By Valerie Beck, Chocolate Broker, Distributor, Speaker, Muse
The Good Food Awards are the Oscars of US-made artisan food, recognizing sustainability, social impact, and deliciousness, and the 8th annual awards celebration last night in San Francisco was a celebration of good food indeed, including amazing craft chocolate and spectacular confections!
There were 199 winners in 15 categories, and I’m outrageously proud of and impressed by those craft chocolate makers and confectioners with whom I have the honor to work or represent, who were recognized onstage:
Months prior to the awards, I encouraged clients and contacts to enter from around the country, including some who hadn’t entered before, such as Xocolatl, first time entrant and already a winner!
I was also thrilled to be invited help behind the scenes last September in San Francisco, coordinating the judging process at the blind tasting – I didn’t want to be a judge because I wouldn’t want anyone to imagine that I chose my clients and contacts to win, even if subconsciously – and it was inspiring to see so much enthusiasm and so much wonderful sustainable food!
Scroll for scenes, including of the fabulous afterparty at AirBnB headquarters where we were able to sample exquisiteness from winners in all categories, from cheese and bread, to fish and charcuterie, to beer and spirits, pickles and pantry, and of course chocolate and confections!
“Your power to choose the direction of your life allows you to reinvent yourself, to change your future, and to powerfully influence the rest of creation.” —Stephen Covey
Magic at hand: Chocolate Naive, reinvented inside and out, comes from the innovating and iconoclastic mind of Domantas Uzpalis, my Chocolate Uplift 2017 Chocolate Maker of the Year!
Domantas uses custom technology, proprietary processes, creative concepts, and unique flavor profiles involving housemade inclusions, to create the exquisite taste, outrageously smooth and seamless texture, and mind-expanding experience of this one-of-a-kind brand, making it my best-in-show when he previewed his newly reimagined line at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco in January 2017! Domantas combines a kind heart and a scientific mind, both enlivened with keen humor, and his chocolate blends simplicity and sophistication, reinvented with authentic precision.
Chocolate Naive is made in Vilnius, Lithuania, and perhaps like that historically fascinating and contemporary cutting-edge city just a 1.5 hour flight from Stockholm or a 2.5 hour flight from Paris, the chocolate is simple yet sophisticated, elegant while whimsical, worldly yet naive.
2017 Chocolate Uplift Chocolate Maker of the Year…
…Domantas Uzpalis, founder of Chocolate Naive!
For example, Chocolate Naive’s angelic Kefir chocolate bar, part of the brand’s Forager collection, is silky and delicious. I included it in my June Chocolate Uplift craft chocolate subscription boxes to rapturous welcome by subscribers, as it brings a refreshing yet gentle tang from Domantas’s housemade kefir, which he blends into his exquisite craft chocolate, in this case on Bolivia cacao. The kefir isn’t layered upon the chocolate, or sandwiched between chocolate, it’s *in* the chocolate, for a marvelously smooth journey. (If you’re wondering what is kefir, click to learn more!) The bar is a probiotic paradise, in a dance of double fermentation, as both kefir and chocolate are fermented foods!
As are all of the bars in my subscription boxes and at my speaking engagements, where Kefir has also been a huge hit, it’s also sustainable, child-slavery-free (yes, you read that correctly, and if you’ve been following, you know that raising awareness of and eradicating child slave labor in cacao and chocolate is a mission of mine through my #chocolatefreedomproject; click for a Fortune Magazine video and article on child slave labor in Big Chocolate), soy-free, small-batch, and scrumptious. And the Kefir bar seems particularly well suited for breakfast! Click for the unboxing video!
Then in December 2017 I selected Chocolate Naive’s Spices chocolate bar, part of the Equator collection, with its bold and warm intensity, for my subscription boxes, and it too was a massive success. It contains a special house blend of cinnamon, ancho pepper, and vanilla, adding winter warmth and sultry spice to the luscious chocolate into which it is seamlessly mixed, all with signature saturated flavor, again evoking simplicity and sophistication simultaneously. (There’s no December unboxing video yet; I’m looking for a new videographer for my unboxing videos — can you help??)
