Original Beans: Sweet Sustainability

by Valerie Beck, chocolate expert

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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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.

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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: 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

Valerie Beck, The Chocolate Queen

CEO/Founder Chocolate Uplift

www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com

chocolateuplift@gmail.com

Instagram: @chocolateuplift

Sweet NYC: Fancy Food Show

by Valerie Beck, Chocolate Expert and Chocolate Broker

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

New York City – the “Big Apple” – turns into what I call the “Big Truffle” every summer during the Fancy Food Show. Chefs, brands, and chocolate makers from across the country and around the world set up displays, so that retailers, the media, and brokers can come see and sample what’s new.

As a chocolate consultant and broker, who never misses a chance to visit friends, clients, and my favorite shops and museums in NYC, the Fancy Food Show is a joy every year.

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

The trends I focused on at the Show this year were craft chocolate (small-batch chocolate made from fair trade or direct trade cacao), fine chocolate (made with premium ingredients for chefs and consumers), and fine pastry and dessert (made with premium ingredients).

While in NYC I also received a special delivery of a new Dutch chocolate brand not yet sold in the States, attended a mini college reunion for classmates who live in or near New York or who like me were traveling there, and did some chocolate scouting (click here for the separate blog post on the heavenly chocolate and pastry I scouted) – scroll on for Fancy Food Show deliciousness!

Starting with standouts in craft chocolate:

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

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

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

Some fine pastry and dessert hits:

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

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

“Keep eating real chocolate!”

Your friend in chocolate,

Valerie

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

Valerie Beck, The Chocolate Queen

CEO/Founder Chocolate Uplift

www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com

chocolateuplift@gmail.com

Instagram: @chocolateuplift

The Law of Chocolate: Cocoa Blue Chocolates

by Valerie Beck, Chocolate Expert

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

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

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

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

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

Sweet heartland
Sweet Illinois heartland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Keep eating real chocolate!”

Your friend in chocolate,

Valerie

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

Valerie Beck, The Chocolate Queen

CEO/Founder Chocolate Uplift

www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com

chocolateuplift@gmail.com

Instagram: @chocolateuplift

Chocolatasm: Light Touch, Strong Success

by Valerie Beck, Chocolate Expert and Chocolate Broker

Artisan chocolate by Chocolatasm
Artisan chocolate by Chocolatasm

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

Sweet innovation
Sweet innovation

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

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

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

Light touch, big impact
Light touch, big impact

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

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

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

Keep eating chocolate!

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

Valerie

Valerie Beck, The Chocolate Queen

CEO/Founder Chocolate Uplift

www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com

chocolateuplift@gmail.com

Social media: @chocolateuplift

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

Sweets and Snacks Confidential

Sweets and Snacks Confidential

Some of my former “Big Law” colleagues tell me they’re jealous that since I left the practice of law years ago, now instead of going to Bar Association conferences, I go to conventions called the Sweets and Snacks Expo and the Fancy Food Show!

Love the chocolate spread from Emmy's Organics, with all clean ingredients - vegan, gluten-free, GMO-free - shown here at snack time chez moi. It's easy to upgrade your chocolate spread, and all of your chocolate, with brands like these!
Brought home the delicious vegan chocolate spread by Emmy’s Organics from the Sweets and Snacks Expo…
... need more Emmy's Organics chocolate spread!
… and now need to get more at the Fancy Food Show!

Chocolate makers, confectioners, and chefs exhibit their latest offerings at these delicious conferences, and store buyers, media, and others show up to see and sample what’s new. There are also educational sessions, awards, and parties, as thousands of people from the industry come together.

I’m headed to the summer Fancy Food Show in New York this week, and am thrilled to report on this spring’s Sweets and Snacks Expo here. SSE was again held in sweet home Chicago, and it was filled with wonderful old friends, exciting new friends, and a particular encounter with Big Chocolate that perhaps shouldn’t have surprised me but did. Keep scrolling for:

     Chocolatey Reunions,

     Sweet New Friends, and 

     Oh Dear.

View from McCormick Place in Chicago, site of the Sweets and Snacks Expo
View from McCormick Place in Chicago, site of the Sweets and Snacks Expo.

Chocolatey Reunions

Wine and chocolate tasting at Lindt, with wines developed specifically for the brand
Wine and chocolate tasting at Lindt, with wines developed specifically for the brand.
With dear friend Chef Ann of Lindt
With dear friend Chef Ann of Lindt.
scho-ko-lade
A fun iteration of functional chocolate: Scho-Ko-Lade energy chocolate contains an added caffeine boost.
My racy photo: with dear friend Chef Michael of Chuao Chocolatier in the best SSE booth ever, to promote his new breakfast-in-bed (or breakfast for dinner) themed chocolate flavors
My racy photo: with dear friend Chef Michael of Chuao Chocolatier in the best SSE booth ever, to promote his tasty new breakfast-in-bed (or breakfast for dinner) themed chocolate flavors, made with with fair trade Venezuelan cacao as always.

