First and foremost, we hope that you are all safe and well.
Secondly we’d like to confirm that CocoaRunners remains open for business; we’re still shipping our monthly boxes and also bars, gifts, cooking chocolate (with recipes), easter gifts, and more. We brought forward many months’ worth of bars to prepare for this. And we’ve also been ordering (and paying forward for) significant amounts of additional stock. This is not just to prepare for international supply chain challenges. It’s also to offer immediate support to our craft chocolate makers, some of whom are facing huge sales declines as a result of this terrible virus’s economic impact on restaurants and coffee shops.
Our warehouse team in Devon remain open for business and they are taking stringent precautions to protect staff (and chocolate). In addition, they have developed contingency plans to continue receiving, packing, and dispatching our chocolate for the foreseeable future. We are running our website and customer support remotely. So for as long as the Royal Mail (and your local mail services abroad) are delivering, we will continue to deliver. We do know that some mail services are running a little behind, and that there are some issues with tracking numbers; We will do our best to cope with any issues that arise.
Whilst you are here, we’d also like to request your support for a new initiative, “Chocs for Docs”. We are all aware of the huge debt we owe to the NHS – the doctors, nurses, administrators and cleaners who are doing so much to help us all in these challenging times. So we are reaching out to the Cocoa Runners Community to ask if you would please join us in supporting, and thanking, them with craft chocolate.
We’d like to ask you to buy packages of craft chocolate so that we can send these to doctors, nurses and staff on the front line. These packages will hopefully provide a welcome treat and way to say “thank you”. All we would ask you to do is click on our ‘Say thanks to our Docs’ offer, choose how much you want to gift and we’ll pull together craft chocolate packages for them. Any profits we make from these sales will all go to local food banks as they too are facing unprecedented pressures. To avoid overloading the hospital and GP surgeries we are sending these packages directly to the homes of doctors and nurses we know all over the country, and asking them to carry the packages in.
When we launched Cocoa Runners – which now seems so many moons ago – we did so with a passion for craft chocolate and the knowledge that craft chocolate not only tastes better, but it’s also better to eat, and way better for the planet and farmers (they maintain the rainforest, earn a decent income that enables them to plan for the future, etc.). We continue to believe this. And we will continue to do all we can to raise awareness of the craft chocolate movement since right now it’s more important than ever to support our makers and growers.
There is no doubt that a disaster as serious as this changes perspectives. It reminds us that we are lucky to be living where we do, and that there is a lot more to life than the things we can often get so preoccupied with.
So we will do everything we can to carry on providing you with great craft chocolate. Let’s also give thanks for what we have. And let’s give generously to those on the front line to whom we owe a great deal.
The CocoaRunners Team
Welcome to our March Collection. The bars in this box reflect craft chocolate’s passion for new technology and ancient knowledge.
SOLSTIC BUNDIBUGYO UGANDA
Bean Origin: Uganda Cocoa Content: 70%
First welcome a new addition, all the way from Utah. Solstice is another wonderful chocolate maker to emerge out of the American craft chocolate movement. Unlike many other makers, Solstice uses a fluid roaster for its beans, which allows for subtler, lighter flavours.
This dark bar has an aroma reminiscent of freshly baked banana bread. Layers of toasted nuts come through, creating a gianduja-like chocolate experience. A creamy melt with hints of ripe banana throughout.
Solstice Chocolate is an American chocolate maker settled amongst the scenic vistas of Salt Lake City, Utah. It was founded in 2013 by husband and wife, Scott Query and DeAnn Wallin. Chocolate seemingly made its way into DeAnn’s family activities, from as a child making chocolates with her grandmother, to now making chocolates with her daughters. What started as an artisanal hobby with the family, has now become an award-winning business.
LUISA ABRAM RIO ACARA
Bean Origin: Brasil Cocoa Content: 70%
Next is a very special bar from Brazilian maker, Luisa Abram. Luisa sources her cacao from co-operatives deep within the rainforest, so remote that they can only be reached by boat.
An indulgent dark chocolate with a rich flavour and slightly fudgy texture. Its aroma combines intensely chocolatey touches with fresh bread and warm treacle. The bar develops toasted hazelnuts and even bigger chocolate notes.
Luisa Abram is a family-owned Brasilian chocolate company. Everyone plays their part: mum Miriam oversees logistics and finance, dad Andre is in charge of the machines, sister Andrea assists with legal questions, and finally Luisa herself takes care of tempering and wrapping. The beans themselves are sourced by Luisa and her family from several rainforest cooperatives who harvest and ferment the cacao which grows naturally under the shade of taller forest trees.
FRUITION MADAGASCAR DARK
Bean Origin: Madagascar Cocoa Content: 74%
Next is a bar using Akesson’s cacao from Madagascar, a benchmark of fine flavour cacao for many artisan makers. Fruition has crafted a bar which successfully brings out the bean’s incredibly fruity profile.
This fresh and vibrant dark chocolate bursts with fruits. High notes of citrus and raspberry balance perfectly in this delicately creamy bar. More intense notes come through on the finish and add a richer chocolatey quality.
Fruition is a small batch bean-to-bar chocolate workshop located in the Catskill Mountains of New York. With tremendous attention to detail, they slowly roast and stone grind carefully selected cocoa beans to accentuate their inherent flavour. Sometimes being a perfectionist really pays off when the chocolates tastes this good. For this bar, Bryan and Dahlia of Fruition have sourced their cacao from Akesson’s Estate in Madagascar, which is famed for its fine-flavour beans.
FRANCESCHI CHORONI DARK
Bean Origin: Venezuela Cocoa Content: 70%
Finally we’ve a bar grown and crafted by the Franceschi family in Venezuela. The family has been working in the cacao industry for close to 200 years, and have put all that experience into its chocolate.
