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Angelica Ottaway

How to taste chocolate

How To Taste Chocolate

By | The World of Chocolate | No Comments

We believe chocolate and wine have a lot in common. As with the finest wines, in order to really get the best out of our craft bars you need to know how to taste chocolate properly. It’s not just about  satisfying your sweet tooth, but uncovering the complex flavours of the cocoa beans that have been lovingly coaxed out by the artisan chocolate maker.

Just as the altitude, climate and soil will affect the grapes in a fine wine, the same factors can affect the flavour of the cocoa beans in your chocolate bar. Combined, these different environmental factors are known as the ‘terroir’. The finest wines are created when the finest grapes are in the hands of a talented vitner (or wine maker).  And the same is true for chocolate. When the best cocoa beans are given to a skilled maker who takes the time to hand craft every stage from bean to bar, you find yourself with a chocolate that deserves to be savoured. And in order to truly savour these fine bars you first should learn how to taste chocolate!

There’s just one problem for the chocolate aficionado in training. While whole books have been written about how best to enjoy a fine wine, very little has been written about how to enjoy a bar of chocolate.  Most of us reach for a chocolate bar for a mid-afternoon pick me up and end up eating it without much thought.  But when a maker has taken the time to directly source their beans, and painstakingly draw out their flavours, we think the same care should be taken when eating it.

Here at Cocoa Runners, we spend our lives running around the world, trying to find the very best chocolate bars. We have tasted a ever-growing number of chocolate bars. Of the thousands we’ve tasted we only choose the very best to put on our site. So after years of practice we wanted to share our top tips on how to taste chocolate.

Before you read on remember, eating chocolate should always be a pleasure and never a chore. We want to help you get the most out of your fine craft chocolate, but don’t overthink it!

  1. Look at the bar. Carefully take the bar out of its packaging and take a long hard look. Is it shiny and glossy, or does it have a dusty white powder on the surface?  The white powder is the fat in the bar, that has risen to its surface.  This normally happens when a bar has melted and reset, and is a sign that it hasn’t been properly stored.  This is particularly true of dark chocolate. While a little bloom on the surface shouldn’t affect the flavour, you might need to let it melt in your mouth for a little longer.
  1. Break off a piece.  What sound does the bar make and how does it feel when you break it? Does it break with a nice clean snap, or does it crumble?  As well as a wonderfully glossy finish, a well tempered bar should break with ease. A snap that is either too brittle or too soft again suggests that bar either wasn’t stored at the correct temperature or the bar wasn’t properly tempered. Tempering is the process by which chocolate is melted and then set into a chocolate bar at just the right temperature.
  1. Hold the bar for a second.  Does it start to melt?  Artisan chocolate bars contain cocoa butter, and this melts quickly at body temperature.  Most mainstream bars start to crumble and flake into a sticky mess instead of melting smoothly.  This is because of a trick used by many mainstream chocolate makers. They separate the cocoa powder from the cocoa butter and sell it off to the cosmetics industry for use in moisturisers, lipsticks, etc, then replace it with cheaper fats that don’t have the same wonderfully smooth melt.
  1. Smell the bar.  Can you smell citrus, berries, nuts or something else?  As we’ve said, tasting chocolate is like tasting a fine wine. When tasting wine, its standard practice to swirl you drink round in your glass before inhaling deeply.  A good proportion of the flavours in any food or drink comes from their aroma.  A wealth of aromas are released the moment you unwrap a craft chocolate bar. In the same way that swirling your wine helps to release the aroma, holding the piece in your hand (see above) will begin to heat the chocolate slightly, releasing it smell.
  1. Put a piece on your tongue and let it melt, taking care not to chew.  As it melts, different layers of flavour will reveal themselves.A rich Dominican bar might start with a roasted, chocolate ganache note that develops to leave an earthy finish. Or the initial berry notes of a Madagascan chocolate transform into a citrus note.
  1. Enjoy. Eating chocolate should always be a pleasure. These tips on how to taste chocolate should help you get the most out of your artisan chocolate. If you can’t taste the flavours other people have described then don’t worry, as taste is subjective. And remember, the more chocolate you taste, the more your palate will develop.

All told, there are over 400 distinct flavour compounds in chocolate, more than enough to keep even the keenest cocoa bean interested. Not only is taste extremely subjective,  it’s influenced by everything you’ve eaten and drunk throughout the day.  The same chocolate eaten by itself will taste very different when it is matched with a suitable fine wine.

Now you know how to taste chocolate, take a look at how artisan chocolate is made. See our page about it here.

