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Craft Chocolate London

Craft Chocolate Makers in London

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The London craft chocolate scene is booming.

When Cocoa Runners started in 2013 there were no small-batch craft makers in London. Back then you could pretty much count all of the UK’s bean-to-bar craft chocolate makers on one hand.

Fast forward less than four years and London has now got a growing handful of dedicated and talented craft chocolate makers. While fantastic small-batch chocolate makers are also appearing in cities such as Manchester and Sheffield, London truly is the capital of British craft chocolate.

More and more artisan makers are appearing in London. Each of these makers has a unique style but they all share a desire to craft the best possible chocolate straight from the bean.

In small workshops spaces, or even their spare rooms, they use the smallest number of ingredients possible to make chocolate with distinct flavours. The focus is not on flavourings or novelty ingredients but on the complex characteristics of the cocoa beans.

Discover the incredible pioneers crafting small-batch chocolate in London…

Lucocoa

ama andyThe first maker to officially launch in 2014 was North London’s Lucocoa, founded by Ama and Andy. As they recently told the Times, Ama and Andy have two objectives. First they want people to eat purer, better chocolate with good simple ingredients, and to that end their bars never contain anything more than five ingredients: cacao beans, cocoa butter, coconut sugar, milk and lucuma (a Peruvian superfood). More than that, Lucocoa is trying to encourage people to savour chocolate as one would a fine wine.

For International Women’s Day this year, Ama from Lucocoa has created a series of chocolates celebrating the achievements of female cocoa farmers and growers. We’ve partnered with her to bring you her International Women’s Day Limited Edition Belize dark chocolate bar.

The special wrapper depicts Minni Forman, Managing Director of Maya Mountain Cacao in Belize. Minni is key to all aspects of Maya Mountain’s operations. She oversees everything from Maya Mountain’s research farm to its post-harvest facilities and relationships with local farmers. Ama has used beans from Minni and Maya Mountain to craft this special bar.

DISCOVER LUCOCOA

Damson

Damson ChocolateNext is a maker very close to our heart. Before launching Damson Chocolate, Dom Ramsey was a prolific chocolate blogger and founding member of the Cocoa Runners team. In his very first year, Dom received two awards for his chocolate at the Academy of Chocolate Awards, as well as a prestigious ‘One to Watch’ Award.

Based in Islington’s Chapel Market Damson describes itself as ‘fanatical about quality’. Crafting bars in its modest Islington kitchen, every stage – from roasting the beans to wrapping the bars – is carried out with meticulous attention to detail. In celebration of the local area Dom even created a special dark chocolate, the Angel Bar.

DISCOVER DAMSON

Land

Land ChocolateBased in Bethnal Green, Land is London’s latest exciting chocolate arrival. Land was founded in 2016 by Phil Landers. Phil was previously a radio producer, but looking for a change, he went travelling around Central America where he discovered cacao.

Returning to London with his new-found passion, Phil trained with well-known chocolatier Paul. A. Young and then American chocolate makers Mast. Branching out by himself Phil is now crafting his own beautiful single-origin bars in an old furniture maker’s workshop. Currently a one-man show, he does everything himself, from hand-sorting his beans to hand-wrapping his bars.

His packaging is as stylish as it is informative. On the back you can discover exactly where the beans for each bar have come from. Focusing on South and Central America, Phil is keen to explore lesser-known origins and create bars with more unusual profiles.

DISCOVER LAND

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Whittard Tea & Chocolate

Welcome Whittard

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Earlier this year we were delighted to spend time with the expert tea tasters from Whittard, tasting their fine loose leaf teas and sharing some of our favourite bars.  It was fascinating to learn so much about  the origins of different teas, and all the care and attention that goes into preparing the perfect cup.  Perhaps it was inevitable that we would eventually find ourselves trying out different pairings of teas and bars.

Along with the fantastically knowledgeable Bethan Thomas, Tea Buyer & Manager at Whittard, we presented our three favourite combinations at the Chocolate Show London in October 2016. We were delighted to share our pairings and hear other people’s notes on the teas and chocolate. You can also discover each combination for yourself. Read on to find out more. Mao Jian & Marou Ba Ria, £18

Mao Jian & Marou Ba Ria £18

Whittard Chocolate and tea 1For those looking for a more robust taste to their green tea, this famous variety from China’s Hunan Province might be just the ticket.

The elegant blue-grey leaf takes its colour from the silvery buds picked early in the spring, while the infusion itself produces rich, roasted notes and a vibrant nutty complexity. There’s even a floral sweetness to the finish, far from the bitter, tannic taste which you might associate with lesser green teas.

The name itself is a reference to the quality of the leaf: ‘Mao’ refers to the youthful, downy quality of the barely opened buds, while ‘Jian’ refers to the peaked tip of the young leaves, delicately picked and gently rolled by hand.

Ba Ria is a rich and fruity chocolate, made with beans from the Bà Ria province of south eastern Vietnam. This bar is a sublime and intense chocolate experience that tastes as good as it looks. This is the kind of chocolate that makes you look twice at the ingredients to see where the intensely fruity flavour is coming from. Of course, there are no added flavours, and the deep, red fruit notes in this chocolate come entirely from the south Vietnamese Trinitario cocoa beans.

When tasted together, they transform the separate flavours in a most unexpected way.  Whittard’s tea expert said “We’d always considered our Mao Jian as a typically ‘nutty’ fired green tea, but it transformed into something altogether more floral when set against Marou’s intense 76% Vietnamese dark chocolate.”