This dark chocolate melts slowly but smoothly, gradually releasing its flavours all the way through to its lingering finish. Darker notes of wood and tobacco blend with fresh papaya and a honeyed sweetness.
The Franceschi family has been in the cacao export business since 1830. In 1990, the family started to reconstruct and revive its own cacao farm with the intention to collect, cultivate and preserve different strains of Venezuela’s heritage cacao, known as Criollo. For many years the family worked with Gianluca Franzoni, founder of Domori‘s Chocolate in Italy, until in 2009 it founded its own chocolate making company under the family name, Franceschi.
This collection can be bought as our Box Of The Month gift box for the special price of £24.95 while stocks last, until late April 2019.
We’ve written this post with two objectives. The first is to help clarify a bunch of terms and descriptions which loosely fall under the heading of “taste”. We hope that this clarification will deepen your enjoyment and ability to engage with craft chocolate by helping you articulate, and therefore identify, those sensations that are “literally on the tip of your tongue” but you can’t quite explain.
The second objective is to suggest a bunch of trials and experiments of different pairings of craft chocolate with wine, beer, coffee, rum, whisky and much more that you can try at home and in the company of friends. In particular we hope that highlighting the difference between the mouthfeel of astringency and the taste of bitterness will help open up the world of 100% cacao bars to even more customers. It gives us another excuse to try and persuade people to travel to the truly dark side of 100% cacao and explore a bunch of exquisite bars.
We experience craft chocolate through multiple sensations. At Cocoa Runners when we taste chocolate we break down these sensations into five very different experiences; taste, flavour, texture, mouthfeel and melt. We know that these aren’t the only aspects to appreciating craft chocolate (for example occasion, colleagues, temperature to name but a few other important aspects). And we also know that we experience all these sensations at the same time when we enjoy craft chocolate (ie it’s a multimodal experience) which makes it trickier. However, bear with us.
One of the most fun parts of any Craft Chocolate “Tasting” we do is when we try to explain the difference between “taste” and “flavour” by having customers hold their nose whilst sucking a piece of chocolate. At best customers can taste a little bit of sweetness – but only after they open their nose can they start to identify all the flavours of that chocolate. Full disclosure – this test we “borrowed” from Professor Barry C Smith Director, Institute of Philosophy and Centre for the Study of the Senses at the University of London. To paraphrase the Professor, there are five basic tastes you detect on your tongue (sweet, bitter, sour, salty and “umami”) but “flavour” is detected via your sense of smell (both via your nose – orthonasal and via swallowing – retronasal). So with chocolate, in particular high quality craft chocolate that only uses cocoa butter (which melts at just below human body temperature), we are treated to a wealth of flavours. We’ve assembled the most common here – and we also love the work that Hazel Lee has done as part of her Taste With Colour project in associating colours with flavours to help you hone in on that flavour that is on the tip of your tongue.
Above and beyond “taste” and “flavour”, craft chocolate has some other sensations that we love to explore – in particular texture and mouthfeel. And again, we are heavily indebted to the expertise and guidance of Professor Smith here.
Texture is relatively straightforward – it’s all about the smoothness or graininess of the chocolate (compare stoneground bars like Taza which are almost biscuit-like in texture to smoothly conched bars from Akesson’s, Bonnat and most other craft chocolate makers). We use four basic descriptors here which are fairly self explanatory –
Mouthfeel is more complicated and confusing. Unlike flavour, taste and texture we know that there is a lot more to be done on mouthfeel. Here is where we’ve got to so far in developing a framework to articulate the different sensations
And to be honest, I’m not sure we’ve (yet) completely cracked these descriptors. Nonetheless it’s very clear that we all know the difference between butteriness and intensity – or creaminess and astringency. Neither creaminess or butteriness, nor intensity or astringency are tastes, textures or flavour. But all too often we confuse creaminess with sweetness and astringency with bitterness. For chocolate, especially 100% and higher percentage chocolate, the difference between astringency and bitterness is really important – astringency is part of the fun; bitterness not great.
Astringency is classically defined as when the saliva in your mouth is “pulled” away so you have the sensation of “drying”, “roughing” and/or “puckering”. You desperately want something else to drink and get your saliva going (hint: milk is better than water, and goat’s milk better than cow’s milk because of the way goats milk binds with the proteins causing the dryness). Classic cases of astringency are when we eat or drink a product with lots of tannins (red wine, whisky, roasted coffee beans, many teas and of course chocolate). Although astringency – this puckering – is very different from bitterness, all too often we confuse the two.
It may be that part of the problem for us in the West is that many astringent items are also quite bitter (or at least that’s when we notice the astringency …). In Japan the difference between what they call bitter (nigai 苦い) and astringent / puckering (suppai 酸っぱい ) and (渋い shibui) is very clear. The classic Japanese persimmon (kaki) is astringent and causes your mouth to pucker. But it’s also quite sweet. And this perhaps helps explain why in Japanese there is less confusion between the two sensations. It’s hard to think of a common fruit or drink we have in the west that is astringent (mouth puckering) but also sweet – maybe some heavy but mellow red wines, and possibly chewing the skins of red grapes if that’s your fancy.
Technically what happens when we eat something astringent is pretty amazing. Proteins in the food or drink combine with our saliva to irritate our trigeminal nerve (this is the same nerve that registers mintiness as “cooling” or spiciness as “hot”).
Interestingly if you don’t “chew” something astringent you won’t detect the astringency (try this with some 100% cacao bars or some nibs; put them on your tongue, don’t suck or chew and you’ll be fine. The moment you start to masticate or suck, about 10-15 seconds later you should start getting astringent sensations as the saliva irritates your trigeminal nerve).
An even more interesting experiment is to try to overload (or in Professor Smith’s terminology “over saturate”) your trigeminal nerve.
