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.
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.
I’m thrilled to be an advisor to this project, and the kickstarter link is coming soon!
Tasting new chocolate can connect us to happy memories, and open the door to new adventures.
Below are a very few of my favorite chocolate creations that I tasted for the first time in 2015, narrowed down with enormous difficulty to:
* one chocolate bar,
* one hot chocolate, and
* one chocolate truffle.
I could have done the top 10 of each, and added pastries and confections and done the top 10 of each of those, and would still have had an outrageously difficult time narrowing it down from all of the amazing chocolate I’ve had the pleasure of tasting this year, in many different cities.
Indeed, at one single event, World of Chocolate earlier this month, I tasted over 27 new chocolate creations as a judge!
The craft chocolate revolution continues, and talented and hard working chocolate makers, chocolatiers, and chefs continue to innovate, which means a lot of fabulous chocolate to taste and enjoy.
But this is a brief post on New Year’s Eve, typed on my phone, and so I’m sharing just a few favorite items here.
For more chocolate that I loved in 2015, see my instagram!
Crafted from just two ingredients – cacao and sugar – Sirene Chocolate epitomizes the purity of bean-to-bar chocolate.
Smooth texture and fabulous flavor, depending on the cacao origin, fermentation, roasting process, and grinding time, reveal the story that each cacao origin can tell, and reveal the artistry of chocolate maker Taylor Kennedy, from his chocolate kitchen in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
I sampled Sirene for the first time this past year, at the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle, and was instantly impressed. I then sampled Sirene to a group at one of my Chocolate Wellness talks, in Chicago, and it is no exaggeration to say that “the crowd went wild.” After the group tasted the fleur de sel chocolate bar by Sirene, they asked for seconds, and bought out the rest of my stock.
When one audience member’s bars accidentally came home with me in my bag, I offered to drop them off to her the next day, but she preferred to come to my place and get them that same night. I would have done the same thing!
This is a personal mini list, so here’s my personal view on hot chocolate: it should be rich, chocolatey, and simultaneously comforting and exciting.
If it’s also single-origin, and made with just two ingredients (cacao and sugar), and tastes amazing in a vegan version made with water instead of milk (the traditional or ancient way to make chocolate is of course with water, not dairy), then it is truly special.
The hot chocolate by Undone Chocolate is all of those things. I already loved Undone’s chocolate bars when I visited owner Adam Kavalier and team member Merrill Dagg at Undone’s kitchen in Washington, DC, this year. What a treat to see their chocolate-making equipment in action, with sacks and sacks of Dominican Republic cacao awaiting their turn to shine.
When Adam sent me home with a tin of Undone hot chocolate mix I was grateful, and as soon as I tried it I was ecstatic.
The flavor and texture are rich and luscious with water – no milk required – so that the hot chocolate tastes not like milk but like chocolate. Call me a purist because that for me is what hot chocolate should be.
When I bit into a French truffle in Paris at age 19, I knew it was something exquisite.
When I bit into a Batch PDX truffle earlier this year (see my June 2015 blog post), I knew it had the same level of precision, flavor, and magic that had captivated me in Paris, only this time the truffles were made in Portland, Oregon.
Chocolatier Jeremy Karp sees himself as a craftsman, and indeed crafts bonbons of beauty and balance.
I also see him as an artist, because he sculpts with flavors and textures, telling a story of contrast and compatibility with spice and passion fruit, for example, enrobed in white chocolate for additional magic.
These glimpses of magical chocolate experiences energize me for amazing chocolate experiences in the new year and beyond.
I wish you a delicious new year and more, as you “keep eating real chocolate!”
Your friend in chocolate, Valerie
CEO/Founder Chocolate Uplift
Chocolate Consultant and Broker, Sweet Speaker www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com
social media @chocolateuplift
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
CEO / Founder Chocolate Uplift
chocolate brokering and consulting services, and sweet speaking
by Valerie Beck, chocolate broker, chocolate consultant, sweet speaker
“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.
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!
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!
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.
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,
CEO / Founder Chocolate Uplift
chocolate brokering and consulting services, and sweet speaking
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.”
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!
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a presentation anywhere, schedule permitting.
On our ongoing topic of child labor and child slave labor on the West African cacao farms that are at the base of the supply chain for the bulk of the world’s commercial chocolate, click for a Confectionery News article which explains that over 2 million children are engaged in hazardous work on cacao farms.
What can we do?
Buy artisan fair trade or direct trade chocolate – click here and here for some of my favorite brands.
And, watch for my Chocolate Freedom Walk, Speaking Tour, and Tasting Extravaganza coming soon – contact me for details or to get involved!
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!
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:
Sweet New Friends, and
New Chocolate Friends
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com or shop online – and keep eating real chocolate!
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
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 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.
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!)
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!
2. Midtown / Fifth Avenue
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!
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.
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!
3. Brooklyn / Williamsburg
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!
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org to get on the list.