Keemun Mao Feng & Solomons Gold £18

whittard chocolate and tea 2Keemun Mao Feng – aromatic notes of sweet plum and smoked pinewood.

This smokey pairing brings together a Keemun from China and a dark chocolate from The Solomon Isles.

One of our most prized Chinese teas, we’ve sourced this exceptionally high grade of Keemun from Anhui Province, the home of Chinese black tea. While ‘Keemun’ refers to the region of ‘Qimen’ where this tea was first produced using specialist techniques learnt in AnHui, ‘Mao Feng’ gives a clue to the superb quality of the young spring leaves. Skilfully picked and processed by hand, the result is an extraordinarily smooth, plummy sweetness, tinged with a subtlest touch of Lapsang-style smokiness.

Comparable to a fine Burgundy in the tea-tasting world, this is the sort of tea connoisseurs dream about. We’d recommend using slightly less leaf, brewing lightly and drinking without milk to bring out the notes of plum, black pepper and smoked pinewood.

Perhaps one of the most interesting chocolate phenomena, this ‘smoked chocolate’ note is something we are seeing more of. There are a number of cocoa-producing islands in the South Pacific and many of the bars that hail from them have a similar profile. At the same time, each different plantation and islands’ own micro-climate has a huge impact on the beans’ flavour. So far Solomons Gold has the most pronounced smokiness  of any bar we’ve tasted.

This is a seriously intense and savoury dark bar. The chocolate has little to no fruit but instead is infused with a seriously smokey aroma. The flavour is not so much nutty or roasted as a big blast of wood smoke.

Imperial Puerh & Pacari Sea Salt & Nibs £12

Whittard Tea & Chocolate 2Imperial Puerh – Strong and earthy, yet clean and refreshing.

This pairing brings together a fine Puerh from China and a dark chocolate from Ecuador.

Our Imperial Puerh is a particularly fine variety from the home of puerh tea, Yunnan Province in China. Unlike many lesser quality puerhs which tend to be heavy and musty, this is a clear-tasting and richly flavoursome tea, substantially full-bodied without a hint of heaviness. You’ll find the earthy notes are beautifully balanced by a fresh, clean sweetness, and the result is surprisingly refreshing.

There’s no tea quite like puerh. It’s the only tea to be fermented alongside the usual oxidation process using healthy microbes and microflora: the bacteria required for a healthy digestive system. As a result, puerh has long been viewed as an aid to digestion and weight loss – over the centuries, it has been claimed to reduce cholesterol, combat ageing, reduce the risk of heart disease and help with circulation, to name but a few of the reputed benefits. However, a good puerh is far more than just a medical brew.

The unroasted dark chocolate has an earthy green flavour and unusual grainy texture. The Ecuadorian nibs give a satisfying crunch bar and further bring out the wooded vegetal notes in the chocolate. The hints of salt give a distinctive contrast, refreshing the palate.

Ecuadorian cacao is known for its earthy profile, and tasting this alongside the highly aromatic yet earthy Puerh makes for a satisfying and somewhat savoury pairing.

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New Craft Chocolate As Seen On Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch

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On Sunday 10 October, Cocoa Runners co-founder Spencer returned to Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch to share four of the newest & most exciting craft chocolate bars in the Cocoa Runners Library. Click here to buy the full collection or read on to explore the individual craft chocolate bars for yourself.

 

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Original Beans – Cru Udzungwa 70%

Original Beans Cru Udzungwa

First is a brand new addition from Original Beans. Its Cru Udzungwa dark chocolate has been crafted using beans from the edge of Udzungwa Mountain National Park in Tanzania. Locals grow the cacao trees in special village gardens. This gives locals a good source of income and thus supports local communities and their stewardship of Udzungwa National Park which is home to a number of endangered species, including African elephants.

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Georgia Ramon – Philippinen 80%

Philipinen Black 80

 

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Next is a Georgia Ramon’s Philippinen 80% bar. Cocoa Runner’s first German maker, the company was founded by Georg Bernadini and his partner Ramona Gustman. Georg has worked in the chocolate industry for over 20 years and has now put his years of knowledge and experience working for others to good use. The beans are sourced directly from the Puentespina family in the Philippines.

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Luisa Abram – 70%

Luisa Abram 70%

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Then travel to the Amazon with Luisa Abram’s 70% dark chocolate bar. Luisa and her father Andre travel up through the Brazilian rainforests and up the Amazon river looking for rare cocoa beans and long-forgotten or undiscovered varietals. They buy their beans directly from the local communities who harvest, ferment and dry the beans. These are then shipped down-river to Luisa’s workshop where she transforms the precious cacao into incredible chocolate!

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Chocolat Bonnat – Javan Dark Milk

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Finally we have a decadent Chocolat Bonnat Javan Dark Milk from one France’s oldest chocolate makers. Chocolat Bonnat has been crafting chocolate in Voiron, France for over 130 years. The company is currently headed by the sixth generation of Bonnat chocolatiers Stephane Bonnat. Javan cacao has a particularly fine flavour and the island’s cocoa trees are believed to trace their roots all the way back to Venezuela.

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Click here to buy the full collection or discover the individual craft chocolate bars for yourself.

Menakao Cocoa Nibs

What Are Cocoa Nibs?

