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  • The Chocolate Bar Interview 027: Sharon Terenzi, The Chocolate Journalist

    The Chocolate Bar Interview 027: Sharon Terenzi, The Chocolate Journalist

    For my latest interview I caught up with Sharon Terenzi, aka The Chocolate Journalist. Over the past decade Sharon has become a well known figure in the craft chocolate industry and a leading voice for the bean-to-bar movement. Through her excellent blog and huge social media following, Sharon promotes high quality and ethical craft chocolate, educates producers and consumers alike, and generally helps to spread the word about fine flavour cacao, small-batch chocolate making and chocolate marketing. As she spends so much time promoting the work of other people, I thought it might be interesting to find out more about Sharon's own chocolate story...

    the chocolate journalist interview sharon terenzi

    What is your background and how did you get into the chocolate industry?

    Marketing was my biggest passion before chocolate entered my life. I have a bachelor’s degree in International Marketing from Italy, did one year program in Marketing in New York, and I’ve always loved reading books on consumers’ psychology, how we choose what to buy and why, and how to market a great product at its best. Chocolate entered my life back in 2012 when I used to work for an Italian importer specialty foods in New York.

    Because of the frustrating office job, I would often find myself wandering in the retail store looking for some comfort food. A big wood table in the middle of the store called on me every time. Laying on top of it were the best Italian chocolate brands at that time: Guido Gobino, Domori, DeBondt and others. Bite after bite, I got curious about the simple ingredients lists, the great flavours, and chocolate in general. I started diving into the companies’ websites, buying chocolate books on Amazon and reading any possible article on chocolate I could find online. Soon I became the chocolate expert of the office, and then decided to start collecting all my findings in my blog, The Chocolate Journalist. This is how the story began.

    What are some of the core aims of the work you do as The Chocolate Journalist?

    On top of the list, I feel the visceral need to make consumers understand the difference between industrial and craft chocolate. Most chocolate consumers don’t realise all the work and care that goes on behind artisan chocolate, often judging the price tags as “ridiculously high” when they don’t know that those prices are the bare minimum to keep craft chocolate makers afloat. By highlighting the big differences between these two industries, I hope to open the eyes of unaware chocolate lovers.

    My second biggest goal is to talk about the latest news, trends and issues in the craft chocolate industry. There are some topics that you only see discussed in big conferences, in private professional events, that nobody cares to talk about publicly, or that would be too difficult or too nerdy to explain. I want to be that bridge that in a simple, digestible and entertaining way passes on some crucial info and news to both professionals and consumers.

    Lastly, I want people to discover the endless variety of origins, flavours, and stories enclosed in every craft chocolate bar, so I like to write compelling tasting reviews for everybody to enjoy.

    the chocolate journalist interview sharon terenzi

    Was there a particular bar that opened your eyes to bean-to-bar/craft chocolate?

    Want to know a fun fact? The first craft bean-to-bar chocolate I ever tasted was from Mast Brothers.

    On the weekends when I was off my job, I used to tour all the chocolate stores in New York, and ended up one day at the Mast Brothers factory in Brooklyn. It was 2013, and their chocolate tasted absolutely terrible, even to an unexperienced palate like mine at that time. Thank God that didn’t stop my search and study of fine chocolate, and soon after I tasted many other brands that gave me the opposite experience. I don’t think there was a specific bar that opened my eyes to craft chocolate, but more so the repetition of amazing flavours, bite after bite, that confirmed the colossal differences with the supermarket chocolate I was used to eating before.

    How do you keep up to date with everything that's happening in the chocolate industry?

    I used to rely a lot on Google News, but now all the mainstream articles are filled with paid ads, biased research, vague info, or written by food writers that clearly don’t know a lot about chocolate. So I now draw my own conclusions by observing and listening to the market.

    Primarily, I use Instagram. By being on the platform all day, I get to see the latest products that companies are releasing, which is a great way to spot trends. Also, the comment section under my posts is always filled with experts willing to share their knowledge on every topic I present, something that I highly appreciate. The second tool is joining any possible online conference or workshop organised by professionals in the industry, for example by the Fine Chocolate Industry Association or the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute, but also yearly events like Chocoa or the Northwest Chocolate Festival, whether they are online or in person. Thirdly, it’s all about hearing directly from chocolate companies: asking questions here and there, reading their Social Media posts, signing up to their newsletters. Lastly, I have good chocolate friends that send me messages and emails every time they hear about some major news. They are truly precious.

    the chocolate journalist interview sharon terenzi

    Many small-scale chocolate makers don't have a lot of time and money for marketing. What are your top three marketing tips for makers in this situation?

    First, I believe that we MAKE the time for what we care about and believe it’s important. So my first suggestion for small-scale chocolate makers that don’t have a lot of time and money is to have a set schedule for their marketing actions. Even if those actions are limited or sporadic, there should be a specific time of the day and day of the week when those actions are performed. For example, create a Social Media calendar. Even if you only post 3 times a week, choose the specific days and times when you are going to post, and stick to them. Another example is the newsletter. Pick a specific day of the week or the month when you are going to sit down at your desk and spend one hour crafting and sending out the newsletter. Things shouldn’t be left to “when I have the time”, but planned out strategically. Your discipline and consistency cost no money, but will be rewarded big time.

