Solstice Chocolate is an American chocolate maker settled amongst the scenic vistas of Salt Lake City, Utah. Often dubbed the craft-chocolate-capital of the United States, Utah’s boom in makers and retailers of small batch craft chocolate has made it one of the most concentrated destinations for artisan chocolate in the United States.

In 2013, husband and wife, Scott Query and DeAnn Wallin, founded Solstice Chocolate. Starting as a hobbyist before running Solstice as a business, DeAnn had always been fascinated by chocolate. Chocolate seemingly made its way into DeAnn’s family activities, from as a child making chocolates with her grandmother, to as a mother making chocolates with her daughters.

As DeAnn would be making her chocolates from couverture, her curiosity sparked – and appetite grew -for making her own bean-to-bar chocolate. What started as an artisanal hobby with the family, somewhat became an endeavour of experimentation to bring the optimum flavour out of the finest ingredients, and simply make chocolate DeAnn and the family would enjoy. With the craft chocolate movement in the U.S taking on a life of its own, it is no wonder why DeAnn found so much pleasure and entertainment in being part of the revolution. DeAnn took a leap for it and officially launched Solstice. Solstice soon became an award-winning chocolate maker, recognised around the world for its quality and slightly European-style of chocolate making in America; that is, adding a touch of cocoa butter to make for a creamier texture.

Solstice Chocolate uses a fluid bed roaster to roast its cacao, which is a method less familiar in chocolate making than drum-roasting cacao. This method of roasting of cocoa beans helps DeAnn visually monitor the roasting process – checking how it’s light or dark (or even over-roasted) and what fruity, floral, nutty or other notes are brought out. DeAnn believes that Solstice’s use of the fluid bed roaster enables her to focus on a lighter roast and this certainly follows through in the vibrant and nuanced flavours of Solstice Chocolate.

In introducing Solstice to the Cocoa Runners’ Chocolate Library, we also introduce our first Ugandan chocolate bar. Along with new chocolate makers, we’re always delighted to welcome onboard new origins, be it where the cacao is sourced from or the country in which the maker is producing its chocolate in. And what a great way to introduce Ugandan chocolate to our Library. The cacao is sourced through Atlantic Cocoa Co., and with Solstice’s knack for craft, it made quite the impression on us.

Over the festive period, we caught up with DeAnn Wallin, the leading lady behind Solstice chocolate, to find out more about the Utah-based craft chocolate maker…

What’s your background?

I’m a registered nurse and mother to four daughters.

Why and how did you get into chocolate?

Needless to say, I love chocolate! Some of my favourite childhood memories is making chocolates with my grandma. She taught me to hand temper. I started making chocolates with my own daughters during the holidays. This inspired our curiosity about actually making our own chocolate. We gave it a go and after much trial and error we succeeded. Essentially we turned a hobby into a business.

When did you start your company — and with whom?  

2013. We started out as a family business. My husband, two of my daughters and myself.

What is the story behind your company name?

Traditionally, cacao was thought to be harvested around the solstice. Although harvest times vary from area to area, we thought Solstice would be a fun name.

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

I wanted our packaging to represent the style of our company and let our chocolate speak for
itself. Fun, bold eye catching colours, uncluttered and easy to read without a bunch of fluff.

What is your favourite food?
Ice cream!

The name of this chocolate maker is simple and apparent. The name is rooted in chocolate, with “Theobroma Cacao” being the scientific name of the cacao tree. The name of the cacao tree, very appropriately for a chocolate maker, translates from ancient Greek to “food of the Gods”.

One of Japan’s pioneering chocolatiers, Koji Tshuchiya, is the man behind the Japanese chocolate maker Theobroma Cacao. Theobroma Cacao is the second chocolate maker from Japan to enter our Library. With Japan being a country seldom associated with chocolate, surprisingly, it is also a country that has over 130 chocolate makers.

Growing up with sweet treats being an absolute rarity, Koji’s first encounter with cooking was during his teen years when making a cake on behalf of his sister’s school project. Koji received a number of compliments for his cake, leading him to experience a feeling of accomplishment, with that very feeling having stayed with him to this day. We like to think this is because it is a memory that lingers a foretelling of Koji’s future.

Koji, at the time, was working as a supermarket assistant. During this time of his life, Koji developed a hernia and became hospitalised for several months. Undergoing a number of surgeries before he was released, it wasn’t long after until Koji was involved in a serious car accident. The means of his survival would only be thanks to the corset he was wearing from his hernia surgeries.

