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

Sweet Springfield: Chocolate Wellness Talk and Honest Abe

by Valerie Beck, Chocolate Expert and Sweet Speaker

Have chocolate, will travel
Have chocolate, will travel

What do chocolate and President Abraham Lincoln have in common?

They have honesty in common, when the chocolate is made with real ingredients and fairly traded cocoa beans.

Why the “Honest Abe” comparison at all?

Because I had the wonderful opportunity to spend some time in sprightly Springfield, Illinois, 200 miles from my home in Chicago, where I gave a chocolate wellness talk, and where Abraham Lincoln lived much of his adult life, practiced law, campaigned for office, and was returned for burial after his assassination.

Old State House in Springfield, IL
Old State Capitol in Springfield, IL, a powerful Abraham Lincoln site for Illinoisans like me and for all other Lincoln enthusiasts

I traveled to the Illinois state capital at the kind invitation of an influential ladies philanthropic organization to speak about chocolate wellness, and we had a marvelous and delicious time. Of course I also took some time to re-visit one of the best museums in the US – the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum – and to do some Springfield “chocolate scouting.”

Heartland
Midwest moment
Where chocolate begins: sharing cacao at my talk
Where chocolate begins: magnesium-rich and health benefit-filled cacao, which I shared at my talk
The audience enjoyed lunch and dessert before my talk and chocolate tasting
Dessert before dessert: the audience enjoyed lunch and dessert before my talk and chocolate tasting

One of the elements of my talk involved playing a game I created called “Sometimes, Always, Never: What’s Really In Your Chocolate.” The way it works: I explain which ingredients and origins to look for in chocolate bars, and which to avoid. Then we have audience members read the labels on a variety of chocolate bars I’ve brought, and we talk about where the cocoa beans came from, and what the ingredients are in each chocolate bar are. Knowing the health, labor, and environmental benefits or risks, the group decides whether each chocolate bar is one that they might sometimes choose for themselves and their families, one that they can always feel good about choosing, or one that they would never want in their household.

The game resulted in some surprises as it does every time, and then of course we ate the chocolate bars that the group decided to put into the “Always” pile! This included delicious, healthful, fair trade chocolate bars by Alter Eco, Dick Taylor, and El Dorado. The latter is made in Ecuador and is not yet available in the US, and this group was my first group to sample it!

Inside joke: Dick Taylor craft chocolate from California meets Dick Taylor Collision Services of Illinois
Inside joke: Dick Taylor craft chocolate from California meets Dick Taylor Collision Services of Illinois

I was impressed with the group, and moved by the glowing testimonial I received:

“Valerie is an exuberant and extraordinary speaker who superbly involves the audience as she presents such interesting facts about chocolate and wellness.  She is very friendly and personable, yet a cylinder of dynamite showering listeners with delightful energy!  The manner in which she shares her heart, soul, lively humor and vast knowledge makes her presentations quite enjoyable.  Valerie is highly recommended as a speaker to your group!”

  Janie Rast, Ladies organization, Springfield, IL

Great state of Illinois chocolate by first-class local chocolatier Cocoa Blue for my audience
Great state of Illinois chocolate by first-class local chocolatier Cocoa Blue for my audience. Honest Abe would have approved. Click for my blog post on Cocoa Blue.

Thank you, Ladies of Springfield! I appreciate your hospitality, eagerness to hear about chocolate’s health benefits, and openness to my Chocolate Freedom Project to raise awareness of child slave labor on West African cocoa farms and of fair trade alternatives that are healthier and more delicious. “Keep eating real chocolate!”

Honored to have dinner - and dessert - at the home of the dear chocolate lover who invited me to town
I was honored to have dinner – and a very chocolatey dessert – at the home of the dear chocolate lover who invited me to speak in Springfield; we connected because she and her husband had been on my Chocolate Tours years ago when I operated that business.

There’s even more deliciousness to this sweet Springfield story:

I arrived in Springfield the day before my talk and checked into the Inn at 835, a captivating antiques-filled bed-and-breakfast. The rooms were lovely, breakfast was delicious, wine and cheese hour at night was a charming touch, and the chocolate chip cookies at bedtime were the ultimate!

Bedtime chocolate chip cookies served at the Inn at 835
Sweet dreams at the Inn at 835

From the Inn, it was a short walk to the Abraham Lincoln Museum. This was my third trip to Springfield since this exceptional museum opened 10 years ago, and I’ve visited the Lincoln Museum each time. I continue to  notice additional details in the exhibits, such as the pile of legal papers in the re-creation of Lincoln’s utterly disorderly law office marked “if you can’t find it, look here.”

Children's art at the Lincoln Museum
Children’s art display at the Lincoln Museum

The exhibit that shows the 4-year Civil War in 4 minutes, using a video map of the US, music, and a running tally of the dead, but no spoken words, always makes me weep. And the exhibit in which the late journalist Tim Russert broadcasts about the 4-way presidential race “Campaign 1860” always makes me smile.

Vegan friendly Cafe Andiamo
Delicious chocolate cake doughnut at vegan-friendly Cafe Andiamo, against a background of local art by Billinda DeVillez

I followed my museum visit with some chocolate scouting – of course! – and some sightseeing, and enjoyed every element of my sweet Springfield visit.

Dana-Thomas House by Frank Lloyd Wright
Springfield’s Dana-Thomas House by Frank Lloyd Wright
Cafe Moxo
Cookies galore at Cafe Moxo, including chocolate chip cinnamon raisin

Your friend in “honest chocolate,”

Valerie

3rd from right with some of Springfield's philanthropic ladies
3rd from right with some of Springfield’s philanthropic ladies

Valerie Beck, The Chocolate Queen

CEO/Founder Chocolate Uplift

www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com

chocolateuplift@gmail.com

Instagram: @chocolateuplift