    Second, make loyal customers feel special. It doesn’t cost any money to repost the beautiful picture of somebody enjoying your chocolate on Instagram, like it doesn’t cost any money to send them a private message to say thank you for their purchase. These are simple actions that will stick to a customer’s mind for a long time. Also, how about Loyalty Cards? I have yet to see something like Loyalty Cards for craft chocolate. With all the wide range of choices now in craft chocolate, chocoholics that stick to the same brands should feel rewarded for their loyalty. Loyalty Cards allow to accumulate points at every purchase. Once a specific number of points is reached, the rewards can be unique discounts, free chocolate bars at the next purchase, or special treats. These rewards cost peanuts to the company, but will make loyal customers feel appreciated and will also stimulate sales.

    Third, have a great website. In 2021, there is no need to pay a web designer to create an e-commerce that looks stylish, professional and welcoming, especially with platforms like Squarespace, Winx or Shopify. Big colourful images, compelling product descriptions, easy and intuitive navigation, informative pages, are all things that can be achieved at low costs and that don’t need major modifications for a long time. With all the competition in the craft chocolate industry, the bare minimum is to have a great website where consumers enjoy shopping for your chocolate.

    the chocolate journalist interview sharon terenzi

    How has COVID 19 affected your work?

    I feel blessed that 2020 has been my best year yet, and it’s only getting better. With a lot of craft chocolate companies unfortunately closing down their physical locations during 2020, they put all their efforts and resources online (finally understanding the importance of a user-friendly website and a consistent presence on Social Media). So I gained new clients for my Social Media management and consultancy services, and I also got more opportunities for paid content writing from companies that wanted to drive more traffic to their websites with educational blog posts. I also started paid sponsorships on my Social Media accounts for the promotion of chocolate products, events and courses that align with my value and I believe will be useful to my audience.

    For being a solopreneur, I’ve now reached full capacity, to the point where I have to turn down work that I can’t possibly find the time for, and I am incredibly grateful for that.

    Is there a big following for craft chocolate in Italy?

    Despite Italy being the land of fine food, chocolate is still a tough one to be seen as “specialty”. We have Ferrero here that got us all used to cheap, buttery and sugary chocolate products since a tender age. But things are slowly changing here too. 

    There are a lot of craft chocolate makers around now, from North to South. I’d say at least 10-15, spreading the culture of good quality chocolate first in their local areas, and then nationally thanks to distributors that give them space in their assortment all around Italy. There are also more craft chocolate retailers, importing international brands that definitely catch people’s attention thanks to their fancy designs and intriguing flavours. Consumers here are developing a palate for dark chocolate too. You hear less of “dark chocolate is too bitter for me” around, which is a great relief. So the following for craft chocolate is growing in Italy too.

    the chocolate journalist interview sharon terenzi

    Do you have any predictions for upcoming trends in the craft chocolate industry? Any flavours or styles that are becoming popular?

    I see craft chocolate makers drifting away from “pure” assortments made only of single-origin dark chocolate bars. It seems that, after getting skilled with cocoa origins, craft chocolate makers are now having fun experimenting with intriguing, mouth-watering and exciting inclusions. From instagrammable green, yellow and blue chocolate to the addition of unexpected salty ingredients, craft chocolate lovers can now enjoy a larger variety of flavours that they could only dream of 2 years ago. Fine cocoa is often not the main protagonist, but the great base for delicious inclusions. Honestly, I am happy about this trend, as these fun and delicious creations get new customers closer to craft chocolate than 80% dark chocolate bars ever could.

    Other trends worth mentioning: collaborations between local businesses where the chocolate maker and the coffee roaster, the whisky distiller or the tea curator come together to create a limited-edition chocolate bar that highlight the best of both worlds; chocolate bar sizes that differ from the traditionally rectangular chocolate bar, taking on other shapes that catch the eyes of consumers (like square bars); monthly subscription boxes with chocolate bars not available to all customers, but crafted exclusively for the subscription members.

    This is a tricky one, but could you tell us a few of your all-time favourite chocolate bars? 

    Nothing tricky about that! Some of my all-time favourite origin bars: 70% Piura by Cacaosuyo for an explosion of fruitiness; 70% Uganda by Solstice Chocolate for a complex journey of flavours; 75% Ghana by Francois Pralus for a chocolatey heaven. Some of my all-time favourite inclusion bars: Black Fig by Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate; 68% India with Nibs by Fjak Sjokolade; Gianduia by Hogarth Chocolate; Green Tea Crunch by Raaka Chocolate; Cardamom by Roszavolgyi Csokolade; Filter Kaapi Coffee by Soklet.

    dick taylor black fig dark chocolate

    What is your favourite thing about working with chocolate?

    That craft chocolate is never only about the finished product. In every bite, there is the effort of hundreds of people, there are thousands of miles traveled, there are at least 2 or 3 different cultures involved, there is a long journey of transformation from the seed to the chocolate, and a lot of incredible stories to share in between. As I witnessed in the past 7 years, one bite of craft chocolate can create hours-long conversations between people that never even met before, whereas with supermarket chocolate there isn’t much to talk about. I guess “complexity” is my favourite thing about working with chocolate. You can approach it from so many different points of view that you never run out of things that can fascinate and surprise you.

    the chocolate journalist interview sharon terenzi

    Thanks so much to Sharon for taking the time for this interview. If you haven't already, be sure to check out The Chocolate Journalist blog and give her a follow on Instagram and Facebook

    *All images supplied by Sharon Terenzi.*

  • A Guide to Tasting Chocolate

    A Guide to Tasting Chocolate

    This article was originally published by Good.