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There has been a lot of buzz about cocoa nibs recently, but what exactly are they?

Everyone knows that craft chocolate is made directly from the cocoa bean. But did you know that these cocoa beans are a delicious treat all by themselves?

Cacao nibs are pieces of fermented, dried, roasted and crushed cacao bean. Once roasted, winnowed and cracked the nibs are generally made into chocolate. But these crunchy bits of cocoa nib can also be eaten just as they are. This is ‘chocolate’ at its purest – no added sugar, no milk, no flavourings and almost no processing. And just like the chocolate they are turned into, cocoa nibs have been shown to have many different nutritional benefits.

Cocoa nibs naturally contain a significant amount of fibre (about 9g per ounce) as well as magnesium, potassium and more calcium than cow’s milk. Cocoa beans are a plant-based source of iron. On top of this cacao contain high levels of flavonoids, particularly epicatechin which studies have shown to have a beneficial impact on cardiovascular health. Of course all this can also be said of chocolate, but without any added sugar or milk cocoa nibs are the best way to get these benefits.

It’s not just about eating something that’s good for you however, it’s about eating something that tastes good. Cocoa nibs have a slightly nutty texture, comparable to cashews or macadamia nuts. The nibs aren’t as bitter as you might expect as the flavour is less intense and generally fruitier.

Our Madagascan nibs by Menakao have a particularly pronounced fruity aroma with a roasted undernote. Sharp citrus mixes with orange and cranberries. The profile is similar to Menakao’s dark bars but with a raw, unprocessed edge: the same flavours are present but haven’t been focused and refined as in a bar.

So what to do with these delicious and diverse cocoa nibs? Nibs are a wonderfully versatile cooking ingredient that you can use in both sweet and savoury dishes. Below we highlight some of our favourite ways to use cocoa nibs.

  1. Start your day with a crunch. Add a sprinkling of cocoa nibs to your morning porridge, giving it a little more texture and a roasted chocolatey note. For a deliciously fruity breakfast, why not use Menakao’s roasted nibs and add in a handful of dried fruit to bring out the beans’ own flavours.
  2. Bake to perfection. Described by some as ‘nature’s chocolate chip’ cocoa nibs can be added into cakes, cookies, biscuits, brownies, muffins and more! Cooking will soften the nibs a little but they’ll still retain some of their crunch. Remember that while the nibs are bursting with intense flavours, they’ve none of the added sugar that chocolate does. So you might need to adjust your recipe accordingly.
  3. Top everything. Don’t stop at porridge and baked goods. We think a liberal sprinkle of cocoa nibs can improve any number of dishes from your superfood smoothie, to yogurt and granola, to rice pudding or pancakes.
  4. Be bold. Chocolate might be regarded as a sweet treat, but nibs don’t have to be. Just like nuts and seeds cocoa nibs make a great addition to salads.
  5. A simple snack. Instead of munching on dried fruits or nuts, why not try a handful of cocoa nibs to keep you going throughout the day. Keep a little sachet by your desk for when you need a sugar-free chocolate fix.

How do you use cocoa beans? Let us know your favourite recipes.

Sources:

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/02/cacao-nibs_n_3695571.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cocoa_bean#Health_benefits

Georgia Ramon

Meet The Maker: Georgia Ramon

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We are really excited to have welcomed Georgia Ramon, our first German craft chocolate maker to the Chocolate Library this month. Based in Bonn, Georgia Ramon is the brainchild of Georg Bernadini and his Partner Ramona Gustmann.

Georg is already a well know figure in the chocolate world – he has been working in the industry for over twenty years, and been involved with the bean-to-bar movement since 2005. We asked him a few questions about his latest chocolate venture and the vision he and Ramona has set out for Georgia Ramon.

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

I stems from an Italian family of restaurant proprietors. I started my career in 1984 as apprentice at a German patisserie in Bonn.

In 1987 I worked for few month in Munich at Kreutzkamm (very famous for Stollen and Baumkuchen). In the same year I moved to Paris where I worked for five years at a German/Austrian Patisserie and in the meantime also in a 2 Michelin star Restaurant in Toulouse.

In 1992 I established the Confiserie Coppeneur together with Oliver Coppenur. In 2005 we started our Bean-to-Bar project. I was responsible for the whole project starting with sourcing machines and cocoa beans, but also for recipes, production, design and marketing.

In June 2010 I retired as partner of the Confiserie Coppeneur.

In 2012 I published my first book Der Schokoladentester followed from the second edition, this time also in English, in September 2015. (The English edition The Chocolate Reference Standard is available for sale on Cocoa Runners here). In 2016 I write one or two new books (with chocolate recipes), but this time not self-published.

When I was working in Paris my dream was to establish my own company. The choice was between a patisserie or to specialize in gelato or chocolate. Chocolate seemed to me to be the best choice. Chocolate was always my favorite sweet so I didn’t take long to think about my choice.

  1. What mission have you set for making crafting chocolate?

I saw the new revolution of craft Bean-to-Bar in USA, but also in many other countries. Only few new projects started in Germany. I wanted to bring this wonderful craft to the mind of German consumers. I was tired about the mediocre and bad chocolate produced from the industry. Also I like to go new ways. There are already many, many single origin chocolates. The market doesn’t need the 75th Akesson Madagascar-chocolate bar…

Of course we will always produce also single origin bars, but I also would like to create new tastes, like our Brokkoli chocolate (our number one seller). Actually I’m working on a tomato and on a stinging nettle chocolate. It’s a thrilling time as we are able to make every day tasting at the counter of our own shop. So we get feedback every day.

