My 2017 Chocolate Maker of the Year, and the Power of Reinvention

by Valerie Beck, Chocolate Muse

“Your power to choose the direction of your life allows you to reinvent yourself, to change your future, and to powerfully influence the rest of creation.” —Stephen Covey

New beginnings: reinvented Chocolate Naive, best of 2017!

Magic at hand: Chocolate Naive, reinvented inside and out, comes from the innovating and iconoclastic mind of Domantas Uzpalis, my Chocolate Uplift 2017 Chocolate Maker of the Year!

Domantas uses custom technology, proprietary processes, creative concepts, and unique flavor profiles involving housemade inclusions, to create the exquisite taste, outrageously smooth and seamless texture, and mind-expanding experience of this one-of-a-kind brand, making it my best-in-show when he previewed his newly reimagined line at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco in January 2017! Domantas combines a kind heart and a scientific mind, both enlivened with keen humor, and his chocolate blends simplicity and sophistication, reinvented with authentic precision.

Chocolate Naive is made in Vilnius, Lithuania, and perhaps like that historically fascinating and contemporary cutting-edge city just a 1.5 hour flight from Stockholm or a 2.5 hour flight from Paris, the chocolate is simple yet sophisticated, elegant while whimsical, worldly yet naive.

For example, Chocolate Naive’s angelic Kefir chocolate bar, part of the brand’s Forager collection, is silky and delicious. I included it in my June Chocolate Uplift craft chocolate subscription boxes to rapturous welcome by subscribers, as it brings a refreshing yet gentle tang from Domantas’s housemade kefir, which he blends into his exquisite craft chocolate, in this case on Bolivia cacao. The kefir isn’t layered upon the chocolate, or sandwiched between chocolate, it’s *in* the chocolate, for a marvelously smooth journey. (If you’re wondering what is kefir, click to learn more!) The bar is a probiotic paradise, in a dance of double fermentation, as both kefir and chocolate are fermented foods!

As are all of the bars in my subscription boxes and at my speaking engagements, where Kefir has also been a huge hit, it’s also sustainable, child-slavery-free (yes, you read that correctly, and if you’ve been following, you know that raising awareness of and eradicating child slave labor in cacao and chocolate is a mission of mine through my #chocolatefreedomproject; click for a Fortune Magazine video and article on child slave labor in Big Chocolate), soy-free, small-batch, and scrumptious. And the Kefir bar seems particularly well suited for breakfast! Click for the unboxing video!

Subtle intensity – or intense subtlety? – is created in the Spices bar from Chocolate Naive by Domantas Uzpalis, my Chocolate Uplift 2017 Chocolate Maker of the Year.

Then in December 2017 I selected Chocolate Naive’s Spices chocolate bar, part of the Equator collection, with its bold and warm intensity, for my subscription boxes, and it too was a massive success.  It contains a special house blend of cinnamon, ancho pepper, and vanilla, adding winter warmth and sultry spice to the luscious chocolate into which it is seamlessly mixed, all with signature saturated flavor, again evoking simplicity and sophistication simultaneously. (There’s no December unboxing video yet; I’m looking for a new videographer for my unboxing videos — can you help??)

And then there’s the Tahini bar with housemade tahini, the Porcini bar with locally foraged mushrooms, the Peanut Butter bar with housemade peanut butter – you get the idea! And the idea is big.

Watch for this luscious yet controlled bar in my January Chocolate Uplift craft chocolate subscription boxes!

Chocolate Naive was founded in 2010, and reinvented inside and out for the recent relaunch. New Naive presents exquisite chocolate bars made from new recipes, eliminating soy lecithin, and based on just cacao and sugar — all you need! Click to see why I don’t want soy lecithin in my chocolate; short answer: because it’s an industrial slurry processed with hexane and acetone, with effects on and implications for flavor, texture, and health.

Indeed, the craft chocolate movement generally involves a reimagining of 20th century corporate business models that were based on maximum profit extraction and conformity of product, at the expense of personal, public, or environmental health and justice. Instead, in the craft mindset, elements such as real flavor, direct trade, individuality within community, social justice, delicious healthfulness, and sustainable production are paramount.