    It’s a very exciting time in the world of chocolate and the craft chocolate movement has opened people’s eyes to the vast possibilities held within the simple cacao bean. What most of us grew up eating was not real chocolate - it was confectionery. And chocolate doesn’t actually just taste like chocolate, it can taste like different fruits, nuts, flowers, grains, spices, herbs and more - all of these flavours just coming from the cacao. What a revelation!

    Tasting chocolate is just like tasting fine wine, craft beer or artisan cheese. There are many different factors that affect the flavour of the beans, including the terroir (topography, soil conditions, climate, etc), the varietal of cacao, the fermentation methods, and the process of the chocolate maker (roasting, grinding, conching, etc). Listen to the story each bar has to tell and - most importantly - have fun.

    a guide to tasting chocolate new zealand

    How to taste...

    This might sound strange but there are different techniques for tasting chocolate. If you chew and swallow quickly then you probably won’t get the full experience. Good quality chocolate has several layers and stages of flavour, so you need to take your time and consider each mouthful an adventure, complete with a beginning, middle and end (we call this the ‘flavour journey’).

    A clean palate is essential if you want to do justice to the chocolate - if you can still taste the last thing you ate, try eating a slice of apple or cucumber and have a sip of sparkling water. Also, make sure the chocolate is at room temperature - cold chocolate will not release its flavours properly.

    When we taste new chocolate we are judging it on four main criteria: appearance, aroma, taste and texture. Here are a few pointers of what to look for in each area...

    a guide to tasting chocolate new zealand

    Appearance

    Start by examining the physical nature of the bar - does it have a perfectly smooth surface with consistent colour and texture? Does it have a nice shine? Does it make a nice clean ‘snap’ sound when you break it, rather than a dull thud? All of these things are signs of a good ‘temper’, and the marks of a master craftsman. 

    Aroma

    Be sure to have a good whiff of your chocolate before you taste it. What does it smell like? Do you notice any individual scents or is there a complex mixture? Does the smell evoke any memories? Examining like this helps to prepare your mouth for the tasting.

    Your tastebuds tell you whether things are salty, sweet, sour, bitter or savoury (umami). The rest of what we call flavour (fruity, floral, nutty, etc) is actually the aroma. Our brain combines taste and aroma to create the overall flavour experience.

    Texture

    As we all know, texture is a vital part of our chocolate pleasure. Is the bar smooth and creamy or is their a roughness? Is it mouthwatering or does it leave your mouth dry? Does it melt slowly or quickly? In the highest quality chocolate, we look for a really smooth texture with a slow melt, which allows the flavours to develop over time. Cheap chocolate usually melts very quickly, and offers a basic monotone flavour.

    Taste

    Now it’s time for the main event - how does the chocolate taste? Chew it a few times to get the juices flowing, then move the chocolate slowly around your mouth and let it melt over time. What do you taste at the beginning? Does it change over time? Is there a pleasant aftertaste?

     

    a guide to tasting chocolate new zealand

     

    You can use this flavour map to help you find flavours as you’re tasting, as well as searching your flavour memories. When you’re new to this sort of chocolate tasting, it can be tricky to pick out individual flavour notes, and you might feel like everything just tastes like chocolate. It’s a good idea to start with two single origin 70% bars that only contain cacao and sugar, but offer really different flavour notes. You might like to try comparing the Foundry Chocolate India 70% with their Vanuatu 70% - you won’t believe these bars are made with exactly the same ingredients! The difference in flavour is almost entirely due to the origin of the cacao.

    Over time you’ll build up experiences of trying different chocolates and finding different flavour notes. The more you have to compare, the easier it becomes to discover and understand new flavours, along with developing the vocabulary to describe things. It won’t happen overnight but it’s a fun journey to embark on.

    If you’d like to learn more about tasting chocolate, you might like to check out our Chocolate Tasting Course.

    a guide to tasting chocolate new zealand

  • The Chocolate Bar Interview 026: Clayton McErlane, Baron Hasselhoff's

    The Chocolate Bar Interview 026: Clayton McErlane, Baron Hasselhoff's

    For my latest interview I had a chat with my good friend Clayton McErlane, Chief Chocolate Disciple at Baron Hasselhoff's. We're featuring two of Clayton's chocolate bars in our March subscription boxes so I thought it would be a good idea to find out what's been happening behind the scenes...

