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  • A Guide to Tasting Chocolate

    A Guide to Tasting Chocolate

    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 017: Gabe Davidson, Wellington Chocolate Factory

    The Chocolate Bar Interview 017: Gabe Davidson, Wellington Chocolate Factory

    For my latest interview I caught up with Gabe Davidson from Wellington Chocolate Factory. Gabe has been a big influence on what I do at The Chocolate Bar, having introduced me to the world of craft chocolate back in 2012. Wellington Chocolate Factory's voyage to Papua New Guinea in 2015 was an eye-opener in terms of Pacific Islands cacao, and perhaps the first little spark of inspiration that led to me creating the Exclusive Pacific Chocolate Box. Gabe and his team created a stunning Solomon Islands bar for the box, so it was good to catch up with him and learn more about the life of a craft chocolate maker in the South Pacific. 

    exclusive pacific chocolate box

    What sparked your interest in making bean-to-bar chocolate?

    I have a long history in the specialty coffee and drinking chocolate scene, so when I discovered that chocolate, like coffee and wine, can have so many different flavours, I was hooked. I swapped coffee beans for cocoa beans and never looked back.

    You were one of the first craft chocolate makers in New Zealand, back when nobody had heard of it. Do you feel a growing public interest in small-batch and high quality chocolate?

    Absolutely. Together with half a dozen or so craft chocolate makers who have opened since we started back in 2010, we have collectively been working hard to educate people on the many flavours and origins of good chocolate. I see a steady stream of people coming into our factory for tours and tasting their first cocoa bean. It's a really exciting time for our industry and I feel privileged to be able to share what we learn with a wider audience.

    Your Bougainville voyage - back in 2015 - really got me thinking about Pacific Islands cacao. What inspired you to take on a project like that?

    It started when I visited James Rutana in Bougainville and was talking to him about how the cocoa industry and agriculture in general is a great alternative to mining in the region. James planted his first cocoa tree in 1948 and has been a champion of the industry ever since. The trouble was that farmers were barely making a living selling cocoa to the large players at a low price. I was really impressed by the quality of his beans and joked about the fact that the only way we could have direct trade is if we learned to sail and pick up the beans ourselves. Fast forward a few months and we ended up back there on a traditional waka, transporting our first ton of beans into Wellington harbour. A supposed six week voyage ended up taking three months due to weather and a few hiccups - but we made it! An incredible life changing experience, the first time goods have been exchanged traditionally like this in 250 years.

    What are some of the benefits of sourcing cacao from the Pacific Islands?

    I see so many great benefits of sourcing beans from our Pacific neighbours. Paying a fair price for quality beans can improve the livelihoods of farmers and their families. The quality of their beans is good and often with a few small changes in the way the beans are fermented and dried we are getting some world class cocoa to make chocolate with, and showcase the quality of this region with chocolate lovers around the world.

    You’ve created a limited release Solomon Islands bar for our Exclusive Pacific Chocolate Box. How did you go about sourcing those beans?

    Every year we have the privilege of being invited to judge at the Solomon Islands Chocolate Festival. Here we have the opportunity to grade 150 or so samples of beans for farmers throughout the Solomons. Our choice of beans was from the 2018 winner. 

    What are some of the benefits of trading directly with farmers? 

    One of the best parts of our job as chocolate makers is getting to visit farmers around the world. Here we get to build a long lasting relationship and get a greater understanding of life in the cocoa industry and the opportunity to sample some incredible cocoa which may not be available though traditional channels.

    wellington chocolate factory solomons

    Do you have a favourite bean to work with? If so, why?

    That's a hard one! There are so many different types and flavours out there. I have enjoyed using Vanuatu beans, the chocolate often shared floral and other characteristics  that remind me of Trinidad and Tobago beans, and as I found out later, a lot of the Vanuatu cocoa trees have their ancestry traced back to there.

    You guys have some incredible wrapper artwork. If you could commission any artist in the world to create a wrapper, who would it be?

    If I could resurrect someone I think it would be Keith Haring! I'm also really enjoying the work of Revok at the moment.

    wellington chocolate factory pacific islands

    Are there any other chocolate makers who you find particularly inspiring?

    I discovered craft chocolate through Dandelion in San Fransisco. I could not believe that a simple two-ingredient chocolate from Madagascar beans could taste like strawberry flavour had been added!  

