Love at First Taste: 3 Chocolate Loves of 2016, Part 2

By Valerie Beck, Founder/CEO Chocolate Uplift and Valerie’s Original Chocolate Tours, and “chocolate muse”

 “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare

Do you call filled chocolates “bonbons” (technically any filled chocolates), “truffles” (chocolates filled with ganache), or chocolates?

Or do you just call them delicious!

Selecting my favorite chocolate bar, chocolate bonbon, and chocolate beverage of the year is never easy, because I get to taste so many wonderful creations by so many talented and hard working people.

So here we go for bonbons –

My 2016 bonbons (or truffles, or chocolates) of the year are by…

Chocolatasm

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!

If you’re in Chicago, you can pick up Chocolatasm bars at Foodease or Beatrix Streeterville – tell them Valerie the Chocolate Lady sent you! : )

Could the bars be part of a forthcoming Chocolate Uplift craft chocolate subscription box

Stay tuned!

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!

Want more chocolate?

Click for my chocolate bar love of 2016,

Click for my chocolate beverage love of 2016 – coming soon, and

Click for my 2015 picks!

Onward and upward into a 2017 filled with love and light, taste and delight!

Your friend in chocolate,

Valerie

– Let it go to your head: here I am in my Chocolatasm cap! –

Valerie Beck 

Founder/CEO Chocolate Uplift and Valerie’s Original Chocolate Tours 

Chocolate services to the trade and the public: Brokering, Consulting, Speaking, Subscriptions, Tours

www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com 

chocolateuplift@gmail.com 

@chocolateuplift 

Uplift Through Chocolate!

Happy Halloween

Have a happy and delicious transparent-trade Halloween!

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At The Peninsula Chicago

Click for Green America’s chocolate child labor scorecard, to see some transparent trade treats:

http://www.greenamerica.org/programs/fairtrade/whatyoucando/Scorecard.cfm

And subscribe to my new chocolate subscription box for top transparent-trade craft chocolate bars:

http://www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com/subscription

Thanks and keep eating real chocolate!

Your friend in chocolate,
Valerie

#chocolatefreedomproject

Valerie’s Original Chocolate Tours

We’re back, in secret beta pre-launch, and I’m excited!

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Valerie’s Original Chocolate Tours: we’re back, with classic and new elements, including a new name!

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!

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Haiti cacao, Haiti chocolate: experience the forefront of chocolate trends on Valerie’s Original Chocolate Tours.

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

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Real chocolate, really beautiful environments, real social justice: for every ticket sold, we’re buying a meal for a child in a rescue center for kids who’ve escaped the child labor cacao farms in West Africa that the big chocolate brands use.

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!

Thank you for your business and belief!

Your friend in chocolate,
Valerie

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Join me for a magical experience on Valerie’s Original Chocolate Tours! Photo: The Uplifted.     Uplift Through Chocolate!

chocolateuplift@gmail.com

Chocolate Coaching

by Valerie Beck, chocolate expert

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I've held group chocolate wellness seminars, and here's your chance for one-on-one chocolate-fueled life and health coaching!

~Change your life through chocolate!~

*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 
~mental mindset, 
~fitness level, 
~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, 
~and beyond.

*Feel better, look better, breathe better, succeed better.

*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!)

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Transform your life and health with chocolate coaching

*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.
Or choose
~$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 chocolateuplift@gmail.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!

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Boost your mindset and metabolism!

*Uplift Through Chocolate!

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Your friend in chocolate,
Valerie

Valerie Beck
CEO/Founder Chocolate Uplift
http://www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com
http://www.chocolateuplift.com
chocolateuplift@gmail.com
social media @chocolateuplift

Best New Chocolate I Ate (Or Drank) in 2015

by Valerie Beck, chocolate expert

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Past, present, future: chocolate links us to happy memories, gives us an enjoyable present moment, and opens doors to happy adventures to come

Do you remember the first time you tasted chocolate?