“I almost died twice, so I decided then and there to do something I like with my life. I decided I wanted to become a patissier.” Koji Tsuchiya had told Japan Times.

Koji first trained under a pastry chef in the city of Shizuoka. Looking back on his pastry chef journey, Koji admits that his introduction to the kitchen was somewhat of a disaster. His kitchen partners would call him “Guinness”, after “breaking the world record for failures in the kitchen.”

Woefully, Koji came to the realisation that maybe Japan wasn’t for him just yet. Instead, Koji wanted to start his journey properly; he bought a one-way ticket to Paris. This was in 1982, and was where and when Koji studied French and found a multitude of training opportunities in pâtisseries and boulangeries. During these months, a fond memory Koji holds is of sampling one of La Maison du Chocolat’s truffles. He remembers it to be the most delicious and exquisite thing he had ever eaten.

Koji found himself staying in Paris, calling it home for almost six years, training under world class chocolatiers, patissiers and chefs. At the age of 26, Koji was offered a ten-year contract to work for Dalloyau, a new pastry shop inside Parisian department store Mitsukoshi. Yet the only thing on Koji’s mind was chocolate. He wanted to introduce chocolate culture to Japan. Turning down the offer, Koji returned back home to Tokyo.

Koji spent just over a decade working in Tokyo, first at a French restaurant and then at a French chocolate shop before opening The Musee de Chocolat Theobroma in 1999. This specialty chocolate shop in Japan was a chocolate museum that became very popular among chocolate lovers all throughout the country.

Koji, fascinated by cacao for many years, decided to travel around the world to cocoa-growing countries. This was to visit the plantations and learn more about cacao and the stories behind the farmers. Koji studied how the different regions around the world would influence the cacao beans, from genetics to fermentation to flavour.

In September 2017, Koji opened his first bean-to-bar workshop, producing his own craft chocolate bars from the cacao of the very farmers he had met.

Over Korean lunch, the Cocoa Runners team, along with Koji, tried Theobroma Cacao craft chocolate for the first time. Koji was in London for the Academy of Chocolate Awards Ceremony to pick up a plethora of awards. We had a couple of questions for Koji…

How did you source your beans?

I actually go visit cacao producing countries, find great quality beans and import them to
make chocolate bars. We started a project that we support small cacao farms in
Madagascar since 2016. We have been teaching and training how to ferment and dry
cacao beans and we’ve been buying and importing from them.

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

I love cheese, saucisson, Japanese sweets such as rice crackers and anko, and Japanese
tea.

What chocolate achievement are you most proud of to date? 

Our “Madagascar Cacao Project”.
The farm’s quality of making cacao beans have been improving and our chocolates taste
even better than before. We are also proud because we’ve won Gold at the 2018 Academy
of Chocolate.

Jamie Kemp’s chocolate adventure began in 2014 when travelling through Costa Rica. Stumbling into the mountains of Puriscal, Jamie discovered the small native village of Mastatal. Here he started working alongside the Salazar Garcia family who ran the La Iguana cacao farm. This family have been growing, harvesting and making chocolate for three generations.

JK Fine Chocolates, residing in Portsmouth, is known in the fine chocolate industry for its Triple Layered chocolate truffles, and for using the finest bean-to-bar craft chocolate in creating its truffles. In this sense, Jamie is a chocolatier. Since 2014, JK Fine Chocolates has won a number of food awards, including Great Taste, Academy of Chocolate and Great British Food Awards.

However, in 2018, JK Fine Chocolates developed its first bean-to-bar chocolate, made from cacao from the Vohibinany region of East Madagascar. This exposition is what brings JK Fine Chocolates to our Chocolate Library.

Grafts of cacao were first discovered in the region of Vohibinany, a region that lies along the east coast of Madagascar. These cacao plants were soon transported to the Sambirano Valley, a Northern region of the island that has become the prime destination of fine African cacao.

Already very familiar with the cacao hailing from the Sambirano Valley, it was during Jamie’s adventures around Madagascar that he discovered the cacao plantations that lied east of the island.

The cacao that Jamie sources is from the Ambalahady estate, where the cocoa pods are then transported down river through the narrow waters and rapids to reach the native village of Anivorano-Gare. Here the cocoa pods are cut and the beans are fermented and dried before being transported to Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, for crafting into fine chocolate.

Catching up with Jamie, we had a couple of questions…

How did you source your beans?

In 2017 I travelled to Madagascar to continue the cocoa journey and visit the suppliers and cocoa farmers who produce fine chocolate and cocoa which I work with in many of my chocolate creations.

