Haiti is Here

by Valerie Beck, chocolate consultant

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

Update – click for the kickstarter campaign:

https:// http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/272592294/the-haitian-chocolate-project-bar-one

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.

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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.

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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:

https:// http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/272592294/the-haitian-chocolate-project-bar-one

Delicious thanks!

Your friend in chocolate,
Valerie

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

Valerie Beck
CEO/Founder Chocolate Uplift
www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com
www.chocolateuplift.com
social media @chocolateuplift

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!

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 Choc of the New: Cao Single Origin Bars

The Choc of the New: Cao Single Origin Bars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your friend in chocolate,

Valerie

Valerie Beck

Chocolate Expert, Speaker, Consultant

http://www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com

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

Chocolate Shortage?

Chocolate Shortage?

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

Hand-dipped and fresh off the line at Graham's Fine Chocolates
Hand-dipped and fresh off the line at Graham’s Fine Chocolates

What two words scare us quicker than the words “chocolate shortage!” Chocolate is America’s favorite flavor, and some of us couldn’t imagine going a week or even a day without it.

You may have seen news reports of a coming chocolate shortage. So is there a chocolate crisis around the corner? Yes and no.

Here are the short answers:

~ Yes, because the global chocolate industry is being forced to change for reasons ranging from soil erosion to evolving customer preferences.

~ No, because while West African cocoa growing nations are facing huge challenges, South American and other cocoa growing nations are stepping in and growing more and doing it with fair labor practices.

And, we can make sure we’re supporting sustainable chocolate, by choosing chocolate that lists the country of cocoa bean origin for example.

Longer answers:

Factors leading toward crisis include:

  • 70% of the world’s chocolate comes from cocoa beans grown in West Africa, and West Africa is facing a cocoa crisis.
  • This cocoa crisis exists due to years of unsustainable farming practices, climate change which means temperatures in West Africa are getting drier – cocoa trees like humidity – and the desert is taking over land that used to be fertile, and unfair labor practices including in some cases even child slave labor.
  • And don’t forget Ebola: the bulk of the world’s cocoa beans are currently grown in Ivory Coast and Ghana, and some workers travel there for the harvest from nearby Sierra Leone and Liberia where the Ebola outbreak is happening. A concern is that if workers get sick, there’s no one to harvest the cocoa beans.
  • Plus, chocolate has been largely recession-proof in the US, and people in more countries like India and China are getting a taste for chocolate, so demand is strong and increasing.
Cocoa tree nursery on the Camino Verde farm in Ecuador
Cocoa tree nursery on the Camino Verde farm in Ecuador

On the other hand, there’s evidence that supply might be stronger than some people think. Factors indicating abundance and opportunity include:

  • Even as West Africa’s cocoa bean infrastructure changes and needs to change, other cocoa growing nations are ramping up production.
  • For example, cocoa beans are native to South America and Latin America, and countries like Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, and El Salvador are implementing cocoa bean initiatives to encourage farmers to grow more, and in some cases are encouraging foreign investment to produce more.
  • If you want to open a chocolate facility in Ecuador, where ideal cocoa bean growing conditions mean you can harvest cocoa beans year-round, there are financial incentives available.
  • Farmers in nations such as Peru have been given incentives to stop growing coca for cocaine, and start growing cocoa beans for chocolate (coca and cocoa or cacao have similar names, but are unrelated crops), and the plan is working.
  • In addition, it’s known that the big commercial chocolate makers are sitting on stockpiles of years and years worth of cocoa beans. If people believe there’s a shortage, companies can raise prices.
  • More and more consumers are looking at alternatives to commercial chocolate with its preservatives and artificial ingredients. Instead, a growing number of chocolate lovers are choosing the new wave of bean-to-bar chocolate, where the only ingredients are cocoa beans and sugar, and the chocolate is made artisanally, in small batches. Bean-to-bar chocolate gives you more health benefits, has a pure taste which the chocolate maker can develop such as by changing roasting or grinding times and methods, and uses cocoa beans not from farms in West Africa which are facing crisis, but from fair trade or direct trade cocoa farms which means benefits to farm families and communities.