  • The Chocolate Bar Interview 025: Johnty Tatham, Lucid Chocolatier

    The Chocolate Bar Interview 025: Johnty Tatham, Lucid Chocolatier
    For my latest interview I caught up with Johnty Tatham, aka Lucid Chocolatier. Based in rural Wairarapa, Wellington, Johnty launched his business in December 2020, offering a stunning range of single origin bars made with the highest quality Peruvian beans available. Despite only being 23 years old, Johnty is making some of the best chocolate in New Zealand. I thought it would be a good idea to have a chat with him and learn more about what's been happening behind the scenes...
    johnty tatham lucid chocolatier
    What is your background and what led you to the world of chocolate?
    Arriving at the world of chocolate for me, is the current point of progression in a lifelong journey of following of passion. I have always been someone who will put their absolute all into something they believe in, and will most likely flunk out or ignore something they don’t.
    After being instilled with an art and design mindset for many years, I became immersed in the culinary world and haven’t looked back since. My original desire was to become a fine dining pastry chef, however as I got closer to this goal I felt like my curiosity was honing in on chocolate. After entering an open chocolate petit four competition and learning to properly temper chocolate I was hooked. The calibre of creativity that extended from this one product was astounding, and I wasn’t surprised to find that in France there were people whom had dedicated their entire lives to understanding and working with it. I am very inspired by the French chocolatiers, as they exude real passion and discipline in their craft. Starting work for Nico Bonnaud at Honest Chocolat was the beginning of my entrance to the world of chocolate, and the opportunities I received there are a core part of who I am today.
    johnty tatham lucid chocolatier
    What made you decide to start making chocolate from the bean?
    It has been a fair few years now that I have been aware of bean to bar chocolate making. I always wanted to do it, but it never seemed possible until moving back to our family farm pre-Covid. The thought of making my own chocolate to use in bonbons and confectionery was dreamlike, however I was torn between starting a business as a chocolatier, or a chocolate maker. 
    There are big pros and cons to each, and the reality is that I knew I wanted to do both eventually so that I could have full control over both processes. 
    A major contributing factor, if not the contributing factor was calling David from Foundry Chocolate to ask about what his life was like as a chocolate maker. He was extremely accommodating to my request to speak with him, and solidified a lot of what I imagined the lifestyle to be like. I remember after going through my series of questions and hanging up the phone I thought to myself, well that settles that, and I went home and started writing the business plan.
    After making my first batch of bean to bar, properly ageing it, tempering it and tasting it, I knew this was what I wanted to do, and haven’t felt an ounce of doubt since.

    Why did you choose the name Lucid Chocolatier?

     

    I am viewing this as a two part question - first, why Lucid? Secondly, why Chocolatier as opposed to maker or chocolate etc?

     

    I had been toying with names for a long time, always wondering if I owned a restaurant, or patisserie, what it would be called. Sometimes names come to you out of the blue and I always felt inclined to write them down. Subsequently I had a list of names I was toying with, notable mentions being ‘Silva Chocolatier,’ and ‘Tranquil Cacao.’

     

    I can’t remember the exact moment I landed on the word Lucid, all I know is that I did. After doing some research I discovered that it was derived from the Latin word, lucidus, meaning shining. Lucid has been used since the 16th century as a way to convey clarity and luminosity, both of which I was hoping to convey in the business. For me the word in itself is interesting, unique, and I loved it more when I looked into it, so the choice here was easy.

     

    Choosing to use the word ‘Chocolatier,’ as opposed to ‘Chocolate,’ or ‘Chocolate Maker,’ etc really comes down to the vision and drive for the scope of the business. Again it was a decision that was inspired by the chocolatiers in France, whom have full control of the process from bean selection through to an array of chocolate products. Also thanks to Luke for the original suggestion!