Forever Cacao Ashaninka

Beyond Fairtrade: Forever Cacao

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Tuesday night was our monthly tasting evening at the Winemakers Club in Farringdon. This month we were lucky enough to be joined by Pablo Spaull of Forever Cacao. Pablo and Cocoa Runners co-founder Spencer went head to head, each presenting some of their favourite bars (including Pablo’s own). Pablo also told us a little about how he first go into chocolate and how he sources his Peruvian beans. Continuing with our series on Fairtrade Fortnight, we wanted to share this incredible story with you!

Pablo’s journey began thanks to his friend and fellow Welshman Dilwyn Jenkins. Dilwyn was a lifelong champion of Peru’s indigenous peoples. While  studying anthropology at Cambridge he and fellow students BBC/Royal Geographical Society and made a documentary about the peoples he had met during his travels in Peru. It was the first time the Ashaninka community had been filmed. In 1985 Dilwyn also wrote the first Rough Guide to Peru, the first comprehensive English travel guide to the country.

The Ashaninka people are an indigenous people who live in the rainforests of  Peru (with a few groups over the border in Brazil). The last century has seen them face a number of threats with their lands being systematically reduced and their environment destroyed. Owing to internal conflicts in Peru and interest in natural resources from big business (including loggers, rubber tappers and oil companies) the Ashanika people have found themselves displaced, enslaved  and even killed. In the early 2000s they were given legal rights to some of their ancestral lands which is now a protected National Park. But these people who the Spanish conquistadors remarked upon for their ‘bravery and independence’ still face a huge number of threats. These threats include (both directly or indirectly) those posed by oil companies, drug traffickers, illegal lumberers, illegal roads, misinformed conservation groups, missionary groups, and diseases brought by outsiders.

AshaninkaDilwyn dedicated decades to supporting the Ashaninka people and helping them to combat the numerous threats they faced. He founded Ecotribal, to help the local people generate a sustainable income through coffee and other goods. One of these product was cacao. When Dilwyn first visited, the Ashaninka had just started to produce cacao as a cash crop. Some of these trees had been introduced from neighbouring regions but cacao also grow wild in the forest. This wild cacao is called the abuelos (grandfathers). No pesticides or chemical fertilisers are used by the growers and they all follow organic farming practices.

Working with Tinkareni and Coveja villages, Ecotribal has helped the Ashaninka people with the fermentation and post-harvest processing of the beans. They have provided training and equipment to local people to improve the how the beans are treated and therefore their overall quality. The Ashaninka have now formed their own Cacao Growers Association, taking charge of the growing, drying and fermenting themselves.

The Ashaninka producer’s association then sells the organic heirloom beans at a good price to Ecotribal and a cooperative downriver who test and sort the beans and continue the post-harvest process. The association separates a percentage of its income to pay for community health and emergency needs. Generating income from these sustainable sources sustains the people from the local villages such as the Cutivireni and protects their forest. Without this they would be forced to sell their trees to logging companies in order to survive.

It’s from this cooperative and Ecotribal itself that Pablo directly sources the beans for his Forever Cacao chocolate bars. Pablo not only pays a higher price for the beans but he knows that this money is going directly to the harvest and their families. He has a direct relationship with the people harvesting and processing them, visiting them and sending them chocolate made from their beans!

For Pablo, making chocolate was never just about creating delicious-tasting bars (although this was still fundamental). It’s also about supporting the Ashaninka people, the biodiversity of the Ene River region and safeguarding Ashaninka heirloom cacao. Thanks Dilwyn’s lifetime of work with the Peruvian people (which is now continued by Ecotribal and their partners Size of Wales & Cool Earth a huge amount habitat has been protected. They have seen forty-four indigenous communities galvanised into shielding 2.5 million acres of pristine rainforest safeguarding ancient Cacao and other crops they rely on.

Pablo is currently speaking to other Ashaninka groups and hoping to help more villages to generate income through the sustainable production of cacao.

Photographs by Alicia Fox, courtesy of Forever Cacao.

 

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International Women's Day

International Women’s Day 2016

By | Site News, Uncategorized | No Comments

This International Women’s Day it seems only right to talk about the many women involved in crafting the delicious artisan bars that we love so much.

This past year, we’ve welcomed a number of female makers. From Amedei’s Cecilia Tessieri and Cynthia at Soma, to Lisi Montoya of Shattell, Luisa at Luisa Abram and Brits Chantal Coady at Rococo and Ama of Lucocoa, all of these women are crafting incredible bars. And even while they may not been the principle chocolate maker women play a pivotal role for a number of different makers. Dahlia at Fruition, Frederike at Chocolate Tree and Barbara at Pacari, Joanna at Pump Street are just a few.

Femmes De VirungaIt’s not just about the makers, but the people growing the cocoa beans. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, women have historically had little economic status or independence of any kind. Through its Femmes de Virunga bar program, Original Beans is empowering women in the region.

