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%.