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Texture, Emulsifiers, Binding and Lecithins

gif of vinegar and oil separating

This week’s blog post explores the delights of craft chocolate’s amazing TEXTURE, as well as the knotty (and quite technical) problem of emulsifiers and lecithins. Even if you think that you’d like to “glaze over” (pun intended) emulsifiers, they are worth understanding and checking out. The use of LOTS of emulsifiers should raise a lot of red flags; they are extensively used in ultra processed foods, mass produced confectionery, etc. And nutritionists are increasingly worried about some of their health side effects, especially to your gut.

But at the same time, there are some cases where emulsifiers can play a role in cooking and even in some craft chocolates.  And there is even some evidence that sunflower lecithin can lower cholesterol.

Texture, Cocoa Butter, Fats and Emulsifiers

One of chocolate’s many wonders is TEXTURE. Its mouthfeel is (literally) unique. It’s the only product that can be solid at room temperature and then, as you place it on your tongue, it slowly melts, conjuring all sorts of unctuous delights and releasing incredible aromas and flavours. (And as a quick side-note: We as humans are also unique in being able to appreciate these flavours as we are the only animal that can detect flavour in our mouths. READ MORE).

In craft chocolate this ‘melting’ is thanks to cocoa butter’s crystal structure. After the cocoa beans have been roasted, they are winnowed and then ground and conched into a fine liquid (think Willy Wonka’s rivers of chocolate). This liquid chocolate is then tempered (i.e. heated, cooled, and reheated) to a specific formula before ‘moulded’ into craft chocolate bars that have the (unromantic) crystal structure “V” or 5. Mass produced chocolate tries to replicate the delights of craft chocolate’s “melt” with a bunch of technologies, fats, and emulsifiers. Some of the technology here is spectacularly creative; for example, it’s no mean feat to create a glossy chocolate that covers a frozen ice cream. But in the case of mass produced chocolate confectionery, the focus on cost is a lot less spectacular. To save costs and improve efficiencies, cocoa butter is replaced and supplemented by other fats, preservatives and emulsifiers. And adding vegetable fats, palm oils, and the frighteningly named PGPR are no substitute for cocoa butter’s amazing melt and texture. So if you are wondering why mass produced bars are often so ‘waxy’, just check the ingredients (READ MORE).

And while you are checking your chocolate bar’s label, remember to look out for emulsifiers (inc. lecithins). Emulsifiers are another mysterious additive in mass produced confectionery, ultra processed foods and even some craft chocolates.

Emulsifiers (including lecithins) are a complex and controversial topic. Below we’ve tried to provide a quick definition, history and overview of emulsifiers. And MIllie has produced a series of quick and introductory videos on the topics.

And we’ve also assembled a bunch of craft chocolate bars that are unapologetically FREE of emulsifiers and then a few that unapologetically CONTAIN emulsifiers.

What is an Emulsifier? Definitions and Examples

As anyone who has ever tried to make a salad dressing with “just” oil and vinegar knows, they don’t easily mix. Sure; you can whisk them together. But soon the oil and vinegar will repulse one another and separate. However if you add a little mustard (or egg yolk), you can ‘bind’ them together so they don’t separate. This ‘binding’ of substances that don’t want to combine is called ’emulsification’. Technically, an emulsifier has one end compatible with oil and the other compatible with water, so it can link with both; so they become ‘bound’ and stick together.

And if you’ve ever made mayonnaise at home adding an egg provides the emulsifier by which the vegetable oil, the lemon juice and other ingredients are bound.

The same is also true of making ice cream; but here the egg’s emulsification properties go beyond binding the ice cream, they also impact the texture, making it far more consistent, and less sticky and gloopy.

Historical Development and Application of Emulsifiers

Cooks, and later food scientists, realised that emulsifiers could not only bind but also preserve foods, as well as improving texture and reducing costs.

The classic example here is margarine which was effectively made possible by the development of various emulsifiers. But food scientists rapidly realised that emulsifiers (or specifically lecithins) would also reduce cost, enhance texture, improve mouthfeel, and could preserve shelf life of anything from biscuits and cakes, to sauces and spreads.

All these developments were made possible thanks to the extraction of lecithins’ from eggs by TN Gobley in 1846 (if you think you’ve seen this name before, you are right: Gobley also figured out how to create vanillin: READ MORE). And then in the 20th Century, scientists worked out how to extract lecithin from soya beans and later sunflower seeds. In parallel, scientists worked out how to extract and synthetically create other emulsifiers from everything from seaweed to plants, crustaceans to animals. And these newer ‘extracted’ emulsifiers often do much more than bind together liquids and solids which otherwise would not mix.

For example; one commonly used hydrocolloid emulsifier is carrageenan, extracted from seaweed. Carrageenan is regularly used in dairy and dairy-alternative products, particularly flavoured milk and soy mylk. It’s also added to processed meats to soften their texture and help them retain 20-40% water, providing a highly dubious cost cutting measure. On the other hand, without hydrocolloids commercial yogurts would be a lot “soupier” and watery as it ‘gels’ the low fat yogurt together.

Today, the US FDA has approved over 100 different emulsifiers for use in food, drinks and food-like substances. Emulsifiers’ ability to improve mouthfeel and reduce cost were critical in the development of ultra-processed foods (and that’s why Michael Pollan’s advice to check the label, and beware any additive that your grandmother wouldn’t recognise, is so useful).

Trying to contextualize and date all these applications and technologies isn’t easy; but here is a vastly simplified attempt.

ApplicationExampleTechnology
BindingOil and vinegar in salad dressingWhisking, mustard seed
Stabilisers/preservativesMargarine, mayonnaiseEggs, tomato paste, then extracted lecithins (19th Century)
Texture (and binding)Ice cream, chocolate, yoghurt, alternative m!lks, etc.As above: Eggs and extracted lecithins. Sunflower lecithin (later 20th Century), hydrocolloids (mid-late 20th Century).
Cost cutting/ commoditisationBreads, confectionery, processed meats, cosmetics, etc.Alternatives to vegetable, natural fats; lecithins, gums, hydrocolloids, PGPR (mid-late 20th Century)

Emulsifiers in Chocolate

nsurprisingly, mass produced chocolate rapidly realised the advantages of adding emulsifiers to “chocolate”. In the UK as early as 1929, patents were being made for their use in the making and processing of chocolate by Hermann Bollmann and Bruno Rewald. Firstly, emulsifiers help reduce the cost of ingredients (the likes of soy lecithin and PGPR are far cheaper than even palm oil, and way cheaper than cocoa butter). Secondly, manufacturing costs could be reduced by using emulsifiers: Liquid chocolate all too easily “gums up” machines and emulsifiers, by improving viscosity, means that mass confectionery’s machines can run faster, need less cleaning, etc. Thirdly, they could improve shelf life stability (aka stop other fats going grey etc.). Fourthly, emulsifiers enable food scientists to create all sorts of wacky textures; critical for avoiding ‘sensory specific satiety’ that comes from the short and bland flavours of mass produced confectionery, with its reliance on sugar, salt and fat.

