’t make the cakes on site.

Everyone is so friendly. You cans stop people and ask to take their photo very easily.

The first year of the Maid Cafe was 2013. In 2014, William Froelich became the department head for the Maid Cafe. He brought organization and guidelines to the project. At the time of this publication, the numbers for each year have increased steadily and the hours of operation have also been extended to accommodate more people into the Maid Cafe experience. They have now incorporated more table games that require interaction with the maids and hosts as they continue to not only get new business but a lot of repeat business as well.

You must be 18 to work at the Maid Cafe. Most people who work at the Maid Cafe are between the ages of 18 and 23. They must commit to the whole weekend for the convention or they cannot work there as they are required to set up on Thursday night and tear down on Sunday after the convention.

Members of the Anime Midwest Cafe.

All uniforms must be approved by the department head and only one uniform per worker. They are taught to present a good memory of the event using an instant camera photo decorated and then presented to the attendee. The whole Maid Cafe experience takes an hour and costs (as of this publication) $15. From our experience, it is well worth the money. You can also apply online to work for the Maid Cafe through the Anime Midwest website.

Another reason I love this convention so much is the free ramen. As far as my experience is concerned, this is the only convention I have ever been to that offers free food to its attendees. We found not only ramen, rice balls and salad were served in one room and in the other room there were all sorts of carbonated sodas, all for free, with all the condiments you would want for your food. Granted, it can be a bit of a mess but when we went there, the staff and the attendees were trying to keep the food mess to a minimum.

Near the free food area is free karaoke, but there is always a waiting line and you have to sign up early to get a spot. Still, it was great fun to watch and even sing along while we ate our ramen.

A couple of Steven Universe Cosplayers.

My favorite people are the cosplayers themselves. If it weren’t for their undying love and obsession with Manga, Anime and Comics in general, we would not have these conventions, these outlets for our souls to be free from constraint and our imaginations to run free. Whether you have an original character or one you have made up, there is no denying that you have an outlet here.

People painstakingly transform their ideal into a character or persona that they can enjoy and embrace for the day. It’s like Halloween but you don’t have to wait for one day in October to enjoy it, you can do it anytime at
any convention anywhere around the world. That’s a pretty exciting prospect and if anything a great opportunity to just people watch
as the attendees line up when the doors open for registration and the myriad of characters falls through the doors spilling onto the convention floor. Some characters you might recognize and some are more obscure and
you may not. At any rate, there is someone in the room who knows what the character is besides the person who is dressed as that character.

Karkat Vantas cosplayer, a Homestuck character.

The vendors are one of the reasons why a lot of people come to Anime Midwest. You can find a wide variety of artworks from various artists as well as collectors items. There’s everything you can imagine for sale such as t-shirts, original artworks, comic books, plushies, costumes, jewelry, imported items direct from Japan and more. One of the great things about going to Anime Midwest is that if you find an artist you like and you want a commission, you can get it there usually finished that same weekend, depending on the complexity of course. There’s so much to choose from that you can spend more time with the vendors than any place else.

There’s a game room that features Pachinko and DDR as well as other video games straight from Japan. Special guests are featured all weekend long and sometimes even special art exhibitions as well. There’s always a musical guest or two and after the concert there’s a rave with a live DJ and even a fancy dress fantasy cosplay ball. If you want to show off your costuming, there’s Masquerade, where you can compete against others to win best cosplay costume in front of professional judges.

What convention would be complete without a ton of panels with everything from voice actors to costumers. Every year the panels change but there is always a huge line for each so come early and expect to stay late.

Anime Midwest is held at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare and Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois and will be held July 5-7, 2019.