My main focus is to use the best ingredients as I can find and not to make any compromise in this!

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

With my life partner, Ramona (Gustmann) we started in May 2015. Now we have a full time pastry chef and 3-4 part-time staff.

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

The first step is to establish our brand in the traditional market as a high quality craft Bean-to-Bar brand. We still work to optimize our way to produce chocolate. The feedback of our customers is even better than I dreamed. They love our chocolate and this is quite satisfactory.

Of course we will create new bars. New flavored bars, but also new origins. There are so many origins to discover that I refuse to limit myself to work only with few origins. I know that some customers, especially re-sellers, wish to have a kind of stability in the selection. But this is not always possible.

For example: we started with a quite rare organic Ghana cocoa bean from the ABOCFA-Cooperative since the beginning of our company. Two weeks ago I got the information that we cannot anymore buy this beans as the cooperative sold the whole harvest to one customer in Netherlands. Our Ghana chocolate is the bestseller from our origin range, but we cannot anymore produce this chocolate. So we have to find a new origin. And I’m seriously when I say to all chocolate lovers: buy this bar before it is sold out! You will hardly find this quality made from Ghana cocoa beans, especially in organic quality!

I also want to develop our range of strange and new tastes like tomato and stinging nettle. Somebody wrote last week on Instagram in context to our broccoli-chocolate something like ‘Nobody need this kind of chocolate’. This is a quite big error and nonsense! If we don’t continue to experiment with any kind of ingredients, ways to produce a chocolate etc., where is the legitimacy existence of creativity and also of craft bean-to-bar? How can we progress and develop new products if we don’t try to go new ways? Also, why is chocolate in dishes (as mole) OK, but not vegetables in chocolate? It don’t make any sense to me. Why coffee or matcha is OK in chocolate, but not broccoli, tomato or stinging nettles? Sorry, but this kind of opinion and also of inconsistency I don’t understand.

New markets: This is not our main focus at this time. Before thinking about new markets we would like to get enough and good partners in the traditional market.

  1. How did you source your beans?

Our beans from Maranon (Peru) and Philippines are directly traded. Our Belize beans are fair traded beans which we buy through the importer of the TCGA-Cooperative, Mr. Patrick Walter. But we are in direct contact with the cooperative in Belize. The fair trade and organic Ghana cocoa beans we sourced from Josef Zotter and our Dominic Republic beans we buy from a local dealer who I know now for more than 10 years. For us it is important to know the traces of the beans. From where they come, who produces them, how are the conditions where the people work etc.

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

My favourite food? Oh, many… and I’m happy that Ramona agrees with me in almost all of my favourite foods. First of all, of course, chocolate in all variations. But I love also all other kind of fine food. Pastry/Desserts (especially Japanese pastry in European style) Cheese, fish, seafood, fine salami, olive oil, bread.

Wine is not really my favourite beverage. I like good wine, yes. But I prefer often to get a delicious IPA craft beer or craft beer generally. I love a nice Rhum and my favourite cocktail is definitely: Cacacha + fresh cocoa pulp and a hint of lime served on a cocoa plantation in Brazil (I had this wonderful experience with my friend Diego Badaro/AMMA). For food I’m/we have quite simple tastes. The quality of the ingredients has to be good and the cook not the worst. In this case you will always be happy with what you get.

I have some chocolate makers which are definitely my favourite makers (in no order): Rogue Chocolatier, SOMA, Sirene, Metiisto, Zotter, Domori, A. Morin, Pump Street Bakery, Patric Chocolate and of course Fruition.

For assorted chocolates I love especially Es Koyama, Demarquette, Le Chocolat de H, Nobile Cioccolato, William Curley, Patrick Roger and Wild Sweets.

Vive La France! A Celebration of French Chocolate

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There’s only one way we at Cocoa Runners could celebrate Bastille Day and that’s with some decadently delicious French chocolate. We’ve created a special collection just for the occasion, stuffed with some of the best craft chocolate bars from l’Hexagone.

As we you dig in to these truly exceptional bars we thought we’d take a look at some of the reasons we love the French chocolate so much. You can read on to find out more, and if you want to taste as you go, you can buy our limited edition Best of France collection here.

Tradition & heritage

We talk a lot about the recent chocolate revolution. Over the past decade there has been a huge resurgence in craft makers as people rediscover the forgotten craft of chocolate making.  France is perhaps the only place where this isn’t the case, because in France this craft was never lost. Makers such as Bonnat, Pralus and Cluizel have been crafting chocolate from the bean for longer than almost anyone else.

Take Stephane Bonnat. The sixth generation chocolatier still crafts his bars in the same workshop that Felix Bonnat opened in 1884. Some of the original machinery is still in use, while others have been designed exactly as they were. Bonnat still follows traditional methods and much is done by hand. But innovation also has its place – alongside this Bonnat has also custom-designed other modern machinery to compliment the traditional.

Dedication & craftsmanship

The French chocolate tradition isn’t just about history, it’s about perfection that can only come from obsession.

Francois Pralus’ love of the Madagascan bean, has led to him buying a plantation there. Not only does this mean he can control every stage of the chocolate making but also how the beans are grown, fermented and dried.