So, as with any other ultra processed foods, if you see a bunch of E-numbers and emulsifiers on the label of your chocolate bar, think twice; it’s a likely sign that your chocolate is mass produced, probably from couverture, nib roasted, and is designed for scoffing not savouring.

Perhaps surprisingly, craft chocolate makers do sometimes make limited use of lecithins; for example:

  1. COOKING AND BAKING: Many chefs want some lecithin in their chocolate for making bon-bons, cakes etc. as it makes enrobing, cooking etc. easier. So some craft chocolate will contain lecithin (e.g., Menakao).
  2. BRIDGE BARS: Craft chocolate can sometimes be a little overwhelming with labels detailing beans from a place they’ve not heard of, and listing a percentage that seems dauntingly high. So to “bridge” this challenge, craft chocolate makers create bars that appeal to the familiar, using local ingredients, familiar flavours and tourist-tempting ideas. These bars act as bridges between the familiar and the new. But crafting them is hard; and to bind together theses various “bridging” ingredients, a little sunflower lecithin can be very useful (see below for some examples from Omnom, including their famed Black N Burnt and Liquorice bars).
  3. MOUTHFEEL: This gets a bit geeky, but depending on the beans, the dark chocolate percentage, how finely you grind and conche, and finally what machines you conche with, sunflower lecithin can help smooth out some of the variations in the coarseness of the chocolate granules. Many chocolate makers use cocoa butter to smoothen the mouthfeel, but this can also create some richness that isn’t always appropriate. But if, for example, you are trying to grind super fine (i.e. below 15 microns) and use a ball mill (as opposed to longitudinal) conche, you can get some noticeable variations in the microns of the chocolate granules which a little lecithin can help smooth over. For an example, please see Firetree’s Mindanao Island dark bar and then compare this with e.g., Friis-Holm or Pump Street, who use cocoa butter.

To date, craft chocolate makers have used sunflower (as opposed to soya) lecithin, and ensured that this is not genetically modified. Short term this may be trickier as much of this sunflower lecithin comes from Ukraine… so watch this space

This use of emulsifiers is very different to mass produced confectionery’s approach. If you look at the ingredients of a mass produced bar of chocolate confectionery, it will have a plethora of different emulsifiers; for example, a bar of Dairy Milk contains emulsifiers and fats including the emulsifiers E442, E476, PGPR, and both palm and shea oils.

By contrast, a craft chocolate bar in most cases won’t contain any emulsifiers or lecithins. And if they are used, it’ll just be ONE lecithin (and no palm oil or vegetable fats, etc.).

Emulsifiers and Your Gut

One final comment:

There is increasing research suggesting that various synthetic emulsifiers, in particular carboxymethylcellulose, polysorbate and carrageenan, may cause issues with the gut and allergic reactions. At the moment, no one is suggesting that these emulsifiers are another nitrite like problem (nitrites are the carcinogen in many processed meats). But it’s worth keeping an eye out for more research here, and keep up to date with our blog.

On the other hand there is also some research that sunflower lecithin’s supplements can help lower HDL cholesterol (the bad stuff), reduce ulcerative colitis and improve memory loss. Plus sunflower lecithin is good as a moisturizer on your skin (however there really isn’t enough of it in any craft chocolate bar for you to consider using them as an unguent or massage oil… although the cocoa butter in a craft chocolate bar does open up other delights).

As ever; it’s complicated. Please see the blog for more information and video.

And you can also watch me explaining the above points in our latest YouTube video on all things emulsifiers. 

And do treat yourself to some of the bars below!

Spencer

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Academy of Chocolate Awards 2022

academy of chocolate banner

The Academy of Chocolate was set up way back in 2005 by the now sadly departed, and much missed, Sara Jane Stanes OBE. Over the years, The Academy has done an amazing job of surfacing a vast array of craft chocolate makers including the likes of QantuStandoutFjåkDesBarresMetiistoCastronovoKrakÅkesson’s, and Duffy’s.

This year’s results have another crop of spectacular bars; with an increasing number from Asia and Australia. And we are delighted to offer a range of gift boxes that highlight some of these many winners.

I also wanted to highlight the critical contribution made to the Academy’s awards by Silvija Davidson. Silvija plays a key role in organising all the logistics of gathering, packaging, dispatching and co-ordinating all the tastings and judging. Along with her husband David, Chantal Coady; Chair of the Academy, Sarah Jane Evans, plus a host of other board members and volunteers, we owe them all a huge thanks.

What’s amazing is the way that Silvija steps back from the actual tasting and judging. Silvija’s modesty and discipline here is extraordinary. For not only is Silvija an expert chocolate taster but she’s quite literally written THE book on tasting and judging food and drinks. Over a decade ago, for The Guild of Fine Food, Silvija produced the first edition of ‘The Language of Taste’, offering insight and advice on products from rice to relishes, pasta to pickles, ciders to cheeses, seafood to sausages, and (of course) chocolate.

Sadly this book isn’t (yet?) commercially available. But it’s a wonderful read; full of insights and humour; here are a few. (Note the whole book is over 140 pages).

It starts with some tactful advice that applies to all forms of feedback, but is especially useful for flavour, taste and texture where often many of us lack insightful words:

“Try not to use any descriptor more than twice …  in particular “good”, “tasty” and “nice”. In fact, do your very best to avoid “nice” altogether … be on a mission to try and avoid”.

And then it dives into the details of all sorts of different foods and drinks:

  • If you’ve ever wondered how to evaluate marshmallows, here are some nuggets: “Marshmallows: Even artisans no longer wrestle with the root of the marsh mallow plant with its supposed medicinal properties: Modern marshmallows are an unashamedly indulgent capture of sugar in a foamy mass, stabilized by gelatine and sometimes (and more traditionally) egg white, or in vegan versions, agar-agar and aquafaba … Childhood memories invariably play a part in our take on the ideal marshmallow with some … looking for a firm texture, and others looking for fluffy, ethereal, melt-in-the-mouth experiences. Let’s settle for “pillowy” as an ideal, bearing in mind that vegan versions are likely to be a tad firmer than those made with egg-white … additions meant to deliver contrasting crunch can’t afford to be soggy”.
  • Or for custard … “while creme anglaise has a very light pouring consistency with no thickeners added, use of corn starch … is fairly standard in British custard. The best custards, however, manage not to feel farinaceous or powdery … sweetness should be in good balance, … [and] should not be in the least cloying”.
  • And in the same section, on brandy butter … “customers have distinct preferences, but what we are looking for is balance, whether the brandy butter is essentially light and creamy or rich, dense and dark. Butter flavours should not disappear altogether, the brandy should be generous in quantity but not hangover inducing”.
  • And then moving to savoury marmalade … “look for tender, long cooked vegetables and an appealing, uncloying sweet-savoury balance”. Or to piccalilli: “While recipes vary, everyone expects a British piccalilli to contain cauliflower, onion and gherkin, and have sweetness and pungency from mustard, and a vibrant yellow colour from the addition of turmeric. Crucially the veg should not be mushy … it’s unfair to mark down … if the chunks are small as there is a distinct category of “sandwich piccalilli” where the relish is designed to stay put comfortably inside a sandwich”.
  • For chocolate, the advice is similarly wise; covering snap and texture, and explaining the importance of dark vs milk vs white, the dangers of vanilla, etc. And Silvija crucially also encourages thinking along different axes to the simple tastes of “sweet”, “bitter”, “salty” and “sour” by asking if the aromas are “complex or simple”, “distinctive or wan” and “intense or weak”, and to focus on the journey and aftertaste.

