In With The New: Northwest Chocolate Festival

by Valerie Beck, chocolate broker, chocolate consultant, sweet speaker

A mere fraction of what I brought back from the NW Chocolate Festival in Seattle.
A mere fraction of what I brought back from the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle, founded by Brian Cisneros.
Pure ingredients on display, along with delicious chocolate and beautiful packaging, by Xocolatl at the NW Chocolate Festival
Pure ingredients on display, along with delicious chocolate and beautiful packaging, by Xocolatl of Atlanta at the NW Chocolate Festival. Cacao, sugar, here a little spice. Pure, delicious, healthful.

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.
Exquisite Sirene Chocolate, a NW Chocolate Festival award winner
Exquisite Sirene Chocolate of Victoria, Canada, a NW Chocolate Festival award winner, made with just 2 ingredients, cacao and sugar, for purity of flavor plus luscious smoothness. Just as a wine maker controls the process to deliver different flavors depending on the grape, soil, casks, and more, the chocolate maker creates a flavor story depending on the cacao and the soil, plus the fermentation, roasting, and grinding of the cacao, and more.
Loved meeting and sampling with instagram friends Map Chocolate and Letterpress Chocolate: each creative, unique, delicious.
Loved meeting and sampling with instagram friends Mackenzie of Map Chocolate of Oregon (above) and David of Letterpress Chocolate of Los Angeles (below). Creative, unique, delicious.

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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!

Venezuelan cacao from Cacao Marquez, which the owner gave me at the Festival, to sample for and with clients, after we'd connected on instagram
Venezuelan cacao from Cacao Marquez, which the owner gave me at the Festival, to sample for and with clients, after we’d connected on instagram.

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!

Marvelously silky and flavorful Madre Chocolate of Hawaii, made from Hawaiian cacao and sugar.
Marvelously silky and flavorful Madre Chocolate of Hawaii, made from Hawaiian cacao and sugar.
Woman-owned Fresco Chocolate: love the bright zingy flavor and smooth texture of the Madagascar 89%.
Fresco Chocolate from Washington state: love the bright zingy flavor and smooth texture of the Madagascar 89%.
Spectacular Seattle: festival with a view.
Spectacular Seattle: festival with a view.

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.

Had a blast at the very impromptu first annual Chocolate Uplift dinner at the NW Chocolate Festival, with (left to right) Marc of Teuscher Beverly Hills, Courtney of TSG Birmingham and an aspiring chocolate maker, my new friend Dipa from the plane, yours truly, Phil of Teuscher Beverly Hills, ___ and ___ of Bisou Chocolate, and Taylor of Sirene Chocolate.
Had a blast at the very impromptu first annual Chocolate Uplift dinner at the NW Chocolate Festival, with (left to right) Marc of Teuscher Beverly Hills, Courtney of TSG Birmingham and an aspiring chocolate maker, my new friend Dipa from the plane, yours truly, Phil of Teuscher Beverly Hills, Eli and Tracey of Bisou Chocolate, of Berkeley, CA, and Taylor of Sirene Chocolate.
Chocolate all day, chocolate all night: loved sampling Bisou Chocolate at dinner.
Chocolate all day, chocolate all night: loved sampling Bisou Chocolate at dinner.

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, 

Valerie

With dear friend Ricardo of Cao Chocolates, and instagram friends Tyler of 5150 and Roger of Cacao Prieto, at the NW Chocolate Festival awards reception.
Cheers to chocolate: With dear friend Ricardo of Cao Chocolates, and instagram-now-in-person friends Tyler of 5150 of Florida and Roger of Cacao Prieto of Brooklyn, at the NW Chocolate Festival awards reception.

Valerie Beck

CEO / Founder Chocolate Uplift

chocolate brokering and consulting services, and sweet speaking

www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com 

chocolateuplift@gmail.com

@chocolateuplift on instagram, twitter, and Facebook

Uplift Through Chocolate!