I remember being 4 years old and letting my mom know that non-chocolate milk just wasn’t working for me.

debeauve et gallais
Debauve et Gallais, the Paris chocolate shop where at age 19 I tasted the bonbon that changed my life

 

And I remember being 19 and tasting my first piece of truly fine chocolate, in Paris, and knowing that this was going to change my life.

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.

 

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Will (and do) travel for chocolate

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!

Meanwhile, here we go:

 

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Sensational Sirene Chocolate: 2 bars in 1, each with just 2 ingredients (cacao and sugar) so you can compare flavors

 

Chocolate Bar: Sirene Chocolate

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!

 

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Cacao + sugar + water = some of the richest and most delicious drinking chocolate anywhere, by Undone Chocolate of Washington, DC

 

Hot Chocolate: Undone Chocolate

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.

 

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Spicy Passion truffle by Batch PDX: passion fruit and Oregon pepper ganache enrobed in white chocolate – sweet with heat

Truffles: Batch PDX

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

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Celebrating my 2015 birthday – December 10 – at Miss Ricky’s in Chicago, with chocolate cake topped with a chocolate knife bonbon filled with chocolate caramel!

 

Valerie Beck
CEO/Founder Chocolate Uplift
Chocolate Consultant and Broker, Sweet Speaker
www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com
chocolateuplift@gmail.com
social media @chocolateuplift

“Uplift Through Chocolate!”

Sweet NYC: Fancy Food Show

by Valerie Beck, Chocolate Expert and Chocolate Broker

Fresh new business cards from moo arrived just in time
Fresh new business cards from moo arrived just in time for my trip to the Fancy Food Show.

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.

Good morning, NYC and Freedom Tower, from the Queensboro Bridge
Good morning, NYC and Freedom Tower, from the Queensboro Bridge.

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:

One of the best chocolate bars I have tasted in some time: Madagascar by Willie's Cacao
One of the absolute best chocolate bars I have tasted in some time: Madagascar by Willie’s Cacao of England. Exquisitely smooth, pure, flavorful craft chocolate, with a fruity zing.
Raw craft chocolate by Raaka, Belize origin, aged in bourbon casks, for a rich and appealing intensity
Raw organic craft chocolate by Raaka of Brooklyn, Belize origin, aged in bourbon casks, for a rich and appealing intensity.
Blue Bandana craft chocolate, part of Lake Champlain Chocolate
Blue Bandana craft chocolate, a promising new brand that is part of Lake Champlain Chocolates of Vermont.

Some favorites in the fine chocolate category, also organic of course:

Having fun with Pacari founder Santiago Peralta and Team Pacari
Having fun with Pacari founder Santiago Peralta and Team Pacari, who came all the way from enchanting Ecuador with some enchanting new flavors such as rose chocolate, and my favorite lemongrass chocolate!
Made in Switzerland, finished in Brooklyn, organic and accessible Milkboy Chocolate
Made in Switzerland, finished in Brooklyn, organic and accessible Milkboy Chocolate.

Some fine pastry and dessert hits:

Loved the vegan chocolate gelato and more by star chef Nancy at Nancy's Fancy
Loved the ultra-premium vegan chocolate gelato and more by James Beard award-winning chef Nancy Silverton of Nancy’s Fancy.
The new macaron kits from Dana's Bakery grabbed a lot of fun attention.
The new macaron kits from Dana’s Bakery grabbed a lot of fun attention.
In my
In my “not chocolate but still delicious” category: Liege waffles by newcomer The Belgian Kitchen. #dipitinchocolate
Always love tasting what's new from Grey Ghost Bakery.
I always love tasting what’s new from Grey Ghost Bakery, and was delighted to experience some spiciness in the new Chocolate Cayenne cookie. #aztecrevivalism
Creative cookie-mix-in-a-jar by Sisters Gourmet
Creative cookie-mix-in-a-jar by Sisters Gourmet.

I love placing great artisan brands into great upscale stores, and am already looking forward to the next Fancy Food Show.

