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Some insights from learning to ride a bike, and 100+ Craft Chocolate Tastings

Bike Fathers Day

Image credit: Bike List

We have hosted over 100 Craft Chocolate Tastings!  A huge thanks for all your support, encouragement and kind words.

Through these tastings we’ve discovered there are some aspects of savouring craft chocolate that are a bit like learning to ride a bike. And what a great theme to reflect upon given that it’s Father’s Day next Sunday.

Learning to Ride a Bike

None of us are born knowing how to ride a bike.  It takes a bit of practice.  Training wheels (stabilisers) can help.  And falling off, with some embarrassment, is par for the course.  For most of us it’s an experience where we remember the good parts and acquire a fun and rewarding skill.

Learning to savour craft chocolate is similar. Even though almost everyone enjoys great craft chocolate, no one is born with an innate expertise (and distrust anyone who says they were born with a great palate).

None of us instinctively can articulate the tastes, flavours, textures and mouthfeels that we experience when we taste craft chocolate (or fine wine, coffee, tea, etc.).  We need some basic vocabulary so that we can describe the word on the tip of our tongue. Articulating is a vital step in evaluating and remembering. And then we need to practise (which with craft chocolate is normally great fun). 

It also helps if you can “interact” as you taste.  Sharing what you are experiencing makes it more interesting and stimulating.  But many of us are worried about not knowing what to say or, rather, saying the wrong thing.  And in public tastings it takes a lot of work to get people to speak up (and also sometimes shut up!).

The Advantages of Remote Tastings (and Joe Wicks)

Remote Tastings have a number of advantages to physical tastings.  First, we aren’t constrained by our “London Bubble”.  We can have lots of people attending from lots of places (at one recent tasting we had people from the US, South America and over 6 EU countries). They are more convenient for many customers (we do them at various times every Wednesday, and are happy to arrange ad-hoc tastings too for families, companies, etc.).

Remote tastings are also great at being partially, or fully, anonymous.  They avoid the fear of, for example, turning up to a gym spin class and being embarrassed about one’s fitness or clothing.  Think of it being a bit like Joe Wicks. We exercise together, but in the comfort and anonymity of our own homes.  We can learn some new moves and have fun.

Ideally you also want some interaction and some feedback (maybe more Peloton here than Joe Wicks). It helps to see what other people are experiencing too.

Our experience of all our face to face, and remote, Craft Chocolate Tastings has confirmed that feedback and interaction are really important. People just need to overcome their initial trepidation. Once you know a little bit, once you’ve tasted the magic of craft chocolate, everyone is intrigued.  And if you can start to articulate what you are enjoying and tasting it makes it even more fun.

So we now use a tool in our Virtual Tastings where you can describe what you are “sensing” in real time along with everyone else.  You do this remotely and anonymously.  No one needs to worry about saying the wrong thing.  No one needs to worry about not saying anything. But it is really interesting for everyone to see what everyone else is enjoying – and realising how different craft chocolates can be. 

The Craft Chocolate Great Wave

To provide a framework, and some vocabulary, we use the “Craft Chocolate Great Wave” that we developed with Professor Barry Smith, James Hoffman of Square Mile Coffee and Rebecca Palmer of Corney & Barrow Wines.  These three all have years of tasting experience.  And they are all very articulate and passionate, and have put in the hours to acquire this fluency. 

To extend the analogy, this “Craft Chocolate Tasting Wave” is sort of like training wheels on a bike.  It can help you describe those flavours and textures that are on the tip of your tongue.  And once you can articulate the flavours, textures and tastes you enjoy you can discover more of what you like, why these bars taste this way, and how to find more great bars.

More Tastings with Chocolate DJs

Lots of people who’ve attended our tastings have asked us for more tastings.  So we are now also rolling out a series of additional Remote Tastings with other friends of Craft Chocolate acting as “Chocolate DJs” with their playlists of favourite craft chocolate bars. 

By popular request we’ve another Tasting with Professor Barry Smith on the science of flavour, taste and texture.  Next up is another philosopher, Julian Baggini, who is about to publish a new book on that great foodie movie, Babette’s Feast.  And he, along with Spencer, will explore the interaction of chocolate over the ages with religion and philosophy on the 9th of July.  Then we’ve two “wine and chocolate” pairings; the first one with 67 Pall Mall on the 2nd July, and then another with Ruth Spivey (founder of Wine Car Boot) on the 23rd of July.

Similar to when we started with our original Zoom Tastings, we are still developing the format for these tastings.  The one constant is that we’ll be tasting 8-10 chocolates that you can purchase as a Tasting Kit, and that we’ll be discussing these – and much more – with the speaker on Zoom.  And all of these Tastings Kits and Sessions can be bought and reserved on our website – see here.

Fathers Day

As anyone who has email knows, it’s Father’s day next weekend.  So we’ve prepared a bunch of great craft chocolate offerings (see below and here). In addition we would like to encourage you, and any fathers, to join in one of our Virtual Tastings.

Wishing you all a safe and sane weekend.

Spencer, Simon, Lizzie and Harmony

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The case for fruit and nuts in craft chocolate

In the world of craft chocolate, the subject of adding nuts and other “inclusions” to the cocoa bean is heated and vexed.  Purists insist on minimal ingredients. They sniff at the idea of flavour combinations, “additions” and the likes of “fruit and nuts”. At the same time, most craft chocolate aficionados have their “guilty secrets” and appreciate the amazing pairings craft chocolate with inclusions can achieve. 

We think that there is room for both types of craft chocolate lovers.  But we think that this debate opens up a more important issue:

Is the bar about “using but obscuring” the cocoa bean? (i.e. mass-produced chocolate) …

Or is it about “revealing and celebrating” the cocoa bean? (i.e. craft chocolate) …

To phrase the question in another way:

Is the aim to use chocolate as a vector for flavouring, or is it about showcasing how chocolate offers an unparalleled variety of flavours, textures, tastes, mouthfeel – and offers awesome pairings?

Mass-produced Chocolate …

Mass-produced chocolate is all about cost, consistency and immediate satisfaction.  To that end, it’s all about achieving the same flavour, melt, mouthfeel and texture bar after bar, year after year, for the lowest possible price. Hence the uproar whenever there is a rumour of a change to the formula or format of any mass-produced bar, egg, or whatever.  

And one way to achieve consistency and low cost is through additives and flavourings. These additives and flavourings also create “moreishness” (hence why mass produced chocolate bar packaging isn’t designed to be resealed – they expect the whole bar to be eaten in one go, and hence why they have so much sugar, additives, etc.)

… versus Craft Chocolate 

By contrast Craft Chocolate is all about showcasing the myriad variety of flavours, tastes and textures that can be coaxed from fine flavour cocoa beans.  Different fermentations, vintages, roasts, batches and the like are celebrated for their distinctiveness.  And when you savour craft chocolate bars, there is a wave of aromas and flavours that develop from the cocoa bean.  To adapt a famous UK adline “I can’t believe it’s not FLAVOURED”; great craft chocolate bars have so much flavour that one thinks that something other than cocoa beans has been added. Please see the following bars where you will look twice at the label as they really do exhibit more flavours than you’d expect from “merely” a cocoa bean:

1+1 = MORE THAN 2

We love these single-estate craft chocolate bars.  Indeed they are what our monthly subscription is all about.  But there is more.

To be pedantic, even in a two-ingredient craft bar, there is an inclusion (sugar).  The addition of a “touch of sugar” to a craft chocolate bar helps bring out the flavour, develop the mouthfeel and remove astringency and bitterness.

And even purists will accept the addition of some cocoa nibs (technically a fruit) to add texture, crunch and astringency (see the following great examples from Taucherli, Menakao, Askinosie, and Feitoria).  Plus for over 100 years, thanks to the pioneering work of Swiss chocolate enthusiast Daniel Peter, we’ve been enjoying milk chocolate bars because he worked out how to add milk to a bar, and use milk’s creaminess to sweeten and add roundness to a bar’s mouthfeel.

Above and beyond this there are a number of pairings and inclusions which showcase the genius and heritage of many craft chocolate makers.  Here are a few favourites (this is just the tip of the iceberg of amazing inclusion bars):

Fossa’s Honey Orchid Dancong Hongcha bar showcases Singapore’s culinary heritage.  Have this bar instead of desert (or in addition!).

Pump Street’s signature Sour Dough and Sea Salt pays tribute to their baking heritage and seaside location.

The pepper in Akesson’s Black Pepper bar is grown alongside the cocoa to offer it shade and prevent it from becoming “sunburnt”. It also makes this bar an awesome pairing for red wine.

And finally, it’s hard to get more Norwegian than reindeer moss – see Fjak’s Lingonberry and Reindeer moss.

