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  • 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! 

  • Diversity in Chocolate

    Diversity in Chocolate
    The lack of diversity in the chocolate industry can be quite astonishing. A huge amount of the world’s chocolate is made by just a handful of multinational companies, all using the same types of cacao from the same areas - mostly West Africa and Indonesia - to create chocolate with a standard ‘chocolatey’ flavour. Most small-to-medium sized chocolate companies are chocolatiers who buy pre-made chocolate from these bigger companies - the most common of which is Barry Callebaut in New Zealand. These chocolatiers can do all sorts of unique and creative things with the chocolate, but the chocolate itself is the same as what thousands of other companies are using.
    Imagine if the wine industry was like this. Imagine if most of the wine you saw on the shelf was made by the same company, just with different added flavours and different branding, and all offering the same kind of ‘wine’ flavour notes. And what if almost all the wine was just made with Sauvignon grapes, rather than the huge array or grape varietals that we have access to today. It would be a crying shame! And yet this is exactly how the chocolate industry is, and we’ve all grown up thinking that this is a normal situation.
    Bean-to-bar craft chocolate makers are bringing diversity to chocolate and offering us a whole new world of experiences. It’s currently a small segment of the chocolate industry but within it you’ll find a vast array of options that you’ve never seen before. Different flavour notes in the chocolate, specialist varietals of cacao, unique small-batch chocolate making techniques, different farming and fermentation methods - it’s all the exciting diversity that we’re used to with wine or beer or cheese, but in chocolate it’s a relatively new thing. This is one of the main reasons for the work we do at The Chocolate Bar, and why we choose to only stock bean-to-bar craft chocolate. If you haven’t yet experienced this kind of chocolate, you’ve got some very exciting and delicious discoveries in front of you!
    craft bean-to-bar chocolate
  • The Chocolate Bar Interview 023: Luisa Abram

    The Chocolate Bar Interview 023: Luisa Abram

    For my latest interview I caught up with Luisa Abram, whose beautiful chocolate is featured in this month's subscription boxes. Luisa is based in São Paulo, Brazil, and she set up her family-run business in 2015. Throughout her study of gastronomy at the Anhembi Morumbi University, Luisa made regular trips to the Amazon Rainforest, during which time she developed a fascination with wild, heirloom cacao. All of Luisa’s chocolate is made with cacao found growing in the wild along the Amazon river plate, and she works with a variety of riverside communities to help discover, gather and ferment the cacao in very small batches. I thought it would be good to find out more about this incredible chocolate project, and I'm sure you'll enjoy sharing in Luisa's ebullient passion...

    luisa abram chocolate brazil

    What is your background and what led to you becoming a chocolate maker?

    I went to culinary school and I always loved making food, especially pastry. When I was finishing my degree my dad gave me a book about molecular desserts! Chocolate was in the first pages and so I fell in love! I had no idea prior to the book that you could make chocolate at home, so I went to do a bit of research on cacao. My first instinct was to import cacao from Ecuador, but I soon discovered that Brazil does not allow cacao from abroad to enter the country (because of a history with witches broom, a fungi that destroyed cacao production back on the late 90s). So then I found out that the Amazon rainforest was the birthplace for the cacao tree and I went to look for wild cacao. After months of research we finally got in touch with a cooperative in the state of Acre, close to the border with Peru. It was always a dream to go to the Amazon and when I arrived, I knew it was the right place to be!    

    luisa abram chocolate brazil

    Who runs the business with you and what are their roles?

    All my family! My Sister works in the Sales and Administrative department, my mom works in a multinational company during the day and at night she comes to the factory and takes care of the orders. My dad also has a day job in the financial market and at night does our finance and also helps with machinery, and I'm in charge of the production.

    How do you decide which cacao to source and where to source it?

    We only work with wild cacao from the Amazon Forest. First of all, we look for the riverside families who are willing to follow our fermentation protocols, then we analyse the density of cacao trees in the area, to see if this will have a positive impact on the communities that will harvest the wild cacao. If there isn’t enough density, it doesn’t make sense to harvest for either side, given the difficulties of getting to those trees within the forest. Then we harvest a test batch and make chocolate with it to see if the taste is interesting, and assess the terroir. After that, if the cacao makes good chocolate, we go back to the forest and collect DNA samples to send to a laboratory in Washington DC, to analyse the data to see which family the cacao belongs to, if it is a brand new varietal, etc...

    luisa abram chocolate brazil

    What interests you about wild cacao?

    I can say that everything about it interests me!! When you have the biggest forest in the world being the birthplace of cacao, it just makes more sense to do something new! 

    Also, Brazil is so big that we have a really diverse culture throughout its regions. I’m always eager to learn about new ways, and the Amazonian culture is one of a kind! Working with nature and the preservation of it is great! And the most amazing part of it is to see the impact of my work in the wellbeing of the riverside families. I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to work side by side with people with a completely different reality than mine, in the city of São Paulo. And with the result being chocolate - it’s just the icing on top!

    luisa abram chocolate brazil

    Is there a big following for bean-to-bar craft chocolate in Brazil?

    We would not call it big yet here in Brazil, but since 2014 we’ve been seeing very expressive growing rates. As a consequence of this growth, we now have strong tree and bean-to-bar associations, and a women’s group with over 100 members.     

    How does your location influence the chocolate that you make?

    Being in a country of cacao origin, which contains a vast area of the Amazon Forest, gives me numerous opportunities to create and use local ingredients. The cacao extracted around the margins of different rivers and regions have distinct terroir and can give chocolate with particular tastes and flavours. Ingredients like cupuaçu, açai and Brazil nuts can be added to give wonderful inclusion bars.

    luisa abram chocolate brazil

    We’re featuring your cupuaçu bar in our October subscription boxes. Is this a popular fruit in Brazil? How else might it be used?

    Cupuaçu is widely known in the Northern region of Brazil. You find it in the Amazon and in the states on its borders. It is used to make sweets, jams, desserts and juices, as well as added to chocolate in bars, bonbons, dragees and truffles.

    luisa abram chocolate brazil

    What are some of the biggest challenges in your work?

    We only work with wild cacao, so getting the beans out of the Amazon is a real challenge. We have to find the right partners that care about the fermentation and drying of the beans, the way we taught them. That means we have to go every year to all the origins to make sure everything is being done in the right way. 

    How has COVID19 affected your business?

    COVID had a major impact on flights and our biggest customer is in the US, so getting the chocolate shipped was a big challenge. Also, visiting the communities was difficult and we had to increase the price of the cacao because everything had price adjustment. Our clients before COVID used to be markets and small specialty food stores, but we saw a shift with COVID and our website became a major part of our revenue. Customers started purchasing directly from us!

    luisa abram chocolate brazil

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

    Everything! Going to the forest, fermenting the cacao, making the chocolate. Seeing how cacao and chocolate can make a difference in the life of many people. Creating new flavours and making people happy.

    luisa abram chocolate brazil

    Thanks so much to Luisa for taking the time for this interview, and for sharing these beautiful photos with us.