Take a small piece of 100% cacao and “enjoy” it (try a buttery bar like Akesson’s 100% or Original Beans Cuzco Chuncho if you are nervous). Then chew a roasted coffee bean and go back to the chocolate. Most people we’ve tried this with are amazed by how much “easier” (ie less astringent) the 100% cacao bar is after the coffee bean. You can try the same with a rich red wine or rum; again, the astringency of the 100% is muted and it’s flavour easier to appreciate. Professor Smith and his team are still working on the bio-mechanics of this “super saturation”, but any which way this experiment is a great way to experience and enjoy 100% craft bars.
The range of flavours, textures, astringency and intensity different makers can coax from different beans is quite extraordinary. In tastings we try to encourage our customers to try nibs (the ground up part of a roasted cocoa bean, less it’s shell) and then a couple of different 100% bars – and invariably, we’re asked why there is such a range of intensity and astringency.
There is no single answer here … but we’ve a few hypotheses that are worth experimenting and trying at home or at a tasting.
The first point is the amount of cocoa butter – basically the more butter, the more “smooth” and “creamy” so the less astringent. And then the size of grind can accentuate this further (the smaller the particle, the more cocoa butter to particle … simple physics). The type of bean also plays a role – as does the roast and fermentation. Confusingly roast and fermentation when done “badly” also create bitterness … And then the time the bar is in the mouth (ie the melt) also makes a difference – astringency is a slow build (it takes 5-15 secs) and then it depends on how long it’s in your mouth … so a thin bar is less astringent.
In addition to the “coffee bean” experiment of Professor Smith, here are some other pairings we strongly recommend you try at home in the company of friends (or come to a tasting with us to try too)
Happy tasting and thanks, as ever, for all your support
After a couple of years being based in Farringdon, we’ve moved our London office to Old Street. We
are now even closer to Borough Market and Shoreditch – and the achingly “cool” environment
where so many craft movements have incubated and blossomed. James Hoffman set up his Penny University for filter coffee here over a decade ago, Craft Beer was already present when I was last here (with
Last.fm in the early 2000s). Neal’s Yard has been in Borough Market for over a decade, promoting
artisanal cheese. And every bar around Old Street competes on Natural Wine, Craft Gin and
Whisky novelties. So it seemed a good time to reflect on the factors that craft movements
need to succeed – and see how craft chocolate compares to other industries.
Before diving in, it’s perhaps worth comparing overall market sizes and what share craft has of
different categories – and to show how much upside there is in Craft Chocolate (note: these stats are
At a high level, in addition to becoming “cool”, craft food and drink movements have (at least) six common characteristics:
What follows below is an attempt to explain each of these characteristics and a comparison to craft chocolate, starting with a high level summary
|CRAFT CHARACTERISTIC / PILLAR||
WHERE IS CRAFT CHOCOLATE?
|Demonstrably “better” – either in terms of taste, ethics, environment credentials and/or health||
Argument easy to make for craft chocolate on all fronts – tastes better, better for you (minimal ingredients, you’ll eat less, etc.) and better for farmers, rainforest and the planet
|They are an easy “upgrade”. They appeal to an existing vice or habit||
Speciality Coffee and Craft Beers are an obvious, direct upgrade. Craft Chocolate is an obvious upgrade for those already enjoying chocolate e.g., in the evening with a partner as a treat, or for millennials, etc.
|They have some relatively clear and accepted definitions||
Should be doable … but no standards (yet!) – no green cap, no Q graders, no “minimal” interest!
|The differences are easy to explain and/or are well explained||
Not enough craft chocolate “barista” DJs or “sommeliers” … but invariably, tonnes of interest!
|They have a space to experience and purchase (which ideally should be cool)||
Craft Chocolateneeds more environments like Zotter, Dandelion, Chocolarder, etc. – and to be in more speciality coffee stores and independent wine stores so that it can benefit from the “osmosis” of speciality coffee stores, etc. where you can “feel” the difference
|They have cool kit, rituals and vocabulary to enjoy the product||
Are chocolate boards and craft chocolate tasting flights our equivalent to spcial wine glasses, latte art, aeropresses and the like? And always encourage “savour don’t scoff”
The common first appeal here is taste. But it’s not the only one. For example, for speciality coffee aficionados taste is clearly super important. And in most UK speciality coffee stores over 75% of most of the coffees sold are milk based. Tasting those speciality beans through this milk is hard — even when you are using milk from Estate Dairy (an amazing dairy whose milks have super high fat content that makes great lattes etc.). Above and beyond taste, speciality coffee focuses on how it’s “better” for coffee farmers, it expresses great concern about the impact of global warming on coffee futures, etc. The stress on ingredients and direct trade also often lends to the argument that craft foods and drinks are healthier as they are less processed, have higher quality ingredients, less additives, etc. For example, natural wine pushes its credentials of “minimal” intervention as being healthier and better for farmers and the farm. Bread makers are also keen to stress how their grains, seeds and crafting create not just more delicious sourdoughs and breads but are also better for you and the planet. Craft Chocolate clearly tastes better, is better for your and better for farmers and the planet. At all our tastings we’re always delighted by guests’ reactions to the myriad flavours, tastes and sensations craft chocolate offers – and customers are also delighted that these bars satiate appetites with less (so they are arguably healthier as you’ll eat less) – and by craft chocolate’s focus on direct trade and its benefits for the farmers and planet.
If you want to be “cool”, you now order a craft beer when you head to the pub after work (and this now extends beyond Old Street, Shoreditch, Brooklyn and San Francisco). Mass produced beers just don’t cut it if you want to be “cool”. Similarly if you are having a meeting in Old Street during the morning you are spoilt for choice with achingly trendy staff. Serving cheese from La Fromagerie or Neal’s Yard etc. is a great way of ending any dinner party and reaffirming your “foodie” credentials. And you obviously want a lovely sourdough from E5 Bakery, Little Bread Pedlar, etc. to go with these cheeses. Ordering a craft gin based cocktail (and in Old Street an English Whiskey (yes really)) shows you are ahead of the curve. All of these are easy, and cool, “upgrades” to existing habits.