I have enormous respect for Domantas for reworking and redefining his recipes and techniques — no easy process — and for creating a new line that showcases his precision and purity with increased fidelity. He makes difficult look easy, and taste amazing. That’s power.

Naive nano_lots: micro batch, mega depth

And Domantas didn’t stop there: after reinventing Chocolate Naive, he did it again! In mid 2017 he launched his Nano_Lot collection, limited edition chocolate bars made from micro batches of exclusive cacao. The depth and uniqueness of flavor achieved in the nano_lot bars continues the Naive project of extending our conception of what chocolate tastes like and what the texture feels like. We expect bean-to-bar chocolate to tell us a story, to engage us with a certain complexity, moving into new universes compared with one-note industrial chocolate. Here, the multi-dimensionality of the stories that Domantas tells with his nano_lots goes deep, and invites pause and repose, with eyes closed — or jumping, dancing, and cavorting, eyes open!

The nano_lot package inserts explain fascinating details of the scientific or geologic elements and processes behind these magnificent bars, such as cacao fermentation notes, chocolate flavor profiles, and history of the unique cacao farms from which Domantas sourced these limited-quantity highest-quality cacaos.

Domantas told me that with such small batches of cacao, he has just one chance to get it right. And he succeeds! What would you say to a Chocolate Uplift Travel Club trip to Vilnius in 2018, to see and learn more for ourselves, as Domantas spins cacao into chocolate?

More on my instagram: #naivefever

Meanwhile, why the delightful logo of the man riding an impossible old fashioned penny-farthing bicycle with a missing back wheel, making it a sort of unicycle, possibly uphill, or perhaps off a cliff of naivete as the drawing seems to teeter at the top of the text? Domantas charmingly told me that the logo and business name represent his perspective that to think he can make first-class chocolate in Lithuania, he must be a fool, or naive. We know he is a genius, and leader.

Domantas says:

“Chocolate is as luxuriant as my most vivid dream and as humble as my simple reality.”

My Chocolate Uplift box customers say:

“Perfection of smoothness like I never tasted, with a completely rare and different flavor!”


“Wonderful and delicious inside and out.”


“The Kefir bar!!!! Oh my!!!!!!”



In gratitude and delight, here’s to Chocolate Naive’s deliciously deceptive saturated simplicity, and to dear Domantas Uzpalis, Chocolate Uplift 2017 Chocolate Maker of the Year!

Scroll for more Naive, and “keep eating real chocolate!”

Your friend in chocolate,


Valerie Beck
Founder Valerie’s Original Chocolate Tours and Chocolate Uplift
Sustainable Craft Chocolate & Cacao Distribution
wholesale, retail, subscription box, tours
social: @chocolateuplift

Uplift Through Chocolate!

Old Naive…
and New Naive, reformulated inside and out! Here’s the sultry Super Dark on grapefruit chez moi…
…and more New Naive, sustainable and scrumptious! Pro tip: don’t miss the beautiful stories on the back of each package!
Chocolate Naive’s newest fantastic nano_lot, made from Colombia cacao from a biodiverse farm on the Ariari River and selected as one of the best Colombian cacaos of 2017, debuted at the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle, in November 2017, and I immediately claimed it and everything else I could : )  This new bar gives me notes of banana and bread, with a finish of sweet almond and dry lemon, amid layers of dense yet inviting complexity that deliver shades of bright wood or forest. That’s all from the cacao, and Domantas’s working of it!
New: find Chocolate Naive’s Nicalizo Nicaragua nano_lot at Reprise Coffee Roasters, near Chicago, which roasts Nicaragua coffee! I also distribute additional Naive to additional locations, such as: 4121 Main in Pittsburgh, Honeycreeper Chocolate in Birmingham, and Mmelo Boutique Confections in Columbus!
Reimagined Chocolate Naive inspired awe and ecstasy at the January 2017 New Naive launch at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco.
Chocolate Naive’s Ambrosia bar is made with local Lithuanian bee pollen.
Silly and quirky at the 2017 Northwest Chocolate Festival, with big kisses to my ultra esteemed first 3 Chocolate Makers of the Year: Domantas Uzpalis of Chocolate Naive, 2017; Taylor Kennedy of Sirene Chocolate, 2015; Hans Westerink of Violet Sky Chocolate, 2016. It is a deep joy and a great honor to work with these gentlemen of chocolate, and to distribute and share their artistry! And it was fun to introduce them to each other!
3, 2, 1, Naive: Taylor, yours truly, and Domantas at the Chocolate Naive booth at the Northwest Chocolate Festival!
Power at hand: beloved Chocolate Naive, 2017 champion! #naivefever