And this is where Silvija’s insights and focus on length, balance, complexity and depth of FLAVOUR really come into their own. ‘Tastes’; i.e. sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami, etc.; can all be (re)assembled in a factory with additives. And the same is largely true for texture (see next week’s blog post on emulsifiers for more). But flavours and aromas are far, far more complex. Food scientists are only at the foothills of understanding how our olfactory system (i.e. our sense of flavour and smell) works; Linda Buck only won her Nobel Prize here in 2004. We don’t know how to (re)create the complexities and depths of FLAVOUR through additives and artificial constructions in anything like the way we can for taste and texture.

That’s why great chefs, and great chocolate makers, focus on coaxing aromas and flavour notes out of wonderful ingredients (including cocoa beans). Mass produced confectionery and ultra processed foods can’t ‘engineer’ these flavours. And that’s why Silvija’s leitmotif of looking for complexity, balance, intensity and length of FLAVOUR is so important whether it be brandy butter, custard, piccalilli, marmalades, marshmallows or CHOCOLATE.

Silvija is a beacon in her support of REAL food and craft chocolate, and in her condemnation of “lab-created, ultra-processed ‘equivalents’ … the rapidly accelerating drive (and disgraceful propaganda, so often aimed at kids) to undertake  supposed ‘green swaps’ and even, seemingly, to destroy farming and traditional food(s)”.

And if you’d like some evidence of how this works in practice, why not treat yourself to any of the well deserved AoC Award winning craft chocolate bars in the boxes we’ve assembled below.

As ever. thanks for your support, and a huge thanks to the hard work of Silvija, Chantal, Sarah Jane, Marie Pierre and all at The Academy of Chocolate.

Spencer

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Introducing LIM

federico from lim sitting on bags of cocoa bean

This week we are delighted to launch a new craft chocolate maker; LIM (standing for “Less Is More”). Please see below for MORE information on them and their bars.

But first; some questions for you to guess LIM’s country of origin…

  1. In which country was the first recipe for using chocolate published? (Hint: The product was ice cream, and the book published in 1692, and it also included the first known recipe for tomato ketchup, see HERE for more).
  2. In which country did a widow come up with (arguably) the first chocolate Easter egg?
  3. In which country does one town still specialise in crafting stoneground bars with over a dozen brands? (And no, even though Taza does make stone-ground chocolate in Somerville, Massachusetts, the answer is not the USA).
  4. In which country did a wartime shortage of chocolate lead to the invention (or at least the popularisation) of the much loved hazelnut and chocolate spread?

Well done if you managed to guess Italy! Please see further below for answers and comments.

And this week we are delighted to be launching a new Italian craft chocolate maker; LIM; from Federico and Francesca Dutto, who join the ranks of other great Italian craft chocolate makers including KarunaRuket and Amaro.

Their Background

Federico, Francesca and the family live in Fossano, a town famous for its panettone that is located about 100 kms from Turin.

Prior to becoming a craft chocolate maker, Federico was a pharmaceutical chemist for over a decade. Indeed, Federico still works part time for a pharmaceutical/nutrition company; although he hopes soon to devote himself full time to craft chocolate.

Conversion to Craft Chocolate

Just over five years ago, Federico was horrified to discover the appalling working conditions of most chocolate farmers (as he describes it; he couldn’t believe that cocoa farmers “[lacked] access to the basic needs [of] water and food, health, education”. In searching for a way to improve the farmers’ position, Federico discovered craft chocolate. And he immediately set to figuring out how to source cocoa beans, register as a chocolate maker, craft bars, and in October 2020 he sold his first bar.

Federico and Francisco named their company LIM, as an acronym of Less IMore. To expand on this a (little) more, as Federico explains:

 “I want to tell myself (and others) that we can find happiness and satisfaction in minimalism. That’s not easy, all of us are living in a world where commercial and social rules dominate. But, I believe, we can find a compromise. With my chocolate I want to guide consumers on a flavour journey. With just 2 ingredients (cacao beans and cane sugar) we can experience the very best that chocolate can offer”.

And they’ve set two simple, clear goals for LIM:

The first one is to create a great place to work, with loyal employees. I want to set up a rural factory, which, alongside producing chocolate, allows people to relax, work, read, chat, and reconnect with nature“.

“The second goal is to create connections around the world, especially with partners (suppliers, customers, chocolate makers). I want to form partnerships with people who support a completely ethical business model“.

We’d also add that their bars are true to these sentiments. They really do show that “less is more”. These bars epitomise the craft chocolate belief that you can’t beat nature when it comes to flavour. Mass market confectionery believes that chocolate is another commodity ingredient where tastes, textures and (artificial) flavours can all be added in the factory. Craft chocolate believes that if you find great beans, less really is more. You need to coax out the flavour with careful fermentation, drying, roasting, grinding and conching. And then add a (little) sugar to bring out the flavour (note: mass market chocolate uses sugar to give you a sugar spike and create a dopamine hit, get you hooked, etc. see HERE for more). Mass produced bars are designed to make you want to scoff. Craft chocolate bars, like those from Federico and Francesca, make you want to savour.

And one final bonus insight: If you think that the logo on LIM’s packaging looks like an iceberg; you are correct. Federico and Francesca chose this as their logo after a “magical” trip to iceland, shortly after which they became engaged.

LIM only produce a few bars. So in addition to featuring their bars below, we’ve also added a few other great Italian bars from some of their fellow Italian craft chocolate makers: Armin and Katya from Karuna, Marco Colzani from Amaro, and Alessandro and Marco from Ruket.

Enjoy (buon appetito!), and thanks for your support.

Spencer

P.S. A huge congratulations to all of our makers who won at the 2022 Academy of Chocolate Awards. Click HERE or see below for some gift boxes containing these award-winning bars (more on this next week…).

Detailed Answers to the Quiz

  • In which country was the first recipe for using chocolate published?

In 1692 Antonio Latini, a steward to Cardinal Antonio Barberini, published in Naples a recipe book with the first known mention of chocolate as an ingredient (for ice cream). And yes, this does seem to predate recipes for moles. For more see HERE.

  • In which country did a widow come up with (arguably) the first chocolate Easter egg?

Way back in 1725, Turin, a widow known as MMe. Giambone started filling empty chicken egg shells with molten chocolate. The French like to counterclaim that some of Louis XIV’s crafted chocolate into Easter ostrich eggs; and to be honest, it’s hard to establish who was first really.