Virtual Tastings

Finally, please do join us for one of our Virtual Tastings to continue this discussion (and taste some great bars).  Our Friday session with Professor Barry Smith was a smash hit – so we’ll be holding another one soon.  Plus we’ve now a series of alternate 5pm and 8pm (UK time) sessions every Wednesday through June and July that you can book on the website. The zoom sessions are free, but we do recommend tasting along with us via a Couples or Family pack.

Wishing you a safe, sane, physically distant but socially close Bank Holiday weekend (at least here in the UK) with some great craft chocolate bars.

Spencer, Simon, Lizzie and Harmony

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Dark Milk Chocolate – a low-sugar alternative

100% Cacao (No Added Sugar) Gifts | Cocoa Runners

“Everything in moderation”.  Epicurus had it right.  A little sugar in chocolate is to be welcomed.  And a little milk can add creaminess and the impression of sweetness too.

In craft chocolate, sugar is added to bring out the flavour of the bean. In the words of the esteemed Mrs Beeton (she of Victorian cooking book fame), adding a little sugar to chocolate is what “salt is to meat and vegetables”.  

Pure granulated sugar is just a taste (sweet).  It doesn’t have any odour or flavour.  Try the “holding your nose” experiment, firstly with sugar, and then separately with chocolate, to see what we mean; both are sweet-tasting but only the chocolate develops flavour and aromas when you release your nose.  Sugar offsets and balances the cocoa beans’ natural astringency and bitterness.  By adding small amounts of sugar, the chocolate maker can transform cocoa beans into fine craft chocolate bars with mind-bending flavours, textures and tastes. But you don’t need a lot of sugar.  Everything in moderation.

By contrast, mass-produced bars are all about sugar and added flavourings, fats and preservatives.  Sugar is added because it creates a “sugar-hit” (and it can be addictive). And because it is inexpensive.  It isn’t used to develop the flavour of the cocoa bean. Rather sugar, along with additives and flavouring, conceals the flavour and taste of what little cocoa there is in a mass-produced bar.

In the UK there is currently a series of TV ads running for mass-produced Dark Milk Chocolate.  Arguably this mass market “dark milk chocolate” confuses the links between sugar, health, creaminess, mouthfeel and sweetness. 

Mass-produced “dark milks” still list their first (i.e. largest) ingredient as sugar.  For example, the first ingredient on Cadburys new Dark Dairy Milk is sugar.  And the bar only contains 40% cocoa / chocolate.  This is less than almost all our “Classic Milk” chocolates, and far less than “Dark Milk” craft chocolate Bars.

In the world of craft chocolate, we believe that Dark Milks should contain at least 50% chocolate (and the International Chocolate Awards have a category of awards to showcase them).  And more and more makers, led by Duffy, Friis Holm, Dormouse, Fjak, Sirene, Zotter and more, are leading the Craft Dark Milk charge.

“Dark Milk” craft chocolate is a wonderful way to explore how milk can sweeten chocolate.  Indeed Zotter crafts a Dark Milk 70% bar that has no added sugar — it relies on the caramelization of the milk and a wonderfully creamy mouthfeel to sweeten the bar. You can try it for yourself here.

It’s the creamy, smooth mouthfeel of dark milks that explains why the likes of Friis Holm’s and Sirene’s dark milks taste so sweet.

Here’s why. Let’s start with two questions:  Which tastes sweeter — milk or cream?  Which contains more sugar – milk or cream? Many people will answer cream to both questions.  But cream actually has less sugar in it than milk per fluid ounce. As Professor Barry Smith notes: “Creaminess as a mouthfeel creates a sensation we perceive as sweet”. Hence the “creamy” magic that craft makers can achieve in their dark milks.

Wishing you a safe, sane, sweet and hopefully creamy Craft Dark Milk Chocolate filled weekend

Spencer, Simon, Lizzie and Harmony

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How much sugar is in your chocolate?

Chocolate and low sugar

Sugar is a sticky topic.  There’s a large swathe of people who lump all chocolate into the catch-all “if it has sugar, it has to be bad”.  We beg to differ.

Let’s start with a couple of questions.  Which has less sugar? A typical breakfast cereal or a dark craft chocolate bar? A low fat yogurt or a dark craft chocolate bar? Most people will be aware that breakfast cereals contain more sugar than dark craft chocolate bars (and this is true even of most “no sugar-added granolas”). But what not everyone realises is that a single serving size of low fat vanilla yogurt can have over 5 teaspoons of sugar (the sugar is used to replace the “fat” and so stabilise, preserve and give mouthfeel).  By contrast an average craft dark chocolate bar (65g at 70%) has less than 4 teaspoons of sugar. 

 Let’s add a bit more context.  A 330ml can of Coca Cola has just over 8 teaspoons of sugar in it. A bottle of red wine (750CL) has around 6 teaspoons. A craft chocolate bar (65g 70% bar) contains about 3-4 teaspoons of sugar.  Most people drink the full can of coke in one sitting. Most people share the bottle of red wine.  And most craft chocolate consumers share and savour the bar of chocolate over a few evenings.

So the more useful question is “how many teaspoons per serving”?

And not all chocolate is created equal. If you examine the ingredients of a mass produced milk (or dark) chocolate bar you’ll notice it will have a far higher sugar content (over 60% in many cases).  Even the lead ingredient on the new “Cadbury Dark Dairy Milk” is sugar. This is partly because sugar is a much cheaper ingredient than mass-produced cacao. And it’s also because sugar is addictive and, when combined with fat, flavourings and salt, becomes irresistible (the so called “Bliss Point”). Even a 45g supermarket checkout bar can contain 6 teaspoons of sugar.  And you are very likely to eat this whole snack bar in one go (hence why the packaging of mass-produced bars isn’t resealable). 

By contrast, if you savour a craft chocolate bar with just 3-5 squares per session, you’ll be consuming less than a teaspoon of sugar per serving. Your tastebuds will be stimulated.  You’ll feel delighted. No games with the “Bliss Point”. Just the magic of the cocoa bean. Brilliant.

So firstly, savour. Indulge. No need to scoff.

And secondly, don’t worry too much about the percentages on a craft chocolate bar.  Bean type and mouthfeel make a massive difference to how “sweet” a craft bar tastes.  Below we’ve assembled a bunch of “high percentage” bars that will leave you guessing (and delighted).  Try a couple blind and see if you can work out which has the higher percentage (including the 100% from Fossa).

Wishing you all a safe, and dare we say sweet, Bank Holiday weekend. And to all American mothers out there, happy Mothers’ Day too!

And as ever, thanks for your support and enthusiasm

Spencer, Simon, Lizzie and Harmony

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Earth Day in Lockdown

Last Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.  Normally all of us involved in craft chocolate would be all over this.  But these aren’t normal times.  Here in the UK we’ve just completed our first month of “lockdown” and, unlike a few other parts of the world, we’ve no end in sight.  Earth Day acknowledges our environmental problems and encourages us all to be positive in taking proactive steps that can be both small and large.  So we thought that it would be good to take stock and also ask you all to help celebrate Earth Day by enjoying and sharing craft chocolate, as it really is better for the planet.

TAKING STOCK

All of our 100+ makers have been hit really hard by Covid-19.  At best they’ve shrunk back to a skeleton staff, often the founding team, but they are able to continue operations.  However for many the lockdown has meant they’ve had to completely suspend operations. This has been particularly prevalent in cocoa-growing countries like Ecuador and Peru, but also some makers here in the UK, France and other parts of the EU and even the USA have had to temporarily shut up shop. For those makers who had built major retail operations and/or those who have grown by partnering with coffee shops and restaurants it’s been devastating. Bottom line, all craft chocolate makers are struggling with huge declines in sales.

Craft chocolate isn’t alone here. Jenny Linford, a wonderful food writer, has penned an incredibly poignant and heart rending description of the challenges for artisan cheese makers (which you can read here).  Craft chocolate makers for the most part don’t grow their own beans, so the circumstances are a little different.  But the essence of craft chocolate is celebrating the cocoa bean.  And all our makers practise direct trade – they all build personal and long-term relationships with the farmers and co-operatives who grow their cocoa beans.  And that’s the next really big fear.  What happens with already harvested beans?  And even more worryingly, what will happen with the next harvest?  So now, more than ever, craft chocolate needs your support.

At Cocoa Runners we are incredibly fortunate to have a great warehouse partner in Devon who have put into place even more stringent hygiene and social distancing rules.  We are still bringing in new bars and even new makers. And we are grateful to the Royal Mail who are “taking the strain”.  The strain on the Royal Mail does mean it is taking longer for UK deliveries (please assume 2-3 days, even with RM 24 “first class”).  International deliveries, with a few exceptions, are continuing – although they too are taking longer.