Again I wanted to build a real personal relationship with the company Chocolat Madagascar who like myself share similar chocolate passions in quality, sustainability, fair trade and innovation. My journey took me to the east coast of Madagascar where I met the cocoa farmers who only in recent years have been harvesting, fermenting and drying cocoa beans from this particular region. This inspired me to create a new and exciting single plantation chocolate which showcased Ambalahady’s cacao in comparison to commonly used Sambirano cacao in the north.

What chocolate achievement are you most proud of to date?

My greatest achievement in chocolate is linking directly with La Iguana Chocolate in Costa Rica when we created an extremely rare small batch bean to bar which was crafted from specially selected cocoa beans and made only 50 chocolate bars. A wonder and rare experience for us and for our customers who tasted a chocolate like nothing they’ve had before.

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

I have fond memories of having Flambé Chateaubriand steak with stuffed peppers on holiday from many years ago and never forgotten it. So it’s not often but definitely one of my favourites.

I enjoy Merlot red wine, although often would have an ale or IPA as first choice. I really like ‘Staggeringly Good Brewery’ IPA’s from my local city of Portsmouth.

I particularly like Dormouse’s and pump street bakery’s chocolate bars. There’s often a distinct flavour, innovation and quality about their chocolate. Pump Streets ‘eccles cake’ bar will always be an absolute favourite of mine.

Belmont Estate is a cacao plantation that dates all the way back to the 17th century, where the cacao today still uses her familys’ ancestral traditions in its harvesting, fermentation, drying and handcrafting its chocolate.

The name of the estate having been given by the first French owners, the Bernagos. The estate sits on a gentle hillside in the scenic north of the island of Grenada, with magnificent views of the plantation, surrounding mountains, Grenadine islands and both the Caribbean sea and Atlantic ocean. The name Belmont is a hybridisation of the French words for beautiful mountain “belle mont”. Belmonst Estate has become famous both in Grenada and internationally for quality organic produce and award winning tourism offerings.

Belmont Estate harvests its cacao by sniping the colourful pods off the trees using mitten-shaped cocoa knives. Once fermented the beans are placed outside for 6 or 7 days to dry in the sun on big wooden trays or in a solar/convection drying facility built by the late Mott Green of the Grenada Chocolate Company.

Belmont Estate has been in the Nyack family for over 75 years, with Shadel Nyack Compton becoming the Managing Director in 1999. Shadel is working towards fulfilling her vision of turning the estate into the Caribbean’s finest agri-tourism experience, offering continued employment to the local community and encouraging tourism to the beautiful island of Grenada.

To introduce Belmonst Estate to our Library, we had a few questions to ask Shadel…

What’s your background? Why and how did you get into chocolate?
Belmont Estate has been growing and selling top quality cocoa beans for over 200 years. For the last ten years we worked in partnership with the Grenada Chocolate Company supplying organic cocoa beans and housing their solar dryers and Bonbon shop here at Belmont.

In 2013 the dynamic founder/owner of the Grenada Chocolate Company, Mott Green died, causing an incredible void in the cocoa – chocolate sector in Grenada and in the world at large. His innovation has been an enormous gift to Grenada, and as a result five chocolate factories have been established here in the last few years. In 2017, we started our own small factory at Belmont Estate, crafting organic chocolate with our own cocoa from tree to bar. Mott Green’s strong inspirational influence and timeless legacy continue today ensuring we produce only the very finest organic chocolate and our farmers and chocolate makers remain in sustainable employment.

What is your favourite food?  Wine?  Other chocolate makers?
Shadel’s favourite foods are organic fresh produce, the Grenadian national dish, Oil Down, and spicy Indian cuisine. She loves all the Grenadian chocolates, and the companies that use Grenada’s fine cocoa like Pump Street and Rococo/Grenada Chocolate Company

Whilst our Chocolate Library is home to bean-to-bar chocolate makers, Nadalina, crafting its chocolate in Split, Croatia, is a self-proclaimed “bean-to-music” chocolate maker. The man behind Nadalina is Marinko Biškić, a creative chocolate maker and former lead singer of Split’s first punk band: Fon Biskich & Narodno Blago.

For all his life, Marinko has been captivated by chocolate and music. One story he likes to tell is when as a young man travelling with friends, whilst they would all bring back home fashion-centric presents, for example, jeans from Italy, Marinko would bring back chocolate. It then only seems natural that Marinko’s chocolate brand “Nadalina” might combine his two passions.