And then there’s the Tahini bar with housemade tahini, the Porcini bar with locally foraged mushrooms, the Peanut Butter bar with housemade peanut butter – you get the idea! And the idea is big.
Chocolate Naive was founded in 2010, and reinvented inside and out for the recent relaunch. New Naive presents exquisite chocolate bars made from new recipes, eliminating soy lecithin, and based on just cacao and sugar — all you need! Click to see why I don’t want soy lecithin in my chocolate; short answer: because it’s an industrial slurry processed with hexane and acetone, with effects on and implications for flavor, texture, and health.
Indeed, the craft chocolate movement generally involves a reimagining of 20th century corporate business models that were based on maximum profit extraction and conformity of product, at the expense of personal, public, or environmental health and justice. Instead, in the craft mindset, elements such as real flavor, direct trade, individuality within community, social justice, delicious healthfulness, and sustainable production are paramount.
I have enormous respect for Domantas for reworking and redefining his recipes and techniques — no easy process — and for creating a new line that showcases his precision and purity with increased fidelity. He makes difficult look easy, and taste amazing. That’s power.
And Domantas didn’t stop there: after reinventing Chocolate Naive, he did it again! In mid 2017 he launched his Nano_Lot collection, limited edition chocolate bars made from micro batches of exclusive cacao. The depth and uniqueness of flavor achieved in the nano_lot bars continues the Naive project of extending our conception of what chocolate tastes like and what the texture feels like. We expect bean-to-bar chocolate to tell us a story, to engage us with a certain complexity, moving into new universes compared with one-note industrial chocolate. Here, the multi-dimensionality of the stories that Domantas tells with his nano_lots goes deep, and invites pause and repose, with eyes closed — or jumping, dancing, and cavorting, eyes open!
The nano_lot package inserts explain fascinating details of the scientific or geologic elements and processes behind these magnificent bars, such as cacao fermentation notes, chocolate flavor profiles, and history of the unique cacao farms from which Domantas sourced these limited-quantity highest-quality cacaos.
Domantas told me that with such small batches of cacao, he has just one chance to get it right. And he succeeds! What would you say to a Chocolate Uplift Travel Club trip to Vilnius in 2018, to see and learn more for ourselves, as Domantas spins cacao into chocolate?
Meanwhile, why the delightful logo of the man riding an impossible old fashioned penny-farthing bicycle with a missing back wheel, making it a sort of unicycle, possibly uphill, or perhaps off a cliff of naivete as the drawing seems to teeter at the top of the text? Domantas charmingly told me that the logo and business name represent his perspective that to think he can make first-class chocolate in Lithuania, he must be a fool, or naive. We know he is a genius, and leader.
“Chocolate is as luxuriant as my most vivid dream and as humble as my simple reality.”
My Chocolate Uplift box customers say:
“Perfection of smoothness like I never tasted, with a completely rare and different flavor!”
“Wonderful and delicious inside and out.”
“The Kefir bar!!!! Oh my!!!!!!”
In gratitude and delight, here’s to Chocolate Naive’s deliciously deceptive saturated simplicity, and to dear Domantas Uzpalis, Chocolate Uplift 2017 Chocolate Maker of the Year!
Scroll for more Naive, and “keep eating real chocolate!”
Your friend in chocolate,
Founder Valerie’s Original Chocolate Tours and Chocolate Uplift
Sustainable Craft Chocolate & Cacao Distribution
wholesale, retail, subscription box, tours www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com
Uplift Through Chocolate!
Chocolate Naive Spices bar in my December 2017 Chocolate Uplift craft chocolate subscription boxes
I sampled the Kefir bar to my audience when I spoke at the 2017 Northwest Chocolate Festival on Chocolate Health Benefits: Body, Mind, Soul
Lights, camera, action: behind the scenes while taping the unboxing video featuring Naive’s Kefir bar
Chocolate Naive Kefir bar in my June 2017 Chocolate Uplift craft chocolate subscription boxes
Or the Columbia Records tape of the month club? (A junior high school favorite!)