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Cao Chocolates, Pixie Dust Chocolates, Videri Chocolate, Mar out Chocolate. See you next time, sweet spectacular Seattle!
Clockwise from upper left: Cao Chocolates (exciting Miami truffles), Pixie Dust Chocolates (artistry from Washington state), Videri Chocolate Factory (from Raleigh, NC, their Big Fig bar was my designated in-flight snack on the way home), Marou Chocolate (made in Vietnam from Vietnamese cacao, elegant packaging matches elegant flavors). See you at next year’s NW Chocolate Festival, sweet spectacular Seattle!

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

5 Chocolate Facts

by Valerie Beck, chocolate expert

Cocoa beans, also called cacao, from which chocolate is made
Cocoa beans, also called cacao, from which chocolate is made
  1. Chocolate comes from fruit

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.”

Askinosie chocolate bar, made from Ecuador cacao and topped with cocoa nibs
Askinosie chocolate bar, made from Ecuador cacao and topped with cocoa nibs
  1. 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!

Chocolate heart by Chocolatasm
Chocolate heart by Chocolatasm
  1. 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.

Kids should go to school
Kids should go to school
  1. 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.

A small sample of the wide array of ethical chocolate
A small sample of the wide array of ethical chocolate
  1. 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 chocolateuplift@gmail.com to schedule a presentation anywhere, schedule permitting.

Keep eating chocolate, and eat real chocolate!

Your friend in chocolate,

Valerie

3rd from right after speaking in Springfield Illinois
3rd from right after speaking in Springfield, Illinois
Fruit meets fruit with a Dorite doughnut at the Chicago Federal Plaza farmers market
Another way to enjoy fine chocolate: fruit meets fruit with a Dorite doughnut at the Chicago Federal Plaza farmers market
Handmade chocolate raspberry caramel candy bar by Whimsical Candy
Great chocolate is great in any delivery mechanism: handmade chocolate raspberry caramel candy bar by Whimsical Candy

Valerie Beck, The Chocolate Queen

CEO/Founder Chocolate Uplift

www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com

chocolateuplift@gmail.com

Instagram: @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

The Choc of the New: Cao Single Origin Bars

The Choc of the New: Cao Single Origin Bars

Single origin, bean to bar, pure
Loved opening this shipment of single origin, bean to bar, pure deliciousness from Cao Chocolates

Sampling new artisan chocolate bars is always a joy, and I’m excited to tell you about the new bean-to-bar single origin chocolate bars by longtime favorite Cao Chocolates of Miami, owned by chocolatier, chocolate maker, and dear friend Ricardo Cao Trillos.

As a chocolate consultant, I’m honored to help Ricardo with his new chocolate bar project, because the chocolate is delicious, organic, and fair trade.

With Ricardo Cao Trillos at his magic Miami chocolate shop
With Ricardo Cao Trillos at his magic Miami chocolate shop
Truffles by Cao Chocolates
Cao Chocolates makes terrific truffles onsite…
grilled chocolate croissant
…grilled chocolate croissants that are worth a flight to Miami…
Delicious Domincan
… and now single origin chocolate bars too, like this delicious Domincan that I brought home from my most recent Miami adventure.

The bars are pure, with only 2 ingredients: cacao and sugar. That makes me happy! As with other food, if you can’t pronounce an ingredient, why would you eat it? Part of what makes the new bars from Cao Chocolates unique in the bean-to-bar world is their texture, which has more of a stone-ground quality. This ties the bars to the ancient heritage of stone grinding cacao, and adds an intriguing sensation.

Venezuelan cocoa beans in the kitchen at Cao
Fair trade Venezuelan cocoa beans in the kitchen at Cao

Of course, flavor is king, and Cao’s bars deliver robust flavor. By using only 2 ingredients, and premium, organic, fair trade, sustainable cacao from South America and the Caribbean, instead of bulk cocoa beans from West Africa (which suffer from a host of supply chain abominations, from pesticides and crop disease to child slave labor), the chocolate maker can draw out various flavors of the cacao.

Differences in type of cocoa bean, terroir, fermentation, and grinding result in differences in flavor in the finished chocolate bar. Just as a wine maker can create different wines by using different grapes, barrels, time frames, or procedures, artisan chocolate makers apply their art to cocoa beans, working with nature to create unique and exciting flavors not known on commercial chocolate shelves.