Marinko, since 1979, has been known for his unconventional and provocative punk image. And still today, in the realms of chocolate, Marinko is as ever creative. A record -made out of chocolate- that spins on a turntable that blasts Marinko’s band’s “bean to bar song”, or producing the world’s largest chocolate square for the Guinness World Records, Nadalina has done it.

Behind all of Marinko’s creativity is his desire for quality. Nadalina is a chocolate maker that prides itself in flavour, quality, and craft.

What’s your background? Why and how did you get into chocolate?
I come from a family of bakers. I started my own business (production and processing of spices and herbs) in 1990 under the brand NADALINA. Being a chocolate addict, all my life I’ve dreamt of producing it and I’ve made a firm decision that one day I would make my own chocolate.

When did you start your company — and with whom?  How many are there of you?
In 2007 I expanded my manufacturing plant and bought the basic equipment for chocolate tempering. During the first several years I used Belgian couverture to which I added local produce (lavender, dried figs, sweet wine, carob, sage, honey, olive oil). During the following few years I bought the equipment for the bean-to-bar production. Currently eight of my employees work in the chocolate production. 

How did you source your beans?
We are a small chocolate producer and we buy cocoa beans from European distributors. A direct connection we have is with cooperative Conacado in the Dominican Republic. We have visited their plantations and had the chance to get to know their production methods, which are in line with organic standards.

What innovations in tech, crafting, marketing etc. are you pursuing?
In collaboration with the Serbian company Račić Lapovo we have developed a roaster, a mixer-conche and a production line for chocolate spreads.

The presentation of our chocolates at fairs and exhibitions is considerably facilitated by the fact that we have made a chocolate gramophone record which can actually be played on a gramophone, and the song recorded on it is sang by our chocolate maker Marinko Biškić. Many chocolate makers produce bean-to-bar chocolate, but we like to call ourselves a BEAN-TO-MUSIC chocolate production.

What is your favourite food?  Wine?  Other chocolate makers?
Since we are in Dalmatia, the mediterranean food is our day-to-day diet. We use lots of olive oil and so we made our best-selling chocolate with olive oil. Our favourite wine is “Crljenak” (a very old variety of grapevine from which the variety Zinfandel has been developed).

Among chocolate makers the one I hold in highest esteem is Zotter, because of his originality and innovative spirit. Willie’s Cacao and Friis Holm I find inspiring as well.

Brazilian tree-to-bar chocolate maker Mestiço has been growing cacao for over 40 years, since 1971, at Fazenda Bonança, in Itacaré, Bahia. The chocolate factory, however, is located just that little bit closer to its customers in São Paulo. The factory is also open to the public, so those curious in the art of chocolate making can see the whole process.

Mestiço plant and graft productive and resistant strains of cacao. With hardier cacao growing plentiful, it means farmers face less invasive weeds and cacao-prone diseases, such as Witches Broom. It also reduces the need for cacao farmers to use pesticides.

When introducing a Brazilian chocolate maker to our Library, it’s hard to bypass the pervasive and the persistence of the country’s cacao scene. The pervasive would be the cacao-diseases, the persistence is the farmers that live with, or rather fight against them. Mestico’s story is no different. Although its family farm survived the Witch’s Broom crisis in 1980s Brazil, and even managed to improve the working conditions of the farms, productivity levels have yet to be restored. However, the vision of the Mestico farmers and chocolate makers is to instead focus on increasing the bean quality – from fermentation to flavour consistency.

Brazil, once the biggest exporters of cacao worldwide, is slowly seeing the rise of chocolate makers producing at origin, using cacao grown on its own soil. The Galvão Kamei family runs its tree-to-bar operation – Mestiço – from planting the trees to crafting the chocolate all in Brazil.

The name “Mestiço” (pronounced Mæsteesso) means “mixed race”. It is a reference of both the Trinitarios that grow on the farm and of the mixed heritage of the chocolate maker: Japanese and Brazilian. 

To find out more about Mestico, we spoke to the man responsible for the tree-to-bar chocolate factory, and former mechanical engineer, Rogerio.

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

We are the third generation of cacao producers at the traditional Brazilian cacao area, at the south of Bahia State. I was previously a Mechanical Engineer, head of Rear Engine Bus Development at MAN Latin America, and before that, at Mercedes Benz, also developing commercial vehicles. The decision to make the change came both due to my mother’s retirement and the fact I wanted a closer relationship with the final product, which in a big company is virtually impossible. So I quit the job and went back to the farm. We decided to start a chocolate factory to gain value, but also because we watched this new world of Bean to Bar making. I am passionate about new developments, and I find it on the new formulations and improvements we have on our chocolates.