  • In which country does one town still specialise in crafting stoneground bars with over a dozen brands? (And no, even though Taza does make stone-ground chocolate in Somerville, Massachusetts, the answer is not the USA).

For anyone heading to Italy, near Modica, you’ll be hard pressed to miss their predilection for stone-ground “Mexican-style” chocolate bars. Sadly most of these are made from couverture, and the makers aren’t really crafting the bars, but we’re hoping to be launching a Modica-based craft chocolate maker (Donna Elvira) soon; watch this space.

  • In which country did a wartime shortage of chocolate lead to the invention (or at least the popularisation) of the much loved hazelnut and chocolate spread?

This one (again) is controversial; with the French claiming that they invented praline paste, (also called praliné (prah-lee-NAY)); a groundnut paste made from almonds or hazelnuts, and sugar; way back in the 16th century. But the idea of gianduja (jon-DOO-ya), i.e. combining hazelnuts and chocolate in a spread, is generally credited to a wartime shortage in 18th/19th century Turin where a chocolatier named Michele Prochet extended the little chocolate he had by mixing it with hazelnuts from the Langhe to create a paste that ensured the people of Turin could continue to savour chocolate.

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A ‘Crafty’ Way to Thank Any Teacher

stock image in front of a blackboard

It’s almost the end of the school year here in the UK, and almost all exams are over. So we thought it appropriate to design some novel gifts; with members of the Cocoa Runner’s team each designing a craft chocolate box for different school subjects.

  • To thank your English teacher, Millie has created a gift box appropriately named ‘Shakespeare: The Chocolate Bar-d Box‘ where she’s matched five of Shakespeare’s plays (Hamlet, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Henry IV, A Winter’s Tale, and The Taming of the Shrew) to bars from Friis-Holm, Zotter, Omnom, Raaka and Dormouse. See below for more on the plays and their bars.
  • To thank language teachers, Iona has covered French, Spanish, German, and Italian with bars from (respectively) Bonnat, Utopick, Zotter, and Karuna in ‘The Polyglot Box‘. Again see below for more details.
  • Nick has built a box for a geography or biology teacher, which spans the world and explains the crucial importance of craft chocolate to the environment. He’s chosen bars crafted from cocoa beans that are sourced from all over the world: from Brazil to Uganda, and Ecuador to the Congo, and made both at origin (i.e. the bars are made in the same country as the beans are grown) and also internationally (with bars crafted in The Netherlands and Switzerland). Each of the bars in ‘The Environment Box‘ also showcases the environmental advantages of craft chocolate. And Nick has also included a couple of bars with intriguing inclusions; one with coffee from Latitude and another from Luisa Abram that contains Theobroma grandiflorum, a closely related, but very different tasting relative of Theobroma cacao (the tree on which cocoa pods and seeds grow).
  • Cecily has built a box for science teachers, with bars that cover physics, chemistry and biology. Included in ‘The Experiment Box‘ is also a pair of taster bars from Fresco that show how scientific experimentation can reveal radically different flavours through tweaking the way the same beans are roasted and conched. Again, please see below.
  • Hannah has built a history themed box that showcases the history of craft chocolate bars, tracing the ways in which craft chocolate bars have evolved from rustic, stone ground bars in the 1840s, through to smooth conched bars, and onto milk, and finally white chocolate bars in the 1930s. See her ‘Origins Box‘ below for more details.
  • Iona has built a box to delight any art teacher; with packaging and bar moulds inspired by, and designed by, artists from Karuna, Omnom, Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé, and Chocolate Tree. See her ‘Paint Box‘ below.
  • And last but not least, Nick has also engineered a maths inspired box, with bars from Formula 1 engineers (Duffy’s), maths professors (Luisa Abram), plus bars with puzzling percentages (Åkesson’s “101%” Brazil Bar with cocoa nibs) and fractal, geometric designs (Chocolate Tree) all in ‘The Numbers Box‘.
    Each of these boxes comes with a Cocoa Runners gift box, and we’ve also taken at least 10% off the price of each box’s components, so these make great buys too. In addition, there are downloadable PDFs on the website that you can personalise, and learn more about, the bars and themes. Please see their dedicated page for more details.

If we’ve not managed to cover the subject taught by one of your teachers, we apologise. And may we suggest that you give any of these teachers one of our ICA award winning boxes instead?

As ever, thanks for your support; and thank you for thanking your teachers!

Spencer

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Cacao versus Rainforest Destruction & Murder

dom phillips and bruno pereira in front of amazonian background

It’s now just over a month since British journalist Dom Philips and fellow environmental activist, Bruno Pereira were murdered in Brazil. The exact details are still under review, but it’s clear that they were murdered for their work researching the destruction of the Brazilian rainforest and indigenous peoples.

Many articles  have been written to condemn their murder and to praise their amazing work. And I’d like to use this week’s blog post to highlight their work on chocolate as it helps contextualise the battles Dom and Bruno chose to fight.

Amazonian Deforestation

By now even the most ridiculous climate change deniers acknowledge that the Brazilian rainforest is facing unprecedented challenges from cattle farmers, gold miners, illegal loggers, drug smugglers and even (parts of) the elected Brazilian government.

But the numbers are pretty staggering; here are a few from the appropriately acronymic SAD (Deforestation Alert System or ‘SAD’, in Portuguese, who since 2008 have been using satellite imagery to monitor deforestation).

  • Between August 2020 and July 2021, 10,476 square kilometres of the rainforest was destroyed.
  • To put this in context, this is an area nearly seven times bigger than greater London, and 13 times the size of New York City. That is to say, for every month in 20/21 a rainforest area larger than New York City was destroyed.
  • These “results” were over 50% worse than 2019/20; and 21/22 is set to be even worse, with a predicted increase to over 15,000 square kilometres being destroyed (i.e. an area the size of Greater London being raised every month).

What this means for the people living in the Amazon:

Underpinning the destruction of the rainforest is another gruesome tragedy; the destruction of the indigenous tribes living in the Amazon. Bruno and Dom bravely covered many crimes here; documenting everyday murders through to massacres of entire tribes.

And this mentality and approach of destroying the indigenous peoples has now permeated government policy. Again, to quote an article from Dom Philips, where he reported how in a a Facebook Live broadcast where the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, claimed:

  • “The Yanomami reserve is too big for its population”,
  • The indigenous people in the Amazon “really yearn for white society’s consumer lifestyles” and “don’t want to live in the Amazon”.
  • “The indigenous [peoples] changed, they are evolving … indigenous [peoples] are increasingly becoming human beings just like us“.

It’s worth re-reading the last line, and reflecting that this is a quote by the President of Brazil. This is the same President Bolsonaro who congratulated the US on decimating its Native American population, and regretting that Brazil hadn’t (yet) done the same.