The chocolate maker is providing women with training in how to cultivate and produce high quality cacao so that they can become producers themselves. Original Beans also runs literacy and leadership courses to further equip local women with the skills they need.

And even better, women in the region have the opportunity to put these skills to use. The women’s co-operative runs its own radio station and seedling nursery. As part of its ‘One Bar One Tree’ policy Original Beans also donates cacao trees to local women for them to sell or cultivate. Now, even the most isolated women farmers can benefit from the community and expertise of the women’s cooperative and enjoy a long term and fully sustainable livelihood with all the economic advantages that come with this.

Shawn Aksinosie is another maker involved in raising the profile of women around the world. Through is Chocolate University program in Tanzania he funds an Empower Girls Askinosie Product Of Changeclub at local schools. The club aims to increase the retention and graduation rate of female students.

Askinosie has also pioneered a Sustainable Lunch Program. As part of this, Askinosie purchases local premium foods (Aromatic Premium Keyla rice in Tanzania, Tableya Cocoa Rounds in the Philippines) and sells them to people and speciality shops in the States. All of the profits are then used to fund school lunches for children in Tanzania and the Philippines. Since 2011 Aksinosie has provided more than 315 000 meals through the scheme. Malnutrition has decreased and academic performance and attendance in both the regions  has increased!

luisa abram

Beyond Fairtrade: Luisa Abram

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As part of our Fairtrade Fortnight series, we take you into the heart of the Amazon Rainforest. One of our greatest discoveries of last year was Brazilian maker Luisa Abram.

Andre Banks and his daughter Luisa are the driving force behind the family-owned chocolate maker. The pair source their beans from a co-operative deep within Amazon. The local people harvest the beans from the cacao trees that grow wild in the Brazilian rainforest.

For the local communities, cacao represents a great source of income and much more. The cacao tress grow best in the shade. The canopy of larger trees and the naturally biodiverse environment of the rainforest therefore allows the cacao trees to thrive and bear fruit. As a result, it is the interest of local communities to do everything they can to protect and preserve their natural environment.Luisa A grower

These beans seem more like magic beans that ‘cocoa’. They provide a livelihood for local people, help to protect the rainforest and (thanks to the harvester’s and Luisa’s skills) produce delicious chocolate. Most excitingly, Andre and Luisa have just had confirmation that their cocoa beans really are special!

The USDA have just confirmed that the cocoa beans used in Luisa Abram’s 71% & 80% dark bars are member of the Purus family. The Purus river valley, a tributary of the Amazon River, is home to one of the 10 unique genetic varietys of the cacao plant (Purus). One the rarest strands, to our knowledge Luisa Abram is the only maker using Purus beans to make chocolate.

This really is truly an incredible discovery. It is a reminder of the vital role that local cooperatives have in protecting and preserving biodiversity. Through simple but sustainable practices we can support communities and respect their environment. In the words of Andre ‘Most river floodplain in the Amazon Forest at some point has cacao trees. […] We want to pay a fair and just price for every wild cacao we encounter, so that the message it pays off to preserve the Forest as it is, gets through!

Luisa Abram’s approach to chocolate making is admirable and simple. We were blown away when first tasted their two bars, and we can’t wait to see what new beans and new harvests will bring!

 

Discover Luisa Abram’s Chocolate

Fruition farm

Beyond Fairtrade: Fruition Chocolate

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Fruition is an American bean-to-bar chocolate maker based in the Catskill Mountains of Woodstock, NY. Founder Bryan Graham sources the cocoa for his bars from farms in several countries all of which are Fairtrade and Organic.

Bryan trades directly with the farmers in these countries, giving them much higher prices for their best beans. Paying them more and going direct is not only better for the farmers. Bryan I thus able to get the highest quality beans and have more visibility on how they are treated. With the high quality cocoa beans, lovingly cared for by the growers, Bryan is able to make his award-winningly delicious chocolate!

One of the origins Bryan uses the most is Peru. He uses these Peruvian beans in his dark milk, Maranon Dark, Dark Chocolate, and 100%. Traveling to Peru and visiting the regions where their cocoa beans are grown, Bryan Graham and his wife Dahlia were both inspired.

Bryan to craft his award-winning chocolate bars. Dahlia had previously spent a year teaching Peru and after their trip decided to set up her own educational foundation. The charity is based in the Saylla in the Peruvian Andes.

Here the Corazón de Dahlia development centre provides education and support to rural children and families. The social and educational project aims to develop skills and values through various outlets such as social development, cultural awareness, literacy proficiency, and mental health.

The organisation weeks to improve the quality of life for children, families, and the society at large by offering tangible alternatives in order to advance their education through training, guidance, counselling, and support.