“Keep eating real chocolate!”

Your friend in chocolate,

Valerie

Met up with my college reunion class for a New York mini reunion while in town, wearing my very first baseball cap ever, which I purchased a month earlier at our full reunion on campus!
I met up with my Harvard College reunion class for a New York mini reunion while in town, wearing my very first baseball cap ever, which I purchased a month earlier at our full reunion on campus. We had a blast, and one classmate had a way of snapping fun semi-candids!
I sampled this secret new in-development Dutch brand to my mini reunion gathering, which I had just received from a brand executive who brought it to me at the Show from The Netherlands. Everyone loved the milk chocolate with speculoos (waffle cookie), with one taste tester/classmate proclaiming that it tasted like an upscale twix bar!
I sampled this tasty new in-development Dutch brand Johnny Doodle – organic, of course – to my mini reunion gathering, which I had just received from a brand executive who brought it to me at the Show in NYC from The Netherlands. Everyone loved the milk chocolate with speculoos (waffle cookie), with one taste tester/classmate proclaiming that it tasted like an upscale twix bar!

Valerie Beck, The Chocolate Queen

CEO/Founder Chocolate Uplift

www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com

chocolateuplift@gmail.com

Instagram: @chocolateuplift

The Law of Chocolate: Cocoa Blue Chocolates

by Valerie Beck, Chocolate Expert

Precise sophistication with a dash of whimsy
Luscious truffles made onsite at Cocoa Blue Chocolates

Would you be surprised if I told you that one of the best new chocolate shops in the US is in central Illinois, 200 miles from Chicago?

Cocoa Blue Chocolates is a first-class chocolate kitchen and boutique, in Rochester, Illinois, a town of 3,600 people located 7 miles from state capital Springfield, Illinois.

Exploring and tasting at Cocoa Blue
Cocoa pods and chocolate truffles: exploring and tasting at Cocoa Blue

Chocolate follows laws of temperature, starting with the fact that cacao trees like to grow in hot, humid climates near the equator. But good chocolate making or chocolate shops don’t necessarily depend on geography; some of the best chocolate in the world is made in the Midwest, such as Askinosie chocolate which led the bean-to-bar or craft chocolate movement and is located in the Ozarks of Missouri. And how many people would have predicted a generation ago that then-downmarket Brooklyn would become a hotbed of upscale craft chocolate?

Sweet heartland
Sweet Illinois heartland

So what was I doing in central Illinois? In my role as a professional speaker, I was invited to give a talk to an influential philanthropic ladies group in Springfield, IL. Click here for my blog post on that tasty talk, and on sweet Springfield. I had heard about Cocoa Blue and reached out. I boarded the train in my hometown of Chicago, and my first priority after getting off the train in Springfield, where my fabulous host from the ladies group picked me up, was to visit Cocoa Blue!

In a historically significant building in Rochester, Illinois
Cocoa Blue is in a historically significant building in Rochester, Illinois. Rain? What rain? Chocolate! Truly, our farmers had been hoping for this rain.

Cocoa Blue chocolatier/owner Joshua Becker makes delicious truffles, chocolate bark, and more, using top-quality ingredients. It was a pleasure touring his kitchen and shop and talking with him about his vision to create classic chocolates, his pastry and chocolate training, and the new tempering machine he’s ordered – another law of chocolate is that it must be “tempered” or properly crystallized through correct temperature changes while mixing, otherwise it won’t stay smooth or glossy. For more, see David Lebovitz’s famous post on How to Temper Chocolate.

Tempering chocolate in the kitchen at Cocoa Blue
Tempering chocolate, in the current tempering machine, in the kitchen at Cocoa Blue

Another law of chocolate: chocolate seems to attract former lawyers! Joshua and I are both former attorneys (and indeed so is Shawn Askinosie).