Love at First Taste: 3 Chocolate Loves of 2016, part 3

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

How do you like your drinking chocolate?

The Mayans liked their drinking chocolate hot, the Aztecs liked it cold, Montezuma liked it in golden goblets before visiting his harem, George Washington liked it with cream, Marie Antoinette liked it with orange blossom, the Marquis de Sade liked it as more suited to the seductive arts than Champagne, and I like it raw thanks to my chocolate beverage pick of 2016: Drink Cacoco!

Let me be clear: I’m not generally a fan of raw chocolate due to its often muddy flavors – roasting can bring out and clarifies flavors. 

Yet I love raw cacao, on my grapefruit at breakfast for example, for its delicious and often nutty flavor depending on the cacao, as well as its lively and invigorating properties and nutrients. 

Cacao is a superfood, rich in magnesium, iron, antioxidants, fiber, potassium, more. It lowers heart disease and stroke risk, and lowers blood pressure, while boosting brain function, blood flow, and of course mood!

Drink Cacoco takes raw cacao to a new level – or back to its pre-industrial glory – by retaining its liveliness and blending in herbs the way some of the historical celebrities above did, while on a mission to provide sustainable and nutrient-dense drinking chocolate that honors and protects the rainforest.

Drink Cacoco founders Erick Koon, Liam Blackmon, and Tony Portugal experimented with superfoods like cacao, and have created an outrageously smooth blended drinking chocolate that you mix with water – shaken, not stirred as Erick reminded me (I tried it both ways and it really is better shaken!) – for an incredibly flavorful yet light beverage, all natural with no industrial chemicals or “nasties,” that leaves you feeling uplifted and alive.

The highly-regarded Ecuador cacao is organic and ethically sourced (no child labor in this supply chain of course!), and the cool origami-style packaging uses no glue and is compostable, all in alignment with the founders’ mission to “revive the world through chocolate.”
Sounds like my own mission of “Uplift Through Chocolate” and my #chocolatefreedomproject, doesn’t it! It’s said that “great minds think alike” – and drink chocolate alike? 🙂

Erick sent me the Midnight Mystic and the Fire Walker blends, both of which I adore, after I met him through the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle. To be more precise, I met him when we were both chocolate scouting around town after the festival! 

Meanwhile, the Drink Cacoco kickstarter raised over $73,000, and new blends are coming! Maybe we’ll get some into my Chocolate Uplift craft chocolate subscription boxes!

Cheers to my chocolate beverage pick of 2016, delicious Drink Cacoco!

Click for my 2016 chocolate bar and chocolate bonbon picks, and see my instagram for daily chocolate as we move forward into a delicious and courageous 2017, exploring our themes of taste, health, sustainability, justice for people and planet, and uplift!
Your friend in chocolate,


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

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…


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,


– 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 


Uplift Through Chocolate!

Love at First Taste: 3 Chocolate Loves of 2016, Part 1

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

Do you believe in love at first sight?
How about love at first taste?

I’ve experienced both – including in chocolate!

I love it when I read a chocolate bar label that lists a cacao origin, and clean ingredients such as just cacao and sugar.

The cacao origin – such as Ecuador, Guatemala, Belize, Madagascar, etc. – tells me where the cocoa beans came from that made the chocolate, just as a wine labels tells you what vineyard in California or Chile or France grew the grapes.
If the bar doesn’t list a cacao origin, as most commercial big brand chocolate bars do not, where is this mystery cacao from? No mystery: most likely the commercial cacao came from Ivory Coast, where around 70% of the world’s cacao comes from, and where 2.1 million children work in hazardous conditions on cocoa farms instead of going to school. Hence, my #chocolatefreedomproject.