Are you into the contemporary subscription services, for makeup, or dog toys, or other items?
It’s fun to receive something new that you love, and to take a journey to a new adventure through this new discovery, isn’t it!
I’ve wanted to start a chocolate of the month club for quite some time, and even did for a short time back in 2007 while the 1.0 version of the original chocolate tours I founded in 2005 was running.
The timing has finally proved right, and I recently launched the Chocolate Uplift craft chocolate subscription box, which gives you 4 top-notch chocolate bars per month, always sustainable and child-slavery-free, soy-free, small-batch, and scrumptious! I’ve met and connected with so many innovative chocolate makers over the years, as the chocolate revolution moves forward, and it’s a blast to connect you to their delicious artistry through the box!
In addition to selecting these special and sometimes hard-to-find bars for you, and choosing the packaging and monthly theme, I donate a meal to the children of CREER Africa for every box sold, as the kids are reintegrated into health and life after being trafficked onto the child labor cacao farms in Ivory Coast that supply big chocolate brands. This one-to-one give came about when I asked the CREER founder what she needed for the kids, such as books, toys, or shoes. She said that the rescue center needs food, rice for the kids. So that’s what we give.
The boxes also contain a friendship bracelet from Peru, to honor the heritage of cacao, and to say an extra thanks from me to you.
You can receive boxes quarterly, monthly, or one-and-done, for yourself or a gift, for a journey through chocolate.
Click for my latest unboxing video to see what was inside the March 2017 box and hear me share some backstories about the chocolate, cacao, or chocolate makers. Thank you, and keep eating real chocolate!
Onward and upward!
Your friend in chocolate,
Founder/CEO Chocolate Uplift and Valerie’s Original Chocolate Tours
By Valerie Beck, “Chocolate Muse,” and CEO/Founder of Chocolate Uplift and Valerie’s Original Chocolate Tours
How do you like your drinking chocolate?
The Mayans liked their drinking chocolate hot, the Aztecs liked it cold, Montezuma liked it in golden goblets before visiting his harem, George Washington liked it with cream, Marie Antoinette liked it with orange blossom, the Marquis de Sade liked it as more suited to the seductive arts than Champagne, and I like it raw thanks to my chocolate beverage pick of 2016: Drink Cacoco!
Let me be clear: I’m not generally a fan of raw chocolate due to its often muddy flavors – roasting can bring out and clarifies flavors.
Yet I love raw cacao, on my grapefruit at breakfast for example, for its delicious and often nutty flavor depending on the cacao, as well as its lively and invigorating properties and nutrients.
Cacao is a superfood, rich in magnesium, iron, antioxidants, fiber, potassium, more. It lowers heart disease and stroke risk, and lowers blood pressure, while boosting brain function, blood flow, and of course mood!
Drink Cacoco takes raw cacao to a new level – or back to its pre-industrial glory – by retaining its liveliness and blending in herbs the way some of the historical celebrities above did, while on a mission to provide sustainable and nutrient-dense drinking chocolate that honors and protects the rainforest.
Drink Cacoco founders Erick Koon, Liam Blackmon, and Tony Portugal experimented with superfoods like cacao, and have created an outrageously smooth blended drinking chocolate that you mix with water – shaken, not stirred as Erick reminded me (I tried it both ways and it really is better shaken!) – for an incredibly flavorful yet light beverage, all natural with no industrial chemicals or “nasties,” that leaves you feeling uplifted and alive.
The highly-regarded Ecuador cacao is organic and ethically sourced (no child labor in this supply chain of course!), and the cool origami-style packaging uses no glue and is compostable, all in alignment with the founders’ mission to “revive the world through chocolate.”
Sounds like my own mission of “Uplift Through Chocolate” and my #chocolatefreedomproject, doesn’t it! It’s said that “great minds think alike” – and drink chocolate alike? 🙂
Erick sent me the Midnight Mystic and the Fire Walker blends, both of which I adore, after I met him through the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle. To be more precise, I met him when we were both chocolate scouting around town after the festival!