Each of the new Cao bars has a different and enticing flavor profile. My favorite is the Peru Criollo 78%. It’s surprisingly mild for a bar with such high cocoa content, and gives you the brightness of the Criollo cocoa bean, plus a gentle fruitiness.

Chocolate for breakfast? Of course!
Chocolate for breakfast? Of course!
Cao Peru bar
Cao Peru bar

Try them for yourself and be among the first; the bars aren’t yet in stores outside of Miami, but distribution is in the works, and in the meantime there’s the Internet plus my stash – contact me at chocolateuplift@gmail.com or shop online – and keep eating real chocolate!

Your friend in chocolate,

Valerie

Valerie Beck

Chocolate Expert, Speaker, Consultant

http://www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com

P.S.: Miami!
P.S.: Miami!

Sweet Speaker, Sweet Soho

Sweet Speaker, Sweet Soho

by professional speaker and chocolate expert Valerie Beck

Louvre cake at Mariebelle NYC
Louvre cake at Mariebelle NYC

I love speaking about the history and health benefits of chocolate, and about entrepreneurship. Getting me to stop talking about my passion topics would be the hard part!

I also love “chocolate scouting:” visiting old chocolate friends and searching out new ones, in any given neighborhood.

So when I was invited to speak to a women’s initiative group at a law firm in New Jersey, with time the next day to explore a favorite neighborhood in New York, I hopped onto a flight and off I went!

Ready for takeoff, after a stop at the airport spa
Ready for takeoff, after a stop at the airport spa

Thank you to my sister law school alumna Chris Osvald-Mruz of Lowenstein Sandler for inviting me to speak to her group of partners, clients, and contacts, after we sat next to each other at a reunion dinner in Cambridge to celebrate 60 years of women graduates of Harvard Law School.

She asked for my “Eat Chocolate, Be Skinny” talk, plus remarks on how I transitioned from law to entrepreneurship, founding the original chocolate tours years ago and now working on speaking and consulting projects. I’m always happy to create a custom talk, especially for such a special client.

With Chris and Mary of the Lowenstein firm after speaking to 70 women at their STRIDES women's initiative
With Chris and Mary of the Lowenstein firm after speaking to 70 women at their STRIDES women’s initiative

What a treat it was to talk with her ultra-professional and ultra-engaged group on how to interpret chocolate bar labels and choose the right kind of chocolate for maximum health benefits, how to choose ethical chocolate, and how to use the ABCs of Attitude, Belief, and Commitment in any transition, career, or project. We also sampled raw cocoa beans (pure health!), and delicious and satisfying bean-to-bar chocolate that I brought from Askinosie.

Plus, I was thrilled to be able to include delicious chocolates by another friend, Elyissia Wassung of 2 Chicks With Chocolate, who is located in New Jersey not far from the law firm and who set up such an enticing display that I was impressed with the audience for being able to stick to savory food and my chocolate samples during my talk, before diving into her creations later during the Chocolate Hour!

Jewelry box or chocolate box? Exquisite chocolate truffles by 2 Chicks with Chocolate at my speaking engagement
Jewelry box or chocolate box? Exquisite chocolate truffles by 2 Chicks with Chocolate

At the end of the night, I gave away one of my Sweet & Chic sets in a prize drawing.

One of my Chocolate Uplift "Sweet & Chic" gift sets, available at my speaking engagements or on my website
One of my Chocolate Uplift “Sweet & Chic” gift sets, in “think pink” with scarf, pouch, and chocolate, available at my speaking engagements or on my website

The evening was elegant and energized, filled with food, fun, networking, and of course chocolate, and I was honored to be part of it!

"White chocolate" architecture in sweet Soho NYC
“White chocolate” architecture in sweet Soho NYC

The next day, I zipped across the river to Manhattan in an Uberx, for a day visiting old friends and new in “sweet Soho.”

