ABOUT LAPA-LAPA

The dreamy and evocative landscapes of Nicaragua inspired Belgian chocolate maker Pieter-Jan to create cacao folklore of his own, reflecting his personal adventures en route to producing top quality single origin chocolate. At the heart of this brand is a mythological creature for the age of craft chocolate, the golden Lapa-Lapa creature native to Nicaragua who roams this land of volcanoes and lakes nightly in pursuit of the best cocoa pods to fulfil his insatiable appetite for the finest cacao. With the same passion, the eponymous bean-to-bar chocolate brand Lapa-Lapa strive to bring you the best of Nicaraguan chocolate, meticulously sourcing top-quality cacao and completing production in their Granada factory. Situated in a picturesque colonial house, Lapa-Lapa’s factory warmly welcome visitors. Why not stop by on your next trip to Nicaragua?

Adventure is at the heart of Lapa-Lapa who seek to inspire the same feeling of tropical adventure in its consumers that is at the source of its Nicaraguan bean-to-bar creations. Lapa-Lapa’s chocolate concentrates solely on showcasing the natural flavours of Nicaragua’s unique beans. Bars contain just two ingredients, cacao and sugar (with the addition of cocoa butter where necessary), with flavours released and highlighted through the fermentation and drying processes alone which vary in accordance with bean variety.

Lapa-Lapa’s mission is simple: “we want to make the best chocolate we can with purely Nicaraguan cocoa in the country of origin.” Lapa-Lapa is particularly proud of their close contact with the farmers, cooperatives and cacao processors, consulting with them on a daily basis. “You feel closer, more connected to the beans and you can learn and control the process from seed to bean”, states Pieter-Jan.  Their commitment to producing chocolate locally, with all stages of the process carried out in the proximity of their factory in Nicaragua, also yields a positive economic effect in the local community by creating more jobs “adding more value to the final product in the country of origin.”

 

HOW THEY BEGAN MAKING CHOCOLATE

Although Belgian and a “chocolate lover by birth,” Lapa-Lapa founder Pieter-Jan’s path to chocolate was not a direct one. After studying Economics, Pieter-Jan spent some years working in international sales, eventually becoming a steel trader. Fascinated by processes of production and inspired by the joy of a friend who manufactured wooden furniture, he longed to learn how to produce a tangible product. With a passion for adventure, this self-proclaimed “world explorer” met his perfect match in bean to bar chocolate production.

When Pieter-Jan discovered unique characteristics and flavour profiles of different bean varieties and their expression in the final chocolate product, it was a revelation. From his kitchen laboratory in Belgium, he ordered beans from around the world, using the same technique to craft different chocolates, unveiling an impressive spectrum of flavour notes and complexity. With more flavour compounds found in dark chocolate than in red wine or coffee, he began learning as much as possible about the process of production of pure dark chocolate and how modifications at each stage, from growth to final crafting, could be used to shine a light on an impressive range of complex flavours.

It was a “series of fortunate events” that happily conspired to bring Pieter-Jan and his girlfriend to Nicaragua. At the beginning of their chocolate making journey, from a kitchen laboratory in Belgium, they discovered a bean sourced online that was so irresistible that they just had to follow the bean to its origin in Nicaragua. It was here that they came to start their factory. Just eighteen months after producing their very first bar in their Belgian kitchen, Lapa- Lapa was born in 2017.

 

LAPA-LAPA’S SOURCING

Much like the Lapa-Lapa of legend, its chocolatier counterparts roam Nicaragua in pursuit of the finest cacao beans. Currently, Lapa-Lapa’s beans come from the hills and jungles of the province of Matagalpa in central Nicaragua. Sourced from a cooperative of four hundred growers, beans are harvested in November to December and April to May. Lapa-Lapa’s growers expertly sort the different genetic varieties grown on their farms so that each variety can be fermented in a different way in order to highlight their unique flavour profiles. Ingemann, a family-owned and family-managed supplier of fine Nicaraguan cocoa, then carry out the fermentation process. For Lapa-Lapa this outsourcing is essential, allowing the individual attention necessary to produce single-bean chocolate whilst enabling the farmer to focus on the plantation. Ingemann have long term contracts with the farmers, giving long term stability and security through fair prices, purchasing wet mass (much heavier than the price of dry beans) and at a price much higher than the international price.

Lapa-Lapa are continuing their explorations in Nicaragua in the hope of finding new, quality beans from different plantations with varying growing and fermentation techniques in order to create more dark chocolate showcasing an exciting range of flavours.

 

LAPA-LAPA’S CHOCOLATE

Lapa-Lapa’s aim is to showcase the unique varietal flavours of Nicaraguan cacao, releasing all of the natural flavours that can be found in a single bean and allowing them to shine. The focus is solely on the beans, and bars are made from two ingredients, cocoa and sugar (cocoa butter if needed).

 

We sat down with Pieter-Jan to find out more about his passion for chocolate and the brand that he’s built.

MAKER INTERVIEW

 

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

I studied economics and have been working in international sales for some years. My last job was steel trader. Next to that I am a world explorer and travelled the world for some time.

After I saw the joy and fulfilment of a friend of mine who was manufacturing wooden furniture, I wanted to learn how to produce a product too. As a Belgian, a chocolate lover by birth, I chose chocolate. Very soon I learned that each bean has its own flavour, like grapes in wine. I really got excited about making chocolate and discovered that there was a new movement going on in the chocolate scene, the bean-to-bar movement. We got so excited that 18 months after we produced our first chocolate bar in our kitchen laboratory, my girlfriend and I found ourselves in Nicaragua with a chocolate factory in an old colonial building.

 

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

We started Lapa-Lapa in 2017. Currently it is just my girlfriend and I.

 

What mission have you set yourselves for making chocolate?

We want to make the best chocolate we can with purely Nicaraguan cocoa in the country of origin. We aim to discover unique beans and try to release all the natural flavours that can be found in a cacao bean.

 

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

We want to find new quality beans in Nicaragua to make more dark chocolate. We focus on the beans and don’t have any intention of putting anything else in the bars other than cocoa and sugar (cacao butter if needed). As we are living in a cocoa producing country we also want to learn more about the plantations, the growing techniques and the fermentation.

With regard to new markets, we just started selling our chocolate and we want to sell wherever our chocolate is needed.

 

What is the story behind your company name?

Lapa-Lapa is a legend of a golden creature that lives in Nicaragua. He is obsessed with cocoa. At night, Lapa-Lapa roams around the jungles and hills of Nicaragua in search of the best cocoa beans of the country. With the same passion, we make our chocolate from bean to bar in Nicaragua, the country of Lapa-Lapa!

 

Who designed your packaging – and what are you most proud of about your packaging?

Emily Swaeb, a Belgian friend of ours, designed the packaging. She did a very nice job. We love the Lapa-Lapa itself, the colours, the golden cocoa tree and the flavour profile of the bean. We like to offer a full experience when buying this chocolate and create a feeling that you discover our chocolate just as Lapa-Lapa discovers a new bean in the jungle.

