We are really excited to have welcomed Georgia Ramon, our first German craft chocolate maker to the Chocolate Library this month. Based in Bonn, Georgia Ramon is the brainchild of Georg Bernadini and his Partner Ramona Gustmann.
Georg is already a well know figure in the chocolate world – he has been working in the industry for over twenty years, and been involved with the bean-to-bar movement since 2005. We asked him a few questions about his latest chocolate venture and the vision he and Ramona has set out for Georgia Ramon.
I stems from an Italian family of restaurant proprietors. I started my career in 1984 as apprentice at a German patisserie in Bonn.
In 1987 I worked for few month in Munich at Kreutzkamm (very famous for Stollen and Baumkuchen). In the same year I moved to Paris where I worked for five years at a German/Austrian Patisserie and in the meantime also in a 2 Michelin star Restaurant in Toulouse.
In 1992 I established the Confiserie Coppeneur together with Oliver Coppenur. In 2005 we started our Bean-to-Bar project. I was responsible for the whole project starting with sourcing machines and cocoa beans, but also for recipes, production, design and marketing.
In June 2010 I retired as partner of the Confiserie Coppeneur.
In 2012 I published my first book Der Schokoladentester followed from the second edition, this time also in English, in September 2015. (The English edition The Chocolate Reference Standard is available for sale on Cocoa Runners here). In 2016 I write one or two new books (with chocolate recipes), but this time not self-published.
When I was working in Paris my dream was to establish my own company. The choice was between a patisserie or to specialize in gelato or chocolate. Chocolate seemed to me to be the best choice. Chocolate was always my favorite sweet so I didn’t take long to think about my choice.
I saw the new revolution of craft Bean-to-Bar in USA, but also in many other countries. Only few new projects started in Germany. I wanted to bring this wonderful craft to the mind of German consumers. I was tired about the mediocre and bad chocolate produced from the industry. Also I like to go new ways. There are already many, many single origin chocolates. The market doesn’t need the 75th Akesson Madagascar-chocolate bar…
Of course we will always produce also single origin bars, but I also would like to create new tastes, like our Brokkoli chocolate (our number one seller). Actually I’m working on a tomato and on a stinging nettle chocolate. It’s a thrilling time as we are able to make every day tasting at the counter of our own shop. So we get feedback every day.
My main focus is to use the best ingredients as I can find and not to make any compromise in this!
With my life partner, Ramona (Gustmann) we started in May 2015. Now we have a full time pastry chef and 3-4 part-time staff.
The first step is to establish our brand in the traditional market as a high quality craft Bean-to-Bar brand. We still work to optimize our way to produce chocolate. The feedback of our customers is even better than I dreamed. They love our chocolate and this is quite satisfactory.
Of course we will create new bars. New flavored bars, but also new origins. There are so many origins to discover that I refuse to limit myself to work only with few origins. I know that some customers, especially re-sellers, wish to have a kind of stability in the selection. But this is not always possible.
For example: we started with a quite rare organic Ghana cocoa bean from the ABOCFA-Cooperative since the beginning of our company. Two weeks ago I got the information that we cannot anymore buy this beans as the cooperative sold the whole harvest to one customer in Netherlands. Our Ghana chocolate is the bestseller from our origin range, but we cannot anymore produce this chocolate. So we have to find a new origin. And I’m seriously when I say to all chocolate lovers: buy this bar before it is sold out! You will hardly find this quality made from Ghana cocoa beans, especially in organic quality!
I also want to develop our range of strange and new tastes like tomato and stinging nettle. Somebody wrote last week on Instagram in context to our broccoli-chocolate something like ‘Nobody need this kind of chocolate’. This is a quite big error and nonsense! If we don’t continue to experiment with any kind of ingredients, ways to produce a chocolate etc., where is the legitimacy existence of creativity and also of craft bean-to-bar? How can we progress and develop new products if we don’t try to go new ways? Also, why is chocolate in dishes (as mole) OK, but not vegetables in chocolate? It don’t make any sense to me. Why coffee or matcha is OK in chocolate, but not broccoli, tomato or stinging nettles? Sorry, but this kind of opinion and also of inconsistency I don’t understand.