These circumstances have also forced us to leave our “London Bubble” with Choc O’Clock on Instagram and Facebook live on Thursdays.  And instead of the monthly London based tasting, we are now doing weekly “Virtual Tastings” via Zoom on Wednesdays, with alternating times of 5-00 pm and 8-00 pm UK time.  We are also experimenting with “joint” tastings – kicking off with a Fine Wine and Craft Chocolate Tasting next Thursday with 67 Pall Mall.  Plus we’re doing tastings at other virtual festivals and for small groups, families or corporates.  Please do email us with any questions or suggestions – team@cocoarunners.com

We’ve also seen a huge uptick of interest in cooking with craft chocolate.  We have a range of recipe cards that we send along with our Milk (44%), Dark (63%), and 100% single-estate cooking chocolate.  This cooking chocolate is sourced from the Sambirano Valley and crafted by Menakao in Madagascar.  Being grown and crafted at origin means that this chocolate is calculated to have 4-5 times the beneficial impact of Fair Trade certification for the local economy.  And it makes great cakes, biscuits, savoury dishes, hot chocolate and more.  Please see here for more details.

OUR ASK

If you are a regular to this email, the chances are that you already know that craft chocolate tastes better, is better for you, and better for the farmers and planet.  Plus it makes FAR better brownies and hot chocolate. So this Earth Weekend, please can we ask you to share this email, invite your family and friends to a Virtual Tasting and above all stay safe, physically distant but socially close?

Thank you

Spencer, Simon, Lizzie and Harmony

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Veganuary

Sadly, the holiday season is well and truly over.  We are now into the first month of 2020, which is all about making, and trying to stick with, our new year resolutions. Cutting back. Eating healthier. Saving the planet. And Veganuary is an intriguing new twist on this.

Agriculture counts for 15-20% of global CO2 emissions (fossil fuels are over 70%). And within agriculture meat is clearly one of the biggest contributors, with the likes of methane-belching cattle and artificial fertiliser-infused factory farms. So going vegan is an interesting environmental initiative.

Going vegan with craft chocolate is simple. Our dark chocolate bars are a great first choice, as most of them don’t contain anything other than cocoa beans, sugar, and cocoa butter (which has nothing to do with butter – it’s simply the natural fat of the cocoa bean). Unlike mass-produced “dark” chocolate, which can use whey powder (a by-product of cheese) as a bulking agent, all craft dark chocolate is vegan.

More than this, we have a bunch of makers who produce vegan milk (or “myllk”) and white chocolate by using coconut milk instead of dairy. See these two fantastic bars from Forever Cacao and Solkiki.

Another way to help save the planet is to avoid food waste (an astonishing one third of all food produced goes to waste).  Last year, we introduced “lucky dip” boxes, which contain short-dated bars to help reduce our food waste and offer our members a chance to purchase some great value craft bars.

One final fact about the environment: a regular chocolate bar requires over 1500 litres of water to grow and produce.  By contrast, a bath is 70-85 litres, and most showers 30-45 litres. Cocoa, when grown in rainforests, regenerates and recycles much of the 1000+ litres of water it requires. But when cocoa is grown at the expense of the rainforest, as is sadly all too often the case with mass-produced chocolate, cocoa’s need for water places even more stress on available water supplies. So if you are using January to think about the environment, water provides another compelling reason to choose craft chocolate.

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What can craft chocolate learn from speciality coffee, craft beer and other craft movements?

After a couple of years being based in Farringdon, we’ve moved our London office to Old Street. We
are now even closer to Borough Market and Shoreditch – and the achingly “cool” environment
where so many craft movements have incubated and blossomed. James Hoffman set up his Penny University for filter coffee here over a decade ago, Craft Beer was already present when I was last here (with
Last.fm in the early 2000s). Neal’s Yard has been in Borough Market for over a decade, promoting
artisanal cheese. And every bar around Old Street competes on Natural Wine, Craft Gin and
Whisky novelties. So it seemed a good time to reflect on the factors that craft movements
need to succeed – and see how craft chocolate compares to other industries.

Before diving in, it’s perhaps worth comparing overall market sizes and what share craft has of
different categories – and to show how much upside there is in Craft Chocolate (note: these stats are
best estimates!)

Sources: MarketLine, Business Inside, Statista, ICA, SCA, Natural Products. Note: some differences in years (2014-2018)

Sources: Specialty Coffee Association (2012, US); Brewers´Association (2015, US); SFSU; USDA Dairy products 2000, CBS-Global (2010, US); Statista (2013), wine selling for more than $15 a bottle). Note that the very high end coffee market is estimated at 7% of total. Specialty or gourmet chocolate market estimated based on consumption of fine beans. THANKS TO FRANK HOMANN FOR AN EARLY DRAFT OF THIS DATA

At a high level, in addition to becoming “cool”, craft food and drink movements have (at least) six common characteristics:

  1. They are demonstrably “better” – either in terms of taste, ethics, environment credentials and/or health (Ideally all of these)
  2. They are an easy “upgrade”. They appeal to an existing vice or habit
  3. They have some relatively clear and accepted definitions
  4. The differences are easy to explain and/or are well explained
  5. They have a space to experience and purchase (which ideally should be cool)
  6. They have cool kit, rituals and vocabulary to enjoy the product

What follows below is an attempt to explain each of these characteristics and a comparison to craft chocolate, starting with a high level summary

SUMMARY (for those in a hurry)

CRAFT CHARACTERISTIC / PILLAR
WHERE IS CRAFT CHOCOLATE?
Demonstrably better – either in terms of taste, ethics, environment credentials and/or health
Argument easy to make for craft chocolate on all fronts – tastes better, better for you (minimal ingredients, you’ll eat less, etc.) and better for farmers, rainforest and the planet
They are an easy upgrade. They appeal to an existing vice or habit
Speciality Coffee and Craft Beers are an obvious, direct upgrade. Craft Chocolate is an obvious upgrade for those already enjoying chocolate e.g., in the evening with a partner as a treat, or for millennials, etc.
They have some relatively clear and accepted definitions
Should be doable … but no standards (yet!) – no green cap, no Q graders, no “minimal” interest!
The differences are easy to explain and/or are well explained
Not enough craft chocolate “barista” DJs or “sommeliers” … but invariably, tonnes of interest!
They have a space to experience and purchase (which ideally should be cool)
Craft Chocolateneeds more environments like Zotter, Dandelion, Chocolarder, etc. – and to be in more speciality coffee stores and independent wine stores so that it can benefit from the “osmosis” of speciality coffee stores, etc. where you can “feel” the difference
They have cool kit, rituals and vocabulary to enjoy the product
Are chocolate boards and craft chocolate tasting flights our equivalent to spcial wine glasses, latte art, aeropresses and the like? And always encourage “savour don’t scoff”

1) “BETTER”

The common first appeal here is taste. But it’s not the only one. For example, for speciality coffee aficionados taste is clearly super important. And in most UK speciality coffee stores over 75% of most of the coffees sold are milk based. Tasting those speciality beans through this milk is hard — even when you are using milk from Estate Dairy (an amazing dairy whose milks have super high fat content that makes great lattes etc.). Above and beyond taste, speciality coffee focuses on how it’s “better” for coffee farmers, it expresses great concern about the impact of global warming on coffee futures, etc. The stress on ingredients and direct trade also often lends to the argument that craft foods and drinks are healthier as they are less processed, have higher quality ingredients, less additives, etc. For example, natural wine pushes its credentials of “minimal” intervention as being healthier and better for farmers and the farm. Bread makers are also keen to stress how their grains, seeds and crafting create not just more delicious sourdoughs and breads but are also better for you and the planet. Craft Chocolate clearly tastes better, is better for your and better for farmers and the planet. At all our tastings we’re always delighted by guests’ reactions to the myriad flavours, tastes and sensations craft chocolate offers – and customers are also delighted that these bars satiate appetites with less (so they are arguably healthier as you’ll eat less) – and by craft chocolate’s focus on direct trade and its benefits for the farmers and planet.

2) “UPGRADE”

If you want to be “cool”, you now order a craft beer when you head to the pub after work (and this now extends beyond Old Street, Shoreditch, Brooklyn and  San Francisco). Mass produced beers just don’t cut it if you want to be “cool”. Similarly if you are having a meeting in Old Street during the morning you are spoilt for choice with achingly trendy staff. Serving cheese from La Fromagerie or Neal’s Yard etc. is a great way of ending any dinner party and reaffirming your “foodie” credentials. And you obviously want a lovely sourdough from E5 Bakery, Little Bread Pedlar, etc. to go with these cheeses. Ordering a craft gin based cocktail (and in Old Street an English Whiskey (yes really)) shows you are ahead of the curve. All of these are easy, and cool, “upgrades” to existing habits.