Through its Center for the Promotion of Child & Family Development, it runs a number of different schemes including English lessons, field trips and cooking lessons. Activities such as their arts & crafts, dance lessons and even their robotics programming project give the children the opportunity to engage in rewarding and fun educational projects beyond the classroom. The organisation also runs a library that local students can use. Find our more about Corazón de Dahlia by clicking here.

Although the charity itself is separate to Fruition chocolate, Dahlia’s work in Peru was inspired by her and Bryan’s trips visiting farmers in the region. Her project gives back to the communities and people that have given us delicious chocolate.

Fruition’s commitment to sustainability extends beyond chocolate. Their delicious chocolate bars are placed in biodegradable bags and wrapped in paper.  These use soy-based and vegetable-based inks that are better for the environment and easily recycled.

 

Discover Fruition’s Chocolate

Pacari Chocolate

Beyond Fairtrade: Pacari

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As part of our series for Fairtrade Fortnight we are looking at different bars from makers whose commitment to their farmers and suppliers goes above and beyond Fairtrade.

Pacari RawIts classic Raw 70% bar sums up Pacari’s commitment to socially and environmentally responsible business practices as well as making great chocolate. The bar uses unroasted cacao that has been minimally processed. The focus is on the natural flavours of the cocoa beans. These are sourced from Ecuadorian farmers that Pacari works closely with. Pacari helps to educate the farmers on how to produce the best quality beans and therefore the best tasting chocolate!

Pacari is a family owned bean-to-bar chocolate maker based in Ecuador. The company was founded by Santiago Peralta and his wife Carla Barboto in 2002. They wanted to create a business based on socially and environmentally sustainable principles. But more than that, they wanted the company to promote fine flavour Ecuadorian cacao and support farmers and growers.

The couple started by learning about cacao and the steps involved in making a chocolate bar. Ecuador is renowned for its high quality cacao, the ‘Arriba Nacional’ bean. Traditionally this is grown in the upriver basins regions of the Guayas River. The cacao trees in these areas have been growing for hundreds of years. The natural environment and lack of intensive agriculture, means the trees have been able to cross-pollinate freely, increasing the cacao’s diversity and helping disease resistance.

Santiago and Carla sought out the famers and owners of these small plantations. Over time they have established relationships with the people who grow their beans, always going direct to them rather than dealing with middlemen. In doing so they can guarantee that the farmers receive a much higher price for their beans. Farmers are thus better able to support themselves and incentivised for growing the high quality organic cacao that Pacari uses in its bars.

But Pacari’s relationship to its farmers is not just about price. Santiago describes a ‘mutual connection’ between them and the farmers as they work towards a common goal. They help the farmers and their families get the best out of their beans. They educate them on the different staged of the chocolate making process, from growing to harvesting to fermenting and drying. Collectively sharing knowledge is good for everyone: farmers get better yield and Pacari gets better beans and create a solidarity between producer and maker.

PacariSays Santiago Peralta, “Cacao is not just a way to get money. There’s a consciousness that this cacao will be transformed into something yummy called chocolate that will represent the country. They know they carry a responsibility—so this comes out in our chocolate.”

Santiago and Carla also help to provide machinery and drying facilities for farmers who can’t afford it. Santiago realised that many of the farmers were transporting the huge sacks of cocoa beans on their backs, exhausting and hurting themselves in the process. To help he started micro-financing donkeys to the farmer donkeys so his workers knees are spared some of the trials and tribulations of carrying cocoa pods through the jungle.

Pacari is also looking to the future of cacao and trying to get a new generation involved. Says Peralta ” we are working on programs getting new generations in the process of cacao; how can we show young people that the countryside can provide a good living too rather than moving to the city to work with computers.” These initiatives help to preserve the traditional methods of growing cacao and proud Ecuador’s heritage of fine flavour beans.

This tradition is not just a matter of farmer and maker producing great tasting cocoa beans. It’s about creating a product that’s better for the planet and will help to preserve the biodiverse environment where the cacao is grown. Pacari only buy from certified organic farmers not large-scale plantations to help protect the unique and irreplaceable Ecuadorian beans.

 

Discover Pacari’s Chocolate

 

Additional material taken from NBC.

Fairtrade

Beyond Fairtrade

By | The World of Chocolate | One Comment

As Fairtrade fortnight begins, we want to take a moment and talk about what Fairtrade means to us at Cocoa Runners. One of the most common questions we get asked is ‘Is your chocolate Fairtrade?’ The answer to this is not as simple as it may seem. Some of our bars are certified some are not, but all are committed to a ‘fair’ way of making chocolate and many go above and beyond the requirements of the Fairtrade.

