Chocolate Shortage?

Chocolate Shortage?

By Valerie Beck, chocolate expert,

Hand-dipped and fresh off the line at Graham's Fine Chocolates
Hand-dipped and fresh off the line at Graham’s Fine Chocolates

What two words scare us quicker than the words “chocolate shortage!” Chocolate is America’s favorite flavor, and some of us couldn’t imagine going a week or even a day without it.

You may have seen news reports of a coming chocolate shortage. So is there a chocolate crisis around the corner? Yes and no.

Here are the short answers:

~ Yes, because the global chocolate industry is being forced to change for reasons ranging from soil erosion to evolving customer preferences.

~ No, because while West African cocoa growing nations are facing huge challenges, South American and other cocoa growing nations are stepping in and growing more and doing it with fair labor practices.

And, we can make sure we’re supporting sustainable chocolate, by choosing chocolate that lists the country of cocoa bean origin for example.

Longer answers:

Factors leading toward crisis include:

  • 70% of the world’s chocolate comes from cocoa beans grown in West Africa, and West Africa is facing a cocoa crisis.
  • This cocoa crisis exists due to years of unsustainable farming practices, climate change which means temperatures in West Africa are getting drier – cocoa trees like humidity – and the desert is taking over land that used to be fertile, and unfair labor practices including in some cases even child slave labor.
  • And don’t forget Ebola: the bulk of the world’s cocoa beans are currently grown in Ivory Coast and Ghana, and some workers travel there for the harvest from nearby Sierra Leone and Liberia where the Ebola outbreak is happening. A concern is that if workers get sick, there’s no one to harvest the cocoa beans.
  • Plus, chocolate has been largely recession-proof in the US, and people in more countries like India and China are getting a taste for chocolate, so demand is strong and increasing.
Cocoa tree nursery on the Camino Verde farm in Ecuador
Cocoa tree nursery on the Camino Verde farm in Ecuador

On the other hand, there’s evidence that supply might be stronger than some people think. Factors indicating abundance and opportunity include:

  • Even as West Africa’s cocoa bean infrastructure changes and needs to change, other cocoa growing nations are ramping up production.
  • For example, cocoa beans are native to South America and Latin America, and countries like Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, and El Salvador are implementing cocoa bean initiatives to encourage farmers to grow more, and in some cases are encouraging foreign investment to produce more.
  • If you want to open a chocolate facility in Ecuador, where ideal cocoa bean growing conditions mean you can harvest cocoa beans year-round, there are financial incentives available.
  • Farmers in nations such as Peru have been given incentives to stop growing coca for cocaine, and start growing cocoa beans for chocolate (coca and cocoa or cacao have similar names, but are unrelated crops), and the plan is working.
  • In addition, it’s known that the big commercial chocolate makers are sitting on stockpiles of years and years worth of cocoa beans. If people believe there’s a shortage, companies can raise prices.
  • More and more consumers are looking at alternatives to commercial chocolate with its preservatives and artificial ingredients. Instead, a growing number of chocolate lovers are choosing the new wave of bean-to-bar chocolate, where the only ingredients are cocoa beans and sugar, and the chocolate is made artisanally, in small batches. Bean-to-bar chocolate gives you more health benefits, has a pure taste which the chocolate maker can develop such as by changing roasting or grinding times and methods, and uses cocoa beans not from farms in West Africa which are facing crisis, but from fair trade or direct trade cocoa farms which means benefits to farm families and communities.

Fyi I’ll write a blog post on bean-to-bar chocolate soon; for now please see my blog post on 3 Chocolatey NYC Neighborhoods which includes info on Mast Brothers Chocolate, and see the photo below with a link to twenty-four blackbirds chocolate. Also, you can check out other bean-to-bar brands I love such as Askinosie, Dick Taylor, and Cao Chocolates whom we’ll visit on our January 23-25 Miami trip! All of these brands sell on their websites; enjoy.

Delicious, ethical, bean-to-bar chocolate, with just 2 ingredients: cocoa beans and sugar
Delicious, ethical, bean-to-bar chocolate by twenty-four-blackbirds of California, with just 2 ingredients: cocoa beans and sugar

So are we going to run out of chocolate tomorrow and do you need squirrel away a chocolate stash in the attic to stave off chocolate doom? No.

Is the global chocolate industry in a time of change? Yes.

Is it a good idea to read labels and vote with your dollars, to make sure you’re getting the chocolate you want, that reflects sustainability and the labor and health standards you believe in? Yes!

