May 29, 2016
We're pretty excited to announce that you can now find a selection of our chocolates for sale at Preservatorium Cafe and Cannery.Now you can fulfil your craft chocolate desires six days a week!
May 22, 2016
The winners of the Academy of Chocolate Awards were announced on Friday and we were very pleased to see that a few of the products we stock won awards.
Chocolate Tree - Columbia Huila - Silver
Chocolate Tree - full bean-to-bar range (packaging) - Silver
Dick Taylor - Belize, Toledo - Bronze
Marou - Dak Lak - Bronze
Marou - Treasure Island - Silver
Sirene - Dark Milk Duo - Silver/Bronze
Congratulations to all the winners. You can see the full results here.
May 12, 2016
It’s currently Fair Trade Fortnight here in Wellington, with some great events and activities happening around the city that will help bring to light the ethics behind some of our favourite commodities. This seems like as good a reason as any to talk about the cacao that is used in the chocolates we stock, and the routes of trade it takes.
It is very common for people visiting our market stall to ask about whether or not our chocolate is fair trade. My answer is always the same, which is that our chocolate is fair trade as a minimum but that the majority is actually direct trade. This term ‘direct trade’ is new to quite a lot of people, so I thought it would be worth explaining a little bit about the difference. I don’t consider myself an expert but I wanted to convey what I have learnt so far. Essentially, this is a very complex issue that cannot be simplified into a few hundred words, nor with a single label on a packet.
In certain circles fair trade is a hot topic that can cause some pretty heated debate. There have been some damning reports of fair trade over the past few years, along with some staunch defence of the system and its values. There are many people who believe that the price fair trade guarantees the farmers for their produce is not nearly as high as it should be, and that the label can be used to make westerners feel naively guilt-free about their purchases. There are also some concerns about corruption in the system and money not being fairly distributed to farmers and workers.
From everything I have read, I believe that fair trade is a generally positive and well intentioned organisation. It has improved the lives of thousands of farmers and workers around the world, as well as working tirelessly to bring people’s attention to the morality of what they consume. The very fact that so many people understand the meaning of ‘fair trade’ is a testament to its own success. But there is always more that can be done.
That is where direct trade comes in. Direct trade takes the concept of fair trade to another level and removes the barriers between producers and suppliers. Rather than going through a middleman and the loopholes and bureaucracy of certification schemes, many craft chocolate makers are choosing to go straight to the source and build personal relationships with the cacao farmers, or with small-scale cooperatives who help the farmers to reach international buyers. They are paying above the fair trade rates and the farmers and farm workers receive a much higher income for their work.
The benefits of direct trade for the chocolate maker and cacao farmer are manifold, but one of the key areas where this system differs from fair trade is quality. Because the farmers and makers are working together there is an open dialogue between the two about how to get the best quality cacao and what is most desirable for the chocolate maker. In some cases the makers are even helping the farmers to improve things like their fermentation and drying processes, which in turn leads to the farmers being able to charge a higher amount for their cacao beans - there is an incentive to produce more than just large volumes. Visiting chocolate makers can bring a taste of their chocolate to the farmers and show them the differences in the final product. You’d be amazed how many cacao farmers and workers in the world have never tasted chocolate.
One problem that some fair trade advocates have with direct trade is that it is mostly unmonitored and uncertified, although organisations like Direct Cacao are working on that, and in the U.S. Taza Chocolate have created their own direct trade certification scheme in collaboration with USDA. There is a certain element of trust involved but with the kind of companies we work with at The Chocolate Bar it’s easy to build that trust. Our chocolate makers offer complete transparency about where their cacao comes from and in many cases will freely discuss the price they pay for it. All you need to do is a little research, which I would recommend doing about anything you eat these days.