By contrast, when chocolate makers purchase cacao for quality instead of quantity, and pay sometimes 5 times the price of bulk cacao, they are proud to list the cacao origin on their label, and to encourage us to get to know that origin and their particular artistry using those particular cocoa beans.

I love reading a clean label, with no soy lecithin, vanillin, unpronounceables, abbreviations, or dissimulations, such as added “flavors” which whether natural or artificial could be derived from anything and could be processed with unlisted solvents.

And love at first taste!

Isn’t it magical when something tastes so amazing that it seems to stir memories of past and future, while focusing your attention deeply into the present moment, so that all else falls away?

If you want to see hundreds of chocolate items I loved in 2016 – from so much artistry and scrumptiousness I got to sample at trade shows, festivals, competitions, shops, cafes, and my office – please see my Chocolate Uplift instagram of daily chocolate! Applause and gratitude to all of the amazing chocolate makers, entrepreneurs, and professionals who contribute such amazing artistry and are part of the chocolate revolution!

I selected 3 favorites from so many fabulous favorites of 2016, because they tell the story of love at first sight and first taste so precisely; one chocolate bar, one chocolate bonbon, one chocolate beverage. Here’s the first:

1. Chocolate Bar Love: Violet Sky Chocolate

Violet Sky Chocolate impresses me with bold flavors, even when there are no flavors added and the cacao sings solo. When I tasted my first piece of a Violet Sky chocolate bar, I was standing up and had to sit down to experience the power of the chocolate without falling over, and to reflect upon the taste as it opened and developed!

Indeed, Violet Sky Founder and chocolate maker Hans Westerink told me he chose the name Violet Sky because when you eat his chocolate, he wants you to slow down and notice the beauty that surrounds us.
Hans is soft-spoken, empathic, and philosophic, and clearly has fun thinking about and experimenting with unique culinary ideas and tactics. The cacao he selects sings a beautiful song, which Hans crafts, amplifies, and directs in the Violet Sky manufactory in sweet South Bend, Indiana, around 2 hours from Chicago. He lets his chocolate express art and nature, and creativity and purity, sometimes turned to high volume!

For example, his rye barrel aged Haiti 77% chocolate bar with blueberry salt has deep complexity under an initial bold burst. He ages the cacao in a rye barrel from a local distillery, roasts the cacao in a coffee roaster, and the magic of his bean-to-bar chocolate continues underway.

I’ve seen people at one of my tastings fight over who got to take home the rest of one of his maple vanilla bars. Don’t like maple? Don’t worry: the bar tastes like the best pancake brunch in chocolate bar form! And real maple, as we have here, tastes really amazing.

When I shared Violet Sky’s brandy barrel aged Belize red wine salt chocolate bar with a non chocolate lover, she instantly converted into a chocolate lover! And ate the rest of the bar! That’s the power of real chocolate.

I selected Violet Sky for the very first run of my Chocolate Uplift craft chocolate subscription boxes, in November 2016, to enthusiastic feedback. Each box includes 4 chocolate bars, curated by me, and the bars are always sustainable and child-slavery-free, soy-free, small-batch, and scrumptious. Click for my unboxing video featuring a Violet Sky bar!

There was so much deliciousness from so many makers in 2016! Truly, more than ever! How to choose a winner among winners? Delicious and sustainable origins, clean ingredients, and uniquely and distinctively bold and vibrant interpretations make Violet Sky Chocolate my Chocolate Bar Love of 2016!

I’ll share details of my visit to Hans’s magic chocolate manufactory later (sneak peek photo above!) [update: click to see the excursion to Violet Sky on which I took some top Kendall College students!], and I’ll also share the other 2 chocolate loves of 2016 I’m excited to describe for you:

2. Chocolate Bonbon Love – click for my 2016 winner.

3. Chocolate Beverage Love – my 2016 winner is announced here.

Want more now? Check out my selected chocolate loves of 2015!