Craft Chocolate can also be an easy upgrade. For those already having a couple of squares of chocolate at the end of an evening, trading up to a craft chocolate bar is a relatively easy sale. For the most part, chocolate is either consumed in confectionery, cakes, biscuits etc. and/or as a “reward” or “reenergiser” earlier in the day. And even though a craft chocolate bar isn’t (YET) seen as an obvious alternative to a mid afternoon snack of a biscuit or mass produced chocolate bar (the “reward” or “pick me up”), craft chocolates can, and are, eaten at all times of the day. It may be difficult to “upgrade” an older generation who’ve become habituated to sweet confectionery. But it’s really easy to enthuse and delight millennials, generation X, Y, Z etc. with the taste and ethical credentials of craft chocolate.
Craft chocolate can also be used to create new habits – a small square complementing a morning coffee, sharing some bars at the end of a meal in addition/ instead of a cheese board, etc. Craft chocolate is a fantastic as a shared experience, comparing and contrasting different bars, makers and beans at one sitting. You can sort of do this with wine if you go to a wine tasting, but most of us only open 1 bottle at a time. Similarly, it’s not that common to drink 3+ espressos. By contrast, it’s easy to try 3-4 different craft chocolates in one sitting (although you may not always finish all the bar …). This sort of “savouring and celebrating” should work especially well in geographies where there is less of a tradition of chocolate and e.g., desserts.
Speciality Coffee has Q graders and a clear “grading” system for what beans can count as speciality grade. The wine industry (and a bunch of other European foods including everything from Parmesan cheese to Melton Mowbray Pork pies) have done a great job of using the likes of DOC and region to claim out their distinctiveness. Craft Beer in the USA has clearly articulated definitions for everything from size through ingredients and ownership. This is clearly possible for Craft Chocolate given its focus on direct trade with individual farms, small batch processing, focus on ethics, taste and environment, etc.). To date Craft Chocolate hasn’t yet established a clear definition internally or in its communication with consumers. We don’t (yet) have the equivalent of Craft Beers’ green cap and mark. We ought to be able to do this. An easy first step is to follow some simple labelling approaches (see separate blog on this — ). It’s also worth stressing that the key to all these definitions is to focus on the highest possible ingredients — and this is something that craft chocolate has built into its DNA with its focus on heirloom and high quality beans from a specific farm or co-operative (not just a region, country or continent)
If you walk into a store selling natural wines by the bottle to take home and/or glass to drink there and then, more often than not, you will be regaled with the merits of their wines. Similarly a bartender will proffer stories about their craft gins (and hats off to Maxwell at Colonna Coffee who has crafted a special line of speciality coffee capsules for bartenders to use and showcase for their cocktails). Whisky bars are popping up with eyeboggling selections of whiskies (for example BlackRock for the 800 plus whiskies all of which Thom has tasted and can tell you about), etc. Speciality coffee is really clear that a great cup of coffee needs i) great farmer to grow great beans, ii) great roasters to roast the coffee and iii) great baristas to make your speciality coffee. And baristas know that a key part of their job is the theatre of what they do (latte art, pour over stirring, etc.) and communicating how “special” their coffee really is. Going to Neal’s Yard or La Fromagerie is like having your own personal shopper or cheese DJ who will insist you to taste a range of artisanal cheeses so they can find a selection that work perfectly for you/your needs. And the Napa wine industry has explained to a generation of Californian Wine makers why their wines are different to mass produced wines – and built a tourist industry second only to Disney in terms of consumer spend.
One point to stress – this is not about forced education. This is education by doing, seeing, smelling, tasting and experiencing. It’s often a process of osmosis. It’s the chats with your friendly wine maker; it’s seeing the barista grind the beans and pour the filter coffee; it’s admiring the way a bartender carefully mixes your drink and tells you about the “ingredients” (aka spirits) they are combining; it’s the stories about the cows and sheep who provide your cheeses. It’s about the trendy publications (online and offline) like Courier who advise on what’s hot – and why. It’s all about the flow — and more like e.g., learning to dance on the dance floor with a great partner who knows their moves. It’s not about forced learning; that isn’t cool. No one wants to feel they are going back to school and learning biology or latin.
Most people’s first experience of speciality coffee is a speciality coffee store. And then, over time, people build the confidence and comfort to purchase speciality coffee at home (Maxwell Colonna has a great phrase here “B2B2C” which he has used to great effect with both his Bath coffee store and his capsules). Wine in the UK was first sold in pubs and restaurants – and then the “off trade” emerged with the likes of Oddbins; and now more and more wine bars are combining “on” and “off” premises purchase (cf 10 cases in London, Cambridge Wine Merchants, etc.). Neal’s Yard really took off when it started to sell its cheeses as part of cheese boards served in restaurants. These out of home experiences also help with the “explanation” (see above) as well as providing a place to purchase craft products. Having an approachable expert on site should take the “hit and miss” out of your first experience of a new craft food and drink. It reduces the ‘risk’ and increases the chance of you finding the perfect iteration of this craft expression for you.