For media appearances or more:

3 Chocolatey NYC Neighborhoods

3 Chocolatey NYC Neighborhoods

By Valerie Beck, traveling chocolate expert 

Veteran's Day meets pre Christmas at Rockefeller Center NYC
Veteran’s Day meets pre-Christmas at Rockefeller Center in NYC

Some people call New York City the Big Apple. I call it the Big Truffle, because of its enormous number of top quality chocolate shops and bakeries!

I usually visit New York a couple of times a year, generally in summer for the Fancy Food Show, and in November for Veteran’s Day weekend. It’s always a treat visiting old friends and meeting new ones, and tasting what everyone has been up to.

Before I started my chocolate services business 9 years ago, I was a corporate lawyer (and of course already a chocolate maniac). While employed at a large law firm in Chicago, I once spent a winter in the New York office, doing aircraft leveraged lease deals (don’t ask). I worked more or less around the clock, and what kept me more or less sane was sneaking out of the conference room for a Teuscher Champagne Truffle. Now when I visit NYC, it’s all chocolate all the time – well, not quite: I always make time for New York’s amazing art, architecture, and fashion, so that the overall theme is “sweet and chic!”

I love New York, and my most recent trip this past Veteran’s Day weekend was inspirational. Here are 3 chocolatey NYC neighborhoods I visited, and the shops that make these areas sweet:

1. Chelsea / Greeley Square

Broadway Bites at Greeley Square Park
Broadway Bites at Greeley Square Park

Walking from the Eventi Hotel in Chelsea toward Midtown, I let the Chocolate Fairies of Sweet Serendipity lead me to the Broadway Bites outdoor foodstalls market. Once I discovered it, I couldn’t stay away! Favorites at B’way Bites:

Sigmund's chocolate chip pretzel cookie
The pretzel is in the cookie

Sigmund Pretzels not only makes delicious, buttery, soft pretzels in creative flavors such as pumpkin seed, they also make creative cookies, such as the Wancko Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookie, which contains a pretzel. Yes, soft pretzel bites are IN the chocolate chip cookie! Delectable.

Chocolate Pumpkin Macaron by Macaron Parlour
Chocolate Pumpkin genius

Macaron Parlour‘s pastry chefs make exquisite macarons with lovely texture. Their combination of pumpkin and chocolate – a pumpkin macaron with chocolate pumpkin ganache – plus the hand-drawn pumpkin illustration on each cookie, won me over instantly. (What’s the difference between a macaron and a macaroon? I wrote a brief post about it; click here!)

Award-winning and award-deserving chocolate babka
Award-winning and award-deserving chocolate babka

Breads Bakery had a sign in front of their Broadway Bites foodstall announcing that they make the best chocolate babka in New York according to New York Magazine. Their chocolate babka was $5 a slice, and it was worth it. Dense yet light, flavorful and not sweet, and ultra-chocolatey, I was tempted to buy a few loaves and throw a chocolate babka party in my hotel suite. I’m serious!

View from my suite at the Eventi Hotel. #empirestateofmind
View from my suite at the Eventi Hotel #empirestateofmind

2. Midtown / Fifth Avenue

Marvelousness at Michel Cluizel
Marvelousness at Michel Cluizel

Michel Cluizel is a longtime favorite of mine, because this family-owned brand believes in chocolate sustainability, fair trade, and traditional French fine-chocolate magic, with no soy lecithin. (For my post on why I don’t want soy lecithin in my chocolate, click here.) Their Fifth Avenue store carries their charming macarolats, macaron-shaped chocolate bonbons with fillings such as raspberry, and also carries an abundance of their incredible chocolates, macarons, and more. They have a chocolate-making facility and museum in New Jersey, 30 minutes from Philadelphia, that we’re invited to visit next time – join me!

"Love Potion Number 9"
“Love Potion Number 9”

Jacques Torres goes by the nickname “Mr. Chocolate,” and his Rockefeller Center store reflects his sense of fun and his love of quality. Once, after chatting with the man himself at a chocolate show in New York a few years ago, I saw that he noticed a scrap of paper on the floor near his booth. He bent down, picked it up, and threw it away, showing in that tiny motion that he has the humility of the great.

