On Tuesday 16th May we hosted our monthly Chocolate Tasting Evening at Prufrock Coffee. This time we did something a little different. Lizzie from Cocoa Runners invited Ama of Lucocoa to share the stage with her and talk about her experiences of chocolate making.
Among the guests was Terese Weiss. Terese is a bean-to-bar expert and currently on the Teacher Training Programme at the International Institute of Chocolate and Cacao Training (IICCT). If you’ve taken one of the IICCT’s courses in the UK you might just have had the good fortune to have been taught by Terese.
After attending the event, Terese was kind enough to write an account the evening which we are delighted to share with you below.
A ‘Hakuna Lucocoa matata’ kind of chocolate event
An evening of learning, tasting and a meeting a chocolate maker – 16 May 2017
When was the last time you met the maker and personality behind a product you eat pretty much daily? Living in a big town like London, that in itself is rather uncommon, even in a time when specialty and craft are increasingly celebrated. That is what made the most recent Cocoa Runners’ ‘meet the maker’ event so enticing and intimate: to hear and taste the story with the maker – in this case Lucocoa, aka team Ama and Andy.
To make an unusual start, let me tell you that as a professional interpreter, this would be my favorite kind of assignment. What’s there not to like? A relaxing yet informative evening with guided tastings of 14 quality chocolates and peppered with entertaining tidbits. (Who by the way knew that the UK chocolate market is bigger that the book and music industry combined!). But why is that relevant to interpreting – and how is that the reason the Cocoa Runners’ gig is one to keep looking out for. Well, hear me out.
Interpreters are often regarded as semi androids, a hidden button somewhere is switched on, A language goes in, B language comes out. Not quite so. Language is just the top of the iceberg. We look below and listen for meaning, intention and delivery – how well they align… or not. I have interpreted many good and not so good presentations, so I can tell you: Cocoa Runners’ event was aligned, like a string of cocoa beans. They speak fluent chocolate, no interpretation needed.
The evening was mainly hosted by Cocoa Runners’ staff Lizzie who did a deft job in giving sizable insight into the world of chocolate. Although we covered a lot, (beyond the tasting itself – recognising quality, ingredients, the surge of the craft bar, how it is made and personal stories about every sample and maker, the size, shape and make up of the industry as a whole – and much more), I didn’t feel overwhelmed. And that on a hot Tuesday evening after a long day’s work. It takes a skilled and knowledgeable presenter to do that – and probably some of the most visual and entertaining slides I have long seen, which kept the evening light and engaging. Who would have thought that a picture of chicken nuggets or a baby donkey could perfectly exemplify just about anything chocolate. If you don’t believe me, go see for yourself!
Lizzie was seconded by Ama in a gentle duet, partly to hear Lucocoa’s story, partly to get a maker’s perspective. If you don’t know Lucocoa, they are London’s first bean-to-bar maker, having set up in 2014. She and Andy still juggle day jobs and have turned their spare room into a small chocolate factory, (doesn’t that sound like pure bliss), although plans to upscale elsewhere are on the horizon. Ama’s background as a nutritionalist and the couple’s discovery of the Amazonian ‘super food’ lucuma fruit, (looks like a cross between a tennis ball and a granny smith) gave birth to Lucocoa’s name and signature ingredients: coconut sugar and lucuma powder.
There was something quite disarming in Ama’s ‘down to earth-ness’ and admittance of the teething problems she and Andy went through as new kids on the chocolate block. Like how they leaned the hard way to navigate import and export, having travelled and found the beans they wanted to buy from a local woman in Belize and thinking it would just be a small matter of shipping them back to the UK.
We tried 4 of Lucocoa’s bars from Belize, the Dominican Republic and Guatemala showing us a fan of different flavors – and a delicious ‘natural blonde’ white bar. However, for Ama it seemed more important to tell the story behind the bars, about the 3 different women, (Minni, Idelsa and Yasmira), who grow the beans, how they met and their relationship. Aptly, the range is called ‘celebrating our women farmers’. The direct trade and connection is, as summarised by Lizzie, exactly ‘what we love about craft chocolate’ namely ‘that you get really close to the individual farmer’. The emerging availability of beans from these and other unique origin growers is also what is makes the craft market and Cocoa Runners’ library boom these last few years – and what you get a select taste of at their events.
Listening to Lizzie and Ama it mostly felt like a couple of friends were sitting me down and telling me about their jobs and area of expertise. There was no lecturing, no sleek marketing spiel, just nice people and a good atmosphere, with a pile of fine chocolate samples. Indeed, what is there not to like?!
You can find out more about Lucocoa’s chocolate here.
You can find out more about the ICCTT here.