For the most part, Craft Chocolate hasn’t yet been easily able to showcase the farming and crafting that underpins farmers’ and makers’ work. The “flow” is really hard to communicate via a label on a supermarket shelf. However there are a number of operations that show what can be done. Zotter does an amazing job in its Austrian Factory to enthuse, educate and sell. Dandelion’s stores in Japan, Pump Streets Orford café, Mirzam’s factory/café in Dubai and Omnom’s factory in Iceland also do great jobs of showing why their craft chocolate is different by letting you look ‘behind the scenes’ to understand the crafting involved. You literally can “smell the cacao”. There are a few great craft chocolate stores in Europe and the US, and thanks to all our Craft Chocolate DJs in speciality coffee and wine who are selling craft chocolate here in the UK. Going forward we need to be more here so that consumers look beyond the surface packaging (and at least read the label, check the source of beans and location of maker).
It’s also worth thinking about how this has worked in other regions. For example, “dessert bars” have been phenomenally successful as a means of growing the tradition of cakes and desserts in Singapore, Hong Kong and all of SE Asia. Similarly speciality coffee bars are converting China to coffee drinking with over 400 (TBC) shops opening in Shanghai in the last year.
As anyone who has to buy gifts for a fan of coffee, wine, whisky, cheese etc. knows, there is a LOT of great kit to purchase when you want to make the leap to enjoying craft food and drink at home. Coffee starts with scales, V60 filters, special kettles, grinders (the latest here is a burr, as opposed to a blade grinder – cf Wilfa), and now water (Maxwell). And if that is too much there are even some “simplified” bits of kit to create great coffee at home – for example the Aeropress or fine flavour capsules that have the finest coffee. Wine has decanters and glasses (just listen to wine aficionados was lyrical over their Riedels or Zsalto), Coravins (to enable you to have one or two glasses from a class wine), fridges, circular cellars and a host of apps to photo and store your favourites. Even cheese has special boards and all sorts of knives, brushes and other kit.
There are also rituals around each of these craft products which help both physically and psychologically improve the experience. Taking your cheese out an hour before you eat it. Decanting and swilling your wine in its glass to admire colour, aroma and “legs” (yes, really). And then there is the vocab that you can study in courses from the WSET and all the flavour wheels created by UC Davies, the SCA for coffee etc.
Craft Chocolate, possibly because it’s still developing daily habits and occasions, hasn’t yet developed a super wide range of kits, courses and rituals. Martin Christy has the beginnings of a WSET-like training for chocolate. We’ve a couple of restaurants doing craft chocolate tasting boards (thank you 67 Pall Mall and Andrew Edmunds). We know that our own craft chocolate tasting boards go down a treat. We’ve also some tasting pouches, copied from Pump Street’s. And there are clearly many more opportunities we can, should and will develop. For starters, “savour don’t scoff” and “melt before munching” should be common mantras.
On first inspection, you can either argue “glass half full” or “glass half empty”. Craft Chocolate, along some dimensions, seems less developed than other craft food and drink categories in building core craft “pillars”. But we clearly see this is a “glass half full”. On the most important aspect of craft – having a better product – craft chocolate clearly wins out. Everyone who tries craft chocolate agrees it tastes far better. And everyone who hears the story grasps that it is both better for them and better for farmers and the planet. So we start from a strong position. And the first step to solving any problem is to figure out the key questions – which in this case are around rituals, habits, kit, etc.
And there are a lot of obvious first steps we can start to take
I) Celebrate the way that Craft Chocolate not only tastes better but is better for you and better for the farmers and the planet, and remember that this is because Craft Chocolate is based around the finest possible beans
II) Continue to learn from our colleagues in other craft industries
III) … become far clearer about what makes craft chocolate distinct, stressing the importance of unique terroir and beans, etc. And let’s start with better labelling of craft chocolate (see Lizzie’s separate work)
IV) Show when, how and why Craft Chocolate can be a simple upgrade. In addition, seek out new habits and rituals. Neal’s Yard proudly refers to how it re-introduced Cheese Boards to the UK with Sally Clarke in the 80’s. Len Evans used to wax lyrical how he redesigned Australian wines to be “quaffable” without food so as to work for Brit’s in the 60s and 70s when we only used to drink in pubs. Indeed before salted caramels in the 2000’s bringing chocolate to a dinner party was (at best) pretty much a super cool joke where the box of “Black Magic” were almost retro enough to be cool. Long live craft chocolate boards – and ideally some craft chocolate tasting sets (one of the great delights of craft chocolate is comparing different bars and experiencing how different beans, conches, roasts, fermentations, terroir, etc. impact the experience). Celebrate how well craft chocolate goes with wine, whisky, coffee, etc. Delight in savouring different craft bars as special shared moments.
V) Double down on finding ways to explain and experience the magic and flow of Craft Chocolate. Find more ways and more places where people can enjoy (and purchase) craft chocolate and meet fellow Craft Chocolate Evangelists, Enthusiasts and DJs
Wishing you more craft chocolate crafted from the finest single estate beans in small batches to share and savour with friends.
We’ve teamed up with Whole Foods Market UK to bring you an in-store monthly Craft Chocolate Focus, where every month we’ll be showcasing a new theme. For the month of March, we’re delighted to showcase Rozsavolgyi Csokolade, a Hungarian chocolate maker – and the latest chocolate of ours to reach Whole Foods Market.
Rozsavolgyi Csokolade is a Hungarian chocolate maker based in Budapest, founded by husband and wife team Zsolt Szabad and Katalin Csiszar in 2004. Rózsavölgyi translates from Hungarian to ‘rose valley’, and we think that this name delightfully conjures up a vision of aromatic beauty that is perfectly in keep with Zsolt and Katalin’s chocolate bars. Their bars are also moulded to look like traditional fireplace tiles and further hand wrapped in beautiful craft paper.
Their approach to chocolate making is a simple but highly effective philosophy of combining local ingredients with lightly roasted cocoa beans and extensive refinement and conching. The result is a wonderfully smooth chocolate that enhances the natural flavours of the beans.
At Whole Foods Market, expect to find the flavours of Matcha Tea, Black Sesame, Peppermint, Caradmom and Hot Paprika.