If Springfield’s “favorite son” Abraham Lincoln, a lawyer, hadn’t become the 16th President of the United States, would he have become a chocolatier? Pure speculation of course! But, before Lincoln, the Founding Fathers certainly loved chocolate – for instance, Benjamin Franklin used to sell it out of his print shop in Philadelphia – but that’s a story for another day.

In the kitchen at the recreated Lincoln White House at the Lincoln Museum
In the kitchen at the recreated Lincoln White House at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, which I visited in Springfield and which is one of the most exceptional museums in the US. If you follow me on Instagram, you know I often stage chocolate on beloved blue and white china at home with hashtags #blueandwhiteforever and #blueandwhiteobsession. What a treat to see one of the classic patterns at President Lincoln’s museum too. I (barely) resisted the urge to place a Cocoa Blue bonbon on one of the plates and snap an Instagram!
In the kitchen
In the kitchen at Cocoa Blue

Joshua and I discussed similarities in our backgrounds: he became interested in becoming a chocolatier after spending time in The Netherlands as a study-abroad student; my transformative chocolate moment that ultimately inspired me to start my business took place while studying in Paris, when I tasted my first piece of truly fine European chocolate.

We both went to law school and became lawyers, and both exited that profession for something sweeter: Joshua attended Le Cordon Bleu, fulfilled his dream of becoming a chocolatier, and embarked on the next phase of his journey by opening Cocoa Blue. I started the original Chocolate Tours, grew my business across the US (including in Philly, where our chocolate tour groups paused outside Ben Franklin’s above-mentioned chocolatey print shop), exited the tour business, and am now the founder/CEO of Chocolate Uplift where my talks, consulting and brokering work, and Chocolate Freedom Project take me to places as diverse as New York City, Ecuador, and central Illinois. Click for a podcast on my story of leaving the law.

Delicious Illinois chocolates by Cocoa Blue for my Springfield talk on chocolate wellnes
World class chocolate: outrageously delicious Illinois chocolates by Cocoa Blue for my Springfield talk on chocolate wellness

Back to Cocoa Blue’s exquisite chocolates: I was impressed by the purity of flavor, precision of technique, and respect for the classics, plus Joshua’s special creative touches. For example, the dark chocolate truffle was rich yet clean, with pure chocolate notes – precisely what a top-quality classic truffle should be.

Luscious truffles made onsite at Cocoa Blue Chocolates
Handmade: precise sophistication with a dash of whimsy at Cocoa Blue Chocolates

Then there was the marvelous chocolate macadamia bark. Macadamia nuts aren’t frequently paired with chocolate, but I think you’d agree with me that they should be after tasting Cocoa Blue’s white and dark versions. The creaminess of the nut harmonized with the creaminess of the chocolate, while the roasted and salted aspects gave a nice counterpoint to the sweetness.

Look what came home with me: magnificent white chocolate macadamia bark
Look what came home to Chicago with me from Cocoa Blue: magnificent white chocolate macadamia bark. The dark chocolate macadamia bark didn’t make it home, or even to a closeup photo, as I ate – savored! – it so quickly. #blueandwhiteforever #blueandwhiteobsession

Cocoa Blue Chocolates are delightfully classic, deceptively simple, and deliciously innovative.

“Keep eating real chocolate!”

Your friend in chocolate,

Valerie

With Joshua Becker of Cocoa Blue
Dark and white macadamia bark in hand, with Joshua Becker of Cocoa Blue

Valerie Beck, The Chocolate Queen

CEO/Founder Chocolate Uplift

www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com

chocolateuplift@gmail.com

Instagram: @chocolateuplift

Sweet Springfield: Chocolate Wellness Talk and Honest Abe

by Valerie Beck, Chocolate Expert and Sweet Speaker

Have chocolate, will travel
Have chocolate, will travel

What do chocolate and President Abraham Lincoln have in common?

They have honesty in common, when the chocolate is made with real ingredients and fairly traded cocoa beans.

Why the “Honest Abe” comparison at all?