Meanwhile, I wish you a happy and delicious new year as we start a 2017 filled with as much beauty, truth, and love as we give, create, and perceive!

Thank you for your readership and business, and keep eating real chocolate!

Your friend in chocolate,


– with Hans of Violet Sky –

Valerie Beck

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

Chocolate Services: Brokering, Consulting, Speaking, Subscriptions, Tours


Uplift Through Chocolate!

Who Labors for Chocolate?

Hello there, and happy Labor Day in the USA!

My picnic this Labor Day weekend included exquisite bean-to-bar chocolate by Dick Taylor, made from direct trade cacao from Belize!

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.

As this article entitled

Africa produces 75% of cocoa but gets 2% of $100b chocolate market revenue

reminds us: “The formula for the wealth of nations is clear: rich nations add value to exports, poor nations export raw materials.”

The revolution has begun! : )

Have a happy, thoughtful, and delicious Labor Day!

Photo: Ghana Business News article referenced above

Your friend in chocolate,


summer 2016

Valerie Beck

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

social media: @chocolateuplift

Haiti is Here

by Valerie Beck, chocolate consultant

Grown in Haiti: Haitian Chocolate Project kickstarter launches Thursday 1/28

Update – click for the kickstarter campaign:


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.

Sensational San Francisco, where I’ll lead a custom chocolate adventure for top funders

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.

2016-01-27 08.43.39
Beautiful Bisou Chocolate, making new chocolate bars from Haitian cacao for you

I’m thrilled to be an advisor to this project, and the kickstarter link is coming soon!

Update – here’s the link:


Delicious thanks!

Your friend in chocolate,

In San Francisco, where I sampled our first batch of lovely Haitian cacao.  Onward and upward!

Valerie Beck
CEO/Founder Chocolate Uplift
social media @chocolateuplift

Best New Chocolate I Ate (Or Drank) in 2015

by Valerie Beck, chocolate expert

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.


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:


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!


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.


spicy passion
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,

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
social media @chocolateuplift

“Uplift Through Chocolate!”

Original Beans: Sweet Sustainability

by Valerie Beck, chocolate expert

Look what arrived at the Chocolate Uplift office: elegant and delicious craft chocolate bars by Original Beans, an Amsterdam company.

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.

Cacao tree, with pods and flowers. Each pod holds approximately 40 cocoa beans on average. This particular tree is in the US Botanic Garden in Washington DC; I visited the Garden most recently over Thanksgiving 2015 to see how this beauty was doing! Cacao trees generally grow in rainforests, within 20 degrees of the Earth’s equator. This one is in a greenhouse, for the public to view and admire.

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.

Cocoa beans, around the size of almonds. These are from Venezuela.

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.

Outrageously exquisite Piura Porcelana 75% chocolate bar by Original Beans, super smooth, with surprising but gentle notes of lime. Just 2 ingredients: cacao (from Peru in this case) and sugar. This means the chocolate is vegan, and gluten free. It’s also organic of course. And did I mention delicious! If you’re not a dark chocolate lover, this non-bitter bar will change your mind.

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.

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Social justice in edible form, this luscious Femmes de Virunga dark milk chocolate bar by Original Beans is ultra creamy, organic, and made with nothing other than cacao, milk, and sugar. Nothing artificial, nothing made in a lab, nothing unpronounceable. Purchase of this bar helps women cocoa farmers and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. And did I mention it’s delicious!

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.

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White chocolate splendor: Edel Weiss 40% by Original Beans, with no vanilla, lecithin, or other additives. Just cocoa butter (from cocoa beans from the Dominican Republic for this bar), sugar, and milk. All organic. If you don’t like white chocolate, this one will change your mind. Pure tastes better. Delicious!

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,


Valerie Beck

CEO / Founder Chocolate Uplift

chocolate brokering and consulting services, and sweet speaking

@chocolateuplift on Instagram, twitter, and Facebook

Uplift Through Chocolate!

Original Beans, and cocoa beans: a virtuous circle of deliciousness and sustainability.

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.