New markets: This is not our main focus at this time. Before thinking about new markets we would like to get enough and good partners in the traditional market.
Our beans from Maranon (Peru) and Philippines are directly traded. Our Belize beans are fair traded beans which we buy through the importer of the TCGA-Cooperative, Mr. Patrick Walter. But we are in direct contact with the cooperative in Belize. The fair trade and organic Ghana cocoa beans we sourced from Josef Zotter and our Dominic Republic beans we buy from a local dealer who I know now for more than 10 years. For us it is important to know the traces of the beans. From where they come, who produces them, how are the conditions where the people work etc.
My favourite food? Oh, many… and I’m happy that Ramona agrees with me in almost all of my favourite foods. First of all, of course, chocolate in all variations. But I love also all other kind of fine food. Pastry/Desserts (especially Japanese pastry in European style) Cheese, fish, seafood, fine salami, olive oil, bread.
Wine is not really my favourite beverage. I like good wine, yes. But I prefer often to get a delicious IPA craft beer or craft beer generally. I love a nice Rhum and my favourite cocktail is definitely: Cacacha + fresh cocoa pulp and a hint of lime served on a cocoa plantation in Brazil (I had this wonderful experience with my friend Diego Badaro/AMMA). For food I’m/we have quite simple tastes. The quality of the ingredients has to be good and the cook not the worst. In this case you will always be happy with what you get.
I have some chocolate makers which are definitely my favourite makers (in no order): Rogue Chocolatier, SOMA, Sirene, Metiisto, Zotter, Domori, A. Morin, Pump Street Bakery, Patric Chocolate and of course Fruition.
For assorted chocolates I love especially Es Koyama, Demarquette, Le Chocolat de H, Nobile Cioccolato, William Curley, Patrick Roger and Wild Sweets.
Since 2010 Anna and Robbie have been crafting bars from the simplest of ingredients: just single origin cocoa beans and cane sugar. We’ve been following Ritual since before Cocoa Runners even began, so we are truly delighted to be able to share its bars with you. And we were lucky enough to speak to Anna and Robbie and find out a bit more about them and how they maker their chocolate..
[Anna]: I spent many of my childhood years on our family farm in Essex. Being around a family business at a young age really inspired me to start business that I could put my values into and that really had meaning for me. I moved to Boulder, Colorado for High School with my mother who is American and ventured back across the pond to Queen Marys College, London studying English Literature and Drama.
After University I traveled to South East Asia for 6 months, with an interest in other cultures passions, food, and way of life. Coming back to Colorado in 2006, I fell in love with the Colorado Mountains and outdoors. I set my sights on teaching yoga and doing triathlons. During this time my interest in fine food, coffee and wine was developing. When Robbie and I met in 2008 we quickly became excited by the idea of starting a business together that would really fuse our love for the outdoors, travel, different cultures with our love of food.
Initially when the idea of chocolate came up we knew very little about it. Of course, we loved eating it, but we quickly discovered that most chocolate on the market was pretty low quality. Through a lot of research, we slowly began to see the potential for making ultra-high quality chocolate, but we had still not tasted any at the time. From there, we just kept taking small steps towards perfecting our craft and creating our business. And since the first batches we made in our apartment, we kept taking small steps and now we’ve gotten to where we are today with our own factory in the mountains and a brand and quality that is pretty well known within the chocolate community.
[Robbie]: I’m originally from Park City, Utah, which is where our factory is now located. As for education, I was originally a Geology major, but switched to majoring in English Literature with a minor in Geology. So my education didn’t really prepare me for chocolate, but in some ways it did because chocolate is equal parts science and poetry. It definitely helps to approach flavor scientifically, but at the same time we create and problem solve using creativity.
During and after college I pursued competitive cycling with hopes of making a career out of it. Although, right out of school I got a job as a writer and editor for a cycling magazine called VeloNews. In 2009, I wrote an article about coffee, and as part of the article I arranged a “cupping” and graded around 20 coffees. Anna and I were both inspired by the way terroir and roast levels affected flavor. We were already thinking about starting our own business, and this experience influenced us to want to work with a food that relies on terroir for its flavor. We always loved dark chocolate, but didn’t really see it as a fine food at the time because we were only paying $2-$3 for the chocolate we were eating. But through a few small events, we discovered that chocolate had a lot of potential and was something we could really be interested in. In 2009, we thought it was quite strange that we could buy fine cheese, coffee, olive oil and wine, but we couldn’t find any fine chocolate in Boulder, Colorado at the time.