Pralus’ continued fascination and dedication has also led him to seek out numerous different beans from around the world and develop bars that capture the flavour of each. Always looking for new challenges he currently uses 16 different origins while Bonnat sources cacao from a staggering 35 different plantations worldwide. Each origin is treated with individual respect. Each presents a unique challenge as makers try to craft the beans into the best possible bar.

Adventure & innovation

As craft chocolate took hold, the number of makers in the USA the number of makers has grown exponentially. In France, where respect for tradition and continuity are so important, we haven’t seen the same frenzy of newcomers. But we there are still some new players. Two of our recent discoveries are Chocolat Chapon and Ara (Sabrina & Andres hail from Venezuela but chose to begin their chocolate enterprise in France).

French chocolate makers also aren’t afraid to innovate.  Patrice Chapon has created a single-origin mousse bar. Instead of choosing a different flavour of ice cream to devour on a hot day, you can choose a chocolate mousse made with beans from various origins. Patrice even has his own mousse bar that can be seen driving around Paris.

And when it comes to true chocolate innovators, look no further than Bertil Akesson. The son of a Swedish diplomat, Akesson grew up in France (which is where he now makes his chocolate). Bertil was a key part of the new chocolate revolution. He was one of the first people to start selling high quality, Madagascan cocoa beans to small makers around the world (including others in France such as Bonnat and Ara).

Renown & inspiration

France’s chocolate tradition is an inspiration for many other makers. Whether they are buying beans from Bertil Akesson or remembering the taste of Bonnat from their childhood.

One of the key concepts for craft chocolate is ‘terroir’, a term borrowed from the French wine industry. A fundamental element to the cacao’s taste, terroir refers to the environmental conditions where the cacao is grown. Marou is one maker who has taken this to heart and exported across the world to Vietnam. Samuel Maruta and Vincent Mourou, the company’s French founders, craft all their bars in Vietnam and source the beans for each from a different Vietnamese province or terroir.

Rich Buttery profile

Last but by no means least, one thing we truly love about French craft chocolate. Just like their ‘patisserie pur beurre’, French craft chocolate is often butter-rich. Here the butter in question is cocoa butter. This is the natural fat present in the cocoa bean and is what makes real chocolate melt so delicious in the mouth. Adding additional cocoa butter to your bar creates rich, dense and ever so smooth texture we have come to love from many French makers.

And if you want to taste for yourself, why not try our limited edition Best of France collection?

 

Discover the Best of France collection

 

Monthly box

The May 2016 Collection

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Spring has finally sprung in London, and along with the change of season we are delighted to welcome a brand new British maker, Aztec Gold.

Aztec Gold founder has spent her life as a globe-trotting chef and restaurateur. When ex-chef Emma moved to Costa Rica, she truly discovered cacao for the first time. Moving back to the UK, Emma made her childhood dream of becoming a chocolate maker a reality. Based in Oxfordshire, Emma is dedicated to making chocolate that is good for you and for cacao farmers.

Aztec Gold – Dark Nibs 75%

Aztec Gold - Peru dark with nibs 75Crafted using unroasted cocoa beans, sourced from a small-scale cooperative in Peru. A generous bar. The smooth texture and slightly buttery mouthfeel contrasts with the sharp crunch from the nib pieces.  Nibs add a wooded intensity but the overall flavour is sweetly vegetal with a green coconut note. A hint of powder on the finish.

Journeying from the new to the old, we bring you a bar from one of France’s most well-established makers. Second generation patissier and chocolate maker Francois Pralus has continued his parents’ work, pioneering an extensive range of single-origin bars and even acquiring his own plantation on Madagascar. Pralus’ Indonesian bar uses only Javan cacao. The trees are descended from the Criollo cacao originally imported by the Spanish the 17th Century.

Pralus – Indonesie 75%

Pralus IndonesiaA classic dark bar from Francois Pralus. A clean snap, smooth melt and buttery mouthfeel begin the tasting. Roasted and gently smoked notes dominate the bar. Subtle hints of citrus fruits and spice lie beneath the surface. Earthy liquorice and candied orange peel appear and dissolve quickly on the tongue.

Skipping accross to Canada, we’ve a new bar from Sirene. After graduating in biology and economics, Taylor Kennedy decided to become a photographer. He spent 18 years photographing, writing and editing for National Geographic before switching directions again and becoming a chocolate maker. Taylor’s stylish twin taster packs were a huge hit when we first introduced them last year. We’re sure this new offering will prove just as popular.

Sirene – Dark Milk (Mixed Collection)

Sirene Dark MilkUnwrap Sirene’s unique packaging and discover a tasting pair of single origin dark milks. First the Madagascan. Sugared notes of brown butter mixes with jammy apricots. A faint aroma of summer berries lingers. Next the Guatemalan is creamy with a touch of cooling menthol. The sweet but subtle milky flavour reminded us a little of a panna cotta or creme caramel. A delicate hint of maple syrup on the finish.

Sirene – Wild Bolivian (Dark Only Collection)

Sirene Wild Foraged BoliviaSirene describes the dark chocolate as having a ‘ hint of the feral’ but we think it has more the aroma of adventure.Made using wild cacao grown deep in the Bolivian rainforest. The initial melt is very smooth thanks to a buttery texture. Rich chocolatey flavours have a slightly muddy edge. A spiced note lurks beneath and in turn gives way to coffee and chalk.