The farm is with the family since 1971, and before that my parents and grandfather had other cacao farms, and have been producing since the 1940s. My father, who passed away still young during the 1990s, was from the start a sustainability enthusiast, before this was a common concern. My mother, who took charge of the farm since my father passing, was able to survive the Witch’s Broom crisis, and even improved the working conditions.

The overall production was never the same though. We will never be able to reach the same productivity we had until the 1980s, so our work at the farm have been to increase bean quality so to compensate with higher value. We have selected a few varieties based on the flavour and fermentation consistency, and we are investing in new ones as well. We are also heavily working on the fermentation procedures. While we have achieved good consistency in percentage of full fermented beans, we are always tweaking the process improve flavour wise.

When did you start your company — and with whom?  How many are there of you?
My wife, Claudia, is my main supporter. While I develop the chocolate and the factory itself, she runs the company. I consider myself only half of the time at the factory. The other half at the farm. We also do not plan on expanding much more than what we have now, mostly to keep the philosophy of craft making.

What mission have you set yourselves for making chocolate?
Our main challenge now is to deal with the many recipes we are proposing. For our scale, it is not easy to have 12+ types of chocolates! But it is our spirit to deliver different experiences, so we are all the time thinking of bars with inclusions, changing the percentages, modifying the roast profiles and so on. The mission we established is simply to make the best bars, with the best cacao we can provide.

Fjak crafts its organic, ethically traded, bean to bar chocolate in the depths of Hardangerfjord in Norway. Sourcing its cacao beans from exciting origins far, far from Norway, Fjak is a chocolate maker that also likes to keep things close to home; it experiments with Nordic nature inclusions grown locally to the factory.

Making chocolate since 2015, it was only late 2017 that Agur and Siv officially launched Fjak. Those initial two years acted as the experimental stage, where Agur and Siv endeavoured on the pursuit of crafting great chocolate – from ethics to flavour – with the vision of making production scalable from the get go.

Fjak took its name from the Hardanger dialect, where people of a certain generation in the region would refer to each other as ‘fjak’. Roughly translating to ‘loveable’ or ‘honest’, Agur and Siv felt there was no other name better suited for their chocolate vocation. As chocolate is, after all, “the most loveable thing in the world”.

At the 2018 Academy of Chocolate awards, Fjak made a powerful first impression, winning Best Newcomer amongst other Gold, Silver and Bronze awards. Fjak also took away six stars at the Great Taste Awards 2018 – the first Great Taste it entered – with the 70% Madagascar being awarded three stars.

We caught up with Agur when she visited London for the Academy of Chocolate awards 2018, and naturally we had some burning questions for her and the Fjak team:
 

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

My background is in photography, where I have been working for the last 20 years as a photographer both in Norway and internationally. My other big passion was for food and food culture, which meant that I was always experimenting with and making different foods at home. Then I discovered how chocolate was made, which was fascinating for me, so I ran to buy a Premier Grinder while visiting the UK and brought it with me to Norway in my suitcase to try to make chocolate myself. Since then chocolate is the biggest love and part of my life. I think and dream about chocolate every day!

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

Fjåk Chocolate project started in 2015 in our kitchen top when after watching some videos about craft chocolate we decide to purchase a little Premier grinder and a kilo of cocoa beans. In 2017 we founded Fjåk Chocolate AS and in October that year we started to sell commercially. We are two founding partners in Fjåk, both women; Agurtxane Concellon (Spanish) and Siv Hereid (Norwegian).

What mission have you set yourselves for making chocolate?

Our mission is to be THE Norwegian craft chocolate maker, combining a Nordic touch to the international craft chocolate community. Working with fine quality organic cocoa and small farmers, to show our customers, especially in the Nordic countries, the diversity that real chocolate can bring.

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

We are always experimenting with new flavour combinations and testing new beans from different regions, so we could say that we will be continuing to develop more chocolate bars and products, with new origins and also new Nordic inspired flavours. We hope to grow Fjåk into new markets in Europe and beyond especially with our chocolate bars. Our ‘bean-to-bon-bon’ range is also developed every season for the local markets in Norway.

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

Our packaging is designed by designer Ian Holcroft a British designer based in Bergen together with myself, Agurtxane Concellon. Together we are constantly developing our packaging, identity and communication.

How did you source your beans?

We source our cocoa beans mostly direct from the farm, in the case of our Madagascar and Brazil cocoa beans we source directly from Åkesson or through suppliers such as Uncommon Cacao or Cocoanect.