Here we want to explain what Fairtrade really means, how this works with chocolate in particular and finally take a look at some of the other initiatives pioneered by our makers. And so for Fairtrade fortnight we will pick out a selection of different bars from the Chocolate Library to talk about. Will take an in-depth look at a different maker or grower and what they do to create great chocolate in a way that benefits everyone involved.

What is Fairtrade?

There are several different elements to the Fairtrade program. First the cocoa crop should be produced under Fairtrade’s social economic and environmental standards. Second Fairtrade sets a minimum price for the beans. This means that even with market fluctuations farmers can still guarantee a relatively stable income. At the same time if the market price is higher than the Fairtrade minimum the organisation specifies that farmers should receive this.

On top of this is the Fairtrade Premium. This additional sum of money is given to a communal fund that workers and farmers can use as they see fit. They have the freedom to choose what is most important to them and what they would like to invest in – whether that is healthcare for the community, or education for their children.

While Fairtrade is a non-profit organisation, certification is not free. According to the Fairtrade international certification authority (FLOCERT) it will cost a cooperative with under 50 members at least €1466 to get certified. Once registered there is also an annual fee of €1199 (for organisations of under 50 members).

From the point of view of a western business this might not seem like much. But in Madagascar where according to the World Bank in 2014 GDP per capita was just $449.4, the cost is far more significant.

What we can learn from Fairtrade

The idea behind Fairtrade is something you can only admire. For larger scale farms and cooperatives, particularly for those growing a crops where quality needs to be consistent but not exceptional (e.g. bananas) it’s an effective way of guaranteeing a fair price and better working conditions.

Fairtrade has also encouraged people to think more about how chocolate is sourced and helped make the cocoa supply chain more transparent. In provoking questions about transparency and “fair pay” for growers, it’s also raised other questions. For example, how can to help develop local economies beyond paying a minimum price for cocoa? Or, how can to develop chocolate that is better for consumers makers and growers?

Beyond Fairtrade: makers and farmers revolutionising chocolate

By using Fairtrade as a starting point, more and more people are looking at how they can help local communities grow and develop. This not just about providing a safety net and basic amenities, this is about revolutionising lives and creating real growth. And makers and growers from Saigon to San Francisco, Brooklyn to Budapest and Warsaw to Woodstock are building a “craft chocolate movement” that seeks to answer these questions.

For this new wave of chocolate makers, it all starts with the bean. If you want great chocolate (or any other great food) you need to start with great ingredients. Find the best beans and you can make amazing tasting chocolate. And to secure the best beans you need to work directly, and with a thought to the future, with farmers.

Only recently have small batch craft chocolate makers been able to consistently source great beans. As with wine (or coffee), the best beans come from single estates and require careful nurturing. In most parts of the cocoa growing world (a belt 20 degrees of the equator), cocoa growers have been forced to sell to government monopolies. And these government monopolies are all too often more concerned with quantity rather than quality. There is little incentive for farmers to nurture and grow interesting bean varietals. So it’s been hard to find great beans or craft great chocolate.

This modern day ‘chocolate revolution’ began when a handful of pioneers made it possible for these makers to get hold of cocoa beans. People such as Bertil Akesson in Madagascar, Daniel Doherty in Hawaii, Alex Whitmore (and Daniel) in Belize and Sam and Vincent of Marou in Vietnam have made available “premier cru” quality cocoa beans for the first time.

Direct Trade: better for farmers and makers

The relationship between craft chocolate makers and farmers goes beyond simply paying a reasonable price for cocoa beans. Craft chocolate makers are very aware that they need to incentivise the farmers and growers to nurture and grow great beans year in and year out. And they know that they have to work with the farmers over the long term to harvest great beans. So craft chocolate makers seek to build long term partnerships and train farmers in how best to plant, harvest, ferment and dry beans

These makers practise what is now called “Direct Trade”. They go out directly to the farms to work with the makers. Daniel Doherty runs around the world as professor of fermentation in Hawaii. Brian from Pitch Dark goes every other year to Fiji to help the farmers he worked alongside whilst a student to continue to grow cocoa. Alex Whitmore takes dozens of American craft chocolate makers to Belize every year and is producing the first bar crafted from single estates in Haiti. Joseph Zotter has risked life and limb to help farmers in Colombia swap cocaine for cocoa. TCHO build local mini production lines with web cams in the jungle to work with their farmers. It’s truly awesome. And humbling.

Many makers have also come out of the environmental movement. Later in the week we’ll take a closer look at Original Beans, whose founder Philipp Kaufmman was previously at the WWF and UNDP. He started Original Beans because he sees cocoa as one of the best crops to encourage farmers to preserve the rain forest.

Above and beyond partnering with local farmers, craft chocolate is helping develop local manufacturing and logistics. Over 70% of the world’s chocolate is grown in Africa, but hardly any is made there. Menakao and Chocolat Madagascar are two of the companies breaking this mould. Neil Kelsall of Raise Trade, pioneered the development of “award winning and highly ethical” premium packaged chocolate by Chocolat Madagascar that is made in Madagascar and uses local ingredients.