Finally journey to the Czech Republic for the latest creation from Jordi’s. The Czech Republic first and only bean to bar maker, Jordi’s crafts its bars in Hradec Králové, 50 miles east of Prague. Its eclectic range encompasses different origins, flavours and even bars using sheep and goat’s milk.

Jordi’s – Dark Milk 65% (Mixed Collection)
Jordi's Dark MilkLiving up to its name, Jordi’s new bar has all the intensity of flavour we would expect from a dark. The milk gives little sweetness but helps to create a rich and creamy chocolate that coats the mouth. The chocolate has a slight tang and as it melts we noticed an earthy hint.

Jordi’s – Madagascar 75%

Jordi's MadagascarJordi’s latest single origin bar uses Bertil Akesson’s Madagascan cocoa beans, from his Bejofo plantation. An initial hit of red fruit slowly develops into more citrus notes as the bar melts. The flavour of this smooth bar then evolves and leaves you with a slight earthiness.

And if you really loved the box and want to stock up, you can buy The May 2016 Collection here (Dark Only).

ritual chocolate

Meet the Maker: Ritual Chocolate

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Since 2010 Anna and Robbie have been crafting bars from the simplest of ingredients: just single origin cocoa beans and cane sugar. We’ve been following Ritual since before Cocoa Runners even began, so we are truly delighted to be able to share its bars with you. And we were lucky enough to speak to Anna and Robbie and find out a bit more about them and how they maker their chocolate..

 

  1. What’s your background? Why and how did you get into chocolate?
[Anna]: I spent many of my childhood years on our family farm in Essex. Being around a family business at a young age really inspired me to start business that I could put my values into and that really had meaning for me. I moved to Boulder, Colorado for High School with my mother who is American and ventured back across the pond to Queen Marys College, London studying English Literature and Drama.

After University I traveled to South East Asia for 6 months, with an interest in other cultures passions, food, and way of life. Coming back to Colorado in 2006, I fell in love with the Colorado Mountains and outdoors. I set my sights on teaching yoga and doing triathlons. During this time my interest in fine food, coffee and wine was developing. When Robbie and I met in 2008 we quickly became excited by the idea of starting a business together that would really fuse our love for the outdoors, travel, different cultures with our love of food.

Initially when the idea of chocolate came up we knew very little about it. Of course, we loved eating it, but we quickly discovered that most chocolate on the market was pretty low quality. Through a lot of research, we slowly began to see the potential for making ultra-high quality chocolate, but we had still not tasted any at the time. From there, we just kept taking small steps towards perfecting our craft and creating our business. And since the first batches we made in our apartment, we kept taking small steps and now we’ve gotten to where we are today with our own factory in the mountains and a brand and quality that is pretty well known within the chocolate community.

 

[Robbie]: I’m originally from Park City, Utah, which is where our factory is now located. As for education, I was originally a Geology major, but switched to majoring in English Literature with a minor in Geology. So my education didn’t really prepare me for chocolate, but in some ways it did because chocolate is equal parts science and poetry. It definitely helps to approach flavor scientifically, but at the same time we create and problem solve using creativity.

During and after college I pursued competitive cycling with hopes of making a career out of it. Although, right out of school I got a job as a writer and editor for a cycling magazine called VeloNews. In 2009, I wrote an article about coffee, and as part of the article I arranged a “cupping” and graded around 20 coffees. Anna and I were both inspired by the way terroir and roast levels affected flavor. We were already thinking about starting our own business, and this experience influenced us to want to work with a food that relies on terroir for its flavor. We always loved dark chocolate, but didn’t really see it as a fine food at the time because we were only paying $2-$3 for the chocolate we were eating. But through a few small events, we discovered that chocolate had a lot of potential and was something we could really be interested in. In 2009, we thought it was quite strange that we could buy fine cheese, coffee, olive oil and wine, but we couldn’t find any fine chocolate in Boulder, Colorado at the time.

From the spring of 2009 onward, our focus shifted almost entirely from our previous lives to that of chocolate. By Jan 2010 we made our first couple batches at home. In March of 2010 we spent a month in Costa Rica trying to learn about how farming practices influence final cacao quality. Then in September of 2010 we founded the business and only sold directly to friends, at events and markets. Finally, on January 1, 2011 we began working out of Steve DeVries’ factory in Denver and the rest is history. We moved out of DeVries’ factory on February 1, 2015 and opened our new factory in Park City, UT in mid-March of 2015.

2. What mission have you set yourselves for making chocolate?

A lot of what motivates us is the concept of “quality of life”. We make chocolate to improve the quality of life for everyone involved—all the way from the growers to the customers. We’re happy to pay high cacao prices if that means our growers can improve their quality of life. We want to make sure we’re not adding to the destruction of our planet along the way as well. The quality of all life is important to us, not just human life.

As for chocolate making itself, we set our standards painfully high because we want to make sure our chocolate is as good as it can possibly be. The better the quality of the chocolate, the better experience our customers will have, and that fits in with our goal to improve quality of life. On a personal level, a lot of our decisions over the last couple years have been based around improving the quality of our own lives. We moved from Denver to Park City so that we could live in the mountains and have immediate access to the outdoors. Denver is a great city, but we prefer to go on a mountain bike ride after work rather than going to a bar/pub (and not that we don’t go out, we just like to do it after we’ve had some time outdoors).

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

Ritual Chocolate was founded by Robbie Stout and Anna Davies. It was just the two of us from 2010 to 2013. Since our first hire in 2013, we’ve grown to about 15 employees total (including ourselves).