 

How did you source your beans?

We found our first bean when we were still making chocolate in Belgium. As we loved this bean so much, we actually followed the bean to Nicaragua where we started our factory.

 

What inspired your choice of wrapper/mould design?

Lapa-Lapa and his adventures. The golden wrapper will give you the impression that you found a treasure in the jungle, just like Lapa-Lapa. When you open the wrapper, you will find the mysterious Lapa-Lapa on the bar itself, staring at you with a cocoa pod in his hands.

 

What innovations in tech, crafting, marketing etc. are you pursuing?

We are working on some special crafting techniques. Unfortunately, these are classified “top-secret”. Marketing wise, we like to mix adventure and style. This is how we look at chocolate and also at life in general. Dark chocolate is all about the beans. These beans are only found in tropical countries, full of adventures. You need to remind the customers that cocoa is a product that comes from the tropics. Making chocolate from bean to bar, especially in the country of origin, is an adventure and is, preferably, to be done in style.

 

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

My favourite food? That’s a difficult question. I like pure and strong flavours like truffles, oysters and old cheese.

Wine: Bordeaux, Barolo, Brunello or a good Argentine Malbec.

Other chocolate makers: Fruition, A. Morin, Amadei, Beau cacao, Chocolatoa and Dandeloin.

 

What chocolate achievement are you most proud of to date?

Our first chocolate, the Lapa-Lapa Rugoso, and our factory setup in a colonial house in Granada.

 

Is there anything else you want to tell us, or you think our customers should know?

Everybody is welcome to visit our chocolate factory in the beautiful city of Granada. It is worth the trip.

 

  1. YOUR BARS – please give us as much information as you can about the bars we are purchasing. The questions below are guidelines for what kind of thing we are looking for, please just fill in what you can.

Your Beans:

Who farms them? What’s their mission? How long have they been growing cacao (co-op, the farmer, bean supplier)

The beans are grown in the province of Matagalpa, in the center of Nicaragua. It is a cooperative of 400 growers that are fully aware of the genetics they are growing on their farms. They separate the different genetics and afterwards each genetic is fermented in a different way by a company named Ingemann. It’s a wonderful cooperation which makes producing single-bean chocolate possible. Ingemann focuses on the fermentation/drying and the logistics. The farmer in turn, can concentrate fully on his plantation.  Furthermore, Ingemann have a contract with the farmers to buy all the cocoa they produce for 30 years at a much higher price than the international price and they pay for the wet mass!

 

When are the harvests?

November/December and April/May

 

What is the fermentation like? How long is it? What do they use?

The fermentation is done in big wooden crates. They use the cascade system.  It is a purely natural fermentation. The time of fermentation, the amount of turns, the drying time depend on the bean itself. The fermentation depends on the plantation, the harvest, the climate, etc.

 

How are the beans dried?

In the sun.

 

How is the cacao transported?

As it is in our backyard, we are picking up the beans with our truck. Always a joyful ride.

 

How did you find them? (Sent a sample, visited them, etc.)

On the internet.

 

Your Process

Are there any unique steps/special tweaks to this recipe? (Without revealing any secrets!)

There aren’t any really unique steps in our process, except for the roasting of course which is each chocolate maker’s secret.

 

What machinery has been used?

Drum roaster, home-made winnower, stone grinders, tempering machine, cooling system.

 

Any other notable ingredients? (e.g particular sugar, milk or additional flavour)

No, only cocoa and sugar. Until now we didn’t need to add any cocoa butter either.

 

Roughly how long does it take? How long is roast, conche, ageing?

In total 3 weeks, including ageing of course.

 

Innato is the brainchild of Peruvian cocoa and coffee giant Grupo Romex who launched the brand to explore the world of small, 200-250kg, bean-to-bar chocolate production.

Innato’s beans are constantly threatened with natural disaster, growing on a fault line!

 

ABOUT INNATO

When Grupo Romex subsidiary Innato launched its Premium bean to bar line, its central mission was to showcase internationally the ancient traditions and unique characteristics of Peruvian cacao whilst committing to sustainability and improving the quality of life of their farmers, suppliers and employees.

Fundamental to vision is its name, deriving from the latin innatus, it embodies that which is not learned but innate in a being, inherent in characteristics from its very origin. For a line which centres upon the importance and uniqueness of terroir and variety, the name couldn’t be more apt, enabling a naming system in which the origin is incorporated into the name of each variety. This is further reflected in the fingerprint logo of the brand, a unique identifier which narrates an individual history, from the origin of the beans to the bar that we hold in our hands as a finished product.

 

HOW THEY BECAME MAKERS…

Bean-to-bar craft chocolate is a recent venture for Grupo Romex, a venture that is skilfully achieved in Innato’s Premium diffusion line.  Inspired by the increasing esteem in which Peruvian cacao is held internationally, Innato’s Premium line is all about showcasing the unique tasting possibilities imparted by origin and varietal characteristics within Peru. At its inception is the “happy encounter between artisanal knowledge and the best of the Madre Tierra, united in the promise of safeguarding sustainability along with the communities who are guardians and protectors of this ancient fruit.” For its Premium line, Innato travels Peru, selecting the best cacao harvests grown in distinct regions, bringing back to life ancient cultures and traditions which can be shared with the world.

 

INNATO’S SOURCING

Innato strives to work directly with farmers, forming long standing relationships, and collaborating with their associations and cooperatives. Innato works with the APROCHEN community association whose mission is to grow cocoa in the most efficient and sustainable manner possible whilst negotiating better prices for the producers.

Cacao sourcing for Innato’s Juan de Cheni 72% bar is a true triumph in the face of adversity. It is a tale of particular poignancy and yet positivity. Juan de Cheni is situated in the west of the “central jungle” of the Junin region of central Peru. Here, indigenous communities have used cocoa farming as a means to resist the devastation cause by guerrilla warfare. Working with producers such as Innato has enabled them to receive a fair price for premium beans. Profits are reinvested in the rebuild of their communities. However, cacao production in this region has not risen solely in the face of human and political adversity as Junin is situated on a large fault line, threatening destruction of natural origins too.

For Innato’s 72% Jaen bar, it has worked together with a cooperative of farmers from the city of Jaen in the region of Catamarea, north west of Peru. Here, in the highland jungles amid mountainous terrain, warm weather and frequent rain prevail, providing an ideal climate for growing fine cacao.

 

INNATO’S CHOCOLATE

Innato highlights the unique origins of its cocoa as the source of the resulting unique organoleptic experience and a flavour profile that is unmistakably Peruvian. In 2017, both Innato’s Jaen 72% bar and it’s San Juan de Cheni 72% were recipients of Silver Awards at the Peruvian Salón de Chocolate. These bars in particular provide a fascinating tasting experience demonstrating the profound influence of terroir on taste, both crafted to a similar recipe and with the same cacao percentage. Here, the distinctly different flavours are imparted primarily from the difference in altitude between the two regions where the cocoa is grown. Innato’s texture is characteristic of that of many Latin American bars, where an absence of added cocoa butter that so often give European bars a buttery texture, results in a certain graininess and dryer mouthfeel.