From the spring of 2009 onward, our focus shifted almost entirely from our previous lives to that of chocolate. By Jan 2010 we made our first couple batches at home. In March of 2010 we spent a month in Costa Rica trying to learn about how farming practices influence final cacao quality. Then in September of 2010 we founded the business and only sold directly to friends, at events and markets. Finally, on January 1, 2011 we began working out of Steve DeVries’ factory in Denver and the rest is history. We moved out of DeVries’ factory on February 1, 2015 and opened our new factory in Park City, UT in mid-March of 2015.
2. What mission have you set yourselves for making chocolate?
A lot of what motivates us is the concept of “quality of life”. We make chocolate to improve the quality of life for everyone involved—all the way from the growers to the customers. We’re happy to pay high cacao prices if that means our growers can improve their quality of life. We want to make sure we’re not adding to the destruction of our planet along the way as well. The quality of all life is important to us, not just human life.
As for chocolate making itself, we set our standards painfully high because we want to make sure our chocolate is as good as it can possibly be. The better the quality of the chocolate, the better experience our customers will have, and that fits in with our goal to improve quality of life. On a personal level, a lot of our decisions over the last couple years have been based around improving the quality of our own lives. We moved from Denver to Park City so that we could live in the mountains and have immediate access to the outdoors. Denver is a great city, but we prefer to go on a mountain bike ride after work rather than going to a bar/pub (and not that we don’t go out, we just like to do it after we’ve had some time outdoors).
3. When did you start your company — and with whom? How many are there of you?
Ritual Chocolate was founded by Robbie Stout and Anna Davies. It was just the two of us from 2010 to 2013. Since our first hire in 2013, we’ve grown to about 15 employees total (including ourselves).
4. Where do you want to go next? New bars? New beans? New markets?
Lots of new bars. We’ve held off on launching new origins and other bars for a long time because we were waiting to launch our new packaging first (2 years in the making). Now that we have the design and branding that will represent us for many years to come, we’re ready to launch all sorts of things. We’d like to release 5-6 bars this year, fingers crossed.
As we continue to evolve, we’d like to improve the sourcing side of our business and spend more time at the farm level. As more makers enter the market it’s going to get harder and harder to source the quantities that we need, so we’re going to have to get creative about how we do that. As for new markets, we’re really excited about beginning to sell in England as that is where Anna is from and where most of her family lives. Robbie also has some family there so it’s nice to have our bars available to them.
5.How did you source your beans?
Every origin we work with is its own story.
In the beginning, there were fewer importers and we didn’t know about the ones that existed, which is why we went to Costa Rica in the first place. Our first origin, our Costa Rica bar, was from one of the farms we visited and the beans were brought into the US by Steve DeVries. The Peru cacao is a good story, especially since it pertains to the bars we sent to you. In March 2010, we tried a test batch made from the newly discovered Marañón cacao. This is the pure Nacional origin that is 40% white to 60% purple beans on average. At the time, that test batch was the best chocolate we had ever tried, by a landslide. From that day onward, it was one of our goals to make chocolate with those beans.
So we wrote to Pearson family, the family that discovered that cacao and increased the production in that area, and we requested beans. For years, they only sold chocolate made from those beans, which Felchlin in Switzerland made. We continued to beg, and we gave them samples of our chocolate to prove that we were worthy of such an incredible source. Finally, after about 3 years of waiting, they finally got back to us to let us know that they wanted to sell cacao to us. We were their first bean-to-bar customer (except for Felchlin of course). And it’s kind of a funny coincidence, because we now have the same U. Ammann conches that Felchlin uses, so for the inquisitive chocolate connoisseurs, you can see how different our style of chocolate making is compared to Felchlin, even with the same conches and same cacao.