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

I have a fascination for Gin, not because of the alcohol, but because of the use of botanicals that makes every Gin so unique. I love foraging in the Norwegian nature for all kinds of plants, berries and mushrooms that will inspired new chocolate bars.

Among my favourite chocolate makers are: Fruition, Palette de Bine, Green Been to Bar… and many more, the list will be way to long.

What chocolate achievement are you most proud of to date?

To have manage, in less that one year, to have 7 Awards with our chocolate bars. All the bars we presented to the Academy of Chocolate Awards won an Award, for me this was so big considering that we are in the market just for 9 months.

Misina Cokolada is a micro-batch chocolate maker in the Czech Republic, crafting its chocolate on the outskirts of Prague.

Misina Cokolada is the culmination of Michaela Dohnálková’s passion for chocolate. Although having always loved chocolate, it wasn’t until Michaela received a present from her husband – the book ‘Real Chocolate’ by Chantal Coady – that she began dreaming of making her own chocolate. This dream, however, was put on hold. After moving to Dublin with her husband, this was the first time Michaela tried small batch, bean to bar chocolate – her eyes were suddenly open to the wonders of craft chocolate. Still in awe, a move back to the Czech Republic set Michaela on her own journey of crafting chocolate from bean to bar.

Misina Cokolada sources its cacao beans from select origins. Each origin has been awarded Cocoa of Excellence awards, largely thanks to the co-operatives and farmers growing and harvesting the fine-flavour crop. The Tanzanian cacao is sourced through Kokoa Kamili, a network of smallholder farmers, who centrally ferment the beans. Kokoa Kamili pay fine attention to details when its comes to fermentation, for example monitoring the temperature and pH of the cacao so to achieve a uniform, high quality process. Any batches that fail to meet Kokoa Kamili’s expectations are further evaluated to check for “off-flavours” and are not exported.

We caught up with Michaela when she visited for the Academy of Chocolate Awards 2018…

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

How it all started back in 2015? I have been a chocolate-lover all my life. Whenever wherever I go I taste new chocolate bars. Many years ago I got the book Real Chocolate by Chantal Coady as a gift from my husband. I loved the book and I started dreaming about making my own chocolate. I put this dream at the back of my mind for some time. While I was living in Ireland I came across bean to bar chocolate made by Shana Wilkie (Wilkie’s chocolate). What an eye opener! Bean to bar chocolate was something new to me and it was a truly amazing experience. So much flavour!

After I moved back to the Czech Republic and my kids grew a bit older I decided to pursue my dream. I signed up to the Ecole Chocolat course “Chocolate Making from the Bean” and started experimenting. After some time the chocolate tasted so good that everybody around me was hooked and there was no way back. The word spread and my chocolate started selling in shops, coffee shops and chocolate shops. In 2017 I sent one of my chocolate bars – Tanzania 75% Dark – to the Academy of Chocolate Awards. I wanted to get feedback and see where my chocolate stands internationally. I was thrilled that this particular bar held up so well among all the great chocolate bars and was awarded a silver award.

What mission have you set yourselves for making chocolate?

To make chocolate that’s close to the flavours of the beans from which it’s sourced. That’s why I decided to make only single origin bars. Ethics and sustainability are important values to me. I want to educate customers about bean to bar process and also where the beans come from.

What is the story behind your company name?

Why Míšina čokoláda? My name is Michaela, friends have always called me Míša (in English Misha) and Míšina čokoláda means Misha’s chocolate in English. In the very beginning friends asked each other….Have you tasted Míšina čokoláda i.e. chocolate made by Misha? I decided to keep the name

Who designed your packaging – and what are you most proud of about your packaging?
A friend of mine who lives nearby designed it. I am proud of the fact that we worked on it together step by step although we were both quite busy and it wasn’t easy to find the time.

How did you source your beans?

I wanted to source the beans as directly as possible. In the very beginning I mailed farms and
cooperatives but the typical answer was that I would have to order a few tons. So for now I order via cocoa beans suppliers in Europe but I know exactly where the beans are from. When the business grows I can order large quantities directly.

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

Chocolate for sure! Mole Poblano with chile and chocolate sauce.

What chocolate achievement are you most proud of to date?

Definitely AoC awards! I am a lifelong chocoholic. In the past I noticed that there were AoC
stickers on some amazing chocolate bars that I have bought. It is like a dream that these stickers are now on my own chocolate bars.