Fyi I’ll write a blog post on bean-to-bar chocolate soon; for now please see my blog post on 3 Chocolatey NYC Neighborhoods which includes info on Mast Brothers Chocolate, and see the photo below with a link to twenty-four blackbirds chocolate. Also, you can check out other bean-to-bar brands I love such as Askinosie, Dick Taylor, and Cao Chocolates whom we’ll visit on our January 23-25 Miami trip! All of these brands sell on their websites; enjoy.

Delicious, ethical, bean-to-bar chocolate, with just 2 ingredients: cocoa beans and sugar
Delicious, ethical, bean-to-bar chocolate by twenty-four-blackbirds of California, with just 2 ingredients: cocoa beans and sugar

So are we going to run out of chocolate tomorrow and do you need squirrel away a chocolate stash in the attic to stave off chocolate doom? No.

Is the global chocolate industry in a time of change? Yes.

Is it a good idea to read labels and vote with your dollars, to make sure you’re getting the chocolate you want, that reflects sustainability and the labor and health standards you believe in? Yes!

For media appearances or more: chocolateuplift@gmail.com

3 Chocolatey NYC Neighborhoods

3 Chocolatey NYC Neighborhoods

By Valerie Beck, traveling chocolate expert 

Veteran's Day meets pre Christmas at Rockefeller Center NYC
Veteran’s Day meets pre-Christmas at Rockefeller Center in NYC

Some people call New York City the Big Apple. I call it the Big Truffle, because of its enormous number of top quality chocolate shops and bakeries!

I usually visit New York a couple of times a year, generally in summer for the Fancy Food Show, and in November for Veteran’s Day weekend. It’s always a treat visiting old friends and meeting new ones, and tasting what everyone has been up to.

Before I started my chocolate services business 9 years ago, I was a corporate lawyer (and of course already a chocolate maniac). While employed at a large law firm in Chicago, I once spent a winter in the New York office, doing aircraft leveraged lease deals (don’t ask). I worked more or less around the clock, and what kept me more or less sane was sneaking out of the conference room for a Teuscher Champagne Truffle. Now when I visit NYC, it’s all chocolate all the time – well, not quite: I always make time for New York’s amazing art, architecture, and fashion, so that the overall theme is “sweet and chic!”

I love New York, and my most recent trip this past Veteran’s Day weekend was inspirational. Here are 3 chocolatey NYC neighborhoods I visited, and the shops that make these areas sweet:

1. Chelsea / Greeley Square

Broadway Bites at Greeley Square Park
Broadway Bites at Greeley Square Park

Walking from the Eventi Hotel in Chelsea toward Midtown, I let the Chocolate Fairies of Sweet Serendipity lead me to the Broadway Bites outdoor foodstalls market. Once I discovered it, I couldn’t stay away! Favorites at B’way Bites:

Sigmund's chocolate chip pretzel cookie
The pretzel is in the cookie

Sigmund Pretzels not only makes delicious, buttery, soft pretzels in creative flavors such as pumpkin seed, they also make creative cookies, such as the Wancko Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookie, which contains a pretzel. Yes, soft pretzel bites are IN the chocolate chip cookie! Delectable.

Chocolate Pumpkin Macaron by Macaron Parlour
Chocolate Pumpkin genius

Macaron Parlour‘s pastry chefs make exquisite macarons with lovely texture. Their combination of pumpkin and chocolate – a pumpkin macaron with chocolate pumpkin ganache – plus the hand-drawn pumpkin illustration on each cookie, won me over instantly. (What’s the difference between a macaron and a macaroon? I wrote a brief post about it; click here!)

Award-winning and award-deserving chocolate babka
Award-winning and award-deserving chocolate babka

Breads Bakery had a sign in front of their Broadway Bites foodstall announcing that they make the best chocolate babka in New York according to New York Magazine. Their chocolate babka was $5 a slice, and it was worth it. Dense yet light, flavorful and not sweet, and ultra-chocolatey, I was tempted to buy a few loaves and throw a chocolate babka party in my hotel suite. I’m serious!