Because I had the wonderful opportunity to spend some time in sprightly Springfield, Illinois, 200 miles from my home in Chicago, where I gave a chocolate wellness talk, and where Abraham Lincoln lived much of his adult life, practiced law, campaigned for office, and was returned for burial after his assassination.

Old State House in Springfield, IL
Old State Capitol in Springfield, IL, a powerful Abraham Lincoln site for Illinoisans like me and for all other Lincoln enthusiasts

I traveled to the Illinois state capital at the kind invitation of an influential ladies philanthropic organization to speak about chocolate wellness, and we had a marvelous and delicious time. Of course I also took some time to re-visit one of the best museums in the US – the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum – and to do some Springfield “chocolate scouting.”

Heartland
Midwest moment
Where chocolate begins: sharing cacao at my talk
Where chocolate begins: magnesium-rich and health benefit-filled cacao, which I shared at my talk
The audience enjoyed lunch and dessert before my talk and chocolate tasting
Dessert before dessert: the audience enjoyed lunch and dessert before my talk and chocolate tasting

One of the elements of my talk involved playing a game I created called “Sometimes, Always, Never: What’s Really In Your Chocolate.” The way it works: I explain which ingredients and origins to look for in chocolate bars, and which to avoid. Then we have audience members read the labels on a variety of chocolate bars I’ve brought, and we talk about where the cocoa beans came from, and what the ingredients are in each chocolate bar are. Knowing the health, labor, and environmental benefits or risks, the group decides whether each chocolate bar is one that they might sometimes choose for themselves and their families, one that they can always feel good about choosing, or one that they would never want in their household.

The game resulted in some surprises as it does every time, and then of course we ate the chocolate bars that the group decided to put into the “Always” pile! This included delicious, healthful, fair trade chocolate bars by Alter Eco, Dick Taylor, and El Dorado. The latter is made in Ecuador and is not yet available in the US, and this group was my first group to sample it!

Inside joke: Dick Taylor craft chocolate from California meets Dick Taylor Collision Services of Illinois
Inside joke: Dick Taylor craft chocolate from California meets Dick Taylor Collision Services of Illinois

I was impressed with the group, and moved by the glowing testimonial I received:

“Valerie is an exuberant and extraordinary speaker who superbly involves the audience as she presents such interesting facts about chocolate and wellness.  She is very friendly and personable, yet a cylinder of dynamite showering listeners with delightful energy!  The manner in which she shares her heart, soul, lively humor and vast knowledge makes her presentations quite enjoyable.  Valerie is highly recommended as a speaker to your group!”

  Janie Rast, Ladies organization, Springfield, IL

Great state of Illinois chocolate by first-class local chocolatier Cocoa Blue for my audience
Great state of Illinois chocolate by first-class local chocolatier Cocoa Blue for my audience. Honest Abe would have approved. Click for my blog post on Cocoa Blue.

Thank you, Ladies of Springfield! I appreciate your hospitality, eagerness to hear about chocolate’s health benefits, and openness to my Chocolate Freedom Project to raise awareness of child slave labor on West African cocoa farms and of fair trade alternatives that are healthier and more delicious. “Keep eating real chocolate!”

Honored to have dinner - and dessert - at the home of the dear chocolate lover who invited me to town
I was honored to have dinner – and a very chocolatey dessert – at the home of the dear chocolate lover who invited me to speak in Springfield; we connected because she and her husband had been on my Chocolate Tours years ago when I operated that business.

There’s even more deliciousness to this sweet Springfield story:

I arrived in Springfield the day before my talk and checked into the Inn at 835, a captivating antiques-filled bed-and-breakfast. The rooms were lovely, breakfast was delicious, wine and cheese hour at night was a charming touch, and the chocolate chip cookies at bedtime were the ultimate!

Bedtime chocolate chip cookies served at the Inn at 835
Sweet dreams at the Inn at 835

From the Inn, it was a short walk to the Abraham Lincoln Museum. This was my third trip to Springfield since this exceptional museum opened 10 years ago, and I’ve visited the Lincoln Museum each time. I continue to  notice additional details in the exhibits, such as the pile of legal papers in the re-creation of Lincoln’s utterly disorderly law office marked “if you can’t find it, look here.”