Husband and wife, Andres from Ecuador and Sara from Colombia, share an intense love for chocolate and an altruistic desire to improve the livelihoods of cocoa farmers.  And this passion has materialised into an Ecuadorian focused craft chocolate company based in Cornwall, UK. Their craft chocolate company, Rio Nuevo was a project that begun at Andres and Sara’s Amazon rainforest wedding, when the pair were shown how to make chocolate by the local Ecuadorians, and that has now brought them to the UK.

Nacional is a highly regarded, special genotype of cacao in Ecuador, often associated with being Ecuador’s ‘national brand’; this native cacao is known for its exceptional flavour quality. The strength of the ‘Nacional’ name has encouraged Ecuador to become a leading producer of fine flavour cacao. However, when being introduced to chocolate making, Andres and Sara discovered the struggles many cacao farmers were facing and the substantial cultivation of ‘bulk cacao’ such as CCN-51, which all threatens Ecuador’s fine cacao heritage.

Rio Nuevo, which translates as “new river”, is bean to bar chocolate, handcrafted in Cornwall, made using fine-flavour Ecuadorian cacao. Andres and Sara directly source their single estate Arriba Nacional cacao through their pre-existing connections to cocoa farmers in Ecuador. Rio Nuevo currently sources its cacao from a small farm in Vinces, Ecuador, owned by Don Julian and Doña Julia. Andres and Sara are very proud to work with, and buy directly from, the cocoa farmers. The cacao is collected in a small pick-up truck, one or two sacks at a time, which then makes its way to Guayaquil, a port city in Ecuador, en route to Penryn, Cornwall.

We first met the family behind Rio Nuevo at the London Coffee Festival 2018. After tasting the chocolate and listening to the story and background behind the brand, the cacao, and the family, we really didn’t need any more convincing that Rio Nuevo was perfectly suited for Cocoa Runners.

We sat down with Andres and Sara to find out a little more about Rio Nuevo:

What’s your background? Why and how did you get into chocolate?
Sara studied Environment, Development & Policy at Sussex University and Andres studied Economics at the University of East London. We had always dreamed of working with communities back at home, Sara grew up in a small coffee farm in Colombia and knows first hand the struggles small scale farmers face. We always felt we had a responsibility and a role to play in creating change.

Our project was born when at our wedding (in the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador) we were shown how to make chocolate by the local residents, there we learnt about the struggles cacao farmers face and the propagation of CCN-51 which is threatening our cacao heritage.

We returned to the UK wanting to do our bit, we wanted to make chocolate bars that have a positive impact on the land and its farmers as well as raising awareness of the lack and limitations of fair trade practices in the cacao industry.

When did you start your company — and with whom? How many are there of you?
We started learning how to make chocolate in April 2016 and it wasn’t until December 2017 when we felt ready to launch our chocolate bars to the market. In the past few months we’ve had Diana’s (Andres’ sister) help.

What mission have you set yourselves for making chocolate?
Our aim is to help farmers in Ecuador to improve their livelihoods, we want to do this through direct trade. Around one hundred thousand families depend on cacao crops. Our dream is to raise the bar and see a real change in how the chocolate industry can help develop sustainable livelihoods for cocoa-farming communities.

How did you source your beans?
We buy the cocoa beans directly from a farmer in Vinces-Ecuador. They own a small farm that has been in their possession for generations, their names are Don Julian and Doña Julia, their daughter and grandchildren are also involved in the day to day running of the farm. They also plant fruits and vegetables for their own use.

What inspired your choice of wrapper/mould design?
Our packaging motifs were inspired by the Inca patterns found in Ecuadorian textiles. We wanted our packaging to reflect something of who we are in a very strong, clean and minimal way.

What is your favourite food? Wine? Other chocolate makers?
For the past couple of years we’ve been spoiled by our neighbours’ authentic Italian food and we love everything they make and bring us from the Bologna region, cheese, wine, prosciutto, etc.

Right now we’re enjoying Sirene Artisan Chocolate, there is so much choice out there! and it’s always nice to discover different chocolates from other makers.

With craft bars wrapped in paper cut to the shape of Nordic mittens, Chocokoo is Estonia’s first bean to bar chocolate maker, crafting its chocolate in Tallinn, the multi-cultural capital city of Estonia.

Although Estonia is famed for its Baltic cuisine, Estonia is not often associated with chocolate or confectionery.  But Estonia can trace a long history of confectionery production dating back to the early 17th century. During these early times, with sugar somewhat hard to come by, sweet-toothed Estonians opted for honey as a daily pick-me-up. Suggesting to be the original inventor, Tallinn’s Old Town Pharmacy also sold marzipan as a medicine, proclaiming the health benefits of the almond sweet treat. Chocolate emerged later, with confectioners producing chocolate from the late 18th century.