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

Lots of new bars. We’ve held off on launching new origins and other bars for a long time because we were waiting to launch our new packaging first (2 years in the making). Now that we have the design and branding that will represent us for many years to come, we’re ready to launch all sorts of things. We’d like to release 5-6 bars this year, fingers crossed.

As we continue to evolve, we’d like to improve the sourcing side of our business and spend more time at the farm level. As more makers enter the market it’s going to get harder and harder to source the quantities that we need, so we’re going to have to get creative about how we do that. As for new markets, we’re really excited about beginning to sell in England as that is where Anna is from and where most of her family lives. Robbie also has some family there so it’s nice to have our bars available to them.

5.How did you source your beans?

Every origin we work with is its own story.

In the beginning, there were fewer importers and we didn’t know about the ones that existed, which is why we went to Costa Rica in the first place. Our first origin, our Costa Rica bar, was from one of the farms we visited and the beans were brought into the US by Steve DeVries. The Peru cacao is a good story, especially since it pertains to the bars we sent to you. In March 2010, we tried a test batch made from the newly discovered Marañón cacao. This is the pure Nacional origin that is 40% white to 60% purple beans on average. At the time, that test batch was the best chocolate we had ever tried, by a landslide. From that day onward, it was one of our goals to make chocolate with those beans.

So we wrote to Pearson family, the family that discovered that cacao and increased the production in that area, and we requested beans. For years, they only sold chocolate made from those beans, which Felchlin in Switzerland made. We continued to beg, and we gave them samples of our chocolate to prove that we were worthy of such an incredible source. Finally, after about 3 years of waiting, they finally got back to us to let us know that they wanted to sell cacao to us. We were their first bean-to-bar customer (except for Felchlin of course). And it’s kind of a funny coincidence, because we now have the same U. Ammann conches that Felchlin uses, so for the inquisitive chocolate connoisseurs, you can see how different our style of chocolate making is compared to Felchlin, even with the same conches and same cacao.

6. Similarly would love to hear more about innovations in tech, crafting, marketing etc. you’re pursuing.

Since we first began making chocolate, we’ve always been big proponents for deconstructing the whole chocolate making process into its most basic steps so as to have unlimited control over each of those steps.

What we mean by this is that instead of using an all-in-one processor, like a CocoaTown or a Universal Conche that can process nibs and sugar into finished chocolate, we prefer to break the process down into have a pre-refiner, a mixer/grinder, a roll mill refiner and finally a longitudinal conche—so four individual steps with specific machines instead of just one to do all four of those steps. In doing it this way, we’re able to better control the texture and flavor of our chocolate.

In 2011, we were one of the only companies in the country refining chocolate on a 3 roll mill (at the time I think Amano was the only other one, and I think Rogue got his roll mill shortly after). So at the time, our chocolate was incredibly smooth compared to other bean-to-bar chocolates. And I think, because the difference was so apparent, several other companies got roll mills too, so now our chocolate isn’t quite as unique as it used to be, but it’s still quite smooth relative to most of the chocolate out there.

In addition to our roll mill, our other important piece of equipment is our longitudinal conche from Switzerland. Our set was built in 1915 in Langenthal, Switzerland by U. Ammann. The base of each pot is made of granite and all the rollers are steel. This type of conche conches the chocolate in a very slow and delicate way that expels unwanted flavors over a period of days rather than several hours like some of the modern machines. We’ve found that this slower approach to conching, while less efficient, allows more of the subtle flavors to shine through rather than being lost. A lot of the really modern machines are designed to process the ultra-high tannin cacao from Ghana and Ivory Coast (as that is where most cacao is grown). So these machines do a good job of making bad cacao taste good, but they do a bad job of making good cacao taste as good as it can.

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

We love wine, whisky, and fine cheeses. But we also love simple foods like black beans and rice and oatmeal. I’d say the majority of our daily calories come from avocado, eggs, bread, granola, sugar-free almond milk, chocolate, nuts, wine, beer and whisky.

We eat a lot of chocolate every day and we get a lot of sugar from eating foods high in sugar for cycling and running, so we typically crave salty foods at the end of the day. After a long day tasting chocolate, a two hour afternoon mountain bike ride with maple syrup (or anything else sweet) in my bottles, I’m usually ready for plate of salty, Mexican enchiladas for dinner. We almost never eat dessert.

Undone Chocolate

Meet The Maker: Undone Chocolate

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If you’re a member of our monthly tasting club, then you might just have had a bar from Washington D.C’s first craft chocolate maker, Undone Chocolate. We caught up with co-founder Adam Kavalier to find out a bit more about Undone and how he first got in to craft chocolate.

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

My background is in science, I was working on my PhD in plant biochemistry and fell in love with cacao in the laboratory. Cacao is full of potent phytochemicals and it intrigued me as a source of medicinal compounds. I began playing with chocolate at home and fell in love with the regions and flavors. I continued to work in science and made chocolate at home for several years; after some great feedback from family and friends I decided to pursue a career in craft chocolate and started Undone Chocolate, Washington DC’s first craft chocolate maker.

  1. What mission have you set yourselves for making chocolate?

We set out to make a simple, pure, healthy and delicious chocolate. We use just two organic ingredients for our base chocolate and don’t add any cocoa butter or lecithin in alignment with our mission. Like other craft chocolate makers we are trying to transform peoples understanding of chocolate from that of a candy to that of a food. Craft chocolate is generally a healthy food when eaten in moderation. It is our goal to balance flavor with health and produce a minimally processed chocolate full of integrity.

  1. When did you start Undone Chocolate — and with whom?  How many are there of you?

We started making chocolate in DC in September of 2014 and launched our products in December of that year. We have now grown to a company of 4 employees.

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

We just launched two drinking chocolates and a cacao shell tea for the winter so we’re starting to approach new markets with those products. We’re going to continue to grow our inclusion line, as well as work with new origins in Central and South American.

  1. How do you source your beans?

We work closely with other chocolate makers to source the best beans we can find. By using directly sourced cacao we are able to get the highest quality beans with great consistency. We pay at least 3 x the premium of fair trade for our cacao and it is worth every penny. With two ingredient chocolate we are only as good as our beans are so it is a necessary expense. We take a lot of pride in supporting our producers and helping to tell their story.

  1. Similarly would love to hear more about some any innovations in tech you’ve made, etc

We have been working closely with an engineer who has been modifying spice grinders to use in chocolate making. He has developed heating (conching) mechanisms and other innovative attachments to help us make delicious chocolate with simple stone grinders.

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

Favorite food, chocolate of course! Also love California wines, and Argentinian Malbecs. Top three favorite makers: Dick Taylor, Fruition, Soma. But there are another 20 or so that I love as well.

Monthly box

The April 2016 Collection

By | This Month's Box | No Comments

This month we bring you a collection that brings together some of the finest bars from European and American makers.

Anyone who follows craft chocolate closely will know that the US chocolate revolution has charged forward rapidly in the last few years, leaving us Europe (and the rest of the world) running to keep up. To put this in perspective: the last few years  the UK chocolate movement has grown from less than 5 to close to 20 ‘bean to bar’ makers. In the States, they have gone from about 20 craft chocolate makers to a couple of years ago to several hundred today. In this month’s box we bring you bars from US makers at both ends of the revolution: the already well-established (and respected) Ritual, and exciting new-comer Undone.

Our first bar this month is a very special creation from Utah-based Ritual. When Anna and Robbie first tasted these Maranon beans they knew they had to make a bar from them. Grown in the Maranon river valley in Peru, these beans are an exceptionally pure strain of the Pure Nacional cacao. Only recently rediscovered, there is an ever-growing waiting list of craft makers wishing to use the beans. It took Ritual three years to convince the Pearson family (who own the beans) to sell them some of this rare heirloom cacao. (And it took us almost as long to convince Anna and Robbie to start selling internationally!)

Ritual Maranon Peru DarkRitual – Peru Maranon 75%

The bar is pale in colour, thanks to the high percentage of white beans. The delicate bar dances between fruity and floral. Sharp cherries with a hint of citrus sweeten into a spicy, aromatic finish. The chocolate has a gently buttery texture, giving a smooth melt without becoming cloying.

Staying in the States, we now travel to Washington DC and welcome our second new maker, Undone. Adam Kavalier, who founded Undone with his wife in 2014, was originally a phytochemist. While researching flavonoids he slowly found himself being drawn to a particular source of flavonoids: chocolate. This particular bar is made using rare Bolivian beans that grow wild in the rainforest.

Undone Wild BolivianUndone – Wild Bolivian 70%

Indulgent notes of sweet cocoa lead to earthy coffee. We detected a hint of fruit mixed in to the smooth chocolate. The astringency builds towards a slightly drying sherbet finish. A complex bar, on each tasting different flavour revealed themselves.

Next we come to the Netherlands and our second very different Peruvian bar. Chocolate makers Enver Loke and Rodney Nikkels have sourced beans from the Peruvian Amazon. The bar is named for the indigenous peoples, the Awajun, who live in the rainforest and harvest the cacao and are also represented on the front of the bar.

Chocolate Makers Awajun CriolloChocolate Makers – Awajun 80%

We found this to be a far more intense experience than Ritual’s Peruvian bar. The rich flavour is immediately apparent from the bar’s chocolatey aroma, laced with a hint of bitterness. As with Chocolate Maker’s other bars, the texture is seriously smooth and buttery. There is a green, slightly earthy dimension that reminds a little of unripe banana and fresh coconut.

Finally we have two brand new bars that bring together the snowy peaks of Iceland and the sun-drenched valleys of Tanzania. The eternally stylish Omnom has crafted its latest chocolate using Simran Bindra’s (of Kokoa Kamili) beans from the Kilombero Valley. Look out for Omnom’s new custom mould which completes its perfectly designed chocolate.

 

Omnom Tanzania Dark MilkOmnom – Dark Milk of Tanzania (milk only box)

At 65%, this is very much a dark milk chocolate. The high cocoa content gives the bar a richness, while the addition of milk creates a thick and indulgent texture. As you take a bite, the chocolate melts softly, almost like a piece of fudge, and filling your mouth with flavour.

Omnom describes its bars as tasting like ‘a brownie’. We agree that there is something deeply chocolatey about the bar. A distinctive note of muscovado adds another layer of decadent flavour.

 

Omnom Tanzania DarkOmnom – Tanzania Dark (dark only box)

Omnom’s darkest chocolate to date, the well-tempered bar is smooth with a quick melt. The bar is rich and fruity with layers of damsons, apricots and ripe plums. A darker, roasted note hints of creamy hazelnuts and adds intensity.

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