Cheers to my chocolate beverage pick of 2016, delicious Drink Cacoco!
Click for my 2016 chocolate bar and chocolate bonbon picks, and see my instagram for daily chocolate as we move forward into a delicious and courageous 2017, exploring our themes of taste, health, sustainability, justice for people and planet, and uplift! Your friend in chocolate,
Founder/CEO Chocolate Uplift and Valerie’s Original Chocolate Tours
Chocolate services to the trade and the public: Brokering, Consulting, Speaking, Subscriptions, Tours
I first encountered Chocolatasm on Instagram. The business is run by chef and chocolatier Paul John Kearins, an Englishman in Blue Ridge, Georgia, and it was chocolate love at first chocolate sight.
I was intrigued by Paul’s unique flavor combinations like the blueberry sesame confection (in my photo above), and also by the pristine and well-organized kitchen in which he takes enticing snapshots of his chocolate artistry.
I had to learn more, and reached out to Paul, who proved as kind, generous, and humorous as he is artistic, accomplished, and professional.
When I tasted Paul’s creations, it was even deeper love at first taste, due to unique and thoroughly successful flavor combinations, plus superlative chocolate!
Paul has started collaborating with marvelous Mackenzie Rivers of map chocolate of Oregon (see my photo above), in that he uses custom bean-to-bar chocolate by map as the couverture for his bonbons, instead of using an often very delicious yet more common or commercial type of chefs chocolate.
This partnership gives his chocolates exciting new dimensions, because his brilliant flavor combinations get to dance with truly unique chocolate.
Moreover, map chocolate is made with traceable cacao, free of child slave labor in the supply chain. And it contains no soy lecithin, so the taste is more immediate, the texture is richer without slickness, there are no solvents present like hexane or acetone, and the health benefits are uncompromised!
All of this is critically important to Paul of course, who selects his chocolate with great care, and matches it to his flavor combinations with delicious thoughtfulness.
As an example, Chocolatasm’s smoked pear truffle in Peru 45% milk chocolate (photo above) plunges you into layers of rich flavor. The milk chocolate adds a wonderful tang, while graciously sharing the stage with smoked pear. A sommelier client and I selected this bonbon for a Port pairing because the deep flavors of the truffle absolutely sang with a vintage port.
I asked Paul how he thinks up flavor ideas, and he described how he has always had access to a rich cache of olfactory memory. He can remember smells and flavors from the past, and can perceive in his mind how to combine them in new ways.
Paul was born in London, worked as a chef and chocolatier there and in Amsterdam, and now lives and creates in the US, 90 miles north of Atlanta in a town located within the gorgeous wooded mountain landscape of the Chattahoochee Forest.
Paul’s history and memories provide such a benefit for us, the chocolate lovers, who get to enjoy Chocolatasm delights such as strawberry balsamic truffles with black pepper, or cranberry cabernet chocolates.
I look forward to writing another photo-filled blog post about Chocolatasm after I visit Paul’s beautifully situated kitchen this spring!
But first, there’s more…
As enthusiastic as I am about Chocolatasm’s bonbons, the chocolate bars are also exciting and innovative!
For example: dark chocolate from Honduran cacao with Ethiopian coffee and lemon, or a white chocolate with muscovado sugar and lime that turns people who think they don’t like white chocolate into people who realize they’d simply never tried the right or real white chocolate!
Could the bars be part of a forthcoming Chocolate Uplift craft chocolate subscription box?
In the meantime, here’s to Chocolatasm, my 2016 bonbon love, where craft couverture meets endless imagination, international perspectives, and top chef professionalism, for new journeys into deep deliciousness.
Whether you call chocolates “bonbons,” “truffles,” or “chocolates,” Chocolatasm adds a new word of love to the chocolate lexicon!
We’re back, in secret beta pre-launch, and I’m excited!
I founded the original chocolate tours in Chicago in 2005, from an idea I started in Paris before that at age 19 while studying abroad and enjoying fine French chocolate.