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

    I like that we get to work in an industry where we sell something which simply makes people happy and can do so while knowing every link in the chain of what we create is a force for good.

    wellington chocolate factory

    Thanks so much to Gabe for taking the time for this interview. If you'd like to learn more about Pacific Islands cacao and chocolate, be sure to grab yourself an Exclusive Pacific Chocolate Box!

  • Exclusive Pacific Chocolate Box

    Exclusive Pacific Chocolate Box

    I am so excited to announce the launch of our Exclusive Pacific Chocolate Box!

    This box showcases some of the finest cacao grown in the Pacific Islands and some of the best craft chocolate makers in New Zealand. Over the past nine months or so I've been working with four of my favourite chocolate makers to create some incredibly special and rare chocolate bars.

    wellington chocolate factory

    Each box contains four bars that have been crafted exclusively for The Chocolate Bar, in batches of just 250 bars each. The cacao origins featured are Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, and the four makers involved are Wellington Chocolate Factory, OCHO, Miann and Foundry Chocolate. 

    Alongside these bars you'll receive information about the chocolate makers and cacao growers, a guide to tasting fine chocolate, drink pairing suggestions and a beautiful cacao pod illustration print by Wellington-based artist Forest Drawn. The whole collection comes packaged in one of our beautiful gift boxes.

    exclusive pacific chocolate box

    There are three main aims of this box...

    1. To highlight the exceptional quality of cacao that is now being produced in parts of the Pacific Islands
    2. To highlight the exceptional quality of chocolate being produced in New Zealand's emerging craft chocolate industry
    3. To highlight this new and delicious way that we can collaborate with our neighbours 

    This is the cutting edge of what is happening in the chocolate industry right now. Cacao has been grown in the Pacific Islands for over a century but until recently the quality has often been poor, mostly due to a lack of knowledge and proper facilities for high quality processing (fermenting and drying.) With the emergence of the craft chocolate movement and increasing customer awareness of high-end chocolate, we have seen things develop over the past ten years and Pacific Islands cacao is starting to shine. Craft chocolate makers in New Zealand and Australia are starting to form direct trade relationships with farmers, while ethical cacao distribution companies and co-ops are helping to provide education and build infrastructure for processing and exports. It's very early days but there is clearly a huge potential for growth in this area.

    exclusive pacific chocolate box

    I can’t wait for you to experience this extremely delicious and rare chocolate. It’s an opportunity to tour the South Pacific from the comfort of your couch, and to experience Pacific Islands terroir in a way that has never been possible before. This promises to be an eye (and mouth!) opening experience.

    Due to its limited nature, this box will not be around for long. Grab yours today!

    foundry chocolate nz

    ocho chocolate nz

    miann chocolate auckland

    exclusive pacific chocolate box

  • Why Do We Focus on Bean-to-bar Craft Chocolate?

    Why Do We Focus on Bean-to-bar Craft Chocolate?

    Something that’s quite unusual and confusing about the chocolate industry is that chocolate producers all have different techniques, and all start from different stages of the process. Most food and beverage producers - such as bakers, cheesemakers or brewers - start with raw ingredients and end with a finished product, but that’s often not the case with chocolate. At one end of the spectrum you’ve got chocolatiers, who generally start with finished chocolate in the form of couverture, which they melt down and transform into their own creations. Then at the other end of the spectrum you’ve got bean-to-bar (or even tree-to-bar) chocolate makers, who make chocolate from scratch, from the cacao bean. In between these two there are many other starting points in the process - some producers start with the cacao nibs (skipping the roasting, cracking and winnowing stage), others start with a cacao liquor (ground up nibs), and some even start with cocoa powder and cocoa butter (the separated fats and solids of the cacao nibs), using these to create what is usually described as ‘raw’ chocolate. This can be difficult for customers to understand, especially when there’s little to no information on the wrapper to differentiate between the many styles.