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, 


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

@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: Heavenly Chocolate in Hell’s Kitchen and Beyond

by Valerie Beck, Chocolate Expert

View from Ink48, looking out over Hell's Kitchen toward Times Square
New York by night: view from the roofdeck at Ink48, looking out over Hell’s Kitchen toward Times Square.

My most recent trip to New York City – which I think of as not the Big Apple but the Big Truffle because of the abundance of chocolate deliciousness – was quick but scrumptious.

I was in town for the annual Fancy Food Show this summer (click here for my blog post on the 3 main trends I tracked there!), and in between Show visits, I took the opportunity to visit some of my favorite chocolate spots and other venues, while also scouting some new ones.

Since my time on this short trip was quite limited, I focused mainly on Manhattan’s much-transformed Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, one of my favorites in NYC, because its central location west of the Theatre District and Times Square, and along the Hudson River, makes it easy to get downtown or uptown; it’s filled with wonderful bakeries and restaurants; and the Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center is within walking distance.This once-gritty neighborhood was the setting of the original Law & Order TV shows (that sound effect!). Today the neighborhood is part “gayborhood,” part chocolate and pastry paradise, and all delight.

Scroll for the deliciousness!

It's not a visit to NYC without a classic black-and-white cookie. My favorites are at Amy's Bread.
It’s not a visit to NYC without a classic black-and-white cookie. My favorites are at Amy’s Bread; her Hell’s Kitchen bakery is her original location of three.
Accidentally photobombed Sullivan Street Bakery owner/chef Jim Fahey when he was being taped for a French-Canadian tv show. His bomboloni are just so good. Afterward we had a good chat about cocoa nibs!
I accidentally photobombed Sullivan Street Bakery chef/owner/star Jim Lahey while he was being taped for a French-Canadian tv show. His bomboloni / Italian doughnuts are just so good; I have a chocolate one for breakfast every day I’m in the neighborhood. After he finished taping, we had a good chat about cocoa nibs.
You might say I “hailed a cookie” at Donna Bell’s Bake Shop, a Southern-inspired bakery co-owned by NCIS actress Pauley Perrette and named after her late mother. Actually I snapped this photo around the corner from the bakery, against a taxi-themed window, while a little cluster of (other) tourists gathered to watch!

From Hell’s Kitchen, I started heading uptown:

Had a blast at the Gap x Big Gay Ice Cream collaboration at the clothing brand's Fifth Avenue flagship store. It was a hot day, so I ate that delicious ice cream sandwich fast. What happened to my new collab tshirt, shown here as the background? Click to find out!
Had a blast at the Gap x Big Gay Ice Cream collaboration at the clothing brand’s Fifth Avenue flagship store. It was a hot day, so I ate that delicious ice cream sandwich fast. What happened to my new collab tshirt, shown here as the background, after I returned to Chicago? Click to find out!
Enjoyed a bite or two of new in-development Dutch brand Johnny Doodle Chocolate, which a Dutch executive brought to the Fancy Food Show for me, while planning my visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art
While planning my visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I enjoyed a bite or two of delicious new in-development Dutch brand Johnny Doodle Chocolate – this was the fudge brownie flavor – which a company executive was kind enough to bring from The Netherlands to the NYC Fancy Food Show for me to try, since we were both in town.
Across from the Met. I walked to the Upper East Side from Hell's Kitchen, and took an Uber back!
The Upper East Side, near the Met Museum. I walked the 2.5 miles to the UES from Hell’s Kitchen, and took an Uber back.

Can’t get enough New York? Same here! Click for my previous posts on Sweet Soho, and 3 Chocolatey NYC Neighborhoods.

Secret community garden, Hell's Kitchen. See you next time, NYC!
Secret community garden, Hell’s Kitchen.
Sweet souvenir: this extremely chocolatey croissant from Sullivan Street Bakery sneaked home with me.
Sweet souvenir: this extremely chocolatey croissant from Sullivan Street Bakery sneaked home with me.

“Keep eating real chocolate!”

Your friend in chocolate,


Valerie Beck, The Chocolate Queen

CEO/Founder Chocolate Uplift

Instagram: @chocolateuplift