Children's art at the Lincoln Museum
Children’s art display at the Lincoln Museum

The exhibit that shows the 4-year Civil War in 4 minutes, using a video map of the US, music, and a running tally of the dead, but no spoken words, always makes me weep. And the exhibit in which the late journalist Tim Russert broadcasts about the 4-way presidential race “Campaign 1860” always makes me smile.

Vegan friendly Cafe Andiamo
Delicious chocolate cake doughnut at vegan-friendly Cafe Andiamo, against a background of local art by Billinda DeVillez

I followed my museum visit with some chocolate scouting – of course! – and some sightseeing, and enjoyed every element of my sweet Springfield visit.

Dana-Thomas House by Frank Lloyd Wright
Springfield’s Dana-Thomas House by Frank Lloyd Wright
Cafe Moxo
Cookies galore at Cafe Moxo, including chocolate chip cinnamon raisin

Your friend in “honest chocolate,”

Valerie

3rd from right with some of Springfield's philanthropic ladies
3rd from right with some of Springfield’s philanthropic ladies

Valerie Beck, The Chocolate Queen

CEO/Founder Chocolate Uplift

www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com

chocolateuplift@gmail.com

Instagram: @chocolateuplift

Chocolatasm: Light Touch, Strong Success

by Valerie Beck, Chocolate Expert and Chocolate Broker

Artisan chocolate by Chocolatasm
Artisan chocolate by Chocolatasm

As soon as I saw the chocolates by Chocolatasm on Instagram, I knew they were something special. When I tasted them, I was impressed with their exquisite subtlety and delicate yet impactful flavor combinations. And when I spoke with the chocolatier behind the brand, I knew he was a true professional.

Sweet innovation
Sweet innovation

Chef/chocolatier Paul Kearins was born in London, worked as a pastry chef and chocolatier in Amsterdam, and now lives and creates in Blue Ridge, Georgia.

When I asked him how he develops his unique flavor combinations such as white chocolate with lime and muscovado sugar, or milk chocolate with honey and blueberries, or dark chocolate with lemon and Ethopian coffee, he told me that ever since childhood he’s had the ability to remember smells and to combine them in his mind with other smells.

His olfactory creativity plus his skills as a professional chef and chocolatier come together magnificently in his brand Chocolatasm.

Light touch, big impact
Light touch, big impact

To taste Chef Paul’s delicious creations is to experience a gentle and pure poetry of chocolate and other flavors. His chocolate doesn’t overwhelm, it delights. Chocolatasm is available at beloved upscale lunch spot and market Foodease inside Chicago’s Water Tower Place (a popular Chicago Chocolate Tours spot back when I operated the original Chocolate Tours as founder/CEO), and I’m thrilled to have brokered the relationship between such a special brand of artisan chocolate, and such a fabulous seller of artisan foods.

On the shelf at Foodease in Chicago
On the shelf at Foodease in Chicago
Before they got to the shelf at Foodease: in the kitchen at Chocolatasm
Before they got to the shelf at Foodease: in the kitchen at Chocolatasm
Valentine's Day every day
Valentine’s Day every day

For a peek behind the scenes, enjoy this Chocolatasm video.

Keep eating chocolate!

Come see me on Instagram too! Your friend in chocolate,

Valerie

Valerie Beck, The Chocolate Queen

CEO/Founder Chocolate Uplift

www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com

chocolateuplift@gmail.com

Social media: @chocolateuplift

The Community of Chocolate: Cocoa + Co.

by Valerie Beck

When people ask me where to find bean-to-bar chocolate, or slavery-free / ethical chocolate, there’s a new store I now add to the list: Cocoa + Co. in Chicago.

Handful of paradise on opening day at Cocoa + Co.
Handful of paradise on opening day at Cocoa + Co.