Elegant whimsy, outrageous deliciousness, and a Michelin star
Elegant whimsy, outrageous deliciousness, and a Michelin star

Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery has transformed whimsy into a Michelin star. I love Chef Keller’s transformation at Bouchon of well-known commercial candy bar and dessert concepts, into exquisite upscale versions made with premium ingredients. For example, the “Oh Oh” dessert in the photo was a heavenly chocolate-coated swirl of cream and cake. We visited his Beverly Hills Bouchon on the Beverly Hills Bakery Tour that I whipped up for one day only, last spring. Let’s do it again – cross-country Bouchon!

Midtown means Saks, which means 10022 Shoe, which means Ferragamo #sweetandchic
Midtown means Saks, which means 10022 Shoe, which means Ferragamo #sweetandchic

3. Brooklyn / Williamsburg

Skyscraper of macarons
Skyscraper of macarons

Getting off the train in Brooklyn, I turned right instead of left, and found myself at Woops bakery. Thank you, Chocolate Fairies of Sweet Serendipity, for leading me to this gem. Not only were the macarons well-textured and tasty, but the alfajores were nicely not-too-sweet, the decor was refreshing, and the staff were helpful with directions. I know Manhattan but was a relative newbie in Brooklyn and clearly lost – yet found!

Bean-to-bar behind the scenes
Bean-to-bar behind the scenes

Among the pioneers of the bean-to-bar chocolate revolution are chocolate-making brothers Rick and Michael Mast of Mast Brothers. I’ve been a fan of their chocolate bars since they began making them in 2007, so what a treat it was to go behind the scenes at their Brooklyn manufactory, where I saw the care that goes into each stage of operations (cocoa beans are sorted by hand, sea salt is sprinkled by hand onto finished chocolate bars), and where I tasted their chocolate in flowing form, straight out of the grinder, where fairtrade cocoa beans are mixed for 3 days with sugar and nothing else. I also felt the love that everyone at Mast Brothers has for the art of chocolate. Their brewed chocolate drinks at their drinking-chocolate shop a couple of doors down were also phenomenal, as were their chocolate chip cookies, bonbons, and of course chocolate bars.

Flatiron Building NYC #onwardandupward
Flatiron Building NYC #onwardandupward

My mission has always been Uplift Through Chocolate, and it was exciting to experience and taste chocolate love in many innovative forms on my latest trip to New York. For more photos, see #NYCNovember2014 on twitter or Instagram, where I post as @chocolateuplift.

With Rick Mast
With Rick Mast

Save the date of next Veteran’s Day weekend, and join me for another set of sweet and chic adventures in the Big Truffle – email me at to get on the list.

“Keep eating chocolate, and eat real chocolate!”

~ Your friend in chocolate,


Macaron vs. Macaroon

Macaron vs. Macaroon

By chocolate expert – and lover of both macarons and macaroons – Valerie Beck, founder of Chocolate Uplift and Chicago Chocolate Tours 

Red Velvet and Chocolate Pumpkin Macarons by Macaron Parlour in New York City
Red Velvet and Chocolate Pumpkin Macarons by Macaron Parlour in New York City (macarons with 1 o)

Macarons have become a popular treat in the US, and perhaps this popularity is at the root of some confusion over what constitutes a macaron with 1 o, versus a macaroon with 2 o’s.

They are indeed 2 different cookies, though both almond-based:

Macaroons (2 o’s) originated in Italy, and are light yet dense cookies covered in coconut and often dipped in chocolate – the best part, right! They’re usually made from egg whites, sugar, and ground almonds.

Chocolate-Dipped Macaroon at the Kendall College student-run cafe
Delicious Chocolate-Dipped Macaroon at the student-run cafe at Kendall College, where I’m a part-time Professor (macaroon, with 2 o’s)

Macarons (1 o), on the other hand, were popularized in France. They are delicate, meringue-based sandwich cookies made from almond flour, and are usually filled with jam, buttercream, or ganache. They are made in many colors and flavors, including chocolate of course.

Sweet and chic: macaron scarf at Laduree NYC
Sweet and chic: macaron scarf at Laduree NYC

Both cookies can be creative and delicious, yet macarons are definitely having a moment. I’ve started a hashtag to differentiate macarons on twitter and instagram: #macaronsnotmacaroons.

Salted Caramel Macaron Ice Cream Sandwich with Chocolate Macarons, at Francois Payard Patisserie in NYC (#macaronsnotmacaroons)
Salted Caramel Macaron Ice Cream Sandwich with Chocolate Macaron, at Francois Payard Patisserie in NYC (#macaronsnotmacaroons)

What a difference an o makes!

Either way, buon appetito, and bon appetit!

Want more? Click for info on booking me to speak to your group on chocolate history, myths, and marvels!