Not only do Chocolat Madagascar (now also Menakao) pay local Malagasy growers over 2x the average price of cocoa for their beans, they provide training and employment in their factories. In so doing, they generate 4-5 times more benefit to the local economy than Fair Trade alone. Similar initiatives are now being pursued in Peru (Cacaosuyo, Shatell and Rainforest Organics), Ecuador (Pacari and Hoja Verde) and of course Grenada (Mott Green’s Grenada Chocolate Company and now Chantal Coady of Rococo).

Finally craft chocolate makers care for their employees, growers and partners Bertil Akesson ensures that his workers children receive a proper education in Madagascar and in his workshops in France provides opportunities for mentally handicapped employees. Santiago Peralta microfinances donkeys so his workers knees are spared some of the trials and tribulations of carrying cocoa pods through the jungle. Shawn Askinosie sets out every other year to find a new source for beans and as part of this, creates a local charity for self-sufficiency – in his own words:

‘We take local high school students to Tanzania to meet farmers and experience life changing travel in a very competitive program we started called Chocolate University. One of our applicants wrote in her essay that she lived in the homeless shelter a block from our factory as a young girl and that she would walk to our factory and that we (our employees) treated her as a special person and that we gave her and her little brother chocolate samples. When I read that I realized that we treated her with hospitality and that she liked coming to our place and that as she grew older and achieved against the odds, she was inspired to apply to our program. We selected her and she went with us to Tanzania last summer. I may die tomorrow and if I do, then I will know that we are a successful company beyond all measure.’

And craft chocolate makers realise they have to pay more, but they are happy – even proud – to do so. In the words of British maker Duffy Sheardown:

‘We chocolate makers agree to pay whatever the cocoa farmer asks for his beans without haggling or complaining. The farmer has to grow fine flavour cocoa beans to make it worthwhile our paying the extra for them. [..] The extra that I pay for the beans goes direct to the grower – there are no middlemen taking a cut’

These relationships go far beyond any certification. Fairtrade farmers and cooperatives normally sell the cocoa beans (at the Fairtrade price) to brokers, importers and exporters who will then sell them on to someone else. These makers have a far more direct relationship with people who sell their beans. They work together, developing and sharing expertise with a common goal: to create exceptional craft chocolate for people around the world to enjoy.

We love the benefits and the shift in attitudes that Fairtrade has generated. But for us the challenge is to go even further. We love single estate craft chocolate. We believe that when done properly, using simple high quality ingredients, craft chocolate doesn’t just taste amazing but is beneficial to everyone. From farmer to maker to consumer, there is a shared desire to create something extraordinary. The result of this mutual passion is chocolate that taste good, does good and is good for you!

 

Sources:

http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD

http://www.flocert.net/fairtrade-services/fairtrade-certification/

http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/en/what-is-fairtrade/faqs

http://www.directcacao.org/

http://www.duffyschocolate.co.uk/our-approach

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shawn-askinosie/the-mast-brothers-have-it_b_6948044.html

Header image courtesy of Idilio

Soma Chocolate Maker

Introducing Soma

By | New Makers, New Products | No Comments

If you are a Cocoa Runners subscriber, then you might just be lucky enough to get a bar from Canadian maker Soma inside your next box. A modern craft chocolate pioneer, and a makes whose chocolate we have long admired, we are delighted to finally be able to welcome Soma and its wonderful bars to the Cocoa Runners Chocolate Library.

We spoke to Cynthia and David, the couple behind Soma.

What’s your background? Why and how did you get into chocolate?

David was working as a pastry chef and Cynthia was working as an architect. We really wanted to start something small together that would combine our skills.

Being huge chocolate fanatics with a natural curiosity to invent and explore- we got bit by the cacao bug. In 2003 our little chocolate shop was conceived. We made truffles, cookies, hot chocolate, and spun gelato- but the heart of our business was making small batches of chocolate from the cacao bean. Back then we called it micro batch chocolate the term “bean to bar” had not yet surfaced.

In a small 400 square foot space in an old whisky distillery with a refurbished refiner/conche and a modified coffee roaster, we dug deep into the world of cacao and went for it. Today the fascination continues- there are big smiles on our faces every morning knowing our work day involves chocolate.

There are 2 sides to our world- the science and technical side of making a single beautiful bar that makes a specific origin of cacao sing, and the exploratory playful side of finding new ways to enjoy chocolate with new products new techniques and new ingredient combinations.

What mission have you set yourselves for making chocolate?