I think the subject of quality is one of the biggest reasons why the direct trade model is more suitable for the bean-to-bar and craft chocolate industry. Fair trade might be good for companies like Whittaker’s and Green & Black’s, who mass produce inexpensive chocolate, but for the type of extremely high quality chocolate that we sell it seems to make sense that there would be a more bespoke and finely tuned trade arrangement. Fair trade treats cacao as a standardised commodity and speaks only in terms of what is a fair price by weight, not by quality or varietal. Although some of the high-end cacao used in our chocolate does come through fair trade organisations such as Trade Aid, I believe that over time we will see more and more of these producers involved in direct trade. It is the best thing for everyone and can lead to higher quality chocolate, which is always the ultimate goal for the craft and bean-to-bar producers.
If you'd like to learn a little more about direct trade, please check out this article from the guys at Marou. You could also watch this video from Taza Chocolate...
May 03, 2016
One of the hardest things about running this business is deciding which chocolates to stock. There are so many incredible bean-to-bar producers in the world and we have a strong desire to stock (and taste) all of them. It's a real nightmare.
To help with this conundrum, we've decided to have a rotating guest chocolate maker, which we will be stocking in very limited amounts and replacing on a regular basis. Be sure to snap them up whilst they're available!
We're very excited to announce that our first guest chocolate maker is Ritual Chocolate.
Ritual Chocolate was founded by Robbie Stout and Anna Davies in 2010, and over the past six years they have established themselves as one of the finest bean-to-bar chocolate makers in the U.S.
Based in Park City, Utah - at an altitude of 7000ft - Ritual use the highest quality cacao beans available to craft beautiful chocolate that perfectly showcases the intricacies of each bean variety. They mix traditional European methods with modern American style, ensuring a unique and balanced flavour with a wonderful depth of palette that just keeps on giving.
The three bars we are stocking all use Nacional cacao beans from the Camino Verde plantation in Balao, Ecuador. Camino Verde are producing some of the finest (and most delicious) cacao in the world right now so we couldn’t resist stocking three different chocolates that all bring the best out these beans in different ways.
Check out these bars in the shop now!
April 20, 2016
For The Chocolate Bar’s first interview we spoke to Hazel Lee, a well known figure in the bean-to-bar movement and a passionate lover of the Theobroma cacao plant.
Amongst other things, Hazel is a judge for the Academy of Chocolate Awards, the International Media and Social Media Director for the Northwest Chocolate Festival and a guide for London’s Chocolate Ecstasy Tours. She also spends time visiting cacao plantations around the world, as well as making her own chocolate from bean to bar at home.
We thought it would be interesting to talk to Hazel and find out a little more about what’s happening on the bean-to-bar scene...
You seem to be heavily entangled in the world of bean-to-bar chocolate. How did this passion start for you?
I first got hooked on fine chocolate after I discovered a Hotel Chocolat store in Windsor in 2008. But the passion for bean to bar officially started after I volunteered on a cocoa farm in Costa Rica (La Iguana Chocolate) in December 2013. I completely fell in love with the cocoa when I experienced it in real life, at this magical family farm in the jungle. I set myself the challenge to produce chocolate from the bean at home; and through the power of social media and attending various chocolate events in London, my “chocolate life” developed! However, I have loved food since a very young age and studied Food Science at university. I now work full time in food product development, and do as much as I can with chocolate in my free time.
Is there one variety/nationality of cacao that you would describe as your favourite or most treasured?
I have a soft spot for Grenada because it has such a well-rounded cacao; it has an intense flavour with fruity, spicy and rich chocolate notes. I always enjoy a bar of Grenada Chocolate Company and I once made a batch of chocolate using beans left over from the Grenada display at the Chelsea Flower Show in London. It was fruity, spicy, slightly leathery and, overall, very interesting! I also fell in love with Kokoa Kamili from Tanzania through a bar made by The Smooth Chocolator (Geelong, Australia). That bar had very distinct cherry, rose and subtle tea notes, and a beautifully smooth texture. Generally, I like cacaos that are well-rounded and have a good acidity. There are many more that I love!
When judging for the Academy of Chocolate, which different qualities are you assessing?