    johnty tatham lucid chocolatier
    How has your work as a chocolatier affected the way you make chocolate?
    This is a juicy question. First I think it’s important to briefly break down how the two professions differ, in terms of what type of chocolate they require and why...
    Chocolatiers who are buying in good quality chocolate to begin with can expect good flavour, and a chocolate that is nice and fluid. Either through additional cocoa butter or some kind of lecithin. Fluidity is paramount for the chocolatier, as often the flavour of the chocolate being used isn’t the star of the show, however workability is. A classic example of this is a bonbon. We want the shell of the bonbon to be as thin as possible so that when we eat it, the shell cracks and the inside flavour bursts out onto the palate as the chocolate melts away nicely on the finish. If we were using thick, two ingredient bean to bar chocolate for this, we simply wouldn’t be able to achieve a technically exemplary bonbon. However if we use a chocolatier-specific chocolate, we are able to achieve extremely thin shells, and the beautifully formulated filling will shine through, reflecting the skill of the chocolatier.
    Chocolate makers on the other hand, particularly two ingredient [cacao and sugar] makers, generally won’t prioritise the additional fluidity and melt in the mouth components of additional cocoa butter or lecithin, instead opting for potency, viscosity and originality of flavour. This is great for eating chocolate, as we are able to capture the true flavour of origin without offsetting it with cocoa butter. However, if we want to then take this chocolate and make a bonbon or a hand-dipped caramel with it, I can see many chocolatiers, including myself, pulling their hair out at the thought of it.
    Moving forward I intend to bring my chocolatier skills into play utilising bean-to-bar, and I will be creating chocolates specifically for each intended purpose. The three ‘Purist’ bars I have created for Lucid’s launch are designed to reflect the three different types of chocolate I see being used across the industry. The 67% is almost a two ingredient bar, exuding all of the expected characteristics of such. The 72% is a small percentage cocoa butter chocolate which can go either way, it is just fluid and workable enough for a chocolatier, but still potent enough for a two-ingredient maker to marvel at. Thirdly, the 78% is a high fluidity bar, designed to be a chocolatier’s dream. It has an extremely smooth flavour profile, not too sweet, and melts in the mouth like a bar of Zotter.
    What have been some of the biggest challenges in setting up a business from scratch?
    The biggest challenge has been juggling the many hats that need to be worn as a sole trader, along with the insane amount of learning that has needed to be done to get to this point. Originally I didn’t respect the amount of effort and determination required to go from scratch and this saw me nearly not being ready to get off the ground last year.
    On top of the learning and juggling, the aspect I have found most difficult has been to simply looking after myself. It is very easy to wear yourself out, become antisocial, and prioritise the business at all costs. I barely saw my friends or felt able to leave home for the majority of last year, and I hope that as I move forward into 2021 I learn to better manage my time and maintain a more balanced lifestyle, whilst pushing forward with my goals for Lucid. 
    johnty tatham lucid chocolatier
    Why did you decide to exclusively use cacao from Peru?
    I am not someone who likes to have their fingers in many different pies. In fact, I would say I prefer to have a whole hand in a single pie.
    As a child, one of my favourite things to eat was spaghetti Bolognese. Everywhere I went I would request spaghetti bolognese, whether it be at a restaurant, at home, or a family friend’s house. After some time, I developed a very in-depth understanding of the dish. I began to notice very subtle differences in the way the pasta was cooked, the mince-to-sauce ratio, and the balance of cheese on top. It was almost obsessive, to the point where I was critiquing every meal of it I had, and I loved the in-depth comparison, always existing within the frame of ‘spaghetti bolognese.’
    I view my approach to making chocolate using beans exclusively from Peru much the same. Although there are many great origins (other dishes) out there, I know what I like, and I would rather explore all of the different origins I can, coming from within Peru, than chase beans down from other parts of the world.
    I analysed nearly thirty samples from different parts of the world before making the choice I did. Some of them were outstanding, but three out of the top five were from Peru, and it was a simple choice for me. Believe it or not, I think this opens more doors than it closes, and I am absolutely loving learning about Peru and South America in general. I really hope that one day I am able to travel there to visit the places where my beans come from, and I look forward to learning and offering more from there in the future.
    How do you source new cacao origins and how do you test the beans?
    Sourcing is an interesting one. I think there are a few really solid options for makers starting out, such as Meridian Cacao and Uncommon Cacao. Trade Aid is also a great option for within New Zealand. I think opting for suppliers outside of this bracket opens up a whole new world in terms of rarity but it also comes with risks. I have heard horror stories from other makers around the world, talking about receiving top tier sample packs then having a tonne of commodity trade cacao turn up, which would really sting. Thankfully my partners in Peru have looked after me so far and I am excited to continue working with them.
    Regarding testing the beans, I don’t have a bean cutter so my analysis is pretty much on a case-by-case basis. I take notes on the aroma, the overall look and distribution of size of the beans, and the list goes on... I then theorise a roast profile based on my analysis and go from there. All samples I have received to date have been made into chocolate, and this is the single most important part for me. You might think you know what the chocolate will turn out like, but you never really know until you take it through the entire production process.
    Some beans appear to have been poorly fermented and according to industry standards aren’t ‘good beans’, but they turn into beautiful chocolate. Some appear to be very lacking in flavour but after ageing they develop potent and distinctive profiles you didn’t think would come through.
    Before I had ever analysed an origin, I read countless articles and forum posts about it and I didn’t know what information to take in and what to reject. I have notes from all over the show on this subject, and truthfully I don’t think there is one single way to analyse the beans, other than on a case-by-case basis. I know that for me, being here at the start of my journey, there is still a lot I don’t know, and as the years progress and my knowledge base expands, perhaps I will have a clearer answer on this in the future. For now though, I am happy as I am until some clearer patterns emerge.
    johnty tatham lucid chocolatier
    We’re featuring your Caramel Tonka milk chocolate in our February subscription boxes. What attracted you to tonka beans?
    I picked up my first jar of tonka beans about two years ago at a specialty supermarket, when I was looking for some vanilla pods. I was interested because it was completely new to me, and it was described as being a nutmeg-like substitute for vanilla from South America. After taking it home I lifted off the lid and whiffed in an extremely potent and completely new smell. I had absolutely no idea what to do with it! Until I met my now great friend Thomas, a chocolatier from France. He was with me when I made my first batch of chocolate and, looking for some inspiration, he pulled the jar of tonka out of my pantry. He told me about how it was really taking off in France, and couldn’t believe it was in my pantry in New Zealand! Later on, when I tasted my caramel milk chocolate, I finally felt like the tonka was calling, and the rest is history. It is currently my top selling bar, and although its formulation may be tweaked in future, the flavour combination is certainly here to stay.
    What are some of your favourite chocolate bars that you’ve recently tasted (other than your own)?
    This year I have tried an absurd amount of chocolate, especially craft chocolate. For strictly market research purposes of course.
    I think there is a lot of outstanding chocolate being made all across the world. New Zealand-wise, I always have and always will be inspired by David from Foundry Chocolate. I don’t think you can go wrong with picking up something of his. Standout origins of his for me are the Tanzania, Vanuatu and India.
    Two others that come to mind are the Manoa 70% banana bar. I don’t know what I expected, but that bar was really something! Also the Golden Berry bar by Chocolate Naive will forever remain a favourite!
    johnty tatham lucid chocolatier
    What are your hopes and plans for the first few years of Lucid Chocolatier?
    Right now the priority is very straight forward: expand and perfect the bean-to-bar range. In terms of product development, nothing else matters other than achieving that, and I don’t really want to move forward creating other things until I am confident that this has been achieved. I would love to talk about ambitions to expand into chocolatier operations, but realistically I think putting one foot in front of the other and continually testing and investing focus into the bean-to-bar operation is what I need to do right now. I am hopeful that by this time next year, I will be running a confident and exemplary operation and will be ready to look at expanding.
    When it comes to the end goal, think Patrick Roger.
    What’s your favourite thing about being a chocolate maker?
    I think the aspect I enjoy most about making chocolate comes down to my desire to want to live a tranquil life. Working with chocolate allows me to breath and not worry about a lot of things. Living in the city, I found that everything moves very fast, and coming from an isolated rural upbringing, I struggled to see myself living a normal life there. You cannot rush chocolate, but instead you must work around it, and for that reason I find it somewhat grounding and stress-relieving. 
    In many ways I think I am yet to discover exactly what it is within chocolate that attracts me so much. I would really love to be able to invest some time into developing showpiece building skills. But for now I am happy making bean-to-bar and constantly testing and tweaking. It is hard to have a bad day being surrounded by cacao, especially when your respect the journey it has taken to get here.
    johnty tatham lucid chocolatier
    Thanks so much to Johnty for taking the time for this interview. Thanks also to Hayden Warren for taking the photos of Johnty. Be sure to check out the Lucid Chocolatier bars in our online store.
     