6. Similarly would love to hear more about innovations in tech, crafting, marketing etc. you’re pursuing.
Since we first began making chocolate, we’ve always been big proponents for deconstructing the whole chocolate making process into its most basic steps so as to have unlimited control over each of those steps.
What we mean by this is that instead of using an all-in-one processor, like a CocoaTown or a Universal Conche that can process nibs and sugar into finished chocolate, we prefer to break the process down into have a pre-refiner, a mixer/grinder, a roll mill refiner and finally a longitudinal conche—so four individual steps with specific machines instead of just one to do all four of those steps. In doing it this way, we’re able to better control the texture and flavor of our chocolate.
In 2011, we were one of the only companies in the country refining chocolate on a 3 roll mill (at the time I think Amano was the only other one, and I think Rogue got his roll mill shortly after). So at the time, our chocolate was incredibly smooth compared to other bean-to-bar chocolates. And I think, because the difference was so apparent, several other companies got roll mills too, so now our chocolate isn’t quite as unique as it used to be, but it’s still quite smooth relative to most of the chocolate out there.
In addition to our roll mill, our other important piece of equipment is our longitudinal conche from Switzerland. Our set was built in 1915 in Langenthal, Switzerland by U. Ammann. The base of each pot is made of granite and all the rollers are steel. This type of conche conches the chocolate in a very slow and delicate way that expels unwanted flavors over a period of days rather than several hours like some of the modern machines. We’ve found that this slower approach to conching, while less efficient, allows more of the subtle flavors to shine through rather than being lost. A lot of the really modern machines are designed to process the ultra-high tannin cacao from Ghana and Ivory Coast (as that is where most cacao is grown). So these machines do a good job of making bad cacao taste good, but they do a bad job of making good cacao taste as good as it can.
7. What is your favourite food? Wine? Other chocolate makers?
We love wine, whisky, and fine cheeses. But we also love simple foods like black beans and rice and oatmeal. I’d say the majority of our daily calories come from avocado, eggs, bread, granola, sugar-free almond milk, chocolate, nuts, wine, beer and whisky.
We eat a lot of chocolate every day and we get a lot of sugar from eating foods high in sugar for cycling and running, so we typically crave salty foods at the end of the day. After a long day tasting chocolate, a two hour afternoon mountain bike ride with maple syrup (or anything else sweet) in my bottles, I’m usually ready for plate of salty, Mexican enchiladas for dinner. We almost never eat dessert.
If you’re a member of our monthly tasting club, then you might just have had a bar from Washington D.C’s first craft chocolate maker, Undone Chocolate. We caught up with co-founder Adam Kavalier to find out a bit more about Undone and how he first got in to craft chocolate.
My background is in science, I was working on my PhD in plant biochemistry and fell in love with cacao in the laboratory. Cacao is full of potent phytochemicals and it intrigued me as a source of medicinal compounds. I began playing with chocolate at home and fell in love with the regions and flavors. I continued to work in science and made chocolate at home for several years; after some great feedback from family and friends I decided to pursue a career in craft chocolate and started Undone Chocolate, Washington DC’s first craft chocolate maker.
We set out to make a simple, pure, healthy and delicious chocolate. We use just two organic ingredients for our base chocolate and don’t add any cocoa butter or lecithin in alignment with our mission. Like other craft chocolate makers we are trying to transform peoples understanding of chocolate from that of a candy to that of a food. Craft chocolate is generally a healthy food when eaten in moderation. It is our goal to balance flavor with health and produce a minimally processed chocolate full of integrity.
We started making chocolate in DC in September of 2014 and launched our products in December of that year. We have now grown to a company of 4 employees.
We just launched two drinking chocolates and a cacao shell tea for the winter so we’re starting to approach new markets with those products. We’re going to continue to grow our inclusion line, as well as work with new origins in Central and South American.
We work closely with other chocolate makers to source the best beans we can find. By using directly sourced cacao we are able to get the highest quality beans with great consistency. We pay at least 3 x the premium of fair trade for our cacao and it is worth every penny. With two ingredient chocolate we are only as good as our beans are so it is a necessary expense. We take a lot of pride in supporting our producers and helping to tell their story.