The Link to Craft Chocolate

Back in early January 2020, Dom Philips wrote a piece for The Guardian about how the Ye’Kwana and Yanomami indigenous people were planting, and harvesting, cacao as a means to counter the threats posed by smugglers, illegal loggers, wildcat gold miners (known as garimpeiros), etc. to their traditional ways of life.

Cacao is indigenous to the Amazon; the tree Theobroma cacao can be traced back at least 5000 years. And within the 9.6 million hectares (23.7m acres) Yanomami indigenous reserve, Theobroma cacao trees were well documented and known. However they weren’t that common, and they weren’t regularly harvested. But in the mid 2010s a Brazilian non-profit group, Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), saw an opportunity to plant more cacao trees to support of local indigenous peoples.

The logic was simple; plant cacao trees to provide the indigenous people with an alternative source of income to the bribes, handouts and corruption from the loggers, miners, smugglers, etc.

As Dom Philips wrote:

Garimpo gold is seductive and buys televisions and phones. Four villagers work as boat pilots, others deliver food, and even the village community centre was built with garimpo money. …But the cacao project will offer an alternative, says its coordinator, ISA anthropologist Moreno Saraiva. “We’re trying to build another possible future,” he says. “It will take five years, but if we don’t do this now there will never be another alternative.” …. For these Ye’kwana indigenous men, the skinny (Cacao Tree) saplings, less than a metre high, aren’t just baby cacao trees but green shoots of hope in a land scarred by the violence, pollution and destruction wrought by illegal gold prospecting. That hope is chocolate.”

Brazilian Craft Chocolate

We are trying to source the craft chocolate that Dom Philips wrote about; it’s called: Yanomami-Ye’kwana – 69% Cocoa. But we don’t yet have it for sale.

We do have a range of other bars from crafted from Brazilian beans from makers including Georgia Ramon, Bertil Akesson, Fjak, Bonnat and Zotter.

In addition, we are delighted to work with the Abram family (Luisa, Andre, Mirian and Andrea) who craft their bars in São Paulo (Brazil) and source beans from indigenous peoples living alongside various rivers (rivers provide the main way to transport beans).

Luisa started with beans from the Rio Purus, grown by ‘Cooperar’; a cooperative with around 300 members (and we featured this when we launched her bars over five years ago). Next she branched out to source beans from the Cassipore River; a quest that took her over four years from discovering the beans to finally being able to make bars with these beans. And in the last few years she’s added new sources of beans to support indigenous peoples, including her Rio Acará bars. For these bars Luisa has partnered here with 10 riverside families living alongside the Arauaia, Acará and Guamá rivers who pool their beans and have them transported annually by a local fisherman, Francisco Bico and his wife Yolanda. Luisa is now also sourcing beans from the Tocantis river and region; including a bar infused with cupuaçu (otherwise known as Theobroma grandiflorum), a close cousin of Theobroma cacao. And for more on these bars, and their farmers, and more details on how Luisa and her family are working with them, please check out our updated maker profile.

And for the next month, we’re going to donate 10% of all our sales of all our Brazilian bars (see HERE for the full list) to supporting the great work of Amazon Watch.

Again, craft chocolate doesn’t just taste better, it isn’t just better for you; but it REALLY IS BETTER FOR THE PLANET, RAINFOREST AND THE FARMERS!

Thanks as ever for your support.

Spencer

P.S. A huge thanks to Joanne Silberner, a journalist (and craft chocolate aficionado), for suggesting this story, and to the Guardian Media Group for all its support.

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Why Judging Chocolate Needs the Human Touch

international chocolate awards logo

This last week, the ICA (International Chocolate Awards) released the results of their European, Middle East and African Bean to Bar Chocolate Awards, and a huge congratulations to Duffy’s who won “Best Bar in Competition” for his Guatemala Rio Dulce 70%.

We’ve a bunch of other makers to congratulate too; Puchero, Fjåk, Solstice, Pump Street, Standout, Morin, Friis-Holm, Karuna, Chocolate Tree, Krak, Chocolat Madagascar, Ara, Lim, Mirzam, Utopick and Åkesson’s, to name just a few.

To celebrate, we’ve pulled together a suite of  four bar boxes; a dark box, a milk box, an inclusion box, and also a (two bar) 100% box, where you can sample some of these winning bars and save 15-20% off retail prices.

We’d also like to thank Martin Christy and his teams of judges for their hard work, and to explain how difficult this art of tasting can be, and why (thankfully!) it can’t be automated. Plus, we’ve some suggestions on how to savour these award winning bars (and indeed any craft chocolate bar).

Taste: Art or Science

For most senses and experiences, we have standardised criteria and scientific measurements. Temperature has Celsius (or Fahrenheit or Kelvin). Time has minutes, hours, years, etc. Distance has miles (or kilometres). Weight has kilos (or pounds). Sound has decibels (and pitch, rhythm, frequency, tone, etc.). Colour has wavelengths to describe red, yellow, and even stuff we can’t see.

Food and drink are different. They are about flavour, taste and texture. And for flavour at least, measurements and judgements are a lot more subjective and ‘human’. And they are hard to disentangle.

Our understanding of flavour and aromas is way behind how we understand e.g., colours and sounds (i.e., images and music). The mechanics of our olfactory system by which we humans (and other animals) can detect flavour was only recently discovered (Linda Buck and Richard Axel won the Nobel Prize for their work here on the Olfactory System in 2004). By contrast, since Newton’s work over 300 years ago we’ve had a robust and simple framework to define colour. And we’ve pitch, rhythm, frequency, volume, etc. to understand sound. And whilst for taste (i.e. how salty, sweet, bitter or sour something is) we do have some measurements, and ditto for spiciness (Scovilles), we don’t have defined measures, or even an agreed vocabulary, to articulate aromas and agree what is ‘good’ or even ‘great’.

Consequently, awarding prizes and awards in food and drink is all done by hand (or rather mouth and nose). It relies on PEOPLE: Lots of people doing lots and lots of sniffing, tasting, spitting etc. The likes of Decanter, the IWC, IWSC etc. have teams of wine experts who taste tens of thousands of wines each wine vintage. And the International Chocolate Awards does the same for chocolate; tasting thousands of bars every year from all over the world.

No one in wine, chocolate or any other ‘fine flavour’ drink or food has found a way to automate the process of judging. At best a few tests have been developed to identify faults, and to test for tastes (i.e. saltiness, sweetness, etc.) spiciness and astringency. (Note: The basic tastes of sweetness, sourness, saltiness and bitterness are all well understood biochemically and therefore can be measured, and the same is true for astringency and spiciness (and other trigeminal sensations like mintiness)).

Scientists don’t fully understand how the olfactory system identifies, and prioritises, different molecules as aromas. We don’t have Newton’s light-refracting prism to help us describe and define aromas and flavours. And we don’t (yet?) have the same scientific understanding of the olfactory system as we have for how we see with the eye, retina, etc. or how we hear soundwaves via our ears.

To put it another way: Eat your heart out Google. Without the data, you can’t use AI to automate and predict.