Dates to look out for to sample Rozsavolgyi Csokolade in March in-store are:
13th March at 12.00-15.00
High Street Kensington
14th March at 16.00-19.00
22nd March at 16.00-19.00
Tickets are £35.00. Two sessions are available: 6:15pm – 7:30pm and 8:00pm – 9:15pm
Location: Gaucho Piccadilly, 25 Swallow Street, London, W1B 4QR
As part of Regent’s Street ‘Show in the Dark‘ an evening celebrating international arts and culture, we teamed up with Gaucho to host a craft chocolate and Malbec wine pairing masterclass.
At this tasting, we’ll go under the hood of over a dozen craft chocolate makers and their bars, looking in detail at the intricacies of cacao genetics, harvest, fermentation, vintages, and roasting, and examining how each stage of cacao production can affect the flavour of a bar. These chocolates will also be paired with a number of Gaucho’s best Argentine Malbecs to show you that dark chocolate and red wine really is a marriage made in heaven.
Guests of this Master class can enjoy 25% off food while dining on A La Carte after the event with their booking confirmation. Gaucho advise to make a reservation.
Welcome to our February Collection. We’ve chosen four bars which represent a mix of new and established makers in our Chocolate Library.
NADALINA ECUADOR DARK MILK
Bean Origin: Ecuador Cocoa Content: 55%
First we want to introduce a new maker from Croatia, Nadalina. While we’ve met many bean-to-bar chocolate makers, Nadalina is the first to describe itself as a bean-to-music maker. Founder Marinko Biški was previously the lead singer of a Croatian punk band.
A silky melt reveals notes brownie and cream in this dark milk. The smooth bar blends earth hints of fresh cut grass with higher floral notes. Lightly toasted hazelnuts and almonds come through on the finish.
Whilst we know many people who would describe themselves as “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 Biški, a creative chocolate maker and former lead singer of Split’s first punk band, Fon Biskich & Narodno Blago. Nadalina loves to experiment; it has made a working chocolate record and broken the world record for the largest chocolate square.
INNATO JAEN PERU
Bean Origin: Peru Cocoa Content: 72%
Next is a bar from Peruvian maker Innato. Innato was founded by one of the country’s largest cacao and coffee companies, who wanted to try something different and show the world the best of Peruvian cacao.
The intense dark has a light aroma with suggestive hints of spice and grass. With a marmalade quality, notes of citrus warm the palate before dissolving into a nutty, spicy finish. The unusual texture quickly releases waves of flavour.
Innato worked with a cooperative of farmers from city of Jaén in the region of Catamarea to source the cocoa for this bar. Jaén is in the north west of Peru where the mountainous terrain, warm weather, and frequent rain make for a luscious climate in which fine cacao can be grown. The texture is typical of Peruvian bars; whereas European makers often add cacao butter to create a smooth texture, Peruvian and Latin American makers prefer to keep things simple.
AMARO SAO TOME
Bean Origin: São Tomé Cocoa Content: 70%
Then we travel half way across the world to Italy, where Marco Colzani of Amaro has crafted a dark bar using beans from São Tomé in the Gulf or Guinea.
A sleek and subtle dark bar. A smooth and creamy texture reveals hints of smoke and tobacco with a more indulgent chocolate note mixed in. The thin bar enables a quick and silky melt, coating the mouth with layers of flavour.
Amaro is the brain child of Italian oenologist, coffee roaster and all-round gastronome Marco Colzani. Marco spent his childhood playing in his family’s bakery and pastry shop (or ‘pasticceria’ in Italian) just outside of Milan. After studying agriculture and viticulture he worked as a wine producer for a number of years. His journey to craft chocolate maker brings together the skills, experience and passion of his youth along with his later education and career in wine.
TOSIER ACUL DU NORD
Bean Origin: Haiti Cocoa Content: 70%
Finally we return to Suffolk in the UK, where Deanna Tilston of Tosier crafts her bars. Deanna crafts everything in micro batches – this means that Deanna is able to keep a close eye (and personally taste) every single one.
This dark has a profile that mixes rich cacao with bright fruits and floral perfumes. A touch of honeyed figs comes together with sharp cherries and red currants. Finally sweet high notes of rose sweep through the fruit.
Tosier crafts its chocolate in eight kilogram micro batches, which means that a limited number of bars are produced from each harvest. Producing these micro batches enables founder Deanna to keep a close eye on every step of the chocolate-making process. The cacao beans are sourced from the PISA co-operative in Acul Du Nord, Haiti, via Uncommon Cacao. Working with Uncommon Cacao means Tosier can guarantee the cacao has been transparently and fairly traded.
This collection can be bought as our Box Of The Month gift box for the special price of £24.95 while stocks last, until late March 2019.
Last year we decided to stick our neck out and make a few predictions on what might happen in the world of Craft Chocolate, you can view the original post here. So now it’s the end of January 2019, we’ve decided to review the accuracy of our 2018 predictions – and make some new ones for 2019.
For 2018 we did OK to middling. Maybe a B+? In terms of accuracy we had 2 “sort ofs”, 3 “not really”, and 6 “definitely happening”. But most of the “definitely happenings” were safe no brainers … so this year we are going to be a bit bolder and avoid the “safe” (ie obvious) predictions.
(Note: We defined Craft Chocolate as “the pursuit of the unique tastes conjured from small batches of the best beans”)
Verdict: Sort of. Thank you Prufrock, Curators, Colonna and Smalls, Out of Office and ~50 more speciality coffee stores for your support. But given there are thousands and thousands of speciality coffee shops in the UK and proper drinking chocolate is in less than a few hundred, we’ve a long, long way to go
2. Chocolate boards will become a mainstream rival to cheese boards.
Verdict: Not really. We sold out of our boards. And thank you Andrew Edmunds, 67 Pall Mall and a host of other stores for making “chocolate boards” a reality on your menus. But still lots of opportunity
3. Bloggers and journalists start to do more debunking of crazy chocolate myths and raise awareness of some of chocolate’s “darker” sides.