  • What Is Craft Chocolate?

    What Is Craft Chocolate?

    What is Craft Chocolate?

    There are a few different terms we use to describe the kind of chocolate we sell at The Chocolate Bar, but most commonly we use ‘craft chocolate’. If you’re a customer of ours and have been following what we do for a while, you’ve probably got a reasonably clear idea of what we mean when we use this term. But if you haven’t got a clue what craft chocolate means then don’t worry, you’re not the only one. Even within the industry, many chocolate professionals still debate what this term means, and there are no specific guidelines or rules around its use. Here are my thoughts on the matter...

    craft chocolate bean to bar nz

    Craft chocolate will never be a black and white term because the chocolate industry - and life in general - is too complex and nuanced to put everything into clearly defined boxes. What the term can do, when used with authenticity, is give a reasonably clear indication of the chocolate’s ingredients, the production technique, the ethics and the intentions of the chocolate maker. Here’s a rough guide to what is commonly meant by craft chocolate...

    1. USUALLY craft chocolate has been made from scratch - from bean to bar. This is the case for about 99% of the chocolate we stock. An example of an exception would be Akesson’s, who grow their own cacao but outsource the chocolate making to legendary French chocolate maker Francois Pralus.

    2. USUALLY craft chocolate aims to highlight the flavour of the cacao. Whereas mainstream industrial chocolate tends to mask the flavour of cacao with lots of added ingredients and heavy processing, craft chocolate makers aim to help cacao live its best life. They make cacao the star of the show and their whole process revolves around extracting the most delicious flavours the beans have to offer. Having said that, we definitely sell some amazing bars with added flavours where the flavour notes of the beans have taken a backseat. Even with these types of bars, there are always high quality beans at the base of what we sell.

    bean to bar chocolate cacao new zealand

    3. USUALLY craft chocolate is made in relatively small batches. Just like craft beer, the term suggests making chocolate on a small scale with more human interaction and control than mass-produced chocolate. We work with a lot of very small-scale producers who are processing less than ten tonnes of cacao beans per year. At the higher end of the craft scale would be a company like Dandelion Chocolate in San Francisco, which processes around 120 tonnes of cacao per year, and that’s still very small compared to a company like Whittaker’s, which processes thousands of tonnes of cacao per year, or Cadbury, which is processing hundreds of thousands of tonnes per year. The largest chocolate company we currently work with is Zotter, which processes around 250 tonnes of cacao per year. Would we still call that craft? Well, we probably wouldn’t, but many would, and it’s definitely a lot closer to craft-scale than Whittaker’s or Cadbury.

    4. USUALLY craft chocolate is made with fine flavour cacao, which accounts for around 5% of the world’s production (the other 95% being commodity or ‘bulk’ cacao). All of the bars we stock are made with high quality cacao, and that quality comes from both the genetics and the post-harvest processing. However, it is absolutely possible to make high quality, great tasting chocolate with ‘lower quality’ cacao, such as CCN51, which has been genetically engineered to favour disease resistance and yield over flavour. If you took some bog-standard CCN51 and meticulously fermented and dried it, then asked a master craft chocolate maker to turn it into chocolate, you would almost certainly end up with a great chocolate bar (though without many of the benefits of using fine flavour/heirloom cacao, which is a whole other topic).

    5. USUALLY craft chocolate makers are paying between two and four times the commodity price (aka futures index) for cacao. As I’ve mentioned many times before, this increased price is based on quality, and aims to create a sustainable business model that benefits both the farmers and the chocolate makers. Currently the futures index price for cacao is around $3.20 (NZD) per kg, and the makers we work with are usually paying between $6 and $12 per kg.

