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.

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

Nibmor Chocolate: Accessible Ethics

by Valerie Beck

Smooth and flavorful Nibmor Chocolate.
Smooth and flavorful Nibmor Chocolate.

“Do the right thing, and the right thing will come back to you.”

I’m reminded of these words of wisdom as I start this post, because Nibmor Chocolate (short for “nibble more”) is a delicious example of a business that has found success through ethics.

Certified ethical chocolate.
Certified ethical chocolate. And certified delicious by my Kendall College students and me; check out my #onthenotebook hashtag on Instagram.

Nibmor Chocolate is fair trade certified, so farmers are paid a fair wage for the cacao that they grow, and there’s no child slave labor in the supply chain as with most large commercial brands. Nibmor Chocolate is Rainforest Alliance certified, so the environment is not harmed. Nibmor Chocolate is certified organic and GMO-free, so chocolate eaters are not fed pesticides or genetically modified industrial food substitutes.

And, Nibmor Chocolate is priced accessibly, at 65 cents per “daily dose” square.

That’s accessible ethics!

I made delicious vegan drinking chocolate with Nibmor and water. Nibmor founder Heather Terry recommends coconut milk too.
I made delicious vegan drinking chocolate with Nibmor drinking chocolate and water. Nibmor founder Heather Terry recommends coconut milk too.

And, Nibmor Chocolate is delicious. Let’s face it: flavor is king. Ethics and accessibility don’t necessarily guarantee success. Deliciousness guarantees smiles.

Refreshing Nibmor mint.
Refreshing Nibmor mint chocolate bar. Someone with whom I shared this bar said it tasted like Girl Scout cookies without the questionable ingredients, and I agree!
Particularly enjoyed the surprisingly mild Nibmor 80% with sea salt and nibs.
I particularly enjoyed the surprisingly mild Nibmor 80% with sea salt and nibs.
Yes, I put Nibmor eating chocolate into Nibmor drinking chocolate, and yes it was wonderful.
Yes, I put Nibmor eating chocolate into Nibmor drinking chocolate, and yes it was wonderful.

Onward and upward!

Your friend in chocolate,

Valerie

With Nibmor founder Heather Terry (right) at the Sweets and Snacks Expo.
With Nibmor founder Heather Terry (right) at the 2015 Sweets and Snacks Expo.

Valerie Beck, “The Chocolate Queen”

Chocolate Expert, Chocolate Consultant, Sweet Speaker

www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com

Instagram: chocolateuplift

Hazardous cocoa child labor climbs 18% in West Africa: ‘Rallying call’ for chocolate industry…

Hazardous cocoa child labor climbs 18% in West Africa: ‘Rallying call’ for chocolate industry….

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!

Your friend in ethical chocolate,

Valerie

Valerie Beck

Chocolate Expert, Chocolate Consultant, Sweet Speaker

www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com

chocolateuplift@gmail.com

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!