Innato is passionate about showcasing the difference in flavour produced by topographical regional variations in its finished product. From the exotic floral and fruit aromas of north eastern cacao, to the delicate hints of cinnamon that prevail in cacao from the south, to the pale colour and subtle tastes of northern varieties, Innato’s Premium line offers a unique and exciting exploration of Peru.

 

We sat down with Alexandra to find out more about her passion for cacao, and the brand she has helped to build.

MAKER INTERVIEW

  1. YOU – we and our customers are always interested to hear about the people who make our chocolate. Please tell us a little bit about you, your colleagues and your company.

About You:

How many are there of you?

In the main office within Romex we are 40 people. In our cocoa plant in Chincha there are 38 workers.

 

What mission have you set yourselves for making chocolate?

Our mission is to make the world aware of Peruvian chocolate offering products that fulfill and satisfy customers, which will in turn improve the quality of life of our farmers, suppliers, customers and employees.

 

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

We want to keep developing new bars with exotic Peruvian origins and enter new markets.

 

What is the story behind your company name?

Romex- ROM comes from our family name Romero and EX for exporters. We are the second largest exporters of cacao beans in Peru.

 

Who designed your packaging – and what are you most proud of about your packaging? What inspired your choice of wrapper/mould design?

An agency called Studio A designed our packaging. The term innate comes from the Latin innātus, “to be born in”, and refers to that which is natural, inherent, unlearned, such as your fingerprint which is represented in our packaging. This fingerprint represents that which is innate, which is essentially cocoa that is born with an excellent makeup. The name also refers to the cacao / Romex / Chef, who have an innate passion for cocoa and chocolate, whose process is based on the characteristics of the origin of the product. Also innate to Romex is a commitment to the cocoa farming communities and finally to the product itself in order to develop the market.

 

How did you source your beans?

We work directly with the farmers for some years and collaborate with their associations and cooperatives.

 

What innovations in tech, crafting, marketing etc. are you pursuing?

We are developing products with exotic flavours and inclusions.

 

What chocolate achievement are you most proud of to date?

Our two silver awards in different categories at the Peruvian Salón de Chocolate. It was our first time participating in any competition.

 

Is there anything else you want to tell us, or you think our customers should know?

The origins of the cocoa that we have discovered are particular, unlike any other.  The organoleptic notes are native to Peru.

 

 

  1. YOUR BARS

Your Beans:

Who farms them? What’s their mission? How long have they been growing cacao? (co-op, the farmer, bean supplier)

We work with the APROCHEN association in the areas of Jaen more specifically Canana, Bellavista, Inguro, Playa Grande; for Cheni, Rio Grande Centro Poblado de San Juan de Cheni. Their mission is to grow cacao in the most efficient and sustainable manner.

 

 When are the harvests?

From January to June.

 

What is the fermentation like? How long is it? What do they use?

The fermentation process starts from the collection of fresh cocoa and is fermented using wood boxes of 200 kilos. It lasts about 5-7 days.

 

How are the beans dried?

The drying is natural direct to the sun and gradually.

 

How is the cacao transported?

It is coded and packaged in jute bags and then transported to the processing plant.

 

How did you find them? (Sent a sample, visited them, etc.)

We visited them.

 

Your Process:

Are there any unique steps/special tweaks to this recipe? (Without revealing any secrets!)

The special part of our process is the dedication we spend working in the field selecting the cocoa for our chocolate.

 

What machinery has been used?

A roaster toaster (drum), similar to coffee roasting. It is refined with a cocoa refiner and mixed and refined with a roller mill. The conch is Charles Montanari.

 

Any other notable ingredients? (e.g. particular sugar, milk or additional flavour)

We only work with cocoa paste from the grain and refined white sugar.

 

Roughly how long does it take? How long is roast, conche, ageing?

The toasting is high medium temperature 100-110 C and less than one hour. The conching time is between 12-15 hours. And the maturing of the chocolate takes about three months.

 

Made In Africa (MIA) founder Brett was inspired to produce chocolate whilst serving in the Peace Corps in Madagascar.

 

MIA

What’s in a name? For Made In Africa (MIA), it embodies a concept in which social development is fundamental, a concept which showcases the positive potential of Africa through its extraordinary produce. Founders Brett, Sarah and their team are striving to reverse the economic impact upon the continent of current chocolate production: despite producing 65% of the world’s cocoa, communities in Africa economically benefit from less than 1% of the chocolate production process which is predominately carried out in Europe and the USA. MIA seek to empower local communities to take more control over this production process, teaching farmers how to ferment and dry well and partnering with a local factory. “Our mission is simple,” state Brett and Sarah, “to make amazing chocolate that does good. We believe that the best flavour and a fair supply chain can go hand in hand and that’s what we aim to deliver with each and every bar.”

By partnering with Africa’s best food entrepreneurs, MIA reinvents perceptions of the continent, collaborating with small independent Madagascan cocoa farmers and a local chocolate making team to produce a delicious end product of superior quality. Indeed, the International Cocoa Organization in London classifies 100% of Madagascan cocoa as fine flavour, a distinction awarded to just 10% of global production, Brett and Sarah highlight. Constant collaboration with production partners and market feedback are essential to shaping new product development. MIA works closely with the chocolate making team in order to develop the best roasts for inclusion and to fine-tune chocolate recipes in order to create a product of top quality.

 

HOW THEY BECAME MAKERS…

MIA was launched in the summer of 2017 by Brett and Sarah who aimed to unite a group of like-minded individuals around the central brand vision, namely, “that some of the very best foods can be crafted at the source of the ingredients in Africa, and in a way that creates a positive connection between producers and consumers.”

Brett, born in Britain and raised in the USA, developed a passion for Africa whilst working in Madagascar, first as a volunteer teacher and later as a project manager in social development. Brett has a decade of experience in chocolate prior to founding MIA as a co-founder of Madécasse. Sarah is a local of the picturesque Belgian town of Bruges, celebrated internationally for its own traditions of chocolaterie. However, it wasn’t until she began tasting single origin chocolate that she began to fully appreciate the extraordinary potential of cocoa varieties and the depth of flavour imparted by terroir and variations in the chocolate making process. Her passion for the richness of African culture and traditions was sparked as a tour guide on the Nile after completing a degree in marketing.

 

MIA’S SOURCING

Made In Africa cooperates with independent family farms in Madagascar that range in size between 8Ha to 40Ha (a rugby pitch is approximately 1Ha in size). The majority of the cocoa is purchased from four farms in the lower Sambirano (cocoa) Valley and supports 44 cocoa farmers. Cocoa is harvested year-round, with peaks in June-July and October-November. Whilst beans are meticulously selected, of equal importance is careful fermentation and drying. This means that the natural red fruit notes, so special in Madagascan cocoa, prevail in MIA bars.