Pastry parade at Dominique Ansel
Pastry parade at Dominique Ansel

Among the many stops I made in this delicious New York City neighborhood was the famous bakery of Dominique Ansel, creator of the Cronut – a croissant-doughnut pastry with deliciously layered dough and ever-changing flavors. Cronuts sell out practically by dawn of course, but there’s no shortage of classic and whimsical French pastry on hand any time of day, including some of the best macarons and canneles anywhere.

I enjoyed hearing Chef Dominique speak at the Fancy Food Show in New York last year. He was very humble, and spoke of growing up poor in France, saving money as a boy for a beautiful shirt, and then hanging it in his closet to save it for a special occasion. When that occasion finally came, years later, he found that he had outgrown the shirt! He learned to seize the moment, and do it now.

After visiting Laduree and other lovely locations, it was time for some chic with my sweet, so I popped into one of my favorite boutiques anywhere, M Missoni. I held a book signing event there a few years ago, wear the brand and the parent brand Missoni regularly and with relish, and was delighted to see the Soho team!

From sweet to chic, at M Missoni
Sweet and chic, at M Missoni

A trip to sweet Soho wouldn’t be as glamorous without a stop inside the gilded cocoa room at Mariebelle, where I had lunch – yes, actual savory food! 🙂 – followed by an exquisite chocolate mousse cake and spicy Aztec hot chocolate.

Aztec revivalism in French splendor at Mariebelle
Aztec revivalism in French splendor at Mariebelle

Then, it was back to sweet home Chicago, where the excitement of the trip didn’t end, as a stunning bouquet of flowers from my dear and thoughtful client greeted me at home the next day.

Thank you!
Thank you!

It’s a joy to work with great people, doing what I love, and spreading chocolate education and enjoyment. That’s Uplift Through Chocolate!

Have chocolate, will travel
Have chocolate, will travel

For more information on my speaking engagements, click my old site or my new rebranding site – in beta but live:

www.chicagochocolatetours.com/speaking/

www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com/

“Keep eating real chocolate!”

Your sweet speaker,

Valerie

chocolateuplift@gmail.com

How Did Valentine’s Day Get So Chocolatey?

How Did Valentine’s Day Get So Chocolatey?

by Valerie Beck, chocolate expert

chocolate love at Toni Patisserie, Chicago
Chocolate love at Toni Patisserie, Chicago.

Valentine’s Day is the holiday of love, whether romantic, platonic, or spiritual. But where did it come from, and how did chocolate (thankfully!) become associated with it?

The holiday began as an ancient Roman fertility festival, was Christianized with St. Valentine who according to legend married star-crossed lovers in secret against the wishes of Roman emperor Claudius II, became a day to celebrate romance during the rise of courtly love during the 14th century, and has since spread throughout the world, in various permutations. On Valentine’s Day in Japan for example, women give chocolate to men!

Chocolate has long been associated with love, from Mayan times onward, because of its mood elevating properties. Is chocolate an aphrodisiac? Scientists disagree, but throughout history people have embraced this idea.

For instance, Aztec emperor Montezuma drank golden goblets of chocolate before visiting his harem. Famed ladies’ man Casanova wrote that chocolate was more effective in the seductive arts than Champagne. Note though that these two historical chocolate lovers enjoyed their chocolate themselves, and didn’t share it with the women in their lives! This may have been a mistake, because today researchers have found that chocolate affects men and women differently, due to different brain chemistry, which may explain why women report craving chocolate more than men do.

On that note, a recent poll showed that 50% of women surveyed said that they prefer chocolate to, ahem, something else.

One of my new Chocolate Uplift Sweet & Chic gift sets, in "think pink!" Contact me to order: chocolateuplift@gmail.com.
One of my new Chocolate Uplift Sweet & Chic gift sets, the “think pink,” with bean-to-bar chocolate, and an ikat scarf and pouch. Contact me to order: chocolateuplift@gmail.com.

In contemporary times, the week of Valentine’s Day is a big season for chocolate purchases. Let’s face it: chocolate is love!

Your friend in chocolate,

Valerie

Want more chocolate insights, plus a chocolate tasting? Book me as your group’s “sweet speaker!” Click here for speaking engagement topics, fees, testimonials, and videos, or contact me at chocolateuplift@gmail.com.