Verdict: Not really. Some great stuff on deforestation in 2017 … but why, oh why, has nobody debunked the likes of “RAW”, “Ruby Chocolate” and so much else?
4. Speciality beans become even more “special” as farmers and makers experiment with fermentation, drying and bean genetics
Verdict: Definitely happening. Hat Tip to Mikkel Friis Holm, Arnauld Stengel (Erithaj), Chris Brennan (Pump Street Chocolate), Mark Schimmel (Krak) and Nate Hodge (Raaka) for their pioneering work on different fermentations.
5. New bean origins emerge to delight and enthuse.
Verdict: Definitely happening. We’ve been delighted by new beans and bars from Mexico, Costa Rica, Uganda, etc. But this is all somewhat dampened by the relatively low penetration of speciality beans; speciality beans remain a fraction of overall cocoa production – we don’t really have the speciality coffee equivalent of “geisha” and cocoa remains predominantly a commodity crop.
6. New maker regions continue to emerge.
Verdict: Definitely happening. Thailand, Korea, Norway, Estonia and Uzbekistan are a few of the new countries where we met with new makers for the first time in 2018. But as above, craft chocolate remains a tiny fraction of world chocolate – far smaller as a percentage of overall sales and consumption than e.g., coffee, beer or spirits.
All too often the consumer still buys on price – and whereas they’ll pay a premium for speciality coffee, their craft beer or artisanal gin, they don’t realise that spending just one or two pounds, euros or dollars more will lead to a quantum difference in chocolate quality and the lives of the cocoa farmer.
7. Dark Milks become more and more popular
Verdict: Definitely happening. But can someone please tell Cadbury’s that 40% is (or should be) the “norm” or “standard” for a milk chocolate and that Dark Milks need to have over 50% cocoa solids? (Dairy Milk contains less than 20% cocoa and Cadbury’s Dark Milk contains 40%; ICA competitions for Dark Milk specify a minimum of 50% cocoa)
8. Craft White Chocolate also becomes far more accepted
Verdict: Definitely happening. Thank you Olly Murs for your support on Sunday Brunch, and hat tip again to Pump Street, Chocolarder, Akesson, Chocolat Madagascar, Dormouse and many more for craft such great white, craft chocolate bars
9. Sugar continues to be a confusing topic
Verdict: This was an (obvious) cheat — definitely happening. It’s still hard for consumers to make sense of all the “guff” surrounding sugar. Too many consumers still believe that e.g., coconut sugar or lucuma is “better” for them (hint: there is no science to back up these claims). Stevia is still being added to chocolate and ruining what might be great beans and bars. Too many consumers still lump all chocolate into “if it has sugar it must be bad” without realising that most breakfast cereals and many low fat yogurts have way more sugar than most craft chocolate bars gram per gram. Part of the problem is being able to work out how much sugar you are consuming (hint – a 375ml can of coco cola has 12 teaspoons of sugar, a single portion low fat vanilla yogurt has over 5 teaspoons of sugar whilst an average dark chocolate bar (65g at 70%) has less than 4 teaspoons of sugar; and most consumers won’t eat a full bar of dark chocolate at one sitting). So maybe take the initiative and say “x teaspoons of sugar per serving”?
10. Customers start to read the label.
Verdict: Not really. It’s not always obvious — see above for sugar. We’re hoping that some of this will change – for example the average consumer doesn’t understand the difference between “use by” and “best before”. But we also need to make this easier for consumers — we’ve not yet agreed common “best practise” for labelling inside the craft market (e.g., specify not just the country of origin but also the co-operative and/or single estate, etc.)
11. More and more customers will enjoy more and more craft chocolate “experiences”.
Verdict: Sort of – depends on region. A few examples in the US, great stuff by Dandelion in Japan, Fu Wan in Taiwan, Mirzam in Dubai, etc. But e.g., no one in Europe is doing anything like Napa Wineries YET (hint: we are hugely excited by Mike Longman’s plans for Chocolarder in Cornwall .. but still daunted by the many hours by train it will take for us to get there when his new operation opens)
2. The craft chocolate industry starts to develop some co-operative and standard definitions and best practises on labels. This should be a no brainer – but all too often, craft chocolate makes itself hard to identify and distinguish. Let’s at least start by being proud of the farm, estate or co-operative where the beans are grown and put this on the FRONT of the bar. And on the back label let’s say where the bars are crafted. Check out this blog post for more suggestions (and do have fun trying to work out where big chocolate mass produce and make their bars … hint, not all Belgian and Swiss chocolate is actually made there …)
3. Customers start to understand the difference between “use by” and “best before”. Sadly it may well be that we in the UK will take the lead here when the looming disaster of Brexit makes Brits really grateful for craft chocolate that is beyond its “best before” as it may well be the only stuff we can buy. More seriously, this is an extension of helping customers understand labels. For more on “best before” versus “use by” please see our blog from last year. Basically, “use by” means there is an ingredient (e.g., milk, a preservative or stabilisers) which goes off; “best before” means there is nothing that “goes off” but that the quality may (and I stress may) decline after that date (some dark chocolate bars, provided they stay in “temper” age like great red wines).