In line with the values of fairness in the supply chain that are at its heart, in the future MIA hopes to work closely with a development agency in order to expand partnerships with cocoa farmers and enable a transfer of the skills required to produce supérieur cocoa. This would spread economic benefit to more and more small, independent farmers. Crucially, MIA hope to enable the fermentation and drying process required for supérieur cocoa to be carried out at a smaller scale to render the process accessible to the most modest of producers, giving them a new opportunity to produce the cocoa themselves rather than selling their cocoa fresh to collectors. By helping producers to add more value to their beans by taking control of fermentation and drying, MIA hope to increase the price farmers receive.

 

MIA’S CHOCOLATE

MIA has developed a full line of bars that highlights the subtle flavours of Madagascan cocoa, ranging from distinctly flavoured pure dark bars (the MIA 100% cocoa bar contains no added cocoa butter and no added sugar), to bars incorporating a range of classic inclusions including candied orange, almonds, hazelnuts and cranberries.

 

 

We sat down with co-founder Brett to find out more about his passion for chocolate and the brand that he’s built.

MAKER INTERVIEW

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

Brett, MIA Co-founder and Chocolate Enthusiast, is British by birth and grew up in the USA. He developed a passion for Africa during a six-year life-changing experience in Madagascar, first as a volunteer teacher in a village and then as a social development project manager. His passion for chocolate comes from a fascination he developed for the product during the ten years he previously developed another chocolate brand.
Sarah, Co-founder and Foodie, is Belgian and grew up in the quaint and picturesque town of Bruges. She left school with a marketing degree but took her first job in Africa to guide tours on the Nile. This experience opened her world to the richness of African culture and traditions. As a local to Bruges, she was literally born into the world of chocolate but it wasn’t until she started tasting single origin bars that she fully appreciated the amazing potential of cocoa varieties, terroir and the chocolate making process to create depth of flavour.

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

The MIA brand was formally launched in the summer of 2017. Brett and Sarah co-founded the business to unite a group of like-minded individuals who share the brand values and vision: that some of the very best foods can be crafted at the source of the ingredients in Africa, and in a way that creates a positive connection between producers and consumers. As of January 2018, there are three other parties in the MIA brand family.

Having dedicated a career to development work in the southern hemisphere, Conall, the Africa Expert, embodied MIA values and understood the challenges producers face in getting their great products out of Africa. Conall was a perfect addition to a business rooted in Africa!

Ideas and visions are great but they need a name and identity to come to life. Enter Dynamo Ltd, a unique branding and design agency that saw all the potential to tell the positive story of Africa’s beauty, flavours and human potential, and to do it through a brand that gives more back.
Not last and not least, GIST Initiatives Ltd, a UK platform that unites a group of Social Impact Investors, supports the MIA cause, not just through finance but also with a strong network of advisors and collaborators.

What mission have you set yourselves for making chocolate?

MIA is a bit different than many brands in that our mission is to partner with Africa’s best food entrepreneurs to create delicious products that shine a light on the amazing potential on the continent. When it comes to chocolate, MIA collaborates with Madagascan cocoa farmers and a local chocolate making team.Our mission is simple: to make amazing chocolate that does good. We believe that the best flavour and a fair supply chain can go hand in hand and that’s what we aim to deliver with each and every bar. We collaborate with our production partners by shaping new product development with our ideas and market feedback. We work hand-in-hand with the chocolate making team to develop the best roasts for our inclusions and to fine-tune chocolate recipes so that, together, we can create the best product possible.

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

In 2018-19, we will create two new everyday 75g bars as well as seasonal flavours and a gift pack. In a second phase of new product development, we will extend the MIA chocolate range to baking and drinking chocolates. Our long-term plan is to go beyond chocolate and Madagascar to collaborate with other communities in Africa around products such coffee, honey and nut butters. While the UK and continental European markets are at the heart of our brand development, we will also target the US in the future. Additionally, we have a shipment of MIA scheduled to go to Australia in February 2018 and we will continue to expand to other markets where there is demand for MIA.

 

What is the story behind your company name?

MIA is a concept that defies business logic and flips the status quo upside down to do something new. Why is it that ‘Made In Africa’ is not a tag we see on popular clothing brands, delicious foods and tech products? The MIA brand family was drawn together by the desire to give this question a real-life answer.

We wanted to create a name that speaks to the core of the brand but also in line with our conviction that quality should come first when it comes to food. It took lots of searching and experimenting with ethnic names and nonsense words before we discovered MIA right in front of us. We immediately fell in love with the name because it is just that, a name, and it’s only when consumers dig deeper that the social story and acronym ‘Made in Africa’ come forward. We want people to buy MIA for quality but hope that like us they fall in love with the ‘Made In Africa’ MIA for its higher purpose.

 

Who designed your packaging – and what are you most proud of about your packaging?

Dynamo Ltd designed MIA packaging. We are proud to have played an active role in the development of packaging that is both artistic and functional, featured in a square-ish format that stands apart from the many rectangular bars in the market.

 

How did you source your beans?

We know the Sambirano (cocoa) Valley of Madagascar well through previous work so we are familiar with the different cocoa varieties – forastero, trinatario and criollo – that dominate certain areas. The beans are sourced in collaboration with the chocolate factory based on the product specifications for what is called supérieur cocoa in Madagascar. Supérieur is a reference to the fermentation and drying process. Working with farmers to meet these standards ensures that the natural red fruit notes that make Madagascan cocoa so special infuse MIA bars.

In the future, we hope to create a partnership with a development agency to expand cocoa farmer partnerships so we can spread the economic benefits and skills transfer of supérieur cocoa to more independent farmers.

 

What inspired your choice of wrapper/mould design?

We wanted MIA packaging – from design, to carton format, to flow packaging to mould form – to reflect our unique approach to Africa and the high quality of the ingredients that are crafted into finished chocolate.

The International Cocoa Organization in London classifies 100% of Madagascan cocoa as fine flavour, a distinction awarded to just 10% of global production. Our effort to reflect this quality in the packaging led us to feature gold foil to punctuate a simple yet elegant design. The fine patterns and the diamond on the front panel are also intended to convey the quality of the product and the care that goes into crafting it.

MIA occupies a unique position in the market when one considers that despite producing 65% of the world’s cocoa communities in Africa do not benefit from even 1% of chocolate production (predominately made in Europe and the USA). We communicate the specialty nature of the product and the unique brand promise – amazing food that does good – in the alternative shape of the packaging, dedicated flow pack and a chocolate mould that mirrors the pack design.

 

What innovations in tech, crafting, marketing etc. are you pursuing?

Our main innovation is the approach we take to brand partnerships with producers in Africa. MIA forms a positive connection between the creative entrepreneurs on the least developed continent in the world and consumers in wealthy nations, and the link is in the unique form of a finished product.

In marketing, MIA takes a different approach to brand development by placing an increased emphasis on the blogger community and other social media opportunities (vs. emphasis on traditional print press). We are taking this approach in an effort to create a direct bond with our target audiences: conscious consumers and foodies.