Instagram, twitter, and Facebook: @chocolateuplift

Sweet & Chic

Sweet & Chic 

spring green Sweet & Chic gift set
spring green gift set. click here for more!

Chocolate + a scarf, tote, or cosmetics pouch = sweet & chic!

My new Sweet & Chic gift sets are now available for purchase online anytime for anyone, or at my speaking engagements to add value for attendees and provide a delicious and memorable takeaway.

I’m seeking additional chocolate makers and accessories crafters to be featured. Bean-to-bar or fair trade preferred!

Click here for info on my speaking engagements, or contact me at chocolateuplift@gmail.com with questions or if you’re interested in having your chocolate or accessories featured.

think pink gift set
think pink gift set. click here for more!

Onward and upward!

Your friend in chocolate (and style),

Valerie

Chocolate Wellness: Why Should You Eat Real Chocolate, and How To Identify It

Chocolate Wellness: Why You Should Eat Real Chocolate, and How To Identify It

by Valerie Beck, chocolate educator and speaker www.chicagochocolatetours.com/speaking

Which will go into the "sometimes," "always," or "never" piles? Find out - and sample the "always" pile - at one of my Chocolate Wellness seminars.
Which items will go into the “sometimes,” “always,” or “never” piles? Find out – and sample the “always” pile – at one of my Chocolate Wellness seminars. Book a seminar. #eatchocolatebeskinny

Is chocolate health food, or junk food?

That depends on the chocolate!

Chocolate is naturally healthy, unless we add junk to it. Chocolate is made from the cacao bean, which is the seed of the fruit of the cacao tree. Cacao is a superfood, because of it is rich in nutrients and benefits. For example:

  • Cacao has more antioxidants than blueberries, green tea, or red wine.
  • Cacao is the highest source of plant-based iron.
  • Cacao is one of the highest sources of magnesium.
  • Cacao has more calcium than milk.
  • Cacao is a natural mood booster.

Of course, to receive these benefits, you want to eat artisan chocolate, not commercial chocolate. This is because commercial chocolate has been processed which removes nutrients, and because commercial chocolate usually contains added negatives such as pesticides, artificial ingredients, soy lecithin, and high amounts of sugar. In addition, commercial chocolate is often farmed in ways that harm the workers; abominations such as child slave labor are common on West African cocoa farms, which produce the bulk of the world’s commercial chocolate.

How can you make sure you’re eating chocolate that aligns with your health wishes and your moral code? Read the label! For example, you can look for chocolate bars with just 2 ingredients: cacao and sugar (plus any inclusions such as fruit or nuts). You can also look for chocolate bars with the country or estate of origin on the label, such as South American or other non-West African countries.

Sample raw organic cocoa beans at my Chocolate Wellness seminars. You can also sample them fresh from the tree on my Chocolate Travel Club origin trip to Ecuador.
Sample raw organic cocoa beans at my Chocolate Wellness seminars. You can also sample them fresh from the tree on my Chocolate Uplift Travel Club origin trip to Ecuador.

We go into more detail in my seminars, such as talking about:

  • the #1 ingredient to avoid in chocolate,
  • when to eat chocolate so that you maximize your health benefits,
  • how to incorporate raw cocoa beans into delicious meals and snacks, and
  • much more.

Click for info on and tickets for my next Chocolate Wellness seminar open to the public, at Kendall College in Chicago, on Saturday, February 7, at 11 am. Samples are included in all of my speaking engagements! Click here.

Or book a private seminar for your corporate, association, or other group. Again, samples are included! Click for details.

You can contact me at chocolateuplift@gmail.com anytime for more info.

And, here’s a sneak preview of my new still-under-construction site, which will also house info on my Chocolate Wellness seminars. The site is a mock-up and will ultimately be brought under the Chocolate Uplift domain, but here you go for now!

Meanwhile, keep eating (real) chocolate!

Eat chocolate and smile
Eat chocolate and smile

Your friend in chocolate,

Valerie

Chocolate Shortage?

Chocolate Shortage?

By Valerie Beck, chocolate expert, chocolateuplift@gmail.com

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: chocolateuplift@gmail.com