For my latest interview I caught up with Tania Lincoln from Auckland's Flint Chocolate. I first met Tania at The Chocolate and Coffee Show in 2017, where she unveiled her chocolate to the public for the first time. I was very impressed with her selection and it was very popular with the public as well, so not long after this we added two Flint bars to our online store. The Almond Butter bar has been a best seller ever since.
It's been great to follow Tania's chocolate journey over the past couple of years, and I know many of you would love to know more about what's happening behind the scenes. Stick the kettle on, grab some chocolate and enjoy reading this interview...
What got you interested in chocolate making and how long was the journey from your first batch to retailing your bars?
I was making “raw chocolate” (cacao powder, coconut oil, maple syrup) for many years, purely for health reasons and as an alternative to overly sweet, commercial chocolate. Shoot me I know; I was very uneducated. I had a massive chocolate addiction, and I knew Cadburys wasn’t the answer. I remember my first “wow – so this is chocolate” moment, I purchased a bar of Madecasse (Heirloom cacao from Madagascar) from a gourmet grocer on Broadway Market (London) in 2014. And it tasted crazy good. The bar was deeply chocolately (unlike “raw” chocolate!) with fruit notes and a flavour that just lingered… I felt so satisfied after just a few pieces. I wanted to learn how to make THAT kind of chocolate. So, I started reading all about where cacao was from, the different origins, how it was processed… down the rabbit hole I went! With bean-to-bar chocolate making it’s endless, I could still be learning and discovering at the age of 80, and so I felt that it was a hobby worth investing in! When I moved back to Auckland, I bought my first tabletop stone-grinder, and almost cried with happiness when the nibs ground into chocolate for the first time. I sold my first bar at the Auckland Chocolate Festival in 2017. I was under-prepared and completely out of my comfort zone! But everyone was so supportive and encouraging, it’s a such a great industry to be part of.
How does using coconut sugar in chocolate differ from using cane sugar?
Coconut sugar holds more moisture and is therefore harder to work with for a chocolate maker! It also has its own fragrant, caramel-like flavour which works wonderfully with some origins, but not all. The reasons why I have chosen to only use coconut sugar is that it’s a minimally process product and is more sustainable than other sugars. Coconut sugar comes directly from the sap of the coconut flowers, retaining all the prebiotic fibers and trace minerals. The coconut palm grows in diverse areas, with a positive impact on the environment (powerful soil builders, provides shade for other crops, minimal resource use, produces more sugar per acre than cane sugar)
What inspires you to do what you do at Flint Chocolate?
I am inspired to make the best tasting chocolate I can from quality, sustainable ingredients. I want to encourage people to appreciate and consume good, quality chocolate and feel good about it. With so many nutritional benefits, as well as being good for the soul, there doesn’t need to be any guilt! It’s possible to feel good about the food we eat when we make the connection to where it’s from, who’s grown it and how it’s produced. I think we need to shift our ideas (or perhaps habits) around how we consume chocolate. Understanding that for cacao farmers to be treated and paid fairly, chocolate needs to be more than just a cheap commodity or quick sugar hit.
How do you source your cacao beans?
Currently I source my cocoa beans through Trade Aid NZ, but I am very excited to be importing beans through Meridian Cacao for the first time. This is only possible through a shared bean order with another couple of Auckland bean-to-bar chocolate makers (the freight costs are too expensive otherwise). The special thing about this industry is that we are all incredibly supportive of each other and our work.
What is it like to be a chocolate maker based in Auckland, and how does the city affect what you do?
Auckland is a great city to live in, there are so many local businesses doing cool and interesting things. I only need to take the time to look around me to be inspired by all the makers, creators and passionate people doing their thing! I believe there is so much opportunity in collaborations; it’s a way for small businesses to get creative, share resources, and together get their message out into the world.
Do you feel a growing interest for craft chocolate in New Zealand?
Yes I do, well I hope so! There are more makers than there were a few years ago, together we are trying to grow awareness for craft chocolate in New Zealand, and for the quality and craft that goes into making our chocolate. I think there is a growing interest in general for knowing where our food comes from; understanding the benefits of buying from small, local food producers who really care about the ingredients they use and food they produce.
What do you enjoy about being a chocolate maker?
I love working through the whole process, watching raw fermented beans turn into smooth, luscious chocolate! My favourite part is testing out new bean origins. If I could, I would just make 1kg batches from every origin I could get my hands on – I guess that’s where the excitement lies, discovering new beans and flavours!
What are some of your favourite foods/drinks, other than chocolate?
I love coffee, it gets me out of bed in the morning. While I am meditating, the filter coffee is dripping ha! Rice noodles soups, miso ramen, spaghetti – or really, anything in a bowl that resembles noodles. Crispy sweet potato or kumara chips are my ultimate comfort food. I also love a good glass of red wine (with chocolate is even better!)
What are some of your favourite chocolate bars that you’ve tried recently?
Recently, the Porcelana bar by Hogarth, which they aged for a year before turning into bars! It has lovely light floral notes. I’m a big fan of the Tumaco (Colombia) beans, Foundry Chocolate and Miann both make the most delicious bars with this cacao. The history of this origin is fascinating too and makes me appreciate the chocolate on a whole other level.
Thanks so much to Tania for taking the time for this interview. If you haven't tried Flint Chocolate yet, the ever-popular Almond Butter bar might be a good place to start...
*Photos 1, 3, 4 & 6 by Tracey Creed