 

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

Residing in Belgium, beer is one of Brett’s favourite drinks. Boasting over 300 breweries, bottle fermentation and a passion to match, Belgium offers a beer to pair with everything. Sarah loves simplicity and really appreciates artisan cheeses for their depth of flavour and fresh bread as a daily staple.

 

What chocolate achievement are you most proud of to date?

MIA is a young brand so we have a relatively short history. The achievement we are most proud of to date is the creation of a full line of bars that pays homage to the subtle flavours of Madagascan cocoa yet creates variety with a range of inclusions and distinctly flavoured pure dark bars.

 

Is there anything else you want to tell us, or you think our customers should know?

We want consumers to know that when they buy any product, including MIA, they are forming a connection with everyone in the supply chain, from the cocoa farmers to the chocolate makers and on to the to the transporters, distribution partners and retailers. At MIA, we work hard to ensure fairness and shared success for the network of connections that is made to covert cocoa from the farm to chocolate at the factory and an enjoyable experience at home.

 

2. YOUR BARS
Your Beans:

Who farms them? What’s their mission? How long have they been growing cacao (co-op, the farmer, bean supplier)

We collaborate with the chocolate factory to buy cocoa from independent family farms ranging from 8Ha to 40Ha. The majority of MIA cocoa is purchased from four farms in the lower Sambirano Valley that support 44 cocoa farmers.

 

When are the harvests?

Cocoa in Madagascar is harvested year-round with peaks and slow seasons.

 

What is the fermentation like? How long is it? What do they use?

Our current farmer partners use the traditional wooden box cascade system with approximately 6 days of fermentation and 6 days of drying (varies depending on the season). The cascade system requires 300 to 1,000 kg of fresh cocoa (100 to 333 kg of dry cocoa) for proper fermentation. During the fermentation and drying process the precursors of flavour are developed and many of the harsher cocoa flavours are released (gases released during sun drying).

In the future, we plan to partner with a social development organisation to introduce small-scale fermentation that gives individual farmers the ability to ferment their cocoa in baskets at volumes starting around 50kg of fresh cocoa. This small-scale and alternative process essentially makes supérieur cocoa production accessible to even the smallest cocoa farms. If we can prove the small-scale system it will popularise the production of supérieur cocoa and mark a new opportunity for many farmers who can only currently sell their cocoa fresh to collectors at lower prices.

 

How are the beans dried?

Our beans are sun dried.

 

How is the cacao transported?

Fresh cocoa is transported by ox cart from field to farm. Once cured and dried to 8% humidity content, the cocoa travels by truck from the Sambirano Valley in coastal northwest Madagascar to the chocolate factory in the central highlands.

 

How did you find them? (Sent a sample, visited them, etc.)

The factory has partnerships with the cocoa farmers, some of whom we already knew from past work in Madagascar.
Your Process:

 

Are there any unique steps/special tweaks to this recipe? (Without revealing any secrets!)

The inclusions in our bars undergo a second roasting with a special process to keep the ingredients crunchy and fresh.

 

What machinery has been used?

Cocoa is roasted in a coffee roaster and ground in a universal conche.

 

Any other notable ingredients? (e.g particular sugar, milk or additional flavour)

The MIA 100% Cocoa bar only contains cocoa liqueur (no added cocoa butter). The existing inclusion bars feature classic ingredients like candied orange, almonds, hazelnuts and cranberries. In 2018, we will launch two bars that push the boundaries on inclusions by incorporating super foods; one bar features hemp seed and the other will have a chocolate base with sherbet-y baobab powder.

 

Roughly how long does it take? How long is roast, conche, ageing?

MIA bars are conched for 48 to 72 hours. They undergo a “natural” aging of 2-3 months on their way to the UK and other markets around the world.

Who are Oialla?

The cacao trees from which Oialla source their beans were only discovered growing upon islets of an Amazon tributary in the Beni region of Bolivia in 2002. When Danish chef Rasmus Bo Bojesen visited the area, he was so struck by the potential of its cacao that he determined to become a craft chocolate maker. Today, Oialla bars are crafted using beans from 6 Bolivian islets. Rasmus must take five flights, spend a day canoeing across the dark rivers of the jungle, and undertake a 15-hour hike through soil and mud to reach the mangrove swamps on which the cacao trees grow.

Oialla1

How Oialla source their cocoa beans

Oialla believe that roasting cocoa takes great skill and an even greater deal of patience. Oialla roast their beans in a ball roaster – a rotating metal cylinder that tumbles the beans while roasting them with hot air. Preserving the quality and taste of the beans is imperative for Oialla. The chocolate and beans are tasted every step of the way to ensure impeccable quality – especially over the final stages.

The journey of Oialla’s beans start from growing from the tree with careful observations and perfect environmental factors. Once a year the cocoa pickers set up a camp in the rainforest and spend two or three months harvesting the ripe cocoa pods. After these early stages, the beans are then left to ferment. The pickers dig out the beans and let them ferment in baskets covered by banana leaves for three days. After these three days are up, the beans are left to dry out under the warm Bolivian sun. Once the beans are dried out and all moisture is gone, the beans are roasted in a modern cocoa roaster as unlike old methods of roasting into an open fire, this method is too unpredictable. Once fermented, dries and roasted the beans are ready to be conched. Without this method, the beans would be gritty and dull – a conching machine grinds and kneads the chocolate to achieve the perfect texture.

oialla workers

 

How Oialla help the Communities in which their Cocoa is grown

Oialla works closely with Sumar, a company composed of local cocoa-harvesters. In partnership, they employ hundreds of indigenous workers to harvest the Beniano beans so fundamental to Oialla’s vision. Most of these people are from the small community of Baures. Oialla believe that their chocolate would not exist were it not for these people, and thus try to help the locals in every way that they can. Oialla works alongside Danida, an aid programme founded and run by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Demark. During almost a decade of co-operation with Sumar and Danida, Oialla have succeeded in many projects bettering the local community. These include the employment of 34 women – providing social security for their families and paid absence on the first sick day taken, and the offering of education in forest management to all employees.

In order to bridge the gap between the vastly differing cultures of Denmark and Bolivia, representatives of each team visit the other in their home country each year. Rasmus’ team sheds light on European customer requirements and expectations, in return for a Bolivian insight on how to work with the jungle and the people to whom it is home. Despite coming from opposite sides of the globe, the two groups have forged a relationship of mutual respect and interdependence – married by the unbreakable bond that is Beniano cacao.

Rasmus now partners with his good friend Mikkel Friis-Holm to roast, winnow, grind, conche and temper these beans into three different bars (a 100%, a 72% and a milk bar).

 

 

Cocoa Runners Interview with Rasmus

 

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

My background as a chef began at the age of 15 when I embarked on what would soon become an international career, working in top restaurants in France and Japan. My curiosity about chocolate started back in 1981, during my stay in Lyon, France. Here, the legendary Monsieur Bernachon introduced me to the difficult art of cooking with chocolate. After that, I became truly passionate. In the late 80s I started working with chocolate in a new way, combining my insiders’ knowledge as a chef regarding herbs and spices with a budding interest in chocolate. I began experimenting with the two groups, producing, for example, ganache filled with thyme and chili.