We have been working closely with an engineer who has been modifying spice grinders to use in chocolate making. He has developed heating (conching) mechanisms and other innovative attachments to help us make delicious chocolate with simple stone grinders.
Favorite food, chocolate of course! Also love California wines, and Argentinian Malbecs. Top three favorite makers: Dick Taylor, Fruition, Soma. But there are another 20 or so that I love as well.
We are delighted and honoured to introduce you to Damson Chocolate, a new maker crafting bars in the heart of Islington, London.
Damson founder Dom Ramsey has an illustrious career in chocolate. Ten years ago he started his “chocablog” and since then he’s been a key force in promoting the small batch, craft chocolate movement – and, full disclosure, was a Cocoa Runners founding team member.
In addition to judging, writing and advising chocolate makers, Dom has now climbed another mountain: he’s started to craft his own chocolate. In his workshop Dom crafts delicious bars that are infused with passion and enthusiasm. From classic darks to unusual milks and from innovative inclusions to rabbit shaped bars, Damson has something for everyone.
Damson is going from strength to strength it has three Academy of Chocolate Awards (2015) already, including the ‘One To Watch’ award. And we are truly delighted to be selling Dom’s bars – including his latest Brazilian Notes Coffee Bar which we are also selling at this weekend’s Coffee Show at the Old Truman Brewery (if you are at the show, do come and say hi – we are on Stand B 18)
Patrice Chapon has lived a fascinating life. The Frenchman spent his early days in hot pursuit of a career in architecture, dreaming of constructing buildings not bars. Alas this was not to be, and he found himself at a loss as to what career to pursue.
Luckily for us, Chapon turned his attention to food, training as a chef. He attained a level of international renown that eventually led to his appointment as ice cream and sorbet maker to the Royal Court at Buckingham Palace.
As with many of our makers, his initial forays into chocolate were conducted in the dead of night, in the cellar of his family home. Chapon dedicated every spare moment he had to crafting fine chocolates, which he then sold to local Parisian confectioners.
While Chapon initially earned a reputation for crafting fine truffles and bon bons, he was not satisfied.
In 2010, Chapon set himself a new challenge. He wanted to craft his own chocolate directly from the bean. To him this meant more that just the best quality quality chocolate and a guarantee of the product’s sustainability (although both of these were important considerations).
More than anything, Chapon felt that for his creations to truly represent his own creativity and personality they had to be entirely his own.
These bars are exceptionally tricky to track down outside of his native France, so we are delighted to be able to welcome Chapon to Cocoa Runners today. Members of our Craft Chocolate Tasting Club have already enjoyed his 75% Ecuador bar, and today we’re introducing our edit of some of the finest bars of Chapon’s range.
The decadent flavours remind us more of a Dominican or Venezuelan bar. Wooded notes have been replaced by treacle and muscovado sugar. We also detected spiced molasses and a touch of liquorice on the finish.
This dark chocolate is made using rare cocoa beans from the Maranon valley of Peru. Patrice Chapon has crafted some spectacular and unexpected notes from these beans. This thin bar has a silky texture and a smooth melt that reveals striking flavours.
A lightly smoked aroma discernible throughout. As the bar develops, we discovered spicier hints and some dried fruits. These notes mixed with the smoke, creating an almost floral aroma.
The high cocoa butter means that the flavour is initially released slowly. As you let a small piece melt, notes of raisins and dried fruits are revealed. We detected a wooded notes mixed into the thickly textured bar.
This week we’re saying ahoy to new maker Abe Seaforth, originally from South Africa and now based here in the UK. Based on the Isle of Wight (for now), Abraham Seaforth has combined his two passions: chocolate and sailing. We sat down with him recently to find out more about his passion.
I have always been making things, paintings and in particular sculpture. I had a large studio space in Brighton where I made large scale wooden sculptures out of tree trunks. I decided to do an arts degree and was lucky enough to earn a place on the Arts Practice course at Goldsmiths College in New Cross, London. It’s only then when I really questioned the materiality of things and how things are made. In my opinion, bean-to-bar chocolate questions this as well. Before bean-to-bar chocolate nobody really looked at the ingredients list of chocolate and questioned why we need all these emulsifiers and additional flavours. The minimal, hands on approach of bean-to-bar really captivated me and I started making chocolate in my home. Just like good art, it makes you believe that anything is possible.