People also often ask me for a good chocolate cafe or coffee shop in Chicago, and I add Cocoa + Co. to that list too.

Spicy hot chocolate at Cocoa + Co. #aztecrevivalism
Spicy hot chocolate at Cocoa + Co. #aztecrevivalism

And, when people ask me how to tell if a chocolate bar comes from ethical sources, I give them the answer – below.

But first, imagine a chocolate shop where you can support the community of fair trade and direct trade cacao growers, support the community of artisan chocolate makers and chefs, and enjoy your own community of friends while enjoying some of the finest chocolate brands in the world. Such are the glories at Cocoa + Co.!

Store owner Kim Hack carries some of my favorite bean-to-bar chocolate brands, such as Dick Taylor and Original Beans. I’ve also found new favorites through her, such as Marou and Omnom, which I’d followed on Instagram and finally tasted and fell in love with after buying them at Kim’s shop!

Look what came home with me from Cocoa and Co.: Omnom Chocolate
Look what came home with me: Omnom Chocolate

Kim also brings in fresh local pastry and bonbons, has space for private chocolate tasting parties, serves luscious drinking chocolate, and has a well-curated chocolate grocery and cookbook selection.

Chocolate covered s'mores bonbons made for Cocoa and Co. by Veruca Chocolate
Chocolate covered s’mores bonbons made for Cocoa + Co. by Veruca Chocolates
Pretzel croissant by Beurrage and drinking chocolate at Cocoa + Co.
Pretzel croissant by Beurrage and drinking chocolate at Cocoa + Co.

These are wonderful components of the community of chocolate, wouldn’t you agree!

Back to our question of how to tell if the chocolate bar in your hand comes from ethical sources: read the label for what it says, and for what it doesn’t say.

That is: look first for the origin. If you see a country or an estate of origin listed, chances are already high you’re holding a bar of ethical chocolate. Just as a bottle of wine or bag of coffee tells you what country or estate the product comes from, an ethical chocolate bar will tell you that too. The label might say Peru, or Madagascar, or the Camino Verde Estate in Ecuador which I visited last year, or another location, so that you’ll know the source of the cacao that went into making the chocolate.

Marou Chocolate, made with cacao from Vietnam
Marou Chocolate, made with cacao from Vietnam

You can also look for a fair trade symbol, but there are multiple certifications and an ethical cacao farm may or may not have them.

Now look for what the label doesn’t say: if no origin is listed, you can be relatively sure the cocoa beans came from West Africa, which produces over 60% of the world’s chocolate, and which does so with a scarred supply chain often involving diseased cacao trees, poor flavor bulk cacao, and even child slave labor. This is the supply chain of the big chocolate manufacturers who sell in grocery stores and advertise on TV. And this is why I’m organizing a Chocolate Freedom Walk, to raise awareness of where our chocolate comes from, and to promote ethical chocolate with fun tastings and giveaways at my speaking engagements and along the route.

Ethical cacao is not only ethical, it tastes infinitely better, gives you various flavors such as earthy or fruity based on the soil (terroir) and the art of the chocolate maker, needs no artificial ingredients, and gives you the health benefits that you’ve heard about. And it includes you in the sweet chocolate community of growers, makers, and enjoyers, which you can also join at Cocoa + Co.

three tarts
Brownie by Three Tarts Bakery at Cocoa + Co.
old town
Chicago’s newest chocolate shop is located in the lovely Old Town neighborhood
cocanu and john kiras
Cocanu meets John & Kira’s – the latter are dear Philly friends from my days opening Chocolate Tours across the country! – at Cocoa + Co.
with Cocoa + Co. owner Kim Hack (left) on opening day at her shop
with Cocoa + Co. owner Kim Hack (left) on opening day at her shop

Onward and upward!

Your friend in chocolate,

Valerie

Valerie Beck

Chocolate Expert, Sweet Speaker, Chocolate Consultant

www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com

www.chocolateuplift.com

chocolateuplift@gmail.com

@chocolateuplift