Craft Chocolate can also be an easy upgrade. For those already having a couple of squares of chocolate at the end of an evening, trading up to a craft chocolate bar is a relatively easy sale. For the most part, chocolate is either consumed in confectionery, cakes, biscuits etc. and/or as a “reward” or “reenergiser” earlier in the day. And even though a craft chocolate bar isn’t (YET) seen as an obvious alternative to a mid afternoon snack of a biscuit or mass produced chocolate bar (the “reward” or “pick me up”), craft chocolates can, and are, eaten at all times of the day. It may be difficult to “upgrade” an older generation who’ve become habituated to sweet confectionery. But it’s really easy to enthuse and delight millennials, generation X, Y, Z etc. with the taste and ethical credentials of craft chocolate.

Craft chocolate can also be used to create new habits – a small square complementing a morning coffee, sharing some bars at the end of a meal in addition/ instead of a cheese board, etc. Craft chocolate is a fantastic as a shared experience, comparing and contrasting different bars, makers and beans at one sitting. You can sort of do this with wine if you go to a wine tasting, but most of us only open 1 bottle at a time. Similarly, it’s not that common to drink 3+ espressos. By contrast, it’s easy to try 3-4 different craft chocolates in one sitting (although you may not always finish all the bar …). This sort of “savouring and celebrating” should work especially well in geographies where there is less of a tradition of chocolate and e.g., desserts.

3) “ACCEPTED DEFINITION”

Speciality Coffee has Q graders and a clear “grading” system for what beans can count as speciality grade. The wine industry (and a bunch of other European foods including everything from Parmesan cheese to Melton Mowbray Pork pies) have done a great job of using the likes of DOC and region to claim out their distinctiveness. Craft Beer in the USA has clearly articulated definitions for everything from size through ingredients and ownership. This is clearly possible for Craft Chocolate given its focus on direct trade with individual farms, small batch processing, focus on ethics, taste and environment, etc.). To date Craft Chocolate hasn’t yet established a clear definition internally or in its communication with consumers. We don’t (yet) have the equivalent of Craft Beers’ green cap and mark. We ought to be able to do this. An easy first step is to follow some simple labelling approaches (see separate blog on thishttps://cocoarunners.com/2018/07/how-to-read-a-chocolate-bar-label/). It’s also worth stressing that the key to all these definitions is to focus on the highest possible ingredients — and this is something that craft chocolate has built into its DNA with its focus on heirloom and high quality beans from a specific farm or co-operative (not just a region, country or continent)

4) “WELL AND EASILY EXPLAINED DIFFERENCES”

If you walk into a store selling natural wines by the bottle to take home and/or glass to drink there and then, more often than not, you will be regaled with the merits of their wines. Similarly a bartender will proffer stories about their craft gins (and hats off to Maxwell at Colonna Coffee who has crafted a special line of speciality coffee capsules for bartenders to use and showcase for their cocktails). Whisky bars are popping up with eyeboggling selections of whiskies (for example BlackRock for the 800 plus whiskies all of which Thom has tasted and can tell you about), etc. Speciality coffee is really clear that a great cup of coffee needs i) great farmer to grow great beans, ii) great roasters to roast the coffee and iii) great baristas to make your speciality coffee. And baristas know that a key part of their job is the theatre of what they do (latte art, pour over stirring, etc.) and communicating how “special” their coffee really is. Going to Neal’s Yard or La Fromagerie is like having your own personal shopper or cheese DJ who will insist you to taste a range of artisanal cheeses so they can find a selection that work perfectly for you/your needs. And the Napa wine industry has explained to a generation of Californian Wine makers why their wines are different to mass produced wines – and built a tourist industry second only to Disney in terms of consumer spend.

One point to stress – this is not about forced education. This is education by doing, seeing, smelling, tasting and experiencing. It’s often a process of osmosis. It’s the chats with your friendly wine maker; it’s seeing the barista grind the beans and pour the filter coffee; it’s admiring the way a bartender carefully mixes your drink and tells you about the “ingredients” (aka spirits) they are combining; it’s the stories about the cows and sheep who provide your cheeses. It’s about the trendy publications (online and offline) like Courier who advise on what’s hot – and why. It’s all about the flow — and more like e.g., learning to dance on the dance floor with a great partner who knows their moves. It’s not about forced learning; that isn’t cool. No one wants to feel they are going back to school and learning biology or latin.

5) “PLACE AND SPACE TO EXPERIENCE”

Most people’s first experience of speciality coffee is a speciality coffee store. And then, over time, people build the confidence and comfort to purchase speciality coffee at home (Maxwell Colonna has a great phrase here “B2B2C” which he has used to great effect with both his Bath coffee store and his capsules). Wine in the UK was first sold in pubs and restaurants – and then the “off trade” emerged with the likes of Oddbins; and now more and more wine bars are combining “on” and “off” premises purchase (cf 10 cases in London, Cambridge Wine Merchants, etc.). Neal’s Yard really took off when it started to sell its cheeses as part of cheese boards served in restaurants. These out of home experiences also help with the “explanation” (see above) as well as providing a place to purchase craft products. Having an approachable expert on site should take the “hit and miss” out of your first experience of a new craft food and drink. It reduces the ‘risk’ and increases the chance of you finding the perfect iteration of this craft expression for you.

For the most part, Craft Chocolate hasn’t yet been easily able to showcase the farming and crafting that underpins farmers’ and makers’ work. The “flow” is really hard to communicate via a label on a supermarket shelf. However there are a number of operations that show what can be done. Zotter does an amazing job in its Austrian Factory to enthuse, educate and sell. Dandelion’s stores in Japan, Pump Streets Orford café, Mirzam’s factory/café in Dubai and Omnom’s factory in Iceland also do great jobs of showing why their craft chocolate is different by letting you look ‘behind the scenes’ to understand the crafting involved. You literally can “smell the cacao”. There are a few great craft chocolate stores in Europe and the US, and thanks to all our Craft Chocolate DJs in speciality coffee and wine who are selling craft chocolate here in the UK. Going forward we need to be more here so that consumers look beyond the surface packaging (and at least read the label, check the source of beans and location of maker).

It’s also worth thinking about how this has worked in other regions. For example, “dessert bars” have been phenomenally successful as a means of growing the tradition of cakes and desserts in Singapore, Hong Kong and all of SE Asia. Similarly speciality coffee bars are converting China to coffee drinking with over 400 (TBC) shops opening in Shanghai in the last year.

6) “RITUAL, KIT AND LANGUAGE”

As anyone who has to buy gifts for a fan of coffee, wine, whisky, cheese etc. knows, there is a LOT of great kit to purchase when you want to make the leap to enjoying craft food and drink at home. Coffee starts with scales, V60 filters, special kettles, grinders (the latest here is a burr, as opposed to a blade grinder – cf Wilfa), and now water (Maxwell). And if that is too much there are even some “simplified” bits of kit to create great coffee at home – for example the Aeropress or fine flavour capsules that have the finest coffee. Wine has decanters and glasses (just listen to wine aficionados was lyrical over their Riedels or Zsalto), Coravins (to enable you to have one or two glasses from a class wine), fridges, circular cellars and a host of apps to photo and store your favourites. Even cheese has special boards and all sorts of knives, brushes and other kit.

There are also rituals around each of these craft products which help both physically and psychologically improve the experience. Taking your cheese out an hour before you eat it. Decanting and swilling your wine in its glass to admire colour, aroma and “legs” (yes, really). And then there is the vocab that you can study in courses from the WSET and all the flavour wheels created by UC Davies, the SCA for coffee etc. 

Craft Chocolate, possibly because it’s still developing daily habits and occasions, hasn’t yet developed a super wide range of kits, courses and rituals. Martin Christy has the beginnings of a WSET-like training for chocolate. We’ve a couple of restaurants doing craft chocolate tasting boards (thank you 67 Pall Mall and Andrew Edmunds). We know that our own craft chocolate tasting boards go down a treat. We’ve also some tasting pouches, copied from Pump Street’s. And there are clearly many more opportunities we can, should and will develop. For starters, “savour don’t scoff” and “melt before munching” should be common mantras.

CONCLUSION

On first inspection, you can either argue “glass half full” or “glass half empty”. Craft Chocolate, along some dimensions, seems less developed than other craft food and drink categories in building core craft “pillars”. But we clearly see this is a “glass half full”. On the most important aspect of craft – having a better product – craft chocolate clearly wins out. Everyone who tries craft chocolate agrees it tastes far better. And everyone who hears the story grasps that it is both better for them and better for farmers and the planet. So we start from a strong position. And the first step to solving any problem is to figure out the key questions – which in this case are around rituals, habits, kit, etc.