I have known about Fairtransport Shipping for a while. When I discovered bean-to-bar chocolate, I found the ideal raw food ingredient to be shipped back to England via Fairtransport Shipping. From the start it was important to promote goods imported under sail. I have never really set out to become an eco-warrior, but like Jacques Cousteau said, “People protect what we love.” I love sailing and spending time at the sea, but more than that I would like to make a difference and I think that having zero carbon foot print from port to port is a good start.
Next, I am expanding my range of bars from pure chocolates to flavoured bars, something for everyone and aim to add a new cacao origins every year. Sourcing beans starts by looking at the Tres Hombres’s schedule to coordinates the beans arrival to the port with the arrival of the Tres Hombres. I have good relationships with Abel Fernandez in the Dominican Republic and Kim Russell in Grenada.
I do not like pretentious food. An ideal meal would usually include a salad. I like Greek style food, of course even better enjoyed in Greece – roasted squid, taramasalata, saganaki, Greek salad and honey balls. My favourite places to eat in London is Leila’s cafe in Shoreditch at Arnold Circus, The Garrison in Bermondsey Street and Randall and Aubin in Brewer Street. My favourite cocktail is an Aviation and wine – whatever is appropriate for the occasion.
Brand new British maker Lucocoa have been crafting chocolate from the bean for just over a year now. Based in London, they are the first maker (that we know of) to have been making craft chocolate from the bean in London.
Lucocoa’s Ama and Andy launched at the Islington Chocolate Festival in March 2015, having been making chocolate for just a few months. When we met them there, we were immediately struck by their passion and enthusiasm. We were also incredibly excited to meet a London based chocolate maker!
Seeing how far Lucocoa have come in less than a year is truly wonderful, but also a reflection of the momentum in London’s craft chocolate movement as a whole. When we sent an email about Lucocoa last week, we described them as one of two London-based bean to bar makers (the other of course being Damson), but since then we have already been put in touch with a third maker starting to make chocolate in London, and we’re sure there are more to come.
Craft chocolate in general is taking hold of the capital’s imagination. In November 2015 Damson opened its factory shop in Islington (complete with a mini Cocoa Runners craft chocolate library of course). The Craft Chocolate Library has also been a huge hit both at Sourced Market in St. Pancreas and The Department of Coffee and Coffee and Social Affairs in Leather Lane.
Lucocoa are one of those at the front of this movement. We caught up with Lucocoa’s Ama and Andy to find out more about being a bean-to-bar maker in London.
It all started back in the summer of 2014 when I (Ama) who is very into sports and exercise wanted to create a range of food that was better for you. As a chocoholic I started making chocolate without white refined sugar, instead opting for coconut sugar and lucuma. Andy was chief taster and approved some of our early recipes.
The more we both learnt about chocolate, the more intriguing and exciting it got. We decided to take the plunge, we spent months deciding on which beans to use and the ratio of coconut sugar and lucuma to use.
As I said the more we found out and learned about the chocolate we loved the more exciting it got. We want people to explore different flavours of cacao beans, and realise that chocolate can be enjoyed without the use of refined sugar.
Lucocoa Chocolate started in December 2014 – We sold our first bar in March 2015. There are two of us and we both still work me as a project manager at Unicef and Andy as a boxing and football commentator.
The name Lucocoa comes from our principle ingredients – LUcuma, COconut Sugar, coCOA beans and cocoa butter.
New bars. Yes – We have a 50% super milk bar using our Dominican Republic beans. This bar came about directly from our customers that visit us on our market stall. After being there for two months we were constantly asked about making a milk chocolate. So in response we started experimenting with different percentage milk bars and after three months of asking customers what they thought and refining the recipe, voila the 50% milk bar was born.
New beans? No no no no! It takes months to get the right recipe and as a start-up we still have our day jobs so don’t have the time to discover a new bean and get it right. One day in the future I would LOVE to get my paws on some great Nigerian beans.
We have reduced the number of beans. We removed our Colombian bean – the only remaining bars can be purchased exclusively here at Cocoa Runners!