For those of us who are fans of ‘real’ food (and drinks) this has an important silver lining: It’s really, really hard to recreate the flavours that occur in nature. Scientists have some tools; for example, mass gas spectrometers; to help approximate and artificially re-create aromas and flavours. But if you read how long and laborious it was to make artificial vanilla, you’ll see how far they are from cracking flavours (the work behind synthesizing artificial vanilla has been compared to “trying to figure out what was inside a mysterious piece of luggage by heaving it off a hotel balcony”). And even then, artificial and synthetic flavours are approximations which seek out the most important characteristics of the desired fruit or suns, rather than the whole experience. Nootkatone was identified in the 1960s as giving grapefruit part of their distinctive flavours and, when distilled, it made a great addition to create Fresca. But it’s not the real thing.

The ‘real thing’, whether it be fine wine, artisanal cheese, speciality coffee, small batch tea, etc., will have BALANCE, LENGTH, COMPLEXITY and INTENSITY. You want to savour; and you want to linger.

This is very different to the immediate ‘hit’ of processed foods where sugar, salt, fat and additives are designed to make you scoff, scoff and scoff (this is something AI can do distressingly effectively well as anyone whose tried a Pringle will have experienced!).

Mass produced chocolate is based on treating chocolate as a commodity ingredient and the assumption that taste can be manipulated in the factory with artificial additives. It’s about consistency, cost and consumption, and an immediate ‘bliss point and dopamine ‘hit’. Mass produced chocolate has nothing to do with the flavour, the skill of the craftsman or the beans (hence why the source of the beans is rarely mentioned at even the country level, let alone at the farm or co-op level and why the location of making is also never mentioned).

Craft chocolate; like a fine wine or a great speciality coffee; is the opposite: It’s all about finding the best farms, co-operatives and beans. And then about revealing the flavour of the bean (or grape) so you can appreciate not just the initial aromas, but the whole journey of different tastes, textures, flavours and mouthfeel. You want to linger. You want to savour that length, complexity, intensity, balance and mouthfeel.

How to Savour: And Delight in Being Human

Flavour has another intriguing, and uniquely human, attribute. We can detect aromas with our mouths.

Almost all animals (including humans) can detect aromas not just with our noses. But humans can also detect aromas via our mouths. Put another way; once a food (or drink) is in the mouth of a cat, dog, etc., they can only detect tastes; not flavour. So we shouldn’t be surprised that these animals ‘wolf’ down their food. But humans shouldn’t wolf down our food. We’re missing what makes enjoying food a uniquely human experience; appreciating the flavour released by the heat of our mouths and enzymes in our saliva. Indeed, some historians like Richard Wrangham argue that this is the basis of all human development as it explains why we learnt to cook food, and hence gather nutrients in our food far more effectively and efficiently than any other animal.

Whatever the case, to take advantage of retronasal (mouth based) and orthonasal (nose based) flavours (i.e. what we smell with our noses and then detect in our mouths), wine has developed all sorts of protocols for savouring wine; admiring the colour, swirling your wine in a glass and sniffing it before sipping it, then sipping it and holding it in your mouth before you gargle it, etc.

We believe that a similar approach is needed for chocolate, but with a few twists. As well as admiring the shine of the chocolate’s temper, you should also snap a bar to ensure that it’s ‘in temper’ and so it will melt in your mouth. And then we advise you to treat the savouring like surfing a wave, where you first prepare for the wave, then wait for it to break (and release the initial tastes and aromas), before riding the wave and enjoying all the other flavours, textures and waves that will roll across. For more details please come to one of our virtual tasting sessions. And whenever you savour any craft chocolate, please do consider the journey you will go on, and use use this wave for savouring developed by Professor Barry Smith (Professor of Philosophy at London University and founder of the Centre for the Study of the Senses), James Hoffmann (world barista champion), and Rebecca Palmer (wine buying director for Corney & Barrow).

And here are a few other pointers to make tasting more fun and rewarding:

  1. Try to have a few chocolates on the go at the same time (easier than with wine or coffee). It really highlights the differences, and these ICA boxes make ideal examples, as does a virtual tasting.
  2. Try to share and discuss with friends. It’s more fun. And articulating the notes you detect helps you discover and remember.
  3. Try to have some crib sheets; most of the time tastes, flavours and textures are “on the tip of our tongues” but hard for most to articulate. Hence why we always hand out our “chocolate tasting wave”.
  4. Give it time. Lots of time. Revisit and repeat. And don’t worry if you don’t detect the same aromas as others; the sensations you detect in your mouth from the same chocolate may differ from your friends because different enzymes in different salivas release different aromas and flavours.

Summary

The release of these awards by the ICA gives us all a great opportunity to sit back, reflect, and savour some really great chocolate bars. A huge thanks to them. And ENJOY!

Spencer

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Books and Chocolate

As the summer holidays come ever closer, one fun and important task will be selecting books to take with us on our travels.

So for anyone with a love of chocolate; or indeed anyone with a passion for everything from the science of flavour, history, environmentalism, or health & nutrition; we’ve started to assemble a list of great books featuring chocolate. We’d love your suggestions to fill out these lists and even add new categories; here’s what we have so far:

  • Novels: Everything from Willy Wonka to Agatha Christie; we’ve a range of great stories where chocolate takes centre stage. See HERE for more.
  • Science: Chocolate’s amazing versatility provides a fantastic lens to explore everything from the science of flavour (Anne Sophie Barwich’s ‘Smellosophy’ remains our ‘go to’) to the intricacies of chocolate crafting. Again see HERE for more.
  • History and Environmentalism: There are a wealth of great books here from the seminal work by Sophie and Michael Coe, and again we strongly recommend Dr Kristy Leissle’s ‘Cocoa’ as a fantastic introduction. See HERE for more.
  • Recipes and Craft Chocolate: We’ve built this list with a focus on craft chocolate makers’ contributions as so many of them (Casa Cacao, Pump Street, Dandelion, etc.) have written personal stories combined with recipes and histories of cocoa. See HERE for more.

Please look through our ‘first pass’ lists, and use this form to suggest other books, and even new categories, that you would like to recommend and add to the list.

Book Clubs and Chocolate

We’re also delighted to be working with Kathryn Laverack and Cat Black on the wonderful idea of marrying book clubs and craft chocolate. Bottom line; different craft chocolate bars, makers and growers can provide a great means to illustrate and explore themes from any book. Please do look through some suggested pairings, with accompanying videos.

And now that in-person book clubs are back, why not bring along a few craft chocolate bars to thank the host and share with other guests?

Chocolate DJs and Book & Bar Sets

During lockdown we asked a bunch of craft chocolate enthusiasts from other industries like Tim Spector, Julian Baggini, James Hoffman, etc. to online “Desert Island Chocolate” tasting sessions, where we told their lives through chocolate (and we do plan to continue these in the autumn, both in person and virtually). We also asked these enthusiasts to pair some of their favourite bars with books they’d recently published. To quote a Japanese proverb; these pairings are like “hitting two birds with one stone”.  You receive a great book and great chocolates.  And they make great presents.

