Paco Llopís and his wife Juana, Utopick founders have a remarkable story. Paco was born to a family of celebrated Valencian pâtissiers and first came across chocolate as a medium for extraordinary sculptures. Paco and Juana both studied photography at University, but the pull of chocolate continued to press on them – and so they founded Utopick in late 2015/6. From their creative hub in Valencia, Utopick is all about quality, ethics and continual surprises. The name Utopick is a play on Utopia – and their aim is to create a utopia for farmers and customers in creating bars which support local farmers over the long term and continually delight customers with novel textures and tastes.
Paco was born into a family of patissiers in Alzira ,Valencia . By living above, and eventually working, in the kitchen’s of the family business Paco was constantly immersed in culinary experimentation and inspiration. Journeys to Paris to look at shop windows were a constant in his childhood so that the family could continue to learn and seek inspiration together.
Paco holds a master’s degree in photography, and it was whilst studying photography at university that he met his wife, Juana. They embarked upon a project making Easter eggs together which told dramatic stories, and this eventually inspired a journey all the way to Colombia where they observed a cacao harvest for the first time. It was here that he had his craft chocolate epiphany: when asked if he made chocolate himself, he realised that he knew how to fashion chocolate confectionary from couverture, but that he did not know how to make the chocolate itself.
Creativity courses through Paco’s veins; always profoundly absorbed in the world of art, it was the moment in which he discovered the sculptural qualities of chocolate that he knew that he had found his medium for self-expression. And then when he added to this the delights of crafting chocolate himself, he new he had found his medium for creative expression.
The initial fruits of Utopick’s sourcing labours are famous in the world of craft chocolate. From the very start, Pablo has enjoyed and survived extraordinary challenges. Collecting his initial 250kg shipment of cacao direct from Colombia in his Citroën, local customs agents were sufficiently bemused to stop and question what was in his six large hemp sacks. But he persevered and crafted his first beans
Paco partners with Uncommon Cacao to source his beans. Uncommon Cacao link small holder cacao farmers to specialty chocolate producers, and are ardent advocates of the transparent trading values that Utopick champions. Transparency and fairness in the supply chain are of central importance to Paco, who seeks to ensure that all of his partners in the future are held to these standards too. Uncommon Cacao not only undertake quality control, but also monitor the fermentation and drying, so you can taste the quality and true expression of the beans in Utopick’s bars
Provenance is particularly exciting when it comes to Utopick’s creations. Today, Paco sources beans for his chocolate bars from a range of different countries, including Venezuela, Madagascar, Peru, Ecuador and Guatemala. For his Lachuá 70% bar, the beans are sourced from the pristine paradise of lake Lachuá in northern Guatemala, where the vibrant azures match the unparalleled intensity of flavour in the chocolate it helps to produce. The tropical rainforests located in the natural park that surrounds this cenote lake Lachuá are extraordinarily fruitful, with abundant harvests of fragrant cardamom and coffee. When it comes to the cacao, there is a particularly rich range of varietals, with trinitario, amelonado, forastero and some nacional beans selected for this bar. In line with Utopick’s values, the Q’eqchi Maya families that live in the region cultivate cacao beans using “direct trade”, which secures prices for the cacao for producers that are even higher than Fair Trade, whilst ensuring responsibility and accountability at every stage of production.
An ingenious craftsman and lifelong perfectionist, Paco’s self declared objective is to craft both the best quality and most surprising chocolates that he can make, creating a truly Utopian chocolate. He aims to bring within everyone’s reach, “an extraordinary product, from the packaging right down to the last ingredient.” Indeed, his foray into the world of single origin chocolate and innovative inclusions line leave a lasting impression.
Paco’s are designed to “bring love at first sight”. The packaging was designed by the local Valencia design agency of Lavernia and Cienfuegos. Each bar is enveloped in an origami boat, evoking the spirit adventure at the heart of Utopick, whilst representing the same route employed by Spanish explorers when they returned with cocoa beans during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These sails are also echoed in the triangles of the mould of the chocolate. The packaging has even been designed to open and close in a way that when you rewrap your bar, the chocolate appears untouched, enabling you to savour the bars over many day, and keeping past delights “under wraps”.
We caught up with Paco to find out more about his journey into craft chocolate, and what’s next for Utopick
What’s your background? Why and how did you get into chocolate?
I was born in a patisserie. My parents were the owners of a beautiful patisserie in Alzira, a small-town close to Valencia. They worked very hard, and so that we could continue our voyage of discovery and keep learning, we were always venturing to Paris to look at shop windows. The world of art always fascinated me, and although I graduated with a degree in photography, I had worked in my parents’ kitchens since I was very young. When I discovered that chocolate could be a sculptural medium that could incorporate design, I didn’t look back. I had found a means of expressing myself.