We did thorough research for our beans – The beans that we chose had to be ethical, sustainable, produce great chocolate and had a positive impact on not only the farmers but the farmers’ communities. We pay above the fair trade price and for us we believe that is the right thing to do.
Ha! Difficult in lieu of my mum’s Nigerian cooking it will be a toss between chicken liver parfait or toasted rye bread with goats cheese, cherry tomatoes, smoked salmon and poached egg!
You can always rely on a New Zealand Sauvigion Blanc. I do love a white burgundy or picpoul de pinet
Other chocolate makers:
Ama and Andy
Before we started we met Duffy, he was a beacon of knowledge and helpful tips. We love his chocolate too!
Pablo Spaull – Forever Cacao. Welcome to amazing raw chocolate. Again Pablo is full of helpful knowledge and makes great tasting raw chocolate.
If you are a Cocoa Runners subscriber, then you might just be lucky enough to get a bar from Canadian maker Soma inside your next box. A modern craft chocolate pioneer, and a makes whose chocolate we have long admired, we are delighted to finally be able to welcome Soma and its wonderful bars to the Cocoa Runners Chocolate Library.
We spoke to Cynthia and David, the couple behind Soma.
David was working as a pastry chef and Cynthia was working as an architect. We really wanted to start something small together that would combine our skills.
Being huge chocolate fanatics with a natural curiosity to invent and explore- we got bit by the cacao bug. In 2003 our little chocolate shop was conceived. We made truffles, cookies, hot chocolate, and spun gelato- but the heart of our business was making small batches of chocolate from the cacao bean. Back then we called it micro batch chocolate the term “bean to bar” had not yet surfaced.
In a small 400 square foot space in an old whisky distillery with a refurbished refiner/conche and a modified coffee roaster, we dug deep into the world of cacao and went for it. Today the fascination continues- there are big smiles on our faces every morning knowing our work day involves chocolate.
There are 2 sides to our world- the science and technical side of making a single beautiful bar that makes a specific origin of cacao sing, and the exploratory playful side of finding new ways to enjoy chocolate with new products new techniques and new ingredient combinations.
Our mission has always been to explore the possibilities of chocolate. In the most basic sense this means discovering new sources of great cacao, but also how different chocolates interact in a blend, or the impact of a new roast profile or technique. Craft chocolate making is a continuous experiment.
We started in 2003 and Soma is Cynthia Leung and David Castellan.
As all craft chocolate makers Soma is always looking for and experimenting with new origins. With the rise in chocolate makers there are more small farms growing flavour grade beans. In our factory there are approx 20 samples from new farms right now that will go through testing and evaluation.
This year we will be making deeper connections at the farm level. A trip to the Caribbean will hopefully happen this year to set up a small chocolate making line for a farm we buy beans from so they can make their own bars.
More blends are in the works, with our expanding chocolate library of origins we have a lot of fun creating new flavour profiles from different origins.
On a nuttier level, our new approach to making Gianduja uses hazelnuts from Oregon and cacao beans from Jamaica. Hazelnuts are such a wonderful ingredient (apparently Europeans and Canadians share this love of hazelnuts).
With Cocoa Runners this will be the first time our bars will be sold outside of the Americas. This is a big exciting step for us.
Sourcing happens in a few different ways. Some of our beans are bought direct from the farms. Some of the rare beans or more difficult to get are bought through a broker who is a specialist in that region of origin. Some beans are bought from fellow makers within the chocolate community or traded to share origins.
Toronto is much like London there are a lot of pockets of exotic food from different countries. We love and eat a lot of different foods.
Current obsessions- David is crazy about Szechuan food his favourite dish is Dan Dan Mein, he makes and seeks out different versions from around the world. Cynthia loves an Iranian spiced lamb stew called dizi, it is meant to be slurped dunked in and shared and will warm the soul. Although we love wine, we love our rum more, in particular El Dorado from Guyana.
So many chocolate makers are doing amazing things. Such a great community to geek out with. Some stand outs- Rogue for his fanatical attention to detail. Domori as a pioneer in microbatch chocolate. Pump Street, we love his sourdough chocolate. Lonohana for the love he puts into his tree to bar chocolate.