A note on my Chocolate Freedom Project this Labor Day, which brings awareness of and alternatives to child labor on Ivory Coast cacao farms where Big Chocolate buys cocoa beans. Solutions that we can implement as customers include choosing fair trade and direct trade chocolate, which is better for foodie, farmer, family, and field.
Solutions that I recommend to my country clients and cacao farmer clients as a chocolate consultant include making chocolate in-country from sustainably grown cacao, instead of exporting all the cacao.
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!
What would you say to delicious bean-to-bar chocolate made from gentle cacao grown on the lush yet historically impoverished Caribbean nation of Haiti, where cacao farmers are working to raise their families and communities out of poverty?
Fund the new Haitian Chocolate Project kickstarter campaign, launching Thursday, January 28, 2016, and you’re funding new fermentation boxes to make this good cacao better, and to further farmers’ abilities to lift their families and communities out of poverty by getting their cacao to the US market.
Kickstarter rewards include Bisou Chocolate made with these gentle Haitian cocoa beans, and also my new chocolate tasting video, and a trip through San Francisco’s top chocolate shops, kitchens, and bakeries led by yours truly with the Haitian Chocolate Project founders.
I’m thrilled to be an advisor to this project, and the kickstarter link is coming soon!
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
A wonderful question to ask ourselves from time to time, beyond “what should I do with my life,” is “what does life ask of me.” Find a way to contribute, a problem to solve, or a hurt to heal, and you can find a fulfilling life.
Along this path of living meaningfully, we can also find pure and exquisitely delicious Original Beans chocolate, founded by entrepreneur and conservationist Philipp Kauffmann, whose bean-to-bar chocolate business plants or preserves a cacao tree for every chocolate bar purchased.
Chocolate done right is not candy. It is food, glorious food, made from the cocoa bean (cacao), which is the seed of the fruit of the cocoa tree. Chocolate is agricultural.
The cocoa bean is basically a multivitamin. Rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, cacao is a superfood that needs no artificial ingredients, preservatives, fillers, or unpronounceables to turn it into chocolate. Add a touch of sugar to the meticulous process of fermenting, roasting, and grinding the cacao, and you have craft chocolate. Real chocolate. From there you can add milk to make milk chocolate, or add inclusions such as nuts or sea salt. Real chocolate starts with and stays close to the cocoa bean.
Original Beans highlights the link between craft chocolate and sustainability with its brilliant “one bar, one tree” initiative. Buy a bar, and a tree is planted or maintained, for future chocolate lovers. Eat it forward.
Indeed, all of the craft chocolate makers I meet or represent believe in the social responsibility aspects of making chocolate, such as using cacao from direct trade or fair trade sources instead of from the child slave labor sources that Big Chocolate relies on.
One way Original Beans extends its sustainability platform explicitly into social justice is through its delicious Femmes de Virunga chocolate bar, which provides female cacao growers in the Congo with seedlings, education, and a local radio program, supporting Congolese women’s participation in the local and global economy. That’s “Uplift Through Chocolate,” and that’s the kind of theme I touch on in my Chocolate Wellness talks and tastings.
Search #teamvirunga and #onebaronetree on social media for more details, and check out my #chocolatefreedomproject for ways to participate in the ethical chocolate movement. (Jump into all of it through my Instagram.)
Flavor is king, you say? Don’t worry, you’ll love the rich, pure, creamy flavors of Original Beans chocolate bars. There’s an elegance to the flavor profiles that is completely enchanting.
Real chocolate tastes better, and is better for you, for the growers, and for the environment.
What does life ask of you? Part of the answer: eat real chocolate!
Your friend in chocolate,
CEO / Founder Chocolate Uplift
chocolate brokering and consulting services, and sweet speaking
by Valerie Beck, chocolate broker, chocolate consultant, sweet speaker
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” ~ Buckminster Fuller
Chocolate makers, entrepreneurs, professionals, and customers at the Northwest Chocolate Festival came together in Seattle earlier this month to celebrate craft chocolate, or bean-to-bar chocolate, which means chocolate made with ethical cocoa beans, a short supply chain, and a lot of hands-on work. The results:
infininitely better flavor than industrial chocolate bars,
real health benefits, and
social justice for cacao growers and consumers.