New Chocolate Friends

Beautiful hand-painted Sulpice Chocolat
Beautiful hand-painted Sulpice Chocolat.
Congratulations to Chef Anne of Sulpice Chocolat on achieving fair trade certification!
Congratulations to Chef Anne of Sulpice Chocolat on achieving fair trade certification!
Classic and delicious Swiss Chocolate from new Milkboy Chocolate, also fair trade, with the white chocolate vanilla bean as a particular standout
Classic, delicious, sustainable Swiss chocolate from Milkboy Chocolate, with the white chocolate bourbon vanilla as a particular standout.
Smooth and flavorful Nibmor Chocolate, part of the wonderful fair trade contingent, and also woman-owned
Smooth, flavorful, and fair trade Nibmor, short for “nibble more.” 
Nutresa private label of Colombia, ethical chocolate from South America without the taint of child slave labor from cacao farms in West Africa
Nutresa private label of Colombia.

Oh Dear

Have you heard about the Chocolate Freedom Walk that I’m creating, to raise public awareness of child slave labor on West African cocoa farms and to promote fair trade alternatives? I talked about it with three members of the Hershey’s corporate relations team at the Sweets and Snacks Expo, and their response surprised me.

Sweets and snacks should not involve child slave labor.
Sweets and snacks should not involve child slave labor.

You see, I wanted to give Hershey’s and other large commercial chocolate brands the opportunity to share a press release or other communication about steps they are taking toward sustainability and developing ethical chocolate supply chain sources, as it’s well known in the chocolate world that 60% of the world’s chocolate is made from cocoa beans from West African farms, where child slave labor occurs.

Instead, the corporate affairs people replied defensively. The team consisted of a man and two women. The man became animated and aggressive, and asked how the artisan fair trade chocolate brands would like it if he protested them. The two women shut down and froze, saying not a single word; not “leaning in.”

Oh dear.

Back to the excellent fair trade white chocolate by Milkboy Chocolate.
Back to the excellent fair trade white chocolate by Milkboy Chocolate.

Meanwhile, I’m optimistic about the bigger picture, because everyone wants to know where our food comes from, and we love delicious and healthful chocolate.

And I’ll keep you posted on the Chocolate Freedom Walk!

Chocolate is love, and here’s to the creativity and love that go into America’s favorite flavor: chocolate.

With Nibmor founder Heather Terry. Eat real chocolate!
With Nibmor founder Heather Terry. Uplift through chocolate!

Your friend in chocolate,

Valerie

Valerie Beck

Chocolate Expert, Sweet Speaker, Chocolate Consultant

www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com

chocolateuplift@gmail.com

Follow me on instagram or your favorite social media @chocolateuplift.

“Uplift Through Chocolate!”

Chocolate Scouting at Dose Market

Chocolate Scouting at Dose Market

Let there be balloons: festive Dose Market at the Chicago Cultural Center
Let there be balloons: festive Dose Market at the Chicago Cultural Center

Picture chocolate, pastry, fashion, jewelry, and more, under one roof.

Picture that roof over my favorite building in Chicago, the Chicago Cultural Center (which was the main branch of the Chicago Public Library when I was a little girl).

That was the scene for the April edition of Dose Market, a dynamic marketplace that showcases chefs, designers, and makers of all stripes. The market was co-sponsored in April 2015 by the Lake FX conference for artists and entrepreneurs, which added an extra touch of excitement.

At Dose Market: salted chocolate cranberry orange toffee by Terry's Toffee, a longtime favorite
At Dose Market: salted chocolate cranberry orange toffee by Terry’s Toffee, a longtime favorite

Add the fact that among the makers showcased were longtime chocolate friends, and soon-to-be-made chocolate friends, and of course I attended. I attended, I chocolate scouted, and I enjoyed.

What exactly is chocolate scouting? That’s my term for exploring the world and finding delicious chocolate and pastry. It’s something I’ve always done: on any trip to a new city, even as a child, I always wanted to find the best chocolate. That hasn’t changed, and I chocolate scout where I live and where I travel, for business and for pleasure.

Dose Market at the Chicago Cultural Center featured some exquisite and creative chocolate and pastry offerings from old friends…

Rare Bird Preserves, including chocolate blueberry
Rare Bird Preserves, including chocolate blueberry, owned by dear Elizabeth Madden, a French Pastry School grad
With dear Terry of Terry's Toffee
With dear Terry Opalek of Terry’s Toffee

And from new friends…

Deeply impressive chocolate raspberry tart and macarons by newcomer Verzenay Patisserie, a delightful husband-and-wife team
Deeply impressive chocolate raspberry tart and macarons by newcomer Verzenay Patisserie, owned by delightful husband-and-wife team Aqeel and Arshiya Farheen. Arshiya is the chef, and she graduated from Ferrandi culinary school in Paris.
Gingerbread cookies year round from Dough Dough Bird
Gingerbread cookies year round from delicious Dough Dough Bird, owned by new friend Julie Goding, a French Pastry School grad
Intriguing mole bread by Zapps Grains, with cacao and chipotle
Intriguing low-glycemic mole bread with cacao and chipotle by Zapp’s Dancing Grains

I look forward to chocolate scouting at the next Dose Market!

Sweet home Chicago
Sweet home Chicago

Your friend in chocolate,

Valerie

Valerie Beck

Chocolate Expert, Speaker, Consultant

www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com

Join my Instagram party

“Uplift Through Chocolate!”