And there are a lot of obvious first steps we can start to take

I) Celebrate the way that Craft Chocolate not only tastes better but is better for you and better for the farmers and the planet, and remember that this is because Craft Chocolate is based around the finest possible beans

II) Continue to learn from our colleagues in other craft industries

III) … become far clearer about what makes craft chocolate distinct, stressing the importance of unique terroir and beans, etc. And let’s start with better labelling of craft chocolate (see Lizzie’s separate work)

IV) Show when, how and why Craft Chocolate can be a simple upgrade. In addition, seek out new habits and rituals. Neal’s Yard proudly refers to how it re-introduced Cheese Boards to the UK with Sally Clarke in the 80’s. Len Evans used to wax lyrical how he redesigned Australian wines to be “quaffable” without food so as to work for Brit’s in the 60s and 70s when we only used to drink in pubs. Indeed before salted caramels in the 2000’s bringing chocolate to a dinner party was (at best) pretty much a super cool joke where the box of “Black Magic” were almost retro enough to be cool. Long live craft chocolate boards – and ideally some craft chocolate tasting sets (one of the great delights of craft chocolate is comparing different bars and experiencing how different beans, conches, roasts, fermentations, terroir, etc. impact the experience). Celebrate how well craft chocolate goes with wine, whisky, coffee, etc. Delight in savouring different craft bars as special shared moments.

V) Double down on finding ways to explain and experience the magic and flow of Craft Chocolate. Find more ways and more places where people can enjoy (and purchase) craft chocolate and meet fellow Craft Chocolate Evangelists, Enthusiasts and DJs

Wishing you more craft chocolate crafted from the finest single estate beans in small batches to share and savour with friends.

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Craft Chocolate Predictions For 2019 And A Review Of Those Made For 2018

Cocoa Runners

Last year we decided to stick our neck out and make a few predictions on what might happen in the world of Craft Chocolate, you can view the original post here. So now it’s the end of January 2019, we’ve decided to review the accuracy of our 2018 predictions – and make some new ones for 2019.

For 2018 we did OK to middling. Maybe a B+? In terms of accuracy we had 2 “sort ofs”, 3 “not really”, and 6 “definitely happening”. But most of the “definitely happenings” were safe no brainers … so this year we are going to be a bit bolder and avoid the “safe” (ie obvious) predictions.

(Note: We defined Craft Chocolate as “the pursuit of the unique tastes conjured from small batches of the best beans”)

VERDICT ON 2018 PREDICTIONS

  1. We will see an upgrade to “proper” drinking chocolate, especially in speciality coffee stores.  

Verdict: Sort of. Thank you Prufrock, Curators, Colonna and Smalls, Out of Office and ~50 more speciality coffee stores for your support. But given there are thousands and thousands of speciality coffee shops in the UK and proper drinking chocolate is in less than a few hundred, we’ve a long, long way to go

2. Chocolate boards will become a mainstream rival to cheese boards.  

Verdict: Not really. We sold out of our boards. And thank you Andrew Edmunds, 67 Pall Mall and a host of other stores for making “chocolate boards” a reality on your menus. But still lots of opportunity

3. Bloggers and journalists start to do more debunking of crazy chocolate myths and raise awareness of some of chocolate’s “darker” sides.  

Verdict: Not really. Some great stuff on deforestation in 2017 … but why, oh why, has nobody debunked the likes of “RAW”, “Ruby Chocolate” and so much else?

4. Speciality beans become even more “special” as farmers and makers experiment with fermentation, drying and bean genetics

Verdict: Definitely happening. Hat Tip to Mikkel Friis Holm, Arnauld Stengel (Erithaj), Chris Brennan (Pump Street Chocolate), Mark Schimmel (Krak) and Nate Hodge (Raaka) for their pioneering work on different fermentations.

5. New bean origins emerge to delight and enthuse.  

Verdict: Definitely happening. We’ve been delighted by new beans and bars from Mexico, Costa Rica, Uganda, etc. But this is all somewhat dampened by the relatively low penetration of speciality beans; speciality beans remain a fraction of overall cocoa production – we don’t really have the speciality coffee equivalent of “geisha” and cocoa remains predominantly a commodity crop.

6. New maker regions continue to emerge.

Verdict: Definitely happening. Thailand, Korea, Norway, Estonia and Uzbekistan are a few of the new countries where we met with new makers for the first time in 2018. But as above, craft chocolate remains a tiny fraction of world chocolate – far smaller as a percentage of overall sales and consumption than e.g., coffee, beer or spirits.

All too often the consumer still buys on price – and whereas they’ll pay a premium for speciality coffee, their craft beer or artisanal gin, they don’t realise that spending just one or two pounds, euros or dollars more will lead to a quantum difference in chocolate quality and the lives of the cocoa farmer.

7. Dark Milks become more and more popular

Verdict: Definitely happening. But can someone please tell Cadbury’s that 40% is (or should be) the “norm” or “standard” for a milk chocolate and that Dark Milks need to have over 50% cocoa solids? (Dairy Milk contains less than 20% cocoa and Cadbury’s Dark Milk contains 40%; ICA competitions for Dark Milk specify a minimum of 50% cocoa)

8. Craft White Chocolate also becomes far more accepted

Verdict: Definitely happening. Thank you Olly Murs for your support on Sunday Brunch, and hat tip again to Pump Street, Chocolarder, Akesson, Chocolat Madagascar, Dormouse and many more for craft such great white, craft chocolate bars

9. Sugar continues to be a confusing topic

Verdict: This was an (obvious) cheat — definitely happening. It’s still hard for consumers to make sense of all the “guff” surrounding sugar. Too many consumers still believe that e.g., coconut sugar or lucuma is “better” for them (hint: there is no science to back up these claims). Stevia is still being added to chocolate and ruining what might be great beans and bars. Too many consumers still lump all chocolate into “if it has sugar it must be bad” without realising that most breakfast cereals and many low fat yogurts have way more sugar than most craft chocolate bars gram per gram. Part of the problem is being able to work out how much sugar you are consuming (hint – a 375ml can of coco cola has 12 teaspoons of sugar, a single portion low fat vanilla yogurt has over 5 teaspoons of sugar whilst an average dark chocolate bar (65g at 70%) has less than 4 teaspoons of sugar; and most consumers won’t eat a full bar of dark chocolate at one sitting). So maybe take the initiative and say “x teaspoons of sugar per serving”?

10. Customers start to read the label.  

Verdict: Not really. It’s not always obvious — see above for sugar. We’re hoping that some of this will change – for example the average consumer doesn’t understand the difference between “use by” and “best before”. But we also need to make this easier for consumers — we’ve not yet agreed common “best practise” for labelling inside the craft market (e.g., specify not just the country of origin but also the co-operative and/or single estate, etc.)

11. More and more customers will enjoy more and more craft chocolate “experiences”.

Verdict: Sort of – depends on region. A few examples in the US, great stuff by Dandelion in Japan, Fu Wan in Taiwan, Mirzam in Dubai, etc. But e.g., no one in Europe is doing anything like Napa Wineries YET (hint: we are hugely excited by Mike Longman’s plans for Chocolarder in Cornwall .. but still daunted by the many hours by train it will take for us to get there when his new operation opens)

And now for the fun part. PREDICTIONS FOR CRAFT CHOCOLATE IN 2019

  1. Consumers realise that to make great brownies, cakes, hot chocolate, etc. they should use craft (cooking) chocolate and cocoa. Hat tip to Pump Street, Chocolarder, Morin, GoodNow and many more for pressing their own non-alkalinised cocoa powder. Original Beans have for a long time made the couverture they sell to chefs also available for general consumers; and we’re sure more and more craft chocolate makers will follow. 

2. The craft chocolate industry starts to develop some co-operative and standard definitions and best practises on labels. This should be a no brainer – but all too often, craft chocolate makes itself hard to identify and distinguish. Let’s at least start by being proud of the farm, estate or co-operative where the beans are grown and put this on the FRONT of the bar. And on the back label let’s say where the bars are crafted. Check out this blog post for more suggestions (and do have fun trying to work out where big chocolate mass produce and make their bars … hint, not all Belgian and Swiss chocolate is actually made there …)

3. Customers start to understand the difference between “use by” and “best before”. Sadly it may well be that we in the UK will take the lead here when the looming disaster of Brexit makes Brits really grateful for craft chocolate that is beyond its “best before” as it may well be the only stuff we can buy. More seriously, this is an extension of helping customers understand labels. For more on “best before” versus “use by” please see our blog from last year. Basically, “use by” means there is an ingredient (e.g., milk, a preservative or stabilisers) which goes off; “best before” means there is nothing that “goes off” but that the quality may (and I stress may) decline after that date (some dark chocolate bars, provided they stay in “temper” age like great red wines).