View from my suite at the Eventi Hotel. #empirestateofmind
View from my suite at the Eventi Hotel #empirestateofmind

2. Midtown / Fifth Avenue

Marvelousness at Michel Cluizel
Marvelousness at Michel Cluizel

Michel Cluizel is a longtime favorite of mine, because this family-owned brand believes in chocolate sustainability, fair trade, and traditional French fine-chocolate magic, with no soy lecithin. (For my post on why I don’t want soy lecithin in my chocolate, click here.) Their Fifth Avenue store carries their charming macarolats, macaron-shaped chocolate bonbons with fillings such as raspberry, and also carries an abundance of their incredible chocolates, macarons, and more. They have a chocolate-making facility and museum in New Jersey, 30 minutes from Philadelphia, that we’re invited to visit next time – join me!

"Love Potion Number 9"
“Love Potion Number 9”

Jacques Torres goes by the nickname “Mr. Chocolate,” and his Rockefeller Center store reflects his sense of fun and his love of quality. Once, after chatting with the man himself at a chocolate show in New York a few years ago, I saw that he noticed a scrap of paper on the floor near his booth. He bent down, picked it up, and threw it away, showing in that tiny motion that he has the humility of the great.

Elegant whimsy, outrageous deliciousness, and a Michelin star
Elegant whimsy, outrageous deliciousness, and a Michelin star

Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery has transformed whimsy into a Michelin star. I love Chef Keller’s transformation at Bouchon of well-known commercial candy bar and dessert concepts, into exquisite upscale versions made with premium ingredients. For example, the “Oh Oh” dessert in the photo was a heavenly chocolate-coated swirl of cream and cake. We visited his Beverly Hills Bouchon on the Beverly Hills Bakery Tour that I whipped up for one day only, last spring. Let’s do it again – cross-country Bouchon!

Midtown means Saks, which means 10022 Shoe, which means Ferragamo #sweetandchic
Midtown means Saks, which means 10022 Shoe, which means Ferragamo #sweetandchic

3. Brooklyn / Williamsburg

Skyscraper of macarons
Skyscraper of macarons

Getting off the train in Brooklyn, I turned right instead of left, and found myself at Woops bakery. Thank you, Chocolate Fairies of Sweet Serendipity, for leading me to this gem. Not only were the macarons well-textured and tasty, but the alfajores were nicely not-too-sweet, the decor was refreshing, and the staff were helpful with directions. I know Manhattan but was a relative newbie in Brooklyn and clearly lost – yet found!

Bean-to-bar behind the scenes
Bean-to-bar behind the scenes

Among the pioneers of the bean-to-bar chocolate revolution are chocolate-making brothers Rick and Michael Mast of Mast Brothers. I’ve been a fan of their chocolate bars since they began making them in 2007, so what a treat it was to go behind the scenes at their Brooklyn manufactory, where I saw the care that goes into each stage of operations (cocoa beans are sorted by hand, sea salt is sprinkled by hand onto finished chocolate bars), and where I tasted their chocolate in flowing form, straight out of the grinder, where fairtrade cocoa beans are mixed for 3 days with sugar and nothing else. I also felt the love that everyone at Mast Brothers has for the art of chocolate. Their brewed chocolate drinks at their drinking-chocolate shop a couple of doors down were also phenomenal, as were their chocolate chip cookies, bonbons, and of course chocolate bars.

Flatiron Building NYC #onwardandupward
Flatiron Building NYC #onwardandupward

My mission has always been Uplift Through Chocolate, and it was exciting to experience and taste chocolate love in many innovative forms on my latest trip to New York. For more photos, see #NYCNovember2014 on twitter or Instagram, where I post as @chocolateuplift.

With Rick Mast
With Rick Mast

Save the date of next Veteran’s Day weekend, and join me for another set of sweet and chic adventures in the Big Truffle – email me at chocolateuplift@gmail.com to get on the list.

“Keep eating chocolate, and eat real chocolate!”

~ Your friend in chocolate,

Valerie

Why I Don’t Want Soy Lecithin in My Chocolate

Why I don’t want soy lecithin in my chocolate

By Valerie Beck, founder of Chicago Chocolate Tours and Chocolate Uplift, the “Professor of Chocolate”

What's really in your chocolate bar?
What’s really in your chocolate bar?

I was asked the other day why I’m against soy lecithin in chocolate, even if it’s organic soy lecithin. I replied that it’s because I’m against industrial sludge in any of my food, including my chocolate!

