From having been “the food of the goods” (Theobroma Cacao), chocolate has, sadly, often fallen to being a commoditised, mass market ingredient in confectionery.
In some ways the “commoditisation” and “mass processing” of food, of which chocolate has been subsumed, has been great. For most of history the majority of humankind has been at risk of starvation and malnutrition. By the late 20th century, for the first time, the majority of humankind had an abundance of affordable food and drinks.
However this has been at significant cost. All too many “mass market” foods (and drinks) prioritise low price and consistent, homogenous flavours over farmers’ livelihoods, environmental impact and the amazing variety of flavours, tastes and textures that are available from great ingredients.
In response, the likes of fine wine, specialty coffee, artisan cheese, craft beer, bespoke gin, malt whisky, heirloom breads and many other “craft” foods have countered mass market homogeneity by stressing the unique tastes and flavours, along with the heritage and socio-economic benefits, of their products. They are all about stories (aka marketing) and provenance (i.e. the quality of their ingredients and craftsmanship). And they are far more environmentally and socially sensitive.
It’s fascinating to hear from experts in these other areas, and to taste their favourite craft chocolate bars. Hence why we set up our “Craft Chocolate Conversations” (see here for more). So we are really looking forward to our second “Craft Chocolate Conversation” with Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood. Maxwell is not just a UK Coffee Barista champion, but also a champion weightlifter and Royal Academy appointed portraitist. And he’ll be “cupping” a couple of his latest coffees whilst tasting a bunch of his favourite bars with us on Sunday the 27th September at 11am.
And for another coffee perspective, we are delighted to announce a Virtual Tasting and Craft Chocolate Conversation with James Hoffman of Square Mile on Thursday the 12th November. After an early career as a croupier, James moved into coffee becoming the UK’s first World Barista Champion and is hosting the world’s largest coffee tasting on the 3rd October (see here for more details). Before he became a YouTube star, he also realised the importance of showing customers in person how to brew coffee – setting up the Penny University for “slow brew” filter coffee way back in 2010.
Fine wine (or e.g., malt whisky) – like coffee and chocolate – is also all about the quality of the grapes/beans, fermentation and crafting. But one aspect that distinguishes wine, whisky and many alcohols apart is the concept of vintages and “ageing”. This makes them collectible. This makes them (in theory) a great investment. Indeed the BBC had an extraordinary story about how one man has just sold a collection of Macallan Whiskys that his father gave him every birthday for 18 years to put down a deposit on his flat (see here).
You can’t really do this with specialty coffee where freshness is paramount. Ageing obviously doesn’t work for bread. And even within artisan cheese, the likes of Parmesan can’t be laid down for the next generation.
Craft chocolate is different. As with wine, each harvest is very different. And unlike unroasted coffee beans, unroasted cocoa beans CAN be stored and aged. But it’s very rare to be able to taste different bean vintages “side by side”.
That’s why we are delighted to be able to offer you the opportunity to taste two different vintages of the same bean, from the same farms, but of different vintages from Fresco Chocolate. Amy and Rob of Fresco held over some of their 2017 Oko Caribe beans from the Dominican Republic and then crafted these beans, along with the 2019 vintage beans. And we are really delighted to have been able to secure a small allocation (and we mean small — in wine terms it’s only a couple of cases) of these bars. See below for more details.
One side note. You can age (dark) craft chocolate at home. To do this, we strongly recommend you store the bars in an airtight box where there is no strong light and minimal temperature change. And you do not need to worry about any best before dates (see blog for more details). But if the bar contains milk, preservatives (yes, really) or if the bar has a “use by date”, please do NOT try to age your bar. The use of preservatives, and existence of a “use by” date means that one or more ingredients will go “off”
However even if you do store your dark, craft chocolate in an airtight container (including our pouches) in a cool, dark cupboard, the bar will still have a different mouthfeel after a couple of years. Well made chocolate literally melts in your mouth because cocoa butter can be “tempered” to Crystal Structure 5 which melts at just below human temperature. And cocoa butter has another property. After tempering, cocoa butter is technically still a liquid (sort of like the way glass is technically a liquid) and this helps generate craft chocolate’s wonderful goo-ey, creamy mouthfeel. However after a couple of years, cocoa butter gradually moves from being mainly a liquid to being more of a solid. And this can impact mouthfeel.
It is relatively simple to reverse this solidifying tendency in aged bars. You just have to heat the chocolate up again and then use a spoon, spatula, etc. to savour it (it’s a great way to use any fondue pots that you haven’t used in a while). But we do accept that eating vintage melted chocolate from a spoon is different from sharing a couple of bars after dinner. And sadly this probably means that giving your son or daughter a case of great craft chocolate each year which they “lay down” is unlikely to replicate the wonderful story of the Macallan birthday present leading to a deposit on a house. But it does argue for experimentation and NOT throwing away bars past their “best before” date.
So please avail yourself of the opportunity to try two “vintages” from Fresco. And also we’ve two bars from Mucho which showcase the radical impact of different fermentation approaches. And as a further incentive to purchase either pair of bars we are offering a small 10% discount on these bundles for this weekend.
And please, please do join our “Craft Chocolate Conversations” with both Maxwell and James. As you know, the Zoom calls are free – but it’s a lot of fun to hear what you are enjoying about the coffees and bars.
As ever, thanks for your support,
Spencer, Simon, Lizzie and Harmony
PS — if you are reading this on Sunday Morning before 9-30, please do turn on Sunday Brunch on Channel 4 where we are tasting three great Craft Chocolate bars with Tim, Simon and guests