 

What mission have you set yourselves for making chocolate?

My mission is to make organic bean-to-bar chocolate that is among the best in the world.

 

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

I started Oialla in 2010 together with my wife, Pernille Lützhøft. Our aim at that time was to make organic chocolate for use in our own restaurants. However, before we started Oialla, I was sceptical about the taste quality of organic cocoa beans – we spent years searching for beans of the highest quality. One day, I heard about wild cocoa beans growing in the Amazonas jungle in Bolivia. We went there and found exceptional cocoa beans of the finest quality. With support from the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we managed to establish a close relationship with the local people in Baures, in order to collect the Beniano beans and have them fermented and dried in a manner artfully developing their unique flavour. We started importing the beans directly from Bolivia, and I experimented with the strength with which we roasted the beans, the temperature of grinding them, and the time taken to conch them. All this was in order to bring about the absolutely top texture and taste. After experimenting for about a year, the recipe of my first bean-to-bar chocolate, Oialla dark 72%, was ready, and I started using this chocolate in my own restaurant. However, it did not take long before other chefs, including Daniel Boulud from New York, also wanted Oialla for their restaurants.

Although Oialla is still a rather small company with only four employees, we have grown slowly since we started, and today our chocolate is sold to many customers around the world including Singapore airlines, and many top restaurants in Denmark such as Noma and Geranium. Alongside this market for business-to-business sales, we have started focusing also on the retail market, and we supply to Harrods in London among others.

 

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

I would like to increase our assortment of new bars for the retail market. At the moment, we are working on finding more wild cocoa beans of high quality alongside our Beniano chocolates. We are also working on new products with other flavours using the beans we already harvest.

 

What inspired your choice of wrapper/mould design?

We wanted a clean and unembellished design that would match not only the purity of the wild cocoa beans we use, but also the recipe of our chocolate, which is 100% organic and only contains cocoa beans, cane sugar and a bit of added cocoa butter. We do not use any emulsifier or other additives, and we wanted our design to match this purity. Therefore, we chose a white design for our bars and a simple logo.

 

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

The food, ingredients, history, composition, craft, presentation and not least, the friends and family with whom you share a meal has always been a huge part of my life. It is so important to me that I’m a graduate chef. I have three code words: Taste, taste, and taste! The same goes for grapes – I enjoy the classics, but do not restrict myself to only traditional wine. The last case of wine that I bought was made by a man who is just as crazy and engaged with his craft as I am with my chocolate: Dave Powel from Australia – a 2014 Shiraz. It was more than drinkable!

With such an incredible culture of food, patisserie, desserts and strong respect for artisan tradition, it may come as little surprise that Japan has now embraced bean-to-bar chocolate. One of these Japanese makers is Cacaoken by Yukari Nakano and her parents.

Cacaoken is short for ‘cacao laboratory’ in Japanese. It crafts all its chocolate bars in its laboratory in Fukuoka. It sells in coffee stores throughout Japan and also via a caravan that Nakano-san drives around Japan (in which she and her mother, demonstrate how small batch chocolate is crafted) And on top of this it has a farm and research lab in Vietnam. Here Cacaoken grows cacao and experiments with bean fermentation. The bars all use these Vietnamese cacao beans (sometimes blended with Ghanaian cacao).

As well as plain milk, dark and white bars, Cacaoken also creates chocolate using local Japanese ingredients. Two of its dark milks won Bronze at the Academy of Chocolate Awards 2015. One is flavoured with Sansyo – Japanese green peppers from Wakayama Prefecture. The other is infused with Hojicha – a roasted green tea from Kyoto Prefecture.

Cacaoken is governed by three founding principles: Origin, Beauty & Health, Farm To Table.

Origin
Many of those who purport to make chocolate, do not source the cacao themselves. For Cacaoken, this was simply not an option. They believe that it is impossible to call yourself a true bean to bar maker if you do not understand the challenges faced by those at origin, and the conditions in which the cacao is grown. In their quest to understand the cacao beans they would use to make their bars, they sought to learn as much as they could about fermentation. The search for their ideal taste drives this curiosity and their passion for conducting research on every stage of production from cacao fruit to chocolate bar.

Beauty & Health
Cacao was drunk by aristocrats, with chocolate being melted in hot water. They believed that it would act as a cure to a whole raft of ailments, such as soothing the stomach and acting as a spiritual stabilizer. At Cacaoken’s cacao laboratory, the team is collaborating with university professors who specialize in nutrition to study the nutrition of cacao and its effect on health and beauty.

Farm To Table
Cacaoken is very much aware that the farmers who grow their cacao live a tough life. Even though chocolate remains popular globally, there is no guarantee that this popularity will filer through to those at origin. Many farmers around the world are not seeing an increase in their income and an improvement in their livelihood will improve. With this in mind, it is perhaps understandable that many have to make the decision to convert their cacao plantations to farms for more profitable crops. Therefore, at the Cacao Research Laboratories, the team is working with cocoa farmers in Vietnam to help to find ways to make it possible to produce high-quality cocoa in more efficient ways. Cacaoken is committed to buying cocoa beans at a price that matches the quality of the beans and helping to improve the lives of the farmers that grown them.

Fu Wan is dedicated to sharing with the world the delicious ingredients that Taiwan has to offer, through the medium of chocolate.  Fu Wan started its life not as a chocolate brand, but as a resort in Taiwan. Warren Hsu was the executive chef at Fu Wan Resort.  When the resort opened in 2011, Hsu’s mission was to provide guests with the very best local fusion cuisine.  While sourcing ingredients locally, he met a cacao farmer who introduced him to the Taiwanese cacao bean.  Hsu was inspired, and Fu Wan Chocolate was born.

The cacao industry in Taiwan is a relatively young industry, with the government encouraging farmers to plant cacao crops in response to the damage done to the land by the over farming of betel nuts.   Over the past decade, the industry has flourished, with cocoa plants reaching maturity and producing pods.  In contrast, it is still extremely rare to find bean to bar chocolate makers in Taiwan, so much of the native cacao is exported.

Warren Hsu is one of only a handful of people crafting chocolate from beanto bar in Taiwan.  He trained with expert bean to bar makers, before returning to Taiwan to start crafting bars.  Through his chocolate, he is able to share the flavours of his native cacao not only with those who stay at Fu Wan Resort, but with people from across the world.

Fu Wan’s bars have been well received across the world, and gained a number of awards at their first outing at the International Chocolate Awards, both in the Asia Pacific Regional Awards and in the World Final.

Hailing from the Netherlands, Mark Schimmel’s journey to craft chocolate started in rather humble beginnings. He was working as a 14 year old pot wash in a bakery when he found himself captivated by the work of the talented chefs hard at work around him. He marvelled at their creations and dreamed that perhaps one day he too could create such wonders.

