by Valerie Beck, Chocolate Expert
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cocoa Blue Chocolates are delightfully classic, deceptively simple, and deliciously innovative.
“Keep eating real chocolate!”
Your friend in chocolate,
Valerie Beck, The Chocolate Queen
CEO/Founder Chocolate Uplift