What is soy lecithin, and why is it in chocolate?

Soy lecithin is an ingredient used by commercial/industrial chocolate makers, to keep chocolate moving through their pipes. It’s an industrial waste product made from the sludge left after crude soy oil is processed with hexane and acetone. Soy oil refining companies found a way to sell their waste back to the food industry in the 20th century, in the form of lecithin. Whether that waste is organic or not isn’t the point. True, I prefer organic food to GMO food. But in the case of soy lecithin, even organic soy lecithin is still industrial waste, and there are whisperings that when it’s labeled as organic it still isn’t because there isn’t enough demand for an organic variety to actually produce one, but in any case it’s not part of the clean-food / artisan chocolate movement.

What does soy lecithin do to chocolate, and to us?

Cocoa beans + sugar + nothing else = pure delicious chocolate
Cocoa beans + sugar + nothing else = pure delicious chocolate

In addition to being processed waste sold back to the food industry for further industrial purposes, soy lecithin alters the taste and texture of chocolate, making it slicker and more standardized.

I love the pure flavor and rich texture of unadulterated chocolate, and I love delicious, complex-flavor artisan chocolate bars with just 2 ingredients – cocoa beans and sugar – such as bars by Askinosie, Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate, and so many others. Depending on how the cocoa beans are developed through the chocolate making process, chocolate makers can express different stories and provide different flavors. Without additives, the chocolate can tell a more nuanced story.

Moreover, there are other serious issues surrounding soy, as some studies show it can lead to thyroid problems, infant abnormalities, and cancer. This is the case whether the soy is organic or not.

The soy industry and Big Food industries are obviously massive, and some people will tell you that a small amount of soy lecithin in your chocolate won’t make a difference to your health. But even if you didn’t mind the flavor and texture reductions or alterations, the amount of soy lecithin that many people are eating may not be so small after all. That’s because it is in so many processed foods ranging from salad dressing and mayonnaise, to bread and cake mix, and even tea bags.

Do you want hexane-processed sludge with that?

Even if you steer clear of most processed foods and fast food, do you want any hexane-processed industrial sludge in your food at all? Imagine you were at a fine restaurant, and the server asked if you would like ground pepper, parmesan, or a few drops of hexane and soy sludge on your meal. Yikes!

Isn’t it an upside-down state of affairs when industrial waste in food is the norm, and we have to explain why we don’t want it?

What we can do about it

Don’t despair! How can you make sure there’s no soy lecithin in your chocolate bar? Read the label! If you see something you don’t like, or can’t pronounce, you can back away from the bar, and make a different chocolate choice.

Discussing and sampling the goods at a bean-to-bar meeting I held with one of my chocolate consulting clients
Discussing and sampling the goods at a bean-to-bar meeting I held with one of my chocolate consulting clients

Happily, there is a chocolate revolution happening right now, with wonderful bean-to-bar chocolate makers such as the ones I highlighted above and many more including those in my distribution and broker portfolio, creating amazing chocolate deliciousness with cocoa beans. By controlling the entire chocolate making process, from sourcing the cocoa beans through controlling the steps such as fermenting, roasting, and mixing or conching the cocoa beans, they can draw out different flavors based on differences within the steps of that process.

More good news: artisan chocolate makers who use pure ingredients are generally the same artisan chocolate makers who use fair or direct trade, slavery-free, sustainably grown cocoa beans. Chocolate that’s delicious, ethical, and full of health benefits? That’s how it should be!

For an educational and entertaining seminar on deciphering chocolate bar labels, come to one of my "Eat Chocolate, Be Skinny" presentations
Hello from one of my “Eat Chocolate, Be Skinny” seminars, which are educational and entertaining presentations and chocolate tastings on how to decipher chocolate bar labels and gain maximum chocolate health benefits.

Remember: chocolate comes from cocoa beans, which are the seed of the fruit of the cocoa tree. Yes, chocolate comes from fruit! Keep the chocolate pure, and you have wonderful health benefits, wonderful flavor opportunities, and benefits rather than harm to farmers and the planet. That’s chocolate uplift indeed.

To sum it up in hashtags that you’ll see if you join me on Instagram or twitter at @chichoctours: #eatrealfood and #eatrealchocolate!

#chocolateislove