    6. USUALLY craft chocolate makers are very open about their business model and practices. Mainstream industrial chocolate is shrouded in smoke and mirrors that hide the truth behind the ethics and quality of the chocolate being produced. As an antidote to this, the craft chocolate industry has made openness a core part of its values, and most makers will be happy to show you exactly how their chocolate is made, where the ingredients come from, how much the farmers are paid and who is involved at every step of the process. There is nothing to hide and they are working to rebuild people’s trust in chocolate.

    bean to bar craft chocolate nz

    So there you have a collection of USUALLYs that give you an idea of what we mean when we say ‘craft chocolate’. There is one other thing that unites all of the chocolate we sell - something that is ALWAYS - and that is high quality. Everything we stock at The Chocolate Bar is of the highest quality possible. In my opinion, it’s the only black and white element of the term craft chocolate, and yet the concept itself is so difficult to define. Every company claims their chocolate is the highest quality, and every person has their own interpretation of quality, based on what they’ve been exposed to. Every time we taste something that surpasses our previous experience of ‘the best’, our personal goalpost of deliciousness is moved. I remember when I was about ten years old and Stella Artois suddenly became a big thing in England, and people thought you were really posh if you bought it. That is laughable now, as I sit in this craft beer utopia that is Wellington, New Zealand. 

    I am confident that I’ve tasted a lot of the highest quality chocolate in the world, but I’m always open to the possibility that something even more mind-blowing could enter my life. I think that’s actually one of the driving forces that leads me to constantly discover new chocolate makers and taste new bars. This perpetual chocolate assessment keeps me on my toes and enables me to ensure our customers are always accessing the best chocolate in the world.

    chocolate tasting new zealand

    How do I assess quality? Well, that’s a really complex question that needs its own blog piece, but just to give a brief summary, I look for the following things in bars we stock...

    1. Depth of flavour and a flavour journey that develops over time, as the chocolate melts. There should be nuance and intricacies that wow your taste buds - something you can keep coming back to, like a great painting.

    2. Slow melt. I’m looking for a beautiful smooth mouthfeel with no roughness, but it shouldn’t melt too quickly. The slow melt and the flavour journey go hand-in-hand.

    3. Exceptional craftsmanship. I want to see a perfectly crafted bar with a great temper, shiny surface and smooth, consistent finish. 

    4. Beautiful packaging. Presentation matters and is part of the whole chocolate experience. When you’re paying over $10 for a bar of chocolate it should be an event, not just a sweet treat that’s over in a flash.

    5. A brand and story that I can truly connect with. Again this is part of the high quality experience - I want to feel an emotional connection to the project and the people behind it. It should make a lasting impression.

    beau cacao craft chocolate

    Ok, so there you have it. I tried to write a brief explanation of the term craft chocolate but it turned into thirteen hundred words. It’s a complex topic that needs an involved discussion, and I hope this piece can help you get a feel for what it’s all about. If you ever want more information about the chocolate that we stock, please feel free to get in touch.

    Thanks,

    Luke

  • The Chocolate Bar Interview 024: Trevor Smith, Metiisto Chocolate

    The Chocolate Bar Interview 024: Trevor Smith, Metiisto Chocolate

    For my latest interview I caught up with Trevor Smith from Metiisto Chocolate in Toowoomba, Queensland. Trevor founded Metiisto in Sweden in 2012 with his wife Magdalena, before they relocated the business to Australia in 2018. Metiisto has won many Australian and international chocolate awards, and in my opinion they make the best Solomon Islands bar in the world. Their new Gaura 70% bar is featured in our January subscription boxes, so I thought this would be a good time to catch up with Trev and learn more about what's happening behind the scenes...

    metiisto artisan chocolate

    What was your background before chocolate and why did you decide to become a chocolate maker?

    I grew up in Alice Spring, a very isolated part of the world. My family owned a mechanical workshop and my Dad built off-road race cars from scratch. I think this helped me to understand that if you don't have a lot of money and want to do something, you need to learn how to build it. I dropped out of year 11 at school and did a panel beating trade. While I never liked the job, it helped me keep in work when I moved to Sweden in 2004. In 2011 I quit my job after our daughter was born - I wanted to build something of my own. Chocolate and patisserie had become an obsession at the time so I opened a little patisserie/cafe In Falun. Needless to say, it was a failure, but Whilst visiting my coffee supplier in Stockholm for an event I met Alan Mclure of Patric Chocolate. He had just started making chocolate a year before and it blew me away.

    This inspired me to start Metiisto in 2012, with no money, no machines, and no idea what I was doing. I spent my nights studying old books and science journals to learn. We started with Akesson’s Madagascar and Brazil beans because he was one of the only guys that would sell small bags of cocoa to people like me. It's amazing to see how far that has all come today.

    When I closed Metiisto in 2016 I was not going to do this anymore. I did not like the idea of starting from scratch again on the other side of the world. But, here we are.

    What are some of the benefits of making chocolate from scratch on a small scale?

    Like with everything you have pros and cons. About the only real advantage I can think of is that we can work with smaller farmers and nano lots. We are trying to aim for a happy medium between being small and big, but the goal is to make the biggest batches possible while still dealing with individual farms.

    The benefit of doing bigger batches is control. When working with a larger batch we do more roasts allowing for less variation. Also for us, when it comes to conching we want a larger thermal mass to work with. Heat, friction and energy are all very important in conching and a larger mass helps us with all of that.

    In 2018 you relocated from Sweden to Australia. How does the craft chocolate scene compare between the two countries?

    When I started in Sweden in 2012 we were the only craft chocolate maker in the country. It was very hard yards and I just could not get locals to take notice. Swedes are very brand and trend-conscious, and unfortunately for Metiisto, it was neither trendy nor an established brand, so most of my business was exports. Nearly ten years later I can only think of about five Swedish makers.