After 2005, I grew the tour business across the US, and closed the doors of the business around 8 years later.
Then I went on a journey; really two journeys: I went even closer to the source of cacao by working with cacao growing nations, bean-to-bar chocolate makers, and others along the chocolate supply chain, as a volunteer, broker, and consultant. In addition, I deepened my inner journey through meditation.
Meditation and cacao!
Now, the timing is right to reopen the tour business I love so much, with a new name, and some new elements.
Valerie’s Original Chocolate Tours provides “Uplift Through Chocolate” to customers, vendors, social justice partners, and team members, with elegance, ethics, and enthusiasm. And we do it with delicious chocolate and pastry, through an entertaining and enlightening experience!
Beta schedule for August 2016:
*Wednesdays 2 pm, Geneva IL route
*Thursdays 2 pm, Chicago Loop route
*Fridays 2 pm, Chicago Gold Coast route
*Saturdays 2 pm, NYC Hell’s Kitchen route
Buy a ticket for $50 at paypal.me/chocolateuplift, specifying your chosen day and location, and receive details. Plus: experience delicious innovations and surprises on the tours during beta season.
I’m incredibly excited to invite you on this journey!
*Boost your mindset and metabolism in 28 days, with one-on-one coaching!
*Enjoy chocolate-boosted supernova wellness, customized for you.
*Feel positive, serene, energized, and fit, while eating all the artisan chocolate you want!
*Individualized coaching boosts you where you want it, such as
~how to know what foods or chocolate to choose,
~how to be peaceful and powerful,
~how to step out of negative patterns through meditation or other means,
*The #1 question I’m asked is how do you eat all that chocolate and stay so slim? (I answer that question through corporate and association talks on Chocolate Wellness: Eat Chocolate, Be Skinny!)
*The second most popular question I’m asked is how are you so positive? (I answer that question when I give keynotes and school talks on The ABC ABCs of Success: Attitude, Belief, Commitment!)
*Short answers to those 2 most popular questions:
~ I eat the right chocolate.
~ And, I’m positive by choice, not chance.
*Through customized coaching for you, you’ll have the full answers of what works for me, and most importantly what works for you.
*We’ll go forward together on the right plan for you to get where you want to be physically and mentally, with weekly 30-minute calls, one-on-one.
*Chocolate-fueled life coaching to ignite the supernova in you!
*Coaching packages start at
~$500 for 28 days, that’s $125/week for 1 month to a happier healthier you.
~$900 for 3 months, which is $100/week, or
~$1,350 for 6 months, which is $75/week.
*Each package includes one 30-minute private coaching call per week, plus follow-up activities. Times currently available include Monday evenings, Tuesday mornings, and Thursday afternoons/evenings. Possible weekend availability for special clients like you 🙂
*Sign up to change your life through chocolate, by emailing me at email@example.com with questions or your preferred timeslot.
*You can make a PayPal payment for your chosen package at paypal.me/chocolateuplift
(You can pay through that link even if you don’t have a PayPal account.)
*Refer a friend who signs up, and receive 4 free artisan chocolate bars, plus free cacao!
*I believe in you, and I’m excited to journey with you, onward and upward!
Tasting new chocolate can connect us to happy memories, and open the door to new adventures.
Below are a very few of my favorite chocolate creations that I tasted for the first time in 2015, narrowed down with enormous difficulty to:
* one chocolate bar,
* one hot chocolate, and
* one chocolate truffle.
I could have done the top 10 of each, and added pastries and confections and done the top 10 of each of those, and would still have had an outrageously difficult time narrowing it down from all of the amazing chocolate I’ve had the pleasure of tasting this year, in many different cities.
Indeed, at one single event, World of Chocolate earlier this month, I tasted over 27 new chocolate creations as a judge!
The craft chocolate revolution continues, and talented and hard working chocolate makers, chocolatiers, and chefs continue to innovate, which means a lot of fabulous chocolate to taste and enjoy.
But this is a brief post on New Year’s Eve, typed on my phone, and so I’m sharing just a few favorite items here.