4. We become more geeky about flavour, mouthfeel and texture. Consumers are invariably blown away by the flavours in craft chocolate – and more often than not, amazed by the role of smell here (both retronasal and orthonasal). Texture is another dimension that intrigues customers, comparing stoneground to different grinds and conches. Next up will be more studies on bitterness and astringency (no they aren’t the same … see an upcoming post for more details), and on the role of “mouthfeel”

5. 100% craft chocolate bars continue to fly off the shelf. We’ve always known that 100% bars are great sellers online (it’s relatively easy to search for them). But we are also increasingly encouraged by customers reaction in store and at shows to tasting 100% bars. To quote from Harmony, who has done dozens of samplings in various stores, “when sampling in stores and events, most people who are interested in 100% have only dealt with mass brands and they are quite blown away when trying small batch 100%s.  These people are pretty dedicated chocolate consumers and they are amazed that 100% bars don’t need to be bitter etc., it needn’t just taste like ‘cocoa powder’ or be dry and astringent. People will eat this because they genuinely enjoy it rather than for purely ‘health’ reasons”.

6. Craft Chocolate continues to get better at pairings with other craft / speciality foods and drinks. Again, this as a forecast is patently obvious and self serving – but we really believe that these pairings and tastings deserve more exposure and is really ready to be pushed out more and more. At Canopy Market last year we were fortunate to have experts from beer (Steve Taylor), wine (Charles Metcalfe), Sake (Peter McCombie) and Cheese (Karen Gaudin) to help us match craft chocolate to their speciality wares – and the customer reactions were FANTASTIC (thanks again to all our experts). And thanks to the likes of the SCA (speciality coffee association), Square Mile and Colonna we’ve learnt more and more about the similarities and complementarities between speciality coffee and craft chocolate. And we really hope that these pairings can be pushed further, more often and into new areas (we’re already planning rum and whisky pairings – and more suggestions welcome)

7. Craft Chocolate Tastings become even more popular. So this is a bit of a plug too. Nearly years ago, Lizzie and I started to do monthly Craft Chocolate Tastings at Prufrock Coffee (thank you again Prufrock). We’ve now done these all over the world – inside start ups in Silicon Valley, in Dubai, with wine clubs and speciality stores, with university departments (Oxford, UCL, etc), for corporates (they make great team building opportunities), etc. We’ve fine tuned the format, content and bars so that we are now really proud of our tastings. And we are now expanding them (e.g., see the website for ones we are doing Wholefoods for Valentines, our planned ones with Out of Office in Milton Keynes), etc. Many other people also do Craft Chocolate tastings – Duffy, Kathryn Laverack, Tristram etc. – and we are honoured to be able to support them with bars, content, etc. And we’d more than happy to share the tools and help more people set up their own tastings – or to come to you if you are a corporate, would like some special family do, etc. Or just check out upcoming events here.

8. Asia becomes more and more important. We’ve already seen India emerge as a great source of beans – and craft chocolate aficionado’s are emerging here. Japan now has twice the number of craft chocolate makers than the UK, France and Germany combined. How long before China wakes?

9. We move “beyond the bar and see new formats of craft chocolate emerge. One of the questions we ask all our makers is why do they (just) make bars – and most are intrigued (or stumped) by this. Bars are an amazing format. Easy to put on a shelf. Easy to transport. And bars have been made and sold for over a 150 years (Fry’s made the first one back in the 1840s). But they aren’t always the easiest format for consumers. Cinemas some time ago worked out that bags of chocolate buttons were easier to share in the dark. For cooking couverture lots of new formats have emerged. And there surely is some room for craft makers to think of different formats for different occasions beyond mini-bars and squares

10. Debunking of myths. So if nobody else is going to cry “BS” at the likes of raw chocolate, we’ll write a blog on this. In the meantime, continued praise to the likes of Andrew Baker, Sharon Terenzi, Hazel Lee, Judith Lewis, Estelle Tracey, Clay Gordon, Dom Ramsey and Simran Sethi for their great pieces..

 

To paraphrase Original Beans, we wish you a year full of (speciality) beans

Spencer, Simon, Lizzie, Harmony @cocoarunners.com

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Chocolate in Berlin – some thoughts on the World Cocoa Conference 2018

Last weekend I was invited to the World Cocoa Conference in Berlin to speak at one of the “warm up” sessions of the Fine and Flavour Forum.  So first and foremost, I’d like to thank Martin Christy for inviting me, and congratulations to Martin and Maricel for arranging a raft of great speakers and topics on Sunday.

Having said this, my overall impression for the World Cocoa Conference was one of bemusement and concern.  I was expecting delegates to have passion and enthusiasm for our “product” (i.e. chocolate, food of the goods).  And I was hoping to taste lots of chocolate.  I did taste a couple of great chocolates (spoiler alert Fu Wan’s new tea infused bars are awesome), and I did manage to listen to (and even speak with) a few forward thinking individuals (thanks Carla for the intro to Volta’s Anthony Rue, good to finally meet Nick Weatherill of ICI, and I enjoyed meeting Starbucks people too).  But there was hardly any chocolate to taste (two small bits of milka in the delegate bag) and my overall impression was that at best most delegates didn’t really take pride in, believe in, or aspire to create (or taste) great chocolate (hint – take a look at the tag line on the delegate bag below from BASF – “we create chemistry”).  Delegates and participants all too often seemed overwhelmed by the problems of their world and industry – deforestation, climate change, poverty, child labour, blight, consumer mistrust, health concerns, to just name a few.  Unlike attending speciality coffee fairs, wine shows, craft beer shows or even craft chocolate shows there was no sense of passion, pride or purpose.

My panel, made up of Jorge Redman, Mikkel Friis Holm Luis Mancini and me, was on lessons Chocolate can learn from Speciality Coffee.  We all agreed on many similarities – Mikkel focused on the importance of taste and consistency and Luis did a great job of noting the similarities of farmers and craft makers working together with both beans.  We also acknowledged the huge boost that speciality coffee stores and baristas have had in promoting speciality coffee.  We were all envious of the relative ease by which consumers can “upgrade” their daily habits of making morning coffee and visiting better coffee stores.  By contrast craft chocolate isn’t an easy substitute for the mid-afternoon sugar rush realised with supermarket bars.  We were optimistic on how craft chocolate can work with speciality coffee stores to sell bars and better drinking chocolate.  But with hindsight what I wished I’d said (or rather shouted) was something along the lines of “come on guys, wake up smell the coffee” – look at what the (speciality) coffee industry has done for consumers, farmers and themselves over the last decade.  Sure speciality coffee may only be 8-15% of coffee sales – and craft chocolate is still less than 1% (definitions and statistics are slippery, but these seem “directionally accurate”).  My impression of folks within both the mass and speciality ends of the coffee industry is that they have a sense of purpose and pride for their product and industry.  They believe coffee can (and should) taste great.  They can get customers to appreciate and enjoy coffee.  They can improve some farmers lives.  They can and should plant forests, work with local governments and associations.  This is in marked contrast to Big Chocolate.

Unfortunately, I only was able to stay for Monday, and so I only heard the keynote speeches and some sessions on deforestation and sustainability.  But what I learnt was pretty dispiriting.  I’m not sure that this was the intention of the conference, but I came with the clear message that if you eat cheap chocolate and confectionery, or consume cheap chocolate as an ingredient in cakes, biscuits, you are

  1. Encouraging massive deforestation (rainforest canopy in the Cote D’Ivoire down from 24% to less than 4% in the last couple of decades, and cocoa the number 1 culprit; see http://www.mightyearth.org/chocolatesdarksecret/)
  2. Contributing to climate change on a global and local level (Mighty Earth has some powerful analysis showing how deforestation in Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire, Peru and Ecuador are playing havoc with local weather and water)
  3. The end point of a supply chain that pays farmers less than half of what they need to live, beggars their families and gives them very little hope (although it’s better to be in Ghana or Cote D’Ivoire than war torn Liberia).

More worryingly no one was proposing any viable solutions.  There was an appeal to “cathedral thinking” (i.e. thinking of the future for your grandchildren) and a truly bizarre story from a Canadian guest speaker about New College, Oxford planting a forest in 1378 so that when the college hall (sic) was rebuilt in the 1970s they could harvest some trees planted in 1378 by the great, great grandparents of the current new college forester (I’m not making this up).  There was some talk of “responsible partnerships” and Simran Sethi showed what can be done by the likes of Tony Chocolonely in the world of sustainable production.  But much of the time I had to pinch myself when I heard more and more appeals to government, and in particular the EU, to “do something”.  There were lots of interesting statistics – and the chart from the ICCO showing that whilst the world weighted price of 1 KG of chocolate has held constant or even marginally increased from $14.22 to $14.7 between 2013 and 2017, the price of 1KG of cocoa beans (nearby futures contract New York) has decreased from $3.20 to $2.04, pretty much summed up the challenge. For Big Chocolate,  chocolate / cocoa is a commodity product and Big Chocolate isn’t interested in fine flavour or taste.