One final point; we will be exploring chocolate and… movies, podcasts, music, and more, soon! Again, your recommendations are most welcome (you can add them to our form too).

Thanks as ever for your support.

Spencer

P.S. Nick and I have been to Amsterdam for Chocoa this last week, so expect a full report next week!

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Bem-Vindo (Welcome) to Vinte Vinte

a waterfront cityscape of porto in portugal

With a bit of lateral thinking, many people can work out that the biggest tourist money spinners in California are theme parks (Disneyland, etc.). Figuring out California’s next biggest tourist money spinner is trickier; but it’s sort of similar; it’s wine tourism in Napa and Sonoma. And this wine tourism has hugely helped promote passion for Californian wine all over the world.

For whatever reason, most European wine makers haven’t really jumped on this opportunity.

…Until now.

In July 2020 Porto, Portugal’s Northern capital, launched the wonderfully named ‘WOW’ (World of Wine), the brain child of Adrian Bridges, CEO of Taylor’s Port.

Adrian saw the passion and enthusiasm created by California winemakers with their visitor centres, train tours, etc. And he also realised that this sort of immersive experience could provide a unique angle to differentiate Porto. Porto has amazing restaurants, hotels and architecture. But unlike the Portuguese capital city of Lisbon, Porto doesn’t (yet?) have the likes of Lisbon’s Gulbenkian or Berardo Art Museum. But now it has WOW; which seeks to move beyond wine and establish “The New Cultural District”.

And WOW has moved from being “just” about port and wine. There is also a fashion museum, a cork museum, and frequent photography exhibitions.

Plus, for anyone interested, and especially anyone passionate about craft chocolate, in July 2020 WOW also opened a chocolate museum (called “The Chocolate Story”) and Pedro Araujo and Adrian Bridge also launched Vinte Vinte, a new craft chocolate maker a few months later in November. Just as the wine museum in WOW seeks to demystify and contextualise wine by showcasing all Portuguese wines and wine regions, the Chocolate Story at WOW graphically contextualises chocolate’s 5000 year old history and provides immersive, hands on activities to demystify how cocoa beans are transformed into chocolate bars.

This sort of experience is super important for craft chocolate. When you visit a specialty coffee shop, the barrista can not only explain the importance of their beans but they’ll also personally display their mastery to “pour over” a filter coffee, “pull” an espresso, perform “latte art”, etc. And consumers can ‘see’ the difference, and, almost by osmosis, learn the difference between mass produced, instant coffee and speciality coffee. It’s far harder to explain this for craft chocolate. Just looking at the packaging doesn’t easily reveal the huge difference between a mass produced bar where the “maker” buys in, and remoulds, industrial couverture as opposed to the approach of craft chocolate bars where makers work directly with farmers to seek out the best beans before crafting these to coax out flavour (come to our tastings to understand why we compare mass produced bars to chicken nuggets and craft chocolate to a home cooked roast chicken).

And whereas London alone has over 2000 speciality coffee stores, Europe overall has less than 20 makers where you can visit a craft chocolate maker to see them crafting their bars (for more details on these great pioneers, and maybe find one near you, please see our ‘chocolatourism’ section).

WOW’s Chocolate Story is even more than a visit to a craft chocolate maker. There are fourteen different “rooms” (or sections) to WOW’s Chocolate Story. The first sections deal with chocolate’s spread around the world; covering first the pre-Columbus Mesoamerican four thousand plus year history before explaining how chocolate spread in 17th and 18th century Europe, and then how mass marketing in the 20th century caused the dramatic rise of industrial, mass produced confectionery. There are also sections on Theobroma cacao as a plant, and its environmental importance. And then there are sections explaining how chocolate is crafted and made; with a clever series of images of hands to reinforce the manual nature of all steps of both industrial and craft chocolate on the farm and jungle. And of course visiting WOW’s Chocolate Story also gives you the chance to see the magical transformation from beans to bar achieved by Pedro and team, and in person hear more about the origins of their various bars.

Visiting Vinte Vinte, The Chocolate Story, and WOW is a great reason (if ever one was needed!) to visit Porto, one of Europe’s most magical cities. And while you are there, please do also consider a day trip to Aviero where you can visit Sue and Tomoko, founders of another Portuguese craft chocolate maker, Feitoria do Cacao (and great mates of Pedro’s), and see why Aviero is known as “Portugal’s Venice”.

Also if you want to find out more about Pedro and Vinte Vinte’s story, please check out our maker profile (and yes, their name, Vinte Vinte, or “Twenty Twenty” in English, is a reference to Theobroma cacao, the cocoa tree’s, preference to grow within twenty degrees North and South of the equator. And no, there are no plans to change the name of Taylor’s, Fladgate’s, Croft’s, or any of Taylor’s other port brands to “Twenty Eighty Fifty Two”; the latitudes for wine grape growing!).

Finally, if you can make it to London on the 7th July, please also join us when we are holding, with Pedro, a port and chocolate tasting. We’ll run through why these pairings work so well, taste a bunch of Pedro’s bars (and a few of his other favourite makers bars too), and also hear more about his extraordinary journey from chef to craft chocolate maker (if you’d like to bring kids, that’s fine too; just be aware that some of the tables that people will be sitting out will serve alcohol).

Thanks as ever for your support, and hope to see you on the 7th!

Spencer

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Chocolate for Father’s Day by Fathers, Daughters and Sons

fathers' day graphic

Celebrated for over 100 years (at least in the US), and in various permutations (e.g., St. Joseph’s day) for even longer in other parts of the world, Fathers’ Day hasn’t really ‘taken off’ in quite the same way as e.g., Mothers’ Day.

Although I’m biased, I think that this is a real shame. So this week we are trying to fix this with a Fathers’ Day craft chocolate gift from five different teams of fathers, daughters and (one) son/grandson comprising:

This box is priced at £24.95 (a saving of over 15%) and for more details please see below. We’ve also a range of other great Fathers’ Day presents including pairings with wine, whisky and more, plus some great tasting courses.

And if you’d like to know a little more about the origins, and different forms of celebrations, surrounding Fathers’ Day please see below. Be warned, try as I did, I can find few linkages between Fathers’ Day and chocolate. But please do help us make that link, not least as this may well address one of the challenges Fathers’ Day faces; the lack of memorable and suitable gifts.

The History of Fathers’ Day

If you are in Italy, Spain, Portugal or Bolivia we’ve sadly missed your Fathers’ Day, as this is celebrated on the Feast of St. Joseph on March 19th.

But unlike Mothers’ Day, which at least in Europe is rooted in another religious tradition (the idea of returning to your “mothering” church), St. Joseph’s Day doesn’t appear to have given rise to the modern tradition of Fathers’ Day.