For more chocolate that I loved in 2015, see my instagram!
Crafted from just two ingredients – cacao and sugar – Sirene Chocolate epitomizes the purity of bean-to-bar chocolate.
Smooth texture and fabulous flavor, depending on the cacao origin, fermentation, roasting process, and grinding time, reveal the story that each cacao origin can tell, and reveal the artistry of chocolate maker Taylor Kennedy, from his chocolate kitchen in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
I sampled Sirene for the first time this past year, at the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle, and was instantly impressed. I then sampled Sirene to a group at one of my Chocolate Wellness talks, in Chicago, and it is no exaggeration to say that “the crowd went wild.” After the group tasted the fleur de sel chocolate bar by Sirene, they asked for seconds, and bought out the rest of my stock.
When one audience member’s bars accidentally came home with me in my bag, I offered to drop them off to her the next day, but she preferred to come to my place and get them that same night. I would have done the same thing!
This is a personal mini list, so here’s my personal view on hot chocolate: it should be rich, chocolatey, and simultaneously comforting and exciting.
If it’s also single-origin, and made with just two ingredients (cacao and sugar), and tastes amazing in a vegan version made with water instead of milk (the traditional or ancient way to make chocolate is of course with water, not dairy), then it is truly special.
The hot chocolate by Undone Chocolate is all of those things. I already loved Undone’s chocolate bars when I visited owner Adam Kavalier and team member Merrill Dagg at Undone’s kitchen in Washington, DC, this year. What a treat to see their chocolate-making equipment in action, with sacks and sacks of Dominican Republic cacao awaiting their turn to shine.
When Adam sent me home with a tin of Undone hot chocolate mix I was grateful, and as soon as I tried it I was ecstatic.
The flavor and texture are rich and luscious with water – no milk required – so that the hot chocolate tastes not like milk but like chocolate. Call me a purist because that for me is what hot chocolate should be.
When I bit into a French truffle in Paris at age 19, I knew it was something exquisite.
When I bit into a Batch PDX truffle earlier this year (see my June 2015 blog post), I knew it had the same level of precision, flavor, and magic that had captivated me in Paris, only this time the truffles were made in Portland, Oregon.
Chocolatier Jeremy Karp sees himself as a craftsman, and indeed crafts bonbons of beauty and balance.
I also see him as an artist, because he sculpts with flavors and textures, telling a story of contrast and compatibility with spice and passion fruit, for example, enrobed in white chocolate for additional magic.
These glimpses of magical chocolate experiences energize me for amazing chocolate experiences in the new year and beyond.
I wish you a delicious new year and more, as you “keep eating real chocolate!”
Your friend in chocolate, Valerie
CEO/Founder Chocolate Uplift
Chocolate Consultant and Broker, Sweet Speaker www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com
social media @chocolateuplift
by Valerie Beck, Chocolate Expert and Chocolate Broker
New York City – the “Big Apple” – turns into what I call the “Big Truffle” every summer during the Fancy Food Show. Chefs, brands, and chocolate makers from across the country and around the world set up displays, so that retailers, the media, and brokers can come see and sample what’s new.
As a chocolate consultant and broker, who never misses a chance to visit friends, clients, and my favorite shops and museums in NYC, the Fancy Food Show is a joy every year.
The trends I focused on at the Show this year were craft chocolate (small-batch chocolate made from fair trade or direct trade cacao), fine chocolate (made with premium ingredients for chefs and consumers), and fine pastry and dessert (made with premium ingredients).
While in NYC I also received a special delivery of a new Dutch chocolate brand not yet sold in the States, attended a mini college reunion for classmates who live in or near New York or who like me were traveling there, and did some chocolate scouting (click here for the separate blog post on the heavenly chocolate and pastry I scouted) – scroll on for Fancy Food Show deliciousness!
Starting with standouts in craft chocolate:
Some favorites in the fine chocolate category, also organic of course:
Some fine pastry and dessert hits:
I love placing great artisan brands into great upscale stores, and am already looking forward to the next Fancy Food Show.