Unlike other commodity products such as, for example oil, governments, farmers and traders in cocoa growing countries find it really hard to co-ordinate on a local or international level.  Despite two countries controlling 65% plus of world cocoa (Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana), their governments are not incentivised and indeed often relatively powerless to impact prices. The majority of the cocoa growing comprises a myriad of small cocoa farmers, traders, loan sharks, etc. who operate on the edges, and often outside, the law (check out all the cocoa being farmed illegally in national parks).  I’m no expert here, but I can sympathise with the argument that it’s far easier to e.g., monitor sweatshops producing garments than certify these supply chains.  It can be done in chocolate.  Divine have done this in Ghana, Ritter explained what they are doing, and there are lots of initiatives in Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire, etc. and NGOs like the ICC who have laudable plans.  And coffee shows that there are alternatives to OPEC like structures.

But as long as the priority of Big Chocolate is to purchase cocoa as cheaply as they can, and for as long as the people they buy from are so fragmented and so desperate, it’s hard to see how things are going to change.  Many (most?) cocoa farmers in West Africa make less than a dollar a day (the UN believes the minimum living income is $2.50).  And despite these low wages and incomes, people are still desperate for any work – there are stories of workers literally swimming through crocodile infested rivers and shark infested seas to work on illegal cocoa plantations for these wages in deplorable conditions.  So even though it’s great to hear that “Big Chocolate” is trying to create “traceable supply chains”, “sustainable farms”, etc. we’ve heard this many times before and I’m not optimistic.  For as long as they see cocoa as an ingredient where Big Chocolate companies and Traders believe their shareholder obligations mean they need to beat prices down as low as they can, it’s hard to imagine them creating a “Bournville” or “Hershey Town” in Africa.  At the moment, demand for cocoa is pretty flat … but poverty struck farmers see no option but to produce more cocoa. Intriguingly, or rather more worryingly, the ICCO seems to realise that pressuring Big Chocolate hasn’t, and may well not, work (see their summary document from the conference – https://www.icco.org/about-us/icco-news/387-berlin-declaration-of-the-fourth-world-cocoa-conference.html )

So instead the ICCO is now arguing that governments, and in particular the EU, “take action”. One keynote speaker even argued that because government taxes took up 15% of the $100bn spent on chocolate globally, governments should use this to subsidise farmers wages and pay more for cocoa beans (I may have misunderstood this … but checking with a few others in the audience, this was their impression too).  Mighty Earth made a similar plea for the EU “to get involved” and “take action” (everyone did seem to realise that Trump wasn’t as obvious a lobbying target).

I was initially sceptical of the power of the EU “to get involved” and “take action” until I did a little more research on an issue raised in one session on Sunday – Cadmium.  I’m still researching this – and would love to hear from anyone who can shine more light on the subject.  I came away from the conference really worried about prospects for Peruvian, Columbian and Ecuadorean chocolate in the EU.  From the 1st Jan 2019, the EU is bringing into force new guidelines on the maximum amount of cadmium many products can contain.  And chocolate is a special case.  https://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/chemical_safety/contaminants/catalogue/cadmium_en

Here is what I’ve gleaned

  • Cadmium is really, really not got news for humans (causes kidney failure, is carcinogenic, etc.)
  • According to EU studies, we are already eating too many foods with too much cadmium (especially if you are a vegetarian smoker (read the above article!)
  • So the EU want to limit the amount of cadmium in lots of products, and in particular chocolate (I’m not sure why chocolate has been singled out – and if anyone can advise, I’d love to hear). From Jan 1, 2019 new “maximum” limits for chocolate bars are being imposed … which are very low, and sound very problematic for quite a few regions
  • Some countries’ soils contain lots of cadmium and this can pass into the cocoa harvested – and in particular Peru, Ecuador and Columbia seem to be exposed. Other countries’ soils contain far less cadmium and aren’t at risk (Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, etc.).  Worryingly cadmium is also “highly localised” so it can be in a corner of one field and not the rest.  It can be in one part of the valley but not the other.  The good news is that the soils and cacao trees can be treated.  But given how hard it can be to get farmers to prune trees, and given how they mix batches during fermentation, treatment is going to be very tough

In the US there were similar efforts to label, and put limits on, cadmium in chocolate – especially in California.  However, these initiatives appear to have been met with some labelling compromises and “further studies”.  The Peruvian, Ecuadorean and Columbian governments are all making desperate lobbying efforts to stall the EU’s plans.  But there isn’t a lot of time left, and a lot of Ecuadorean, Peruvian and Colombian cocoa farmers and makers are about to get thrown under the bus.

I’m very grateful for the chance to attend the conference.  And as I said at the outset, I wish I’d taken my chance to rant during my speech and have participants from Big Chocolate taste some really great craft chocolate that Martin’s International Chocolate Awards, the AOC and indeed our monthly subscription boxes celebrate.  But hindsight is frequently 20:20.   Next time!

Looking forward, I’ve come back worried about the potentially disaster that EU Cadmium regulations will have for many Peruvian, Colombian and Ecuadorean farmers and makers without anyone really noticing (as a side note, it’ll be interesting to see how “raw” chocolate handles this given that so much of the liquor from which it is processed comes from Ecuatoriana, a single large Ecuadorian factory.  Perhaps “raw” consumers will now examine these raw bars, and the fiction of raw chocolate’s health benefits, a little more).  At a minimum it’d be good to have more time for cocoa growers and farmers to work out how to test for cadmium.

Above all I’ve come back even more unimpressed by “Big Chocolate”.  Big chocolate is bad for the farmers, bad for local forests and bad for the planet. Consumers – correctly – are mistrustful of Big Chocolate and their processes.  And Big Chocolate knows this – and I’m really not surprised why Big Chocolate is so embarrassed and why it has no pride, passion and plans for Theobroma Cacao, the fruit of the gods.  There is almost a case to be made for a cocoa blight, like Witches Broom, to strike and help raise prices through a shortage – and force big chocolate to think more long term, force a restructuring of the industry etc.  But short term this would be terrible for the already beleaguered farmers and their families in West Africa.

Instead, I think we have to learn more from, and follow in the footsteps of, speciality coffee, artisanal cheese, and craft beer.  In the UK more is spent buying chocolate than purchasing either books or music. But this chocolate expenditure isn’t, yet, the subject of much enthusiasm; Big Chocolate is unsurprisingly reticent of its supply chain and processes.  By contrast, craft chocolate lovers and makers are enthusiasts.  We celebrate the cocoa bean and the bars craft chocolate makers create.  We know craft chocolate tastes better (a LOT better).  We know craft chocolate is better for you (has less additives, you’ll savour it more and scoff less – so hopefully eat less of it, etc.).  And direct trade is clearly far better for farmers and the planet.  We know just have to persuade more and more consumers, and who knows even some members of “Big Chocolate”, to try craft chocolate and pick up our passion, purpose and pride.  To that end, we’re working to create some Craft Chocolate Fairs – the first at Kings Cross Canopy Market over the weekend of May 11-13th, and then another at Square Mile Coffee Roasters from October 19-21st.  For more details see cocoarunners.com/events/ – and hope to see you there!

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11 Predictions for Craft Chocolate in 2018

Now we are through January and semi recovered from the Holidays, we’ve decided to stick our necks out with a few predictions for 2018.  We plan to dive into each of these predictions in more detail in the upcoming months, so apologies if we are a little briefin some cases. We’d also like to warn you that these predictions vary between the “wishful” ones (i.e. it’d be really nice and not too hard to imagine), the “safe” forecasts (where we are arguably cheating as we already have plans in these areas), and then afew “pessimistic” notes where we’d love to be proven wrong

Before we start, we thought we’d kick off with a first pass stab at a simple definition of “craft chocolate”.  As with everything else in these posts, please let us know yourthoughts.

“Craft chocolate” is the pursuit of  the unique tastes conjured from small batches of the best beans”

Some predictions:

1 We will see an upgrade to “proper” drinking chocolate, especially in speciality coffee stores  
The key driving force here is speciality coffee stores finally realising that if you aregoing to serve proper coffee, you can’t really serve a form of hot chocolate that is theequivalent of instant coffee.  So, hopefully their customers will no longer just be served alkalalinised cocoa powder with sugar, loads of added ingredients, e numbers, vegetable and palm oils, etc.