When did you start your company, and with whom? How many are there of you?
Juana [my wife] and I became a couple whilst we were studying for a master’s degree in photography. We began to design Easter eggs which told stories. Together with her, I travelled to Colombia where I saw a cacao harvest for the first time. During the harvest, they asked me if I made chocolate. I realised that I knew how to make chocolate confectionary and cakes [from couverture] but not chocolate itself. So, I began to explore.
What mission have you set yourselves for making chocolate?
We work with chocolate and its aesthetics, with quality and originality our sole intentions. When it comes to cacao, we have a passion for quality cacao cultivated in Colombia, that is almost in our genes- we prefer to with this.
Where do you want to go next? New bars? New beans? New markets?
We would like to grow a little more, because we have started with a very small budget. Everything is costing us a lot of money, and even now our infrastructure remains insufficient. When we have reached our goal of a workshop that is better equipped, we are going to be the talk of the town! We have many flavours and ideas to try out, but we must also be an economically viable business, and that makes everything a little more difficult.
What is the story behind your company name?
Opening a chocolate shop right at the height of economic crisis in Spain, and in a city like Valencia, all whilst having the objective of crafting our own chocolate was clearly a utopia. But all dreams are utopian before becoming reality. So… here we are… and with a bit of luck we can help the world of cacao to become a little more ethical. A utopia? We’ll see…
Who designed your packaging? And what are you most proud of about your packaging?
We are very proud of having created a distinctive image for our brand. We wanted to create our own identity that stood out from the rest – this was very challenging. For us, originality is something that is very important. When you see our chocolate bars, there is no doubt that they are from Utopick. The prestigious Valencian studio of Lavernia y Cienfuegos successfully completed a very complicated task here.
What inspired your choice of wrapper and mould design?
Everything revolves around our logo, a little origami boat. For us, it’s a very poetic image which speaks of utopia.
What innovations in tech, crafting, marketing etc. are you pursuing?
We are constantly experimenting with different combinations of ingredients and techniques in addition to which cacaos to make them with. For us, producing our own chocolates, which are also of high quality, is already a major milestone.
How did you source your beans?
We started by importing 250kg of cacao from Colombia. Imagine the face of the customs agents when they saw me arrive with my Citroën to collect six bags of cacao… which in addition came from Colombia…there was more than one elbow nudge whilst they were pointing at me…
Given the price of everything, we spent all we had… but the result was a delicious chocolate and a deep satisfaction. Now we are looking for partners who are responsible for imports, if they offer us a transparent trading model, we won’t hesitate.
We are supporting this model in which the entire supply chain is published on the internet [in a transparency report] and where we know that we have paid every single actor in the business, from the producers to the importers.
What is your favourite food? Wine? Do you have any favourite chocolate makers?
I love to enjoy food, which I always choose by the country of origin, be it Italian, Japanese, Vietnamese, Valencian… They say that the only real borders are gastronomic ones. I love to eat well and drink good wine, preferably a Ribera del Duero. I really like a lot of Bean to Bar makers, above all I love to feel like a part of this family. As I’m sure that if I name them they won’t all fit into this response, I am going to name but two: Mayumi Ogata and Cocoa Hunters, which I really love.
What chocolate achievement are you most proud of to date?
I have learned this craft practically on my own. I have gone along collecting information and advice from my comrades. I love being a part of this movement, it makes me very happy. The very existence alone of bean to bar chocolate fills me with pride. Most recently, I must confess that the chocolate bar that we have created with a gin and tonic flavour, to me is perfect (and it was complicated to make). Also, the chocolate bar with bread really does bring me joy, and my Spanish clients (where bread with chocolate is a traditional afternoon snack) love it.
When it comes to 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 from Guatemala, and are grown in the area around lake Lachuá, Uncommon Cacao is in charge of the fermentation and the quality and also sells them all through a transparent trading model. We receive annual reports which they also make public (you can find them online) in which they tell of all of the work being achieved with communities at origin. We love that the price that has been paid to the farmer is visible, in addition to what the intermediary has been paid, and even what price we here are paying. By practicing transparency, there are fewer spaces for the sorts of less ethical management which have plagued cacao production for so long. We are backing transparent trade in our future plans.
Our chocolate is 70% cocoa with sugar from organic cane. The texture gives a wonderful melt with a very pleasant mouthfeel. The first thing that comes to your attention is the acidity, which quickly arises through the tannins with a significant presence of flavour of a delicately fruity cacao.