Yet, it wasn’t until 2015 that Estonia embraced artisan, bean to bar chocolate making. Kristel Lankots, who at the time was a board member working at a road construction company, wanted to radically change her life’s direction. Kristel wanted to do something she really loved and something that she could call her own, which meant moving away from financial responsibility in her respective industry and into the world of chocolate-making. Equipped with a degree in economics and business management, Kristel founded Chocokoo with the aspiration to create something tangible from her hard work.

Kristel visited cacao farms in the forest-rich country of Costa Rica and made invaluable contacts to get her hands on great, traceable beans. Kristel saw how the farmers in Upala worked and what they considered important. It was on this trip that she really fell in love with Costa Rican cacao and the chocolate that they made; so much so, that Costa Rica has now become Chocokoo’s ‘house’ chocolate. Kristel also sources beans from Vietnam, from the Mekong Delta Region, and is on the hunt for more origins and bean varieties that showcase unique flavour profiles.

One accomplishment of Chocokoo is with its 70% dark chocolate with rye sourdough; this bar was made the official chocolate of Estonian presidency of the EU in 2017. However, this wouldn’t be the first time Chocokoo has been associated with such prestige, as for the 98th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia, Chocokoo produced 2,400 filled chocolates for the reception of the celebration! Chocokoo has also been awarded as the ‘interesting new product on the market’ by the Best Estonian Food Product 2018.

We spoke to Kristel to get a deeper insight into what and who Chocokoo is:

What’s your background? Why and how did you get into chocolate?
At university I studied economics and business management. For many years I used to work at the road construction supervision company as a member of the board responsible for finances and contracts. I felt it was time for me to change my life and do something that I really love. I wanted to have an actual physical outcome of my work. I have always loved chocolate and eaten a lot of it. When I started thinking what I know about how chocolate is made, I realised I didn’t know much. As a result of my research I found bean to bar movement and bean to bar chocolate producers. I started to go to chocolate festivals and fairs in Europe (Islington Business Design Centre, Chocoa Amsterdam), made contacts and travelled to Costa Rica to stay in cacao farms and see the beginning of chocolate. That was an amazing experience and opened my eyes. In addition to bean to bar chocolate I also took classes of pastry chefs to be able to temper chocolate by hand, make bonbons/truffles out of couverture, ganaches, etc.

When did you start your company — and with whom? How many are there of you?
Me and my husband, Asso Lankots, started the company in May 2015. He has his day job in another company, but he has been supporting and advising me from the start. It is a family business. We opened Chocokoo chocolate shop in November 2015, it is both our factory and a shop where people can buy our bars. I was the first bean to bar chocolate producer in Estonia. For the first year I was doing everything by myself, now I have a good helper, Aaron. Most of the daily work is done by the two of us, and my husband helps out from time to time.

What mission have you set yourselves for making chocolate?
First of all to make chocolate from the beans and let their origin speak its story in the chocolate. Due to our location up in the northern hemisphere, so far from cacao trees, I’ve made it my mission to educate people about cacao, where it grows, what it takes to have chocolate bar in the store, different ways of production, so that people would find their way to bean to bar chocolate, to discover the flavours they never expected to find in chocolate.

What is the story behind your company name?
Chocokoo – the Choco part refers that we are dealing with chocolate and is internationally understood and the Koo part is a bit Estonian enabling to make some word games.

Who designed your packaging – and what are you most proud of about your packaging.
Chocokoo’s mitten shaped packaging was developed by Estonian company Identity and the idea was to emphasize that we in the Nordic country (wearing mittens most of the year) can appreciate the work done in the warm countries to provide us with the beans to make chocolate ourselves. It is tricky to wrap bars into these mittens but I really love the shape of it and this shape is done for me/Chocokoo and it is well recognisable.

How did you source your beans?
As I have been to Costa Rican cacao farms, I have good contacts there. I appreciate the love these farmers put into their work and Costa Rica is my so to say house chocolate. The quantities I purchase are rather small therefore I have used the help of European middlemen, Daarnhouwer.

What is your favourite food? Wine? Other chocolate makers?
My favourite food – as I was born on the island of Estonia (Saaremaa) I like fish and of course chocolate. I like a lot of chocolates from other chocolate makers, current favourites are Dandelion Chocolate Kokoa Kamili, Tanzania 70% and Pump Street Jamaica 75%.