Our mission has always been to explore the possibilities of chocolate. In the most basic sense this means discovering new sources of great cacao, but also how different chocolates interact in a blend, or the impact of a new roast profile or technique. Craft chocolate making is a continuous experiment.

Cynthia and Dave SOMA

When did you start your company — and with whom?  How many are there of you?

We started in 2003 and Soma is Cynthia Leung and David Castellan.

Where do you want to go next?  New bars?  New beans?  New markets?

As all craft chocolate makers Soma is always looking for and experimenting with new origins. With the rise in chocolate makers there are more small farms growing flavour grade beans. In our factory there are approx 20 samples from new farms right now that will go through testing and evaluation.

This year we will be making deeper connections at the farm level. A trip to the Caribbean will hopefully happen this year to set up a small chocolate making line for a farm we buy beans from so they can make their own bars.

More blends are in the works, with our expanding chocolate library of origins we have a lot of fun creating new flavour profiles from different origins.

On a nuttier level, our new approach to making Gianduja uses hazelnuts from Oregon and cacao beans from Jamaica. Hazelnuts are such a wonderful ingredient (apparently Europeans and Canadians share this love of hazelnuts).

With Cocoa Runners this will be the first time our bars will be sold outside of the Americas. This is a big exciting step for us.

How did you source your beans? 

Sourcing happens in a few different ways. Some of our beans are bought direct from the farms. Some of the rare beans or more difficult to get are bought through a broker who is a specialist in that region of origin. Some beans are bought from fellow makers within the chocolate community or traded to share origins.

What is your favourite food?  Wine?  Other chocolate makers?

Toronto is much like London there are a lot of pockets of exotic food from different countries. We love and eat a lot of different foods.

Current obsessions- David is crazy about Szechuan food his favourite dish is Dan Dan Mein, he makes and seeks out different versions from around the world. Cynthia loves an Iranian spiced lamb stew called dizi, it is meant to be slurped dunked in and shared and will warm the soul. Although we love wine, we love our rum more, in particular El Dorado from Guyana.

So many chocolate makers are doing amazing things. Such a great community to geek out with. Some stand outs- Rogue for his fanatical attention to detail. Domori as a pioneer in microbatch chocolate. Pump Street, we love his sourdough chocolate. Lonohana for the love he puts into his tree to bar chocolate.

Chocolate and wine

Chocolate & Wine

By | Tastings, Uncategorized | No Comments

There are many parallels between great chocolate and great wine.  For both you need great ingredients – the finest grapes or the finest beans.  For both, you need craftsmanship and time.  The end result are tastes and sensations that inspire, enthuse and tantalize.

From the start of Cocoa Runners we’ve been keen to learn from the wine industry.  We’ve held joint tastings (and indeed were doing one at Bath with Wine Gang today and another with Decanter next weekend).  We’ve invited wine luminaries to “curate” a selection of their favourite bars – most recently Joanna Simon and Decanter Magazine, and we have more exciting collaborations to come.

And with Corney and Barrow we’ve now taken this one step further.  With the support of Rebecca Palmer and her buying team we’ve matched six wines to six chocolates in two unique collections: a four bar, four bottle hamper and a two bar, two bottle hamper. Creating these collections was a real joy, not least as – to quote Rebecca – “more often than not the best matches were the least expected”!

Perfect for sharing with friends, as gifts or simply for indulging yourself, we hope you will enjoy these two collections as much as we do!

You can view the two collections here.

It’s one thing to say that quality wine can only be produced from quality grapes and similarly with for incredible chocolate you need incredible beans, but it is quite another to take the time and develop the skill to actually create such incredible chocolates and wines..

Once the cocoa beans have been harvested farmers must then ferment and dry the beans, further developing the chocolate flavour. Unlike wine, chocolate is rarely made in the same country the beans are grown in. Once fermented and dried, the beans are sent to craft makers all over the world. These small batch chocolate makers then roast, winnow, grind and conch the beans before tempering and molding the chocolate into bars. With each step the maker draws out the bean’s flavour profile, subtly altering and enhancing it to craft unique and delicious chocolate bars.

With wine everything starts in the vineyard, you need great grapes to make great wine. And then each harvest, called a vintage, is unique and its fruit needs to be handled differently. The grapes need to be picked at just the right moment. As with cacao, the grapes too need to be fermented. And then, depending on the style – for example white, red, sparkling, fortified etc. – they can be pressed, macerated, aged in barrel and blended before finally being put into a bottle. Throughout all these stages, art and science meld as the winemaker transforms this humble grape into unique and delicious wines.

When it comes to wine, most people are familiar with the concepts of vintage and terroir (the region the wine comes from). Most people would find it strange indeed to buy a bottle that didn’t specify, not just a country of origin (e.g. France), but also a region (such as Bordeaux or Cotes du Rhone).