    When you hear people talking about these different types of chocolate businesses, whether it be industry professionals or the media, they’ll often refer to all of them as ‘chocolate makers’. However at The Chocolate Bar we only really use that term to describe people who make chocolate from bean to bar and, as you’ve probably gathered by now, we only sell chocolate made by small-scale bean-to-bar chocolate makers. The occasional exception to this would be a ‘private label’ chocolate business, which is usually where a company outsources the chocolate making and focusses on the cacao sourcing, marketing, distribution etc. A high quality example of this would be Original Beans or Akessons.

    artisan chocolate nz

    Sometimes customers ask us if we can source a particular brand, or a producer might contact us directly and see whether we’re interested in their product, and if it doesn’t fit in with our focus on high quality, ethical and bean-to-bar chocolate, we explain that we won’t be able to stock it. This has the potential to come across as pedantic or cliquey, so we wanted to explain why that’s our chosen focus.

    Firstly, it’s important to clarify that our primary concern is the quality, flavour and texture of chocolate, and this needs to be backed up by an ethical and fair business model. Whether or not the chocolate is made from bean to bar is a minor technicality, but it just so happens that - in our opinion - the highest quality and most delicious chocolate in the world is currently being made by bean-to-bar craft chocolate makers. If somebody gave us some of the best chocolate we’d ever tasted and it was made by a massive industrial chocolate maker, we would still consider stocking it, as long as it was ethically produced. It’s just unlikely that would ever happen, at least at the current time. One of the main reasons for this is that it would be difficult to replicate the level of quality we look for in a large industrial chocolate factory. As with any type of manufacturing and production, when you’re able to pay very close attention to small details, and when you create a product that is extremely time and labour intensive, the end result is almost always superior to a product made quickly and with minimal human involvement.

    foundry artisan chocolate nz

    It’s that level of attention to detail and craftsmanship that attracts us to bean-to-bar craft chocolate, and the art of chocolate making is what we choose to promote. We love hearing about the unique techniques of chocolate makers - the way they figure out roasting profiles, the machinery they use to crack, winnow, grind and conche, the timings they prefer and their mastery of tempering. These details are often an extension of the chocolate maker’s personality, and help us to feel truly connected to the chocolate we choose to put in our bodies. All of this appeals to our extreme food-geekery, and as learning about this process is something new to most people, it’s one of the main things we enjoy talking about with our customers.

    In summary, we’re not saying that bean-to-bar craft chocolate is the only good chocolate in the world and the only thing worth spending your money on. There are varying levels of quality and innovation in all areas of the chocolate industry, and there are certainly a lot of chocolatiers who we absolutely love. We choose to specialise in this area because it excites us the most, and because it’s generally where we find the highest quality, most advanced innovation and the strongest connection between consumer, producer and farmer. As well as bean-to-bar, we’re person-to-person advocates.

  • The Chocolate Bar Interview 013: David Herrick, Foundry Chocolate

    The Chocolate Bar Interview 013: David Herrick, Foundry Chocolate

    For my latest interview I caught up with David Herrick of Foundry Chocolate. It was an honour to host Foundry Chocolate's launch night at our Ponsonby pop-up last September, and it's been great to see the public's reaction to this exceptional single-origin chocolate over the past few months. As so many of you have been enjoying David's bars, we thought you might like to know a little bit more about them...

    david herrick foundry chocolate

    Who is on the Foundry Chocolate team?

    The husband and wife team of David and Janelle Herrick. I'm the chocolate maker, inventor and machine repairer and Janelle has designed and illustrated all the branding and packaging.

    What got you started with chocolate making and when did you decide to turn it into a business?

    I’ve always loved chocolate, and then I learnt it was possible to make great chocolate on a small scale in 2015. I tracked down some bean to bar craft chocolate bars and we were pretty amazed with the taste differences. After two years of learning and experimentation, in late 2017 we decided to start our business. It took about a year from then to have our first bars ready for sale.

    How have you sourced your different bean origins?

    To start with I sourced small 1 kg samples of over 40 single origins from around the world - all organised by email and phone call - and made them into nano-batches of dark chocolate. From these we made a shortlist of our favourites, developed and tested roast profiles for each and now we have launched seven of them.

    Some origins we’ve brought direct from the growers, and others have come from specialist fine cacao suppliers. For example I’m buying our Kulkul origin direct from the Goodyear family on Karkar Island, Papua New Guinea. Dealing direct is very rewarding as you’re dealing with the actual person responsible for growing the cacao and you know you’re paying them a fair price for their cacao beans that reflects all the hard work put into growing and preparing it.