In most other countries Fathers’ day is celebrated on the third Sunday of June (for some reason Austria, Ecuador and Belgium celebrate on the second Sunday; if you know why, please do comment below!). And the origins of Fathers’ Day are attributed to two initiatives started in the USA. The first occurred in Fairmont, West Virginia, July 5th 1908 when Grace Clayton suggested to the minister of the local Methodist Church that they hold services to celebrate fathers after a deadly mine explosion killed 361 men. The alternative backstory to Fathers’ Day occurred a year later 1910 in Spokane, Washington State. This story credits Sonora Smart Dodd for the idea; with her inspiration being a Mothers’ Day sermon, where she decided that fathers; like her own father,  William Smart, a veteran of the Civil War, who after the death of his wife raised six children with “hard work and love” on a small farm; should also be thanked and have a special day.

The idea received considerable political support. And it was also promoted by various retailers and gifting companies. However it wasn’t until 1966 that President Lyndon Johnson designated the third Sunday in June as “Fathers’ Day”. And it was only in 1972 that President Richard Nixon, recognised Fathers’ Day as an official holiday.

It’s not clear when Fathers’ Day started to be celebrated here in the UK. Anecdotally, it’s hard to find anyone celebrating it much earlier than the 1980s. Today however is a different story. In 2021 retail spending on Fathers’ Day was estimated to be £951 million pounds, up from £743 million in 2017.

However, this is dwarfed by the $20 billion that is estimated to be spent in the US. And the US spent a further $32 billion on Mothers’ Day versus £1.6 Billion in the UK.

Speculation on Why Fathers’ Day Lags Behind Mothers’ Day

It’s interesting to speculate as to why Fathers’ Day ‘lags behind’ Mothers’ Day; and a host of explanations can be put forward:

  1. Mothers’ Day has a far longer history. Since Medieval times, the church has celebrated ‘Mothering Sunday’ far more than St. Joseph’s Day (aka Fathers’ Day). And in the US, Mothers’ Day was made an official holiday back in 2014 versus 1972. So Mother’s Day has a richer set of traditions to call on.
  2. Fathers’ Day was also almost derailed back in the 1920s and 30s when various attempts were made to scrap Mothers’ and Fathers’ days in favour of a single holiday, “Parents’ Day”. Indeed for about a decade, every Mothers’ Day, pro-Parents’ Day groups rallied in New York City’s Central Park arguing “that both parents should be loved and respected together” (Robert Spere, radio performer). Retailers however were horrified. And they came up with all sorts of smart advertisements to promote Fathers’ Day as a “second Christmas” for men, and in particular pushed the idea of honouring the US’ “fighting fathers” during World War 2.
  3. My own personal favourite: There haven’t been any great presents for Fathers’ Day. Mothers’ Day has a wealth of great present ideas associated with it; cards, flowers, lunches out, etc. Socks, gardening tools, woolly hats and the like arguably don’t resonate for Fathers’ Day in quite the same way. However now we have a perfect present: This Fathers’ Day please gift some great craft chocolate that tastes better, is better for them, better for the farmers and better for the planet. And it’s crafted by a father and daughter/son team so it provides a great backstory and link.

For those of you celebrating Fathers’ Day this Sunday in Austria, Ecuador, etc. you can always blame Brexit and associated mailing issues (although this won’t really work for Italy, Spain and Portugal who celebrated St. Joseph’s day in March). And if you are in the US, we might still just make it if you order today. For the UK, please can you order by Wednesday and choose first class mail.

Thanks as always for your support.

Spencer

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Welcome to Moka!

montage of images related to moka origins

One of the great aspects of working in craft chocolate is the people you come across. You meet chefs, engineers, environmental activists, racing car designers, opera singers and, this week, a US based team who moved from meditation, yoga and herb gardening to speciality coffee and craft chocolate.

Moka Origins is the creation of Jeff and Ishan. Unlike many craft chocolate makers who start off in their kitchen crafting bars, Jeff and Ishan started on a farm; and not even a cocoa farm. In their own words, Jeff and Ishan came to craft chocolate via what they modestly describe as “humanitarian community development”. Back in 2007, when they were working in Cameroon for the Himalayan Institute growing medicinal herbs, they realised that the key crops for Cameroon of cocoa and coffee had “completely broken” supply chains which was causing huge suffering and hardship for many farmers.

And over the next seven years Jeff and Ishan worked to solve a host of local challenges, while also acquiring more expertise in cocoa, chocolate and coffee, to address this “opportunity”. By 2014 they had assembled a group of cocoa farmers in the Kumbo region of Cameroon, and then in 2015 they were granted 1200 acres of land by the local Cameroonian government. They named the company Moka, a play on the term Mocha, meaning a combination of chocolate and cocoa, as they also grow, and roast, coffee.

And then the really hard work started. The land they’d been granted had no running water, no roads and no electricity. So in addition to finding the best spots to start growing cacao, the team had to build the infrastructure needed; including building wells, an internal road network, solar infrastructure, a river irrigation system and a tree nursery.

In 2017 to complete their ‘tree to bar’ loop, and to turbo charge both their coffee and chocolate initiatives, they built their own factory back at Honesdale, Pennsylvania. And if you are nearby do drop by and say “hi”! For more details, check out our ChocolaTourism page (and indeed, Jeff also runs trips to Africa to visit the farmers in person).

Their bars are also awesome in flavour. Sadly covid, combined with political and social uncertainties, mean that Moka has not been able to import any beans from Cameroon over the last few months; so we don’t (yet!) have their Cameroon beans/bars. But we do have the bars crafted from beans they source from Tanzania, where they work with the like-minded Simran and Brian of Kokoa Kamili. Similarly, please try Moka’s Ugandan bars that are crafted from Jeff Steinberg’s Latitude beans. And if you are subscriber, you should also have received their interpretation of the ABOCFA co-operative’s Ghanaian beans last month. See below for more details on all these bars.

As Dr Kristy Leissle, our ‘go to’ Ghana (and indeed, overall cocoa) expert noted when describing this bar: “Anyone who thinks that Ghana can’t grow amazing beans should try this bar”. And indeed it’s one of the bars we will be tasting, and discussing, with her, virtually and in person, at a special tasting session (you can book tickets to attend at our London office, or buy the kit to taste along at home). There is also an awesome dark milk produced from these ABOCFA beans, which you’ll find below.

To celebrate the fifth anniversary of their Honesdale factory, Moka also released some heart warming statistics of what they achieved, including:

  • Planting over 230,000 trees (from mango and avocado to cacao and banana trees),
  • Purchasing over 58,000 kilos of beans,
  • Roasting over 96,000 kilos of coffee beans,
  • Crafting over 117,000 bars (note: That didn’t include the ones we’ve recently imported),
  • And supporting over 10,000 farmers and their families to secure a “sustainable living wage” that they can rely on over the long term.

See below for more details on all their bars, and see their page for their incredible story.

As ever, thank you for your support.

Spencer

P.S. Do remember that you can taste Moka’s ABOCFA bar, and five other great bars with Kristy in person or virtually on the 17th June.

P.P.S. For a sneak peak at our plans for Father’s Day, including a box comprising bars made by father’s with their daughters (and sons), check out our new page.