Dessert for Dinner: 1 Night, 7 Desserts

Dessert for Dinner: 1 Night, 7 Desserts

By Valerie Beck, founder of Chicago Chocolate Tours – rebranding to Chocolate Uplift chocolate services

Have you ever had dessert for dinner?

How about 7 desserts for dinner?

I’m excited to tell you about an evening of pastry paradise at top-rated NoMI restaurant at the elegant Park Hyatt Chicago last month. Star pastry chef Meg Galus generously invited 6 of her pastry chef pals from other Chicago restaurants to join her in creating exquisite dinner courses made of scrumptious desserts! The event – part of the Park Hyatt Masters of Food and Wine series – was called “Dessert Degustation,” and it was magnificent. Thank you to NoMI and Chef Meg for the invitation!

With Chef Meg of NoMI some months earlier at her chocolate Mother's Day pop-up
With Chef Meg of NoMI some months earlier at her chocolate Mother’s Day pop-up

Here are the delicious details:

I brought my mother (chocolate mania runs in our family!), and joined around 20 other dessert lovers at NoMI. After a delightful appetizer reception with savory hors-d’oevres and a lovely cider, Chef Meg greeted us warmly. She is incredibly talented, hard-working, and innovative. I loved chatting with her at the chocolate pop-up she’d created at the Park Hyatt for Mother’s Day, and was excited to see what she’d been up to recently.

I’ll admit that when I saw the elegantly printed Dessert Degustation menu, I was surprised at the lack of chocolate. I’ve always said that dessert without chocolate isn’t dessert – it’s salad! For example, what does my family do with perfectly good apple pie at the holidays? We pour chocolate sauce on it, naturally! Chef Meg mentioned too that she was surprised at the general absence of chocolate when the other chefs told her in advance what they were going to create. Her plan was to let the other chefs send in their ideas first, and then she would fill in any gaps. The gap was chocolate (I know: still shocking!) and she filled it in magnificently.

Dessert Degustation
Dessert Degustation

Of course, each dessert was delicious, chocolate or no. The chefs were amazing, and thoughtful, and creative, and it was a pleasure to hear each of them describe their dessert-as-dinner creations. Plus, each dessert was paired with wine, and the sommelier was there to answer any questions about the beautifully-matched choices.

My 3 favorite desserts of the evening, in order of presentation, were:

1. Grapefruit Meringata by Amanda Rockman of Nico Osteria

Grapefruit Meringata
Grapefruit Meringata

This course consisted of grapefruit sorbet, white chocolate, basil, and Turkish delight. It was light and airy, with just the right balance of sweet and tart. Is white chocolate really chocolate? That’s a topic for a separate blog post (short answer: yes, if it’s premium white chocolate made from real cocoa butter as this was; no if it’s commercial white chocolate made from an oil and chemical concoction). This dessert-as-dinner course was so refreshing it could have been dessert-as-breakfast!

2. Chocolate Mont Blanc Tart by Meg Galus of NoMI

Chocolate Mont Blanc Tart
Chocolate Mont Blanc Tart

Chef Meg’s dessert was the delicious and gorgeous grand finale, and provided the first milk or dark chocolate all evening. It was worth the wait! Her dessert was composed of milk chocolate cremeux, chestnut-rum mousseline, and Tahitian vanilla, topped with edible gold leaf. The chocolate-chestnut combination was pure autumnal genius, and the dessert was rich, flavorful, and satisfying. Did I finish each of the desserts that evening? No, because when tasting professionally I’ll often have just one bite to taste, and one more bite to develop. Then, if I want to eat more of the item personally instead of professionally, I may do so. Did I eat this particular dessert personally after tasting it professionally? Absolutely!

3. Chocolate Pumpkin Nut Macaron by Toni Roberts of The Wit

Chocolate Hazelnut Peanut Macaron
Chocolate Pumpkin Nut Macaron

What comes after the grand finale? The thoughtful take-home dessert! This mega-sized macaron-shaped dessert was filled with a pumpkin caramel hazelnut center, coated in chocolate, and presented on a bed of gold-leafed crushed peanuts. I sliced it open to a cross-section and plated it so that you can see all of the elements. Did I then eat the entire fun and delicious super-cookie? One guess!