This trend is encouraged by more and more makers launching craft drinking chocolate (ie powdered, shaved or buttoned versions of their own chocolate bars), and a fewmakers are even pressing their own powder (Pump Street, Chocolarder, Akesson, Chocolat Madagascar, Askinosie to name but a few …) so you can also enjoy great drinking chocolate at home too

2 Chocolate boards will become a mainstream rival to cheese boards
Okay, so this is a little bit more wishful.  But there are some restaurants now offering “chocolate boards” (e.g., 67 Pall Mall, The Ten Cases and Carluccios) and more andmore craft chocolate fans are sharing their passion for fine bars at the end of meals inthe evening. Try it for yourself with one of our boards with their “breaking bars” (https://cocoarunners.com/shop/craft-chocolate-sharing-board/)

3 Bloggers and journalists start to do more debunking of crazy chocolate myths and raise awareness of some of chocolate’s “darker” sides 

3.1 Great stuff by the Guardian and Mighty Forests on deforestation (See Guardian Online) … and next on child labour?

3.2 Call out the nonsense claims of RAW chocolate.  RAW food fans believe thateating food that isn’t heated above 42 (or sometimes 45) degrees celsius is better foryou.  This isn’t always true; for example, cooking tomatoes increases their antioxidant properties. But for some foods it may well be true.  However there is no evidence thatso called “raw” chocolates are “better” for you (despite the number of makers claimingthat the chocolate they are selling in health food stores is “RAW” and therefore “super healthy”).  More interestingly, none of these “raw” chocolate makers can explain howthey can ferment, or dry, the beans they use without the beans going above 45 degrees.  Indeed, the “father” of raw chocolate, Santiago from Pacari, openly admits that hecan’t guarantee the beans in his “Raw Bars” don’t go above 50 degrees (he just notesthat “ all the cocoa ingredients are minimally processed and kept at low temperaturesto maintain the antioxidants and complex flavour profile of our carefully selected cacao”). And whilst Santiago’s bars are carefully cleaned, please also remember thatmakers roast their beans not just to bring out different flavours but also to kill off bacteria and pathogens that may be in the unroasted beans.

4 Speciality beans become even more “special” as farmers andmakers experiment with fermentation, drying and bean genetics

4.1 This one is a fairly safe prediction.  The likes of Mikkel Friis Holm have been atthis for some time with their double and triple turns and single variant beans withIngemanns. Ditto Oialla, Original Beans and many more with Alto Beni. And Pitch Dark tried out different fermentations in Ecuador. But we are seeing more and moremakers experiment here.  Chris Brennan with new yeasts.  Arnaud of Eritaj with teas.  Mark from Krak is getting in on the fermentation act too.  And we look forward tosharing with you more of these bars in our monthly boxes

4.2 BUT before we get too excited, we need to remember that these innovations will bea small percentage of what is already a small percentage of “speciality cacao”.  Most cacao in the world is from ‘Universal Clones’ – CCN 51 being an of quoted example -which is grown primarily because it is disease resistant and faster to grow.  Theseclones are not grown for their flavour.  We lag way behind (fine) wine and (speciality) coffee, with their fascination with fine flavour beans and their extraordinary quality control.  As Martin Christy notes, “you could probably take 2 hands and list most ofthe places we know of in the world that are growing single varieties”

4.3 Nevertheless, every journey starts with single steps.  The sustainability reports ofTaza, Marou, Original Beans, Koko Kamili, Omnom and others evidence the way thatmakers and farmers are working together to develop high quality, speciality beans. Similarly, the Heirloom Cacao Project is doing an amazing job of promoting thediversity and distinctiveness of speciality beans (and they would now require Martin tohave three hands with their latest accession of heirloom beans from Madagascar andTanzania)

5 New bean origins emerge to delight and enthuse 

Again, this one is a fairly safe prediction.  Following on from Kokoa Kamili showing usthe amazing potential with Tanzania, Taza with Haiti, etc. a host of new regions arebeing explored.  Expect to see more and more bars from the South Pacific (and not just Papua New Guinea but the Solomon Isles, Fiji and more).  Mexico is clearly due for arenaissance.  Togo is one to savour as demonstrated in our last box.  We also have high hopes for India – as Mirzam in our December box showed

6 New maker regions continue to emerge

6.1 More great makers are emerging from countries where cocoa is grown. Peru is astandout here with Shatell, Cacao Suyo, Marana and more to come.  Columbia andCosta Rica next — and closely followed by Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador will all be coming forward with new makers. And there are more surprises instore; not just India but perhaps China (Fu Wan is already growing and crafting fromtree to bar in Taiwan), and more.

6.2 And then we look forward to showing casing a bunch of new makers from all overthe world – South Africa, Spain, Estonia and Uzbekistan. And now that Modica (Italy) ismoving to “bean to bar” and not “reassembly”, Taza finally may have some European competition for stone ground craft chocolate.

7 Dark Milks become more and more popular

We define a dark milk as being a milk bar that contains more than 50% cocoa. Incomparison a Dairy Milk and Galaxy each have around 20% cocoa content, Hershey’saround 10% and the majority of our milk bars have over 40% cocoa content.  Hat Tipto Martin Christy to responding to Lizzie’s suggestion to create a dark milk categoryfor the ICAs – and expect to see more fantastic bars here.  And who knows, Cadburymay even use the “Cadbury Dark Milk” Trademark registration they made early last year

8 Craft White Chocolate also becomes far more accepted, spurredon by more and more makers experimenting with their own presses 

Kudos to Askinosie, Chocolat Madagascar, Akesson and Pump Street for pioneeringthe way here.

9 Sugar continues to be a confusing topic

Sorry this is a bit of an obvious statement and prediction. Sugar is clearly a magical additive. Without sugar (and salt) low fat processed foods wouldn’t work.  And sugar isclearly addictive.  And it’s clearly in all chocolate (even 100% bars have some sugarfrom the cocoa fruit).  So all forms of chocolate are being hammered by the anti-sugar brigade.  Diverting attention by promoting the benefits of alternative sugar is just that — a diversion.  The evidence that e.g., coconut based sugars or other alternative sugarsare somehow “healthier” doesn’t stack up.  Moreover most (all?) of these “alternative” sugars overpower the chocolate. What we need to do is accept that sugar, like manyother things, needs to be enjoyed in moderation. One key difference is that while most consumers expect to eat a mass market chocolate bar in one go we would hope most consumers savour a craft chocolate bar and enjoy it over a few evenings. Expect alonger post here on “the bliss point”.  And don’t expect an easy answer

10 Customers start to read the label  

10.1 Again, this is sort of a wishful one .. but one that is at least directly under ourcontrol

10.2 The difference between instant coffee and coffee beans, or fruit juice concentrateand “fresh” juices is easy to see.  Unfortunately a chocolate bar is, well, a bar, whetherit’s mass processed or crafted. Fortunately labelling helps a bit here.  But we have to get customers to read the label (hint: if there are more ingredients that cocoa mass, cocoa butter, sugar and milk think again – and (to paraphrase Michael Pollan) if there are anyingredients that your grandmother wouldn’t recognise, put the bar back …).

10.3 Above and beyond the ingredients, makers can also help consumers by movingbeyond specifying the cocoa percentage (which can be misleading with e.g., 100% bars being bulked out with cheaper cocoa mass rather than cocoa butter) and country oforigin.  In addition to not requiring makers to say whether or not their cocoa has been “dutched” (ie processed in an alkaline solution). EU law doesn’t require makers to saywhere a bar (or drinking cocoa) is made.  So we suggest looking for details of where, how and who crafted the bar – and the details of the estate, farm and harvest details tounderstand bar provenance.  Again, we are planning a longer post on this subject soon

11 More and more customers will enjoy more and more craft chocolate “experiences”  

11.1 To date craft chocolate has “lagged” behind other craft movements in “theatre”.  For example speciality coffee shops provide a fantastic means for consumers to try speciality coffee whilst also appreciating the care and attention required to make great coffee (especially if they have their own roastery in the background).  Similarly thelikes of Neal’s Yard in artisan cheese are masterful in giving consumers theopportunity to try and experience a huge range of cheeses. The same is true forbreweries in craft beer, wineries and artisan gins / stills. Napa valley has made anindustry out of this — with many wineries receiving over fifty thousand visitors year (most of whom spend lots of $$$), and selling all their wines on allocation or at thecellar door.  Sadly, very few craft chocolate makers have been able to build similar experiences — although Zotter, Dandelion, Marou, Soma and Pump Street aretrailblazing this route.  And we hope that we will in 2018 see the emergence of a fewother means to “experience” craft chocolate in even more powerful ways

11.2 The first and most obvious means are more customer tastings. These can be simple “try before you buy” and go all the way up to formal tastings and pairings.  And wehope that 2018 will see the emergence of a many other means to “experience” craft chocolate in even more powerful ways; Omnom’s new facility in Iceland is worth atrip to Iceland and Dandelion’s new project in San Francisco will be a “must visit”.  And who knows, perhaps we’ll even see some small batch craft chocolate fairs emerge (hint: watch this space)

11.3 In addition, we’d love to encourage more visits to both makers and plantations.  For some time now, we’ve been making ad hoc introductions between members of ourmonthly Craft Chocolate Tasting Club to makers and growers for them to visit on theirtravels. And we hope that 2018 could be the year when these introductions go onefurther with a formal programme.

As ever, thanks for all your support.

Spencer