    When we turned up in Australia there were already something like thirty craft chocolate makers, so I was very unsure if we could even be seen or heard. The local community has really gotten behind us and we have a very loyal customer base.

    It's certainly much much easier to get hold of cocoa in Europe. It is the reason you see European makers with exciting new origins all the time - the brokers in Europe have everything. So with one phone call, you can have ten different origins delivered to your door within the week. In Australia and New Zealand, you have to import the cocoa yourself.

    It is hard to put a finger on what is different, I think Australians are just more supportive of people they think are doing a good thing.

    In my opinion you’re making some of the highest quality chocolate in the world. How do you convey this high level of quality to potential customers, and is there anything in particular that helps people understand it?

    Thank you. It's an ongoing battle, and something we are still learning as we go along. Information should not be underestimated and is part of the reason why we are opening a retail shop. The more transparent we can be and the more information we can give to the consumer, the better educated they are as a consumer.

    The remelting* scene is huge in Australia and it's often very hard to let people know what we do vs what they do without sounding like we are having a go at people.

    *Chocolatiers who remelt pre-made couverture, rather than making chocolate from the bean.

    metiisto artisan chocolate

    Is it challenging to make chocolate in a hot country? How does this affect the way you work?

    The humidity can be a challenge, but apart from that, it's not too bad. In Europe, the heat was always a problem because most retailers either don't have or don't use air conditioning. Australia is pretty well set up for the heat. We also work inside of a fully insulated and climate controlled room that helps to keep temperature and humidity problems at bay.

    Since you relaunched you’ve exclusively used Solomon Islands cacao, and you’ve just introduced some Indonesian beans. Do you plan to always use cacao that grows close to Australia?

    I don't know. As I mentioned earlier, when we had the business in Sweden we could get whatever cocoa we wanted very easily. We have had to focus partly due to money and also the decision to simply do our own thing. We thought the Solomon islands cocoa had potential but up until that point it was not being taken seriously. We had - and still have - many retailers out there in the world that simply won't buy the Solomons chocolate because it's not what people want to buy. The cocoa and craft chocolate industry seems to be heading down the same path we have seen in coffee and beer, where the name of the origin or the myth/hype surrounding it is more important than whether the chocolate bar is good or not. This alone has made us decide that we want to work with origins that are not popular, for no other reason than that they are not trendy. The new Indonesian Origins are fantastic and they tick all the boxes when it comes to transparency and ethics.

    I don't know what we will do in the future but I am certain we will be sourcing more cocoa for Asia.

    We’re featuring your new Gaura 70% bar in our January subscription boxes. How did you source those beans and why did you decide to use them?

    Way back in 2012 I got samples of Indonesian cocoa and was not impressed at all - the Java cocoa that is out there has a reputation for sure. This has put Indonesian cocoa in the same boat as Pacific cocoa. The assumption is that these regions only produce sub-par, smokey cocoa but the idea of using Indonesian cocoa has always been in the back of my mind.

    I was contacted by Biji Kako well over a year ago about using Indonesian cocoa. At the time we simply could not afford to import large quantities on our own. After many, many talks we made the decision to work with them. Samples were sent out and we picked two origins to work with. We are always trying to find cocoa that fits our style while offering something different. Our aim is to work more and more closely with these Indonesian farms in the future.

    metiisto artisan chocolate

    Last time we talked you were putting the final touches to a beautiful new longitudinal conche. How will this affect your chocolate making process?

    Control. The reason we make or modify any machine is about more control. For us, it's about trying to isolate every stage of production to get better control over each part of the process. We wanted better aeration during conching and could have chosen a few different options, but we settled on the tried and tested longitudinal design. I designed and built it late last year and it's up and running perfectly.

    What are some of your favourite chocolate bars that you’ve recently tasted (other than your own)?

    This is a tough one. I honestly don't eat much chocolate these days outside of trying our bars during production. But here are a few makers and bars that have impressed me over the years...

    Patric Chocolate. Everything Alan does is perfect. His Madagascar 67% blew my mind back in 2011 and really set the bar high, and the way he approaches inclusions has had a big influence on Metiisto.

    Dick Taylor. Love these guys. For me the first makers to hit the nail on the head when it comes to style, science, image and great chocolate. The Madagascar Milk they released recently reminds me so much of the 56% Madagascar dark-milk we used to make.

    Hogarth Gianduia. I have no problem admitting that this bar was the inspiration for our Gianduja. It's damn good.

    Friis-Holm. I like the way he approaches chocolate with a ‘no bullshit' attitude. He has always done his own thing and makes very good chocolate. His dark-milks really blew me away when they came out and helped us in the development of our own milk chocolates.  

    Fruition. Really nice people and bloody good chocolate.

    What’s your favourite thing about being a chocolate maker?

    Putting a smile on people's faces. Making chocolate is a very tough job. We spend many, many hours in the factory making chocolate and it can sometimes all get a bit much. It's really nice to get out to meet our customers. It just makes all the hard work feel worth it. I'm amazed how far we have not only come in nine years of chocolate making but in the two and a half years of being in Australia. At the same time, I feel there is still so much more to do and so much work that needs to be done. I’m definitely happy to be part of something that is at least trying to make the world a better place.

    Thank you so much to Trev for taking the time for this interview. If you haven't already tasted Metiisto Chocolate, a world of joy awaits you!