    Our other bean origins have been sourced from Meridian Cacao and Uncommon Cacao in the USA, who make it possible to purchase smaller quantities of fine cacao you normally would have to buy in much larger quantities if you were buying direct from the grower.

    david herrick foundry chocolate

    Why did you decide to dedicate yourself to two ingredient chocolate?

    Two reasons – I like the challenge of making it, as it’s definitely harder to make than if I added cacao butter or lecithin. But primarily because I love the remarkable flavours that can be accentuated with just two ingredients. People continue to be amazed that there are no other flavours added yet they are experiencing all these different tasting notes: from floral to citrus to honey to caramel to warm spices – which is just the personality of the cacao coming through and our healthy obsession for the preservation of provenance.

    What are some of the benefits and disadvantages of making chocolate in very small batches?

    One of the benefits of making micro-batches is that we’re able to offer a broad range to our customers, allowing them to explore many different regions of the world.

    We also have the ability to adapt and respond on a batch-by-batch basis – as each batch behaves differently to previous ones. I’ve been known to set alarms to check how a chocolate batch is going in the middle of the night – factors like humidity, temperature and the beans themselves are all ongoing variables that on a micro level you can respond to very quickly.

    And because our batches are so small, we have the ability to hand write individual limited edition numbers on each bar; meaning for example someone might get bar 3 of 52 from micro-batch TK008.

    Some disadvantages are that if we choose to scale up our business then we’re in for some significant expenditure; and that we don’t have the capacity to make large batches of any of our origins.

    foundry chocolate new zealand

    How has the public reacted to your chocolate so far?

    They have absolutely loved it, customer feedback has been incredible and we’ve loved converting people to two-ingredient bean to bar chocolate. Customers also love the way our packaging can be resealed, to recreate the “unboxing” experience again and again.

    Do you have a favourite bean to work with? If so, why?

    Two beans actually – the Ucayali River from Robin Jordan (Ucayali’s founder) in Peru, as it’s so well sorted and makes a delicious floral chocolate that’s different to the Peru’s made by other NZ bean to bar makers. And the Kulkul from Papua New Guinea, as it’s very technically challenging to work with, yet once you get though the challenges it makes the most vibrant and quirky chocolate.

    What are your hopes and plans for the first couple of years with the business?

    Just to grow slowly and carefully, remaining true to the way we think things should be done; introduce more people to the amazing flavours of two ingredient craft chocolate; and build a loyal customer base. And we would love to visit the growers when things allow!

    foundry chocolate david herrick

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

    The Mantuano, Venezuela from Dandelion; the Cab Sav from Raaka; and pretty much anything from Sirene. And I’m still partial to a sneaky Bounty Bar.

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

    Being able to eat incredible chocolate whenever I want. And that I’ve ended up creating a job that involves so many facets of my interests: my foodie side, building machinery, fixing machinery, inventing things and sourcing things from all over the world. And a job that is based where I love to live, accessible to my family and the outdoors.

    Plus the craft chocolate community is really fantastic; it’s supportive; they’re a bunch of good people; and we are learning from each other (especially when we’re going through the same machinery challenges…).

    foundry chocolate bar

    Thanks so much to David for taking the time for this interview. If you haven't tried Foundry Chocolate yet then you are in for a serious treat. I recommend trying their India and Vanuatu bars side-by-side if you'd like to experience how amazingly different two cacao origins can be.

  • Third Birthday Pop-Up at Lashings HQ

    Third Birthday Pop-Up at Lashings HQ

    The Chocolate Bar is three years old! Where does the time go?

    To celebrate this milestone we've decided to have a little pop-up at Lashings HQ in Wellington. You can find us at 1/31 Dixon Street (upstairs) on the 9th and 10th of November from 11am to 6.30pm. Be sure to pop in and say hi - we'll have all sorts of rare and exclusive chocolate for you to taste, plus a special limited release brownie that Lashings are creating for us. More info on that coming soon!

    libertine blends

    As part of this celebration, we're also going to host a tea and chocolate pairing session with Libertine Blends. It's on the Friday night at 7.30pm and tickets are available now.

    We're looking forward to seeing our Wellington-based friends and customers, plus anybody else who happens to be passing by. We've had a great first three years in business and it's all down to the lovely people who support what we do.

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