We start with the appearance, looking at the temper, the colour and the tidiness of the moulding. Then the aroma after snapping a piece in half. Then, placing a piece on the tongue, we assess how it melts, the mouthfeel of the chocolate once it has melted (grainy, creamy, dry), and the flavour. Finally, we assess the finish and aftertaste.
Which chocolate makers do you tend to get most excited about trying their new creations? Or are there too many to mention?
I once did a #chocswap (where we exchange bars) with The Smooth Chocolator in Australia, who I’ve already mentioned. I was blown away by all 6 of her bars. All had very distinctive flavour notes that were so well balanced, and all had a wonderfully smooth and creamy texture. She has since sent me more bars which have been just as enjoyable! I have also consistently enjoyed Pump Street Bakery and Akesson’s because all of their bars have very smooth and creamy textures (I much prefer creamy over dry!). There are plenty more which I get excited about, but those are the ones that immediately spring to mind.
Would you say there’s any current trends in the bean-to-bar chocolate world? Any styles of chocolate making that are particularly popular right now?
Most popular, by far, is making chocolate using a wet grinder. The small Premiers are so affordable that it is becoming a very popular hobby to make chocolate from the bean at home! I’m surprised at the quality of some chocolates which have been made in the small Premiers. There seems to be trends in origins of beans, too. It’s exciting to see a new origin, which is becoming rarer as cocoa farms start to distribute their beans globally, but it’s nice to taste and compare chocolates made with the same beans by different makers. There are some smaller trends that I see popping up with different makers, such as aging the beans in whisky barrels to infuse them with flavour. I’ve seen this in a few bars now, which is very interesting!
When I left the UK six years ago nobody I know would have heard of bean-to-bar chocolate. Do you think that would have changed now? Is there a growing awareness of the movement or is it still very early days?
I think that there is a growing awareness of single origin and finer quality products and ingredients in the food industry as a whole. The London coffee scene is becoming huge, which involves a lot of single origin sourcing and craft techniques, and I think (and hope!) that bean to bar chocolate will follow.
I see you make chocolate from bean-to-bar in your own home. Could you describe your setup?
Yes and it’s quite simple! The most expensive piece of kit you need is the grinder but they are so affordable these days. I use a normal oven to roast my beans, then a can or rolling pin to crack them, a hairdryer to winnow them, and a food processor to “pre-grind” the beans before adding them to the grinder. I then use the hairdryer again to warm the pre-ground bean mass as it begins to refine in the grinder. After applying the initial heat to melt the cocoa butter, the friction will provide heat for the rest of the grinding.
How does your own chocolate compare with the professional chocolate you taste? What are the biggest challenges with making your own?
The biggest challenge is not having the best equipment, because it’s so expensive. The Premiers are capable of making some surprisingly good quality chocolate, but I think that using more industrial equipment such as roller refiners, longitudinal conches and ball mills will help make exceptional chocolate. Also, time! I keep pretty busy so I don’t make as much home bean to bar as I used to.
Where do you see the bean-to-bar chocolate scene in ten years’ time?
I’ve absolutely no idea! I’ve only technically been in the bean to bar world for 2 and a half years, so it’s difficult to predict. I hope that it becomes much more popular so that more and more people will support all the wonderful makers and farmers out there!
Thanks so much to Hazel for taking the time to do this interview. If you'd like to learn more about what she gets up to, please do check out her website.
And if you're keen to try some chocolate from The Smooth Chocolator, keep an eye on our store over the next few months.
April 12, 2016
They mocked me when I said I was planning to stock a mushroom chocolate. They said I was a fool, that nobody would buy it. And so far they are right!
But I will persist because I think this chocolate is a thing of beauty. The porcini blends perfectly with the nutty, earthy Tanzanian cacao, and the subtle use of milk gives it a silky smooth finish. There's a reason they awarded this chocolate a gold medal at last year's International Chocolate Awards.
Obviously this isn't something that will appeal to the majority, but for the more adventurous chocolate connoisseur this is undoubtedly one of the most interesting chocolate experiences you will find.
For those who are intrigued, I will have samples of this chocolate available at the markets for the next couple of weeks. Come and see for yourself!