Chocolate wisdom
Chocolate wisdom

At the end of the evening, we also received a delightful chocolate-themed mug filled with Chef Meg’s housemade hot chocolate mix and marshmallows. When I sampled a bit of the mix dry, it was so delicious and luxurious that I could have eaten the entire bag dry, without adding water! (I like my hot chocolate with water, though you could certainly have blended this mix with milk, almond milk, etc.) My mother loved the hot chocolate – and the rest of the Dessert Degustation – too, and commented that the evening provided something for everyone.

There’s something for you too, because the Park Hyatt, NoMI, and Chef Meg are always creating something new and delicious. Check out their schedule of Masters events here, and for details on their Sugar and Spice holiday chocolate pop-up click here.

Park Hyatt Chicago
Park Hyatt Chicago

See you next time, and keep eating – and drinking – chocolate!

From Harvard to Paris to Chocolate Uplift

From Harvard to Paris to Chocolate Uplift

By Valerie Beck, founder of Chicago Chocolate Tours and Chocolate Uplift

November 2014 marks the 9th anniversary of my chocolate services business. The dream that led me here started more years ago than that, when I was in college. Here’s the essay I wrote for my college reunion book this coming spring, describing the chain of events.

Quincy House at Harvard, where I woke up with a special dream
Quincy House at Harvard, where I woke up with a special dream

One day toward the end of our junior year at Harvard, I woke up thinking of Paris. The thought stayed with me, indeed it permeated me, and I decided to spend the next semester in Paris.

As you’ll recall, studying abroad wasn’t common in those days. My roommates had no reason to expect I’d abandon them. Professors raised an eyebrow when signing a form stating that my Sorbonne courses would give me the same credit as Harvard courses. No one knew what to make of my announcement that I was going to study in Paris. I didn’t know what to make of it either. I loved being at Harvard. I only knew that Paris was calling, and I had to answer.

Debauve et Gallais, the Paris chocolate shop where I tasted the bonbon that changed my life
Debauve et Gallais, the Paris chocolate shop where I tasted the bonbon that changed my life

My semester in Paris was transformative. I loved the lifestyle, the history, my classes, the soft lavender early morning air, and the chocolate. Above all, the chocolate. I had been a chocolate maniac all my life: at age four I declared to my mother that the only way I was going to drink milk was if it were chocolate.

I can still taste in my mind the first piece of fine French chocolate I had during my semester in Paris. I had gone “chocolate scouting” – as normal a thing for me to do as finding my classes, the bookstores, and the Seine – and I selected a square of ganache at the great French chocolate house Debauve et Gallais. The richness, power, and purity of flavor in that tiny, perfect bonbon made me determined to enjoy chocolate of exalted quality for the rest of my life, and to take others with me on the journey of fine chocolate.

I began immediately. I asked a few Sorbonne friends if they wanted to come with me and sample the best chocolate and pastries in Paris. They looked at me for a moment as though I had invited them on a tour of paradise, which in fact I had. They said yes, and off we went on the first chocolate tour that I created. I didn’t call it a tour, or imagine that I would grow the concept into an international chocolate tourism and chocolate services business. I was simply sharing my passion.

Pralinette Chocolates Bruges
Pralinette Chocolates Bruges

After we had eaten our way through the truffles and chocolate croissants of Paris, I decided we needed to go to Belgium and do the same thing. And we did. We celebrated my 20th birthday in the glorious chocolate shops of Antwerp, Brussels, Bruges and Ghent, during a weekend in December of our senior year. Thus took place the first chocolate travel club trip that I created; I didn’t imagine that there would be more.

Today, after a not atypical career diversion into the practice of law, and some additional time in the chocolate and pastry centers of Europe, my passion, mission, and career are one: “uplift through chocolate.” I founded a business 9 years ago which was the first chocolate tour company, then I expanded into multiple cities, and now the company has grown to provide chocolate services such as tours, travel, and “Eat Chocolate, Be Skinny” wellness seminars for the chocolate-loving public, and consulting and importing for professional chefs and chocolatiers as well as for cocoa-growing and chocolate-producing nations.

The next step is to continue the current chocolate revolution by ending the child slave labor practices and other monstrous abuses that occur behind 70% of the world’s chocolate, and by replacing slavery chocolate with delicious fair trade chocolate for the public and culinary professionals. Chocolate can uplift chocolate lovers, chocolate workers, cocoa growing nations, and the planet. For irregularly-timed posts chronicling some of this journey, you can join me on my blog at

As a 19-year-old Harvard senior in Paris, where I created the first chocolate tour
As a 19-year-old Harvard senior in Paris, where I created the first chocolate tour

I’m grateful it all flowed from a thought I woke up with when we were at Harvard.