He embarked on a training course, eventually qualifying a pastry chef and rising to the top of his field, working as head pastry chef in Michelin star kitchens in Europe for a number of years. In time, he grew curious about the processes that went into making one of the ingredients he used most frequently – chocolate. As a pastry chef, he was used to seeing bags of couverture arriving in his kitchen for him to melt down and craft into stunning desserts. But Mark wanted more. He wanted to understand the complexity of cacao. He wanted to learn about how small batch makers turn fine cocoa beans from bean to bar.

Ever a ‘hands on’ person, it was perhaps only a matter of time before his investigations led him to have a crack(!) at crafting beans into chocolate bars himself. He started with a small scale grinder, before graduating to a slightly larger set up. Today Mark makes chocolate for top chefs across Europe. He takes the time to work with with each chef to understand their precise needs – are they looking for an astringent chocolate with a clean finish, or a rich, nutty chocolate with a buttery texture. He then sources a cacao and crafts a bespoke recipe for each restaurant. It is no surprise that with this attention to detail Mark’s couverture is very much in demand. So much so that he only makes very limited runs of bars for sale under his ‘Krak’ brand. We caught up with Mark in person in Amsterdam and set about trying to persuade him to make a run of bars to share with the members of our Tasting Club. We are so pleased that he was able to do this, and we are happy to report that we have secured a limited number of bars for general sale in our Chocolate Library.
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We asked Mark a few questions about Krak:

I started in the classic way: at 14 my first job was as dishwasher at my local pastry shop. I spent my time cleaning the chocolate bowls that had been used by the pastry chefs… This inspired my interest in chocolate and prompted me to train to be just like them! Once I finished pastry school, I started working in a Michelin starred restaurant – I loved the fact that they made everything themselves rather than buying in ready made pastries. For me, that job was the real start of using the best ingredients, using classic techniques and find new combinations of flavour, design and craftmanship. During this time, I won some international pastry awards, completed an internship in a French 3* Michelin restaurant and eventually rose to be head pastry chef in a Dutch 2* Michelin restaurant – a role I held for almost four years. At every turn, there was always chocolate…..

2010 was the year I started my own pastry based company. I was still working with the same people and restaurants that I had worked with previously, but now I had my own company with my own vision. Filled chocolates and chocolate decorations where my main business, but I was still working with couverture. It was around this time that I first started tow wonder about how the couverture I was using was made. In 2011 I reached out to the Dutch cacao trader Daarnhouwer and bought my first cocoa grinder. Then Krak was born in 2013. At the moment, I have a lot of help, but I’m proud to say that I’m still making the bars for Krak myself.

My mission is to let people taste and learn what the real beauty of cacao can be. The chefs I have worked with always want the finest truffles, caviar and the best dry aged meat …. But then they would reach for a bag of commercial, factory killed chocolate. Perhaps my higher level mission is to convince people that chocolate is not a candy.

When I started making chocolate from the bean, a lot of people – and even pastry chefs! – didn’t know how chocolate is made. For me, there is a parallel with grapes and wine. So now I craft single origin chocolate bars to recipes that I think are best for each specific origin and each batch of beans. For chefs and pastry chefs, I want to create a new blend, recipe or a new dish. Savoury or sweet. I also look forward to working more together with more cacao growers.

Maybe you can imagine…

For the design of my packaging I have to thank two people. The first is the guy who painted my logo. It’s actually a big painting – 100cm x 70cm. I’ve know the artist, Ted Parker, for a couple of years now – he’s a member of my inner circle of friends. Some time back, I told him my story about chocolate and my plans and after a while we got to this idea and painting. The design incorporates a lot of stories about myself and my journey to this point in time. The second person I must thank is another close friend – this chap brings super smart ideas for the design of the packaging itself.

I source my beans together with the Dutch company: Daarnhouwer. Working with them gives me access to the most diverse speciality cocoa that sails into the world’s largest cocoa trading harbour.

My journey into cocoa inspired the design of the packaging

For me, the key is to continue my search for interesting and unique beans and using my senses to understand how best to transform these fantastic beans into wonderful chocolate bars.

Peru is know to have a rich history of growing cocoa, however it has been relatively slow to join the revolution in craft chocolate making.  Maraná joins only a handful of makers crafting chocolate from bean to bar in Peru.

After a decade in the corporate world, founders Zulema and Giuseppe were in search of a more fulfilling career. They had come to learn about tee growing popularity of Peruvian cocoa as an ingredient, and decided to explore ways in which they might be able to use their native cacao to craft chocolate in Peru.  They embarked on a  journey of exploration, learning in parallel about the different cacao regions and profiles found within Peru, and about the technical skills needed to craft these natural ingredients into world class bars.

Very quickly they decided that their focus was to be on sourcing cacao from single regions, and maintaining close relationships with those involved in growing the cacao.  For Zulema and Giuseppe, this means more than just giving their farmers a fair price for their beans.  They believe that the only way in which Maraná can grow and improve is if their farmers grow too.  When we asked them about this, they said “At Maraná, we value the work of our cacao farmers and seek to make a real impact on theirlives and those of their families. We work withthem hand-in- hand, as partners, implementing fair price policies that ensure sustainable development and sound living conditions. We also organize programs aimed at improving their harvesting and post-harvesting techniques and optimizing the quality of their products, thus allowing them to gain access to markets thatoffer higher prices.”

In order for this to be a sustainable approach, very early on Zulema and Giuseppe decided to separate out the cocoa they were sourcing from the three regions.  Rather than producing a generic ‘Peruvian’ chocolate, they produce microbatches of chocolate, made from beans from each region.  They believe that this micro batch approach would allow them to source the finest potable beans, and that by focussing on a single region for each of their bars, they are able to showcase not only the flavours of Peru as a whole, but the flavours of the individual regions.  Zulema and Giuseppe identified three particular regions that they wanted to concentrate on from the start: Cusco, Piura and San Martin.

Their hard work has paid off – not only do their bars taste (and look!) great, but they have also been recognised by a host of international awarding bodies.  They received a number of awards in the Latin American leg of the 2017 International Chocolate Awards, and two Silver Awards in the World Finals of the International Chocolate Awards in 2017.

We asked Zulema and Giuseppe a few questions about Marana:

Maraná was found by my wife (Zulema Leon ) and I Giuseppe Cassinelli, we both study business administration and then make an MBA, we work for more than 10 years in the corporate world, but at some point we feel that our life need to be evolve in an activity that give us joy and also can make an impact in the community. So in 2013 we start searching for different activities that we can see each other doing it with joy. So one day talking with my aunt that live in the US, she told me that she have saw lots of chocolates with Peruvian cacao. So at that point we start searching about Peruvian cacao and start going to the farms to learn more about it. And in that point the ideas of us making chocolate just capture us and we start to get in love with all the cacao and chocolate world.

We start the project in January of 2014 and we start selling in march of 2015. Now we are 10 people working in Maraná.