In chocolate this idea has yet to reach the mainstream. At Cocoa Runners we pride ourselves that all our craft chocolate bars are single origin – or a recognised blend of cacaos (such as Fruition’s Dominican and Peruvian blend). One of the most remarkable examples of ‘terroir’ in chocolate is Marou. Samuel and Vincent, the French founders source all their cocoa beans, and make their bars in Vietnam. They have effectively divided the country into regions of ‘terroir’ each of which provides the beans for one of their dark bars. Simply tasting and comparing pieces their Dong Nai and Ba Ria is enough to show the huge impact bean origin has on taste.

Again with wine, most people will be able to tell you not simply whether they prefer red or white, but whether they favour Pinot Noir or Merlot. Cacao strains are far harder than grape varieties. The trees are naturally promiscuous, interbreeding very easily so that a single tree can have 6 or 7 different genetic strands with pods and beans of several different varieties.

This is an area of huge debate and research, with people going to huge lengths to assure genetic purity. Pascal Wirth and Niklaus Blumer of Idillio for instance genetically tests his beans. In the case of Original Beans’ Beni Wild Harvest, or Cacaosuyo’s Piura Select, the remote, isolation of the cacao crop helps to assure their ‘purity’. On the whole, we think there are many other factors than can influence a bar’s taste without delving into the complexities of cacao varietals and debates around ‘heirloom cacaos’. At the same time, if you compare the taste of  of Bonnat’s Madagascar Dark with its Madagascar Criollo the difference between various cacao strands is immediately apparent.

Another familiar point of reference when buying one is vintage. Every year, the unique conditions around every harvest subtly alter the profile of the grapes, making the wines some harvests (indicated by the vintage) far better or worse than others. Chocolate vintages is a concept that only starting to be explored by makers and growers, such as Duane Dove of the Roxborough Estate in Tobago. In most regions where cacao is grown, there are two harvests a year – one in the wet season one in the dry season (in some countries, such as Hawaii, the number of harvests is even higher) – which adds another layer of complexity.

As chocolate makers continue to innovate and experiment in their quest for better bars, new beans and even more exciting flavours we look forward to seeing what they do next!

cocoa pods Menakao

Menakao and Chocolat Madagascar: Sustainable Chocolate Production in Madagascar

By | The World of Chocolate | No Comments

One of the most common questions we get asked is ‘Is your chocolate Fairtrade’. While this seems like a yes or no question there really is no simple answer. We stock an ever-increasing number of craft chocolate makers: some are certified Fairtrade and some aren’t.

But just because they don’t have the Fairtrade certification doesn’t mean their chocolate is ‘unfair’. Take chocolate maker Menakao. Based in Madagascar, it sources all their cocoa beans from local cooperatives in the Sambirano Valley (in total around 100 farmers). The beans are then made into chocolate in the chocolate factory Menakao built locally. All 50 of its permanent employees (plus ten temporary staff members) are paid above minimum wage with highly skilled staff receiving significantly more.

Menakao is not certified Fairtrade – it felt the cost of the certification would be better spent directly helping their staff in Madagascar by investing the money in its own operations there. By creating their chocolate locally, Menakao generates four times as much income for its employees.

Of course to create great chocolate you need more than just happy workers, you need great beans. Menakao works with local Madagascan farmers and cooperatives to ensure the supply of the best quality cocoa beans. This far more direct, transparent trade relationship without middlemen and go-betweens results in a better price for farmers. Menakao pays more than the Fairtrade premium price for its cocoa beans, which benefits both parties: farmers get more for their crop and Menakao gets the best quality cocoa beans to make its chocolate with!

Less than 5% of the world’s chocolate is produced in the same country where it is grown. Producing their chocolate locally, and from all Madagascan ingredients means that at every stage Menakao contributes to and supports the local economy.

Another example of similarly ethical production is family-owned Chocolat Madagascar. Like Menakao, every stage of the production, ‘from tree to bar’ happens in Madagascar – and its factory provides employment (and living wages) for its 125 staff. Chocolat Madagascar was set up by Chocolaterie Robert, who have been producing chocolate in Madagascar since 1940, and also pays their farmers far above the Fairtrade minimum price. In their turn, the farmers take a huge amount of care in their work, producing cocoa beans of an exceptionally high standard.

Since 2010 Chocolat Madagascar has been engaged in large scale reforestation projects in Madagascar. These provide further local employment and help to protect the unique and highly endangered Malagasy flora and fauna. The result is a business that does far more than simply paying Fairtrade prices: from people to plants, to wildlife to fine chocolate fans around the world – this sustainable business model helps everyone.

Chocolateri Robert Farmer

Chocolat Madagascar farmers and their families

Header image courtesy of Menakao chocolate.
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