4. We become more geeky about flavour, mouthfeel and texture. Consumers are invariably blown away by the flavours in craft chocolate – and more often than not, amazed by the role of smell here (both retronasal and orthonasal). Texture is another dimension that intrigues customers, comparing stoneground to different grinds and conches. Next up will be more studies on bitterness and astringency (no they aren’t the same … see an upcoming post for more details), and on the role of “mouthfeel”
5. 100% craft chocolate bars continue to fly off the shelf. We’ve always known that 100% bars are great sellers online (it’s relatively easy to search for them). But we are also increasingly encouraged by customers reaction in store and at shows to tasting 100% bars. To quote from Harmony, who has done dozens of samplings in various stores, “when sampling in stores and events, most people who are interested in 100% have only dealt with mass brands and they are quite blown away when trying small batch 100%s. These people are pretty dedicated chocolate consumers and they are amazed that 100% bars don’t need to be bitter etc., it needn’t just taste like ‘cocoa powder’ or be dry and astringent. People will eat this because they genuinely enjoy it rather than for purely ‘health’ reasons”.
6. Craft Chocolate continues to get better at pairings with other craft / speciality foods and drinks. Again, this as a forecast is patently obvious and self serving – but we really believe that these pairings and tastings deserve more exposure and is really ready to be pushed out more and more. At Canopy Market last year we were fortunate to have experts from beer (Steve Taylor), wine (Charles Metcalfe), Sake (Peter McCombie) and Cheese (Karen Gaudin) to help us match craft chocolate to their speciality wares – and the customer reactions were FANTASTIC (thanks again to all our experts). And thanks to the likes of the SCA (speciality coffee association), Square Mile and Colonna we’ve learnt more and more about the similarities and complementarities between speciality coffee and craft chocolate. And we really hope that these pairings can be pushed further, more often and into new areas (we’re already planning rum and whisky pairings – and more suggestions welcome)
7. Craft Chocolate Tastings become even more popular. So this is a bit of a plug too. Nearly years ago, Lizzie and I started to do monthly Craft Chocolate Tastings at Prufrock Coffee (thank you again Prufrock). We’ve now done these all over the world – inside start ups in Silicon Valley, in Dubai, with wine clubs and speciality stores, with university departments (Oxford, UCL, etc), for corporates (they make great team building opportunities), etc. We’ve fine tuned the format, content and bars so that we are now really proud of our tastings. And we are now expanding them (e.g., see the website for ones we are doing Wholefoods for Valentines, our planned ones with Out of Office in Milton Keynes), etc. Many other people also do Craft Chocolate tastings – Duffy, Kathryn Laverack, Tristram etc. – and we are honoured to be able to support them with bars, content, etc. And we’d more than happy to share the tools and help more people set up their own tastings – or to come to you if you are a corporate, would like some special family do, etc. Or just check out upcoming events here.
8. Asia becomes more and more important. We’ve already seen India emerge as a great source of beans – and craft chocolate aficionado’s are emerging here. Japan now has twice the number of craft chocolate makers than the UK, France and Germany combined. How long before China wakes?
9. We move “beyond the bar” and see new formats of craft chocolate emerge. One of the questions we ask all our makers is why do they (just) make bars – and most are intrigued (or stumped) by this. Bars are an amazing format. Easy to put on a shelf. Easy to transport. And bars have been made and sold for over a 150 years (Fry’s made the first one back in the 1840s). But they aren’t always the easiest format for consumers. Cinemas some time ago worked out that bags of chocolate buttons were easier to share in the dark. For cooking couverture lots of new formats have emerged. And there surely is some room for craft makers to think of different formats for different occasions beyond mini-bars and squares
10. Debunking of myths. So if nobody else is going to cry “BS” at the likes of raw chocolate, we’ll write a blog on this. In the meantime, continued praise to the likes of Andrew Baker, Sharon Terenzi, Hazel Lee, Judith Lewis, Estelle Tracey, Clay Gordon, Dom Ramsey and Simran Sethi for their great pieces..
To paraphrase Original Beans, we wish you a year full of (speciality) beans
Spencer, Simon, Lizzie, Harmony @cocoarunners.com
Coffee and chocolate are the best of friends and a great gift either for your loved one or to share this Valentines.
We’ve teamed up with the team at Square Mile Coffee Roasters to present this delicious pairing of Chocolat Madagascar 70% dark chocolate and our La Piramide coffee from Colombia.
More about the chocolate
This fruity bar is a perfect example of Madagascan dark chocolate. Most of the cocoa grown in Africa is exported once it’s been fermented and dried. Chocolat Madagascar is one of the relatively few companies that both grow cocoa and make chocolate bars in Madagascar. Slight spice up front which gives way to sweet raisin and forest fruits in the finish.
More about the coffee
The La Piramide is from the municipality of Inzá in the Cauca region of Colombia. Sweet toffee features prominently in the cup with cloudy apple notes and an elegant honeysuckle note to it, which we think pairs incredibly well with the fruity, berry chocolate in our opinion.
This gift set is available for just £18 on via the Square Mile Coffee Roasters online store. We recommend buying before midnight on Monday 11th February for delivery to UK addresses in time for Valentine’s Day.
The weather here in London has taken a decidedly frosty turn, and we find ourselves reaching for a warming mug of hot chocolate. And for those of you in the US, our thoughts are with you as you face the “Polar Vortex”.
As part of our mission to continually seek out the finest craft chocolate to eat and drink, we’ve worked with some of London’s top baristas to devise the ideal recipe to turn your favourite single origin bars into the ultimate drinking chocolate.
We believe that the only two ingredients you need to make a truly exceptional drinking chocolate are top quality craft chocolate and hot milk. What’s more, each drink uses just 25-30g of chocolate, so whilst the new year is often a time of year for cutting back, a mug of drinking chocolate is a delicious way to enjoy craft chocolate without breaking all your resolutions.
So without further ado, we present our video guide to creating craft drinking chocolate like the pros – the recipe is easy to follow, but we’ll be the first to admit thatEwelina’s latte art may take a little more time.
We’re also sharing our pick of drinking chocolates and bars that we think make for some amazing craft chocolate drinks.