Our mission is to make the best and tasty chocolate that we can and seek to make a real impact in the farmers that work with us.

We are a new company so in the short term we want to gain more markets, and then develop new bars and new origins. We think the chocolate can give you unlimited possibilities.

We are a passionate chocolate maker and we are proud of our country and want to share it with all the world, that’s why our packaging resembles the Peruvian forms of art from different regions. We also believes that our company can make a different in the life of the farmers that we work with.

Our Packaging was desing by a company call ICONO. We are really proud of our packaging because we feel that it transmits our culture in a really artistic and sophisticated way.

We travel a lot to the farms to meet with the farmers and try their cacao, we work with cooperative and team up with them so we can work together to keep improving the process of post harvest to achieve the best beans we can.

The mould it was inspire in the form of the palate, the roun form help the chocolate to fit in your palate and in can melt in a pleasant way.

I love food, pasta, fish, beef and specialy dessert. I like more beer and Ron. I really like Marou chocolates and Dick Taylor.

The bronze medal in the 2016 world final with Cusco 70% bar, because it was our first batch that we work from the fermentation until the bar, It was a new beginning for our company we become bean to bar.

We are a small Peruvian company and we work every they to improve our chocolate, we believe that we never going to stop learning and our journey in making chocolate has just begin.

Dubai might not be the first place you look for an artisan chocolate factory. But if you were to look, you would discover Mirzam’s beautiful factory on Alserkal Avenue.

While the summer heat might not be ideal, Dubai is in a unique position between Europe and Asia. Today Dubai is a melting pot of different cultures, people’s and cuisines, all of which contribute something to the local flavour. And for centuries the Middle East was at the centre of the historic spice trade. Adventurous traders and sailors traveled the seas from China to the Mediterranean bringing with them the rarest spices and ingredients.

Mirzam flavours and origins are directly inspired by these maritime trade routes. Its single origin bars use cacao from plantations along the spice route. You can also see this seafaring heritage in the bar’s beautiful packaging. Designed in collaboration with local artists. The single-origin bars show sailing ships against the night sky – a reference to how sailors would navigate the seas.

If you are lucky enough to be in Dubai, you can visit Mirzam at its workshop. Not only can you buy bars, have a cup of its gourmet hot chocolate, you can also take a tour of the workshop. As the only bean-to-bar chocolate maker Mirzam are keen to open up their process to the world. So far the chocolate has proved incredibly successful. At one point, the company almost ran out of beans as its dark chocolate was an even bigger hit than expected.

Mirzam’s chocolate is not just about local flavours, sourcing from the spice route and stunning packaging. As with any good craft chocolate maker, it’s the cocoa beans that are really important. Chief Chocolate Officer Kathy explains that the farmers they work with grow less cacao, but have a strong focus on flavour. And to encourage its makers, Mirzam pays its farmers 6-7 times the cacao commodity price for their crops.

Mirzam launched in September 2016, but by its first Birthday it has already received 5 Awards from the Academy of Chocolate.

Discover Mirzam’s bars for yourself

Qantu chocolate is one of Canada’s newest and most exciting new craft chocolate makers. Maxime and Elfi live in Montreal and started experimenting with chocolate in summer of 2016. They founded Qantu in February 2017. And by the summer of 2017 already had two Gold awards and one Silver from the Academy of Chocolate.

Qantu is currently focused exclusively on cacao from Peru which is not only Elfi’s home country, but where she and Maxime met over a decade ago.

We asked Efli & Maxime a few questions about Qantu:

Elfi is an industrial engineer and Maxime an IT data specialist.  We love chocolate for long time ago and a visit to the Alto El Sol in San Martin, Peru in 2014 where the spark occured.  Farmers were so nice, generous and proud of their products that we fell in love with them.

Company was founded in February 2017, Elfi and Maxime are the founders.  We did our first test with chocolate on August 2016.

Our mission is to promote chocolate made with native cocoa beans.  A lot of farmers convert from native to hybrid because they get more quantity, and we want to prevent that from happening.  We also educate people on the difference between hybrid and native cocoa beans and why it’s important for biodiversity to preserve native beans.

We want to have more beans from other regions of Peru, then we’ll target other native cacao from Latin America.  For the markets, local market is pretty small so we want to leverage our prizes at the AOC to enter different countries in the world.  We have orders from USA, UK (Cocoa Runners!) and Toronto, Canada.  Other European companies showed their interest in tasting our products.

Qantu is the name of the national flower of Peru and Bolivia.  It’s a wild flower that origin where Elfi and Maxime met 10 years ago.  It’s also a symbol of unity among people.

The idea comes from Elfi who wanted people to understand the steps to produce chocolate so she came up with the idea of using 9 icons, one for each step.  It was also designed to help sellers in different stores to remember easily the steps so they could explain to the clients.  It’s also a good way to explain people the difference between a chocolate maker and a ‘chocolatier’ who buy chocolate and only melt it to make its products.

All our beans are sourced directly from the cooperative and imported with no middlemen.  We visit the cooperative when it’s possible, if not we meet with them in Lima, Peru and ask how they work (harvest, fermentation, drying), we ensure the cooperative have good post-harvest and business practices.  We have some contacts with DEVIDA, MINAGRI and APPCACAO so they can help us to validate the level of quality of the cooperative.  Then we request samples so we can evaluate the physical aspect (moisture level, fermentation %, defects) as well as the flavours.  If it’s good, we buy and import directly from the cooperative, a company must be paid to take care of the customs in Peru but that’s it, there is no middlemen, all the money goes to the cooperative.

The mould represent the houses in an old neighbourhood or Montreal.  It’s also the ‘Maison Qantu’ (Qantu’s House).  We wanted something from Montreal in our packagind/mould.

At crafting level, we just want to make chocolate our way. A lot of chocolate makers buy their beans on Internet with little consideration of the farmer or cooperative.  We search for good native well fermented and dried beans. We work hard to preserve to the maximum all the flavors of the beans (less roasting means more winnowing work!).  Also, we would like to do a partnership with a cooperative to help them export their own product.  Many of them gets help with growing cocoa trees but very few gets help to produce a good quality chocolate and find clients oversea.  We have 2 prospects at this time, Cooperative Songori from Selva Central and Fundo Estrella (Augusto Palomino) from Quellouno near Cusco.  They working at improving the post-harvest this year, so hopefully next year we’ll start a project with them.

Elfi: Food: Ceviche and Sushi; Wine : white from Inniskilin, Discovery series Pinot Gris; Chocolate: Soma Peru Nacional

Maxime: Food: Aguadito (soup from Peru); Wine: Red Pinot Noir from Cloudline, Oregon; Chocolate: Dark Milk bars from Chocolat Madagascar.

To win gold medals at the AOC on our first year.  It was totally unexpected. We sent samples just to have feedback on our chocolate and know where we stand compared to other chocolate makers.  We are also very proud that chocolate made us meet so much interesting and generous people, like the farmers, other chocolate makers, chocolate passionates, and you guys of Cocoa Runners 🙂 !!