Zotter is an Austrian bean to bar chocolate maker with a penchant for the wacky.
Founder Josef Zotter loves to experiment with flavours. His filled chocolates include everything from cheese to bacon and vodka to frankincense. But at the heart of everything Zotter does is a simple, ethical approach to chocolate making.
The Zotter range is large and diverse, with over 200 different bars being available at any one time. Never afraid to fail, Josef creates dozens of new flavours each year.
Here at Cocoa Runners, we’ve decided to concentrate on Zotter’s “Labooko” range of single origin chocolates. With an extensive range and two bars in each pack, they’re perfect for tasting, sharing, and exploring the differences between bean varieties, percentages and flavours. We were lucky enough to ask a few questions to find out more about Zotter’s exciting chocolate….
- What’s Zotter’s background? Why and how did he get into chocolate?
Josef Zotters passion always was cooking and working with high quality ingredients. As a cook he worked in the best restaurants of this time in Vienna and also in New York and there he focused on the “sweet sides of life”. This was till 1987. He allways wanted to make his own business and so in August 1987 he started with me his own pastry shop in Graz. There we tried to make everything ourselves – confitures, compotes and of course pralines. And so first of all the Handscooped chocolates very developed (1992).
In 1999 we decided to close our pastry shop in Graz and focused on producing our Hand-scooped Chocolate here in Bergl.
We started with one employee and Josef and myself (Ulrike). In this time we used couvertures from Callebaut and Valrhona for our Hand-scooped Chocolates, but we already dreamed to make our chocolates from bean to bar. A Craft-Bean-to-Bar production, as you can find them nowadays, was in this time not available, here in Austria or in Germany such productions did not exist.
So we worked very hard and our chocolates got more and more well known and we had increase our production. And we travelled the first time to a cocoa-producing country, to Venezuela. There we saw the first time, how cocoa grew, and how it was produced – fermented and dried. But we also saw under what bad working and living conditions this was done. So when we returned home, we looked into possibilities to get couvertures, for which the cocoa production took place under good conditions. So since this time we only are buying FAIR TRADE certified ingredients, coming from countries of the south.
Our aim was also only to work with organic ingredients, but this conversion took more time, but we succeeded in 2006.
In late 2005 we met an Austrian Guy – Bruno Plunger, who worked for many years for the Austrian Development Agency in Nicaragua, to support local farmers to become independent. There were many small farmers who had cocoa trees, but could not really sell their cocoa beans. Bruno Plunger supported them in building up a cooperative and in raising the quality of the beans and the fermentation and drying. But he also had to find companies, which were interested in buying this cocoa. He came back to Austria and Germany looking for such companies. But soon he was disillusioned, because there were only few, but very big companies. And for those companies only the price of the cocoa and the quantity was important.
So he came to us too, but at this time, we did not produce from the cocoa bean, but we were very interested in and stayed in close contact with him.
Because to build up a bean-to-bar production was very expensive for us, we thought about dividing the production process:
To roast the beans and to make the cocoa mass, this process we wanted to do in Nicaragua. And the further production – from cocoa mass to the ready chocolate, we wanted to do here in Bergl. So this was our first plan and so we travelled with Bruno Plunger to Nicaragua and visited many cocoa farmers and also had meetings with authorities. But when we saw all the difficult circumstances in this country (corruption, unsureness of the politics, etc. etc.) we decided very quickly, that we will make the whole production here in Austria and buy the cocoa beans from the cooperation in Nicaragua..
So we started planning our bean-to-bar production in spring 2006 and finished it in September 2007. Since this time, we have produced all of our chocolates from bean-to-bar.
- What mission has Zotter set for making crafting chocolate?
Our main mission is, that we know the quality, the provenance of each cocoa, of each ingredient we use for our chocolates. We know most of the cocoa farmers, cocoa cooperatives and producers of the other ingredients. We can decide what we use for our chocolates. We can decide how the chocolate will taste in the end – how long we conche, etc. etc. It gives us freedom and independence – and allows us to do also crazy things…
- When did Zotter start the company — and with whom? How many are there of you?
We started in 1987 – in the pastry shop in Graz , there were Josef and Ulrike Zotter and around 10 employees.
By 1999 we were the only chocolate in Bergl – there were Josef and Ulrike Zotter and one employee
However, now we have expanded, we are around 160 persons – including our family (Josef, Ulrike, Julia and Michael. Only Valerie our youngest daughter is not yet in the company)
4. Where do you want to go next? New bars? New beans? New markets?
We are of course open for new beans, new flavours…We would like to branch into China – Shanghai is developing slowly, but we will see what it will bring in future.
5. How did you source your beans?
We get our beans from the following places;
Nicaragua – as explained previously
Panama – In Changuinola/Panama our son Michael spent a year as a host pupil, when he was 17 years old. And there he found this cooperative, which has a very tradition in FAIR TRADE and organic. When we visited him, we got in contact with them and still we get cocoa from the border of Panama to Costa Rica.
Bolivia – El Ceibo is the name of the cooperative providing us with very good cocoa. We use their cocoa from the beginning of our bean-to-bar production. In the meantime they developed very good and produce themselves chocolates too. And so normal they do not sell cocoa beans anymore, but because have very good contact to them, we still get cocoabeans from El Ceibo.
India – We got in contact with Mr. Bijoumon at the Biofach Fair in Nürnberg. He is the head of the cooperative in Kerala, which is the only one in India producing organic and fair trade cocoa.
Peru – There are several cooperatives, which we get cocoa from. There is for example El Naranjillo. The cocoa fields are in the region of Tingo Maria, where also much coca is grown. And many of the cocoa farmers were coca farmers before. The cooperative is also highly developed and produce also cocoa butter, cocoa mass and chocolates.
We had a trainee in our production – an agricultural engineer – who went to Brazil for the German Development Agency to work with cocoa farmers in Brazil – in Altamira-Para. And so our partnership with the farmers of Brazil began. Our daughter Julia lived there too for three months to make studies about fermentation of cocoa.
A German Guy – Clemens Fehr – who is married to a lady, coming from the border of Kenia and Kongo, sells to us vanillia and also this cocoabeans.
From these countries we get our cocoa beans directly from the cooperatives.
- What is your favourite food? Wine? Other chocolate makers?
Favourite food: We eat all kinds of food – and we love to eat. But for us the most important thing is, that the food must be honest. I mean no artificial ingredients, no convenience food. Honestly cooked, of course we prefer organic ingredients – especially meat.
Wine: It is the same. Here in Austria many winemakers have changed into organic or biodynamic – those wines we prefer.
Chocolate makers: We respect all honest bean-to-bar chocolate makers. And particularly enjoy Domori!