As I ask audiences at my Chocolate Wellness talks: you know where your cup of coffee this morning came from, whether Ethiopia, Colombia, or elsewhere, and you know where your glass of wine last night came from, right down to the name of the vineyard in California or the estate in France, but where did your chocolate bar that you packed in your child’s lunch or that you had after dinner come from?
If the label doesn’t tell you, it speaks volumes, because 2/3 of the world’s chocolate is made from cocoa beans harvested by child slaves in West Africa. There are many ways to solve this abominable human rights problem, one of which is to choose craft chocolate made with cacao from farms that grow healthy and delicious cacao in an ethical manner. Look for labels that tell you the origin of the cacao, whether Ecuador, Madagascar, Venezuela, Bolivia, Tanzania, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, or elsewhere – even Hawaii!
With ethical cacao, farmers make money, kids go to school, craft chocolate makers exercise their artistry, and we all enjoy delicious and sustainable chocolate that is better for foodie, farmer, and field.
That’s what we did at the NW Chocolate Festival, which consisted of an “un-conference” for craft chocolate makers to share best practices, an awards ceremony to recognize some of the best chocolate on Earth, an expo for the public and the trade to sample and shop amazing chocolate, and workshops for everyone to learn and share more about the endlessly fascinating world of cacao and chocolate.
Favorite workshop: “one bean, six makers,” where six different chocolate makers, who had been given the same cocoa beans from Belize, explained their very different processes – such as the many many multiple steps and custom tools and devices by delicious Dick Taylor Chocolate – and sampled their very different end result chocolate bars. That’s the magic of craft chocolate!
My favorite part of the Festival overall – aside from sampling exquisite chocolate and filling the extra suitcase I brought to take it all home – was connecting with old friends and existing clients, meeting in person people I’d connected to on instagram, and coming away with new friends in the chocolate world who are as kind as they are talented.
Onward and upward! Enjoy more Festival photos below, and keep eating real chocolate as we move ever deeper into the new chocolate model!
Your friend in chocolate,
CEO / Founder Chocolate Uplift
chocolate brokering and consulting services, and sweet speaking
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.
Chocolate is made from cocoa beans – also called cacao – which are the seeds of the fruit of the cocoa tree, native to South America. That’s why real chocolate (artisan chocolate, not industrial chocolate) is high in antioxidants, magnesium, fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients, making it a “superfood.”
Real chocolate is low in sugar
An entire bar of artisan dark chocolate has less sugar than one serving of commercial yogurt, tomato sauce, or breakfast cereal. “Bean-to-bar” chocolate, also called craft chocolate, is a back-to-basics trend resulting in delicious artisan chocolate. It’s made with only two ingredients: cocoa beans and sugar. There’s no need for palm oil, soy lecithin, or any harmful or unpronounceable ingredients!
You don’t want to risk not eating chocolate
Artisan dark chocolate can lessen the risk of death by stroke and heart disease by up to 45% according to a recent study. Also, people who eat dark chocolate at least once a week have a lower body mass index than people who never eat chocolate, because cacao boosts your metabolism. Hence the name of my popular talk: “Eat Chocolate, Be Skinny!” Why are the health benefits in dark chocolate, by the way, and not milk chocolate? Because milk blocks the body’s ability to absorb chocolate’s nutrients.
You can avoid slavery chocolate
Today, 70% of the world’s cacao comes from West Africa, where 2 million children are forced to work in hazardous conditions on cocoa farms, so that the developed world can have cheap chocolate. Moreover, most West African cocoa beans are of lower quality due to climate change and diseased cocoa trees. Choose fair trade or “ethical chocolate” instead of “slavery chocolate,” and look for labels that indicate the origin of the cacao, just as you would for wine or coffee. This way, you and your family will enjoy delicious and sustainably made chocolate that’s good for farmer, foodie, and field. Ethical chocolate costs more, but it lasts longer – you might eat a bar in a week, instead of 30 seconds – it’s better for your body, and it lets kids go to school instead of to unpaid labor.
The Chocolate Freedom Project is coming to a school or office near you
What is the Chocolate Freedom Project? It’s walking and talking to raise public awareness of where chocolate comes from. I’m planning to walk to Hershey, Pennsylvania, to raise awareness of child slavery on West African cocoa farms, and to promote ethical chocolate brands. Along the way, I’ll speak at schools, offices, chambers of commerce, and associations, and to food bloggers and community groups. Visit www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com, or contact me at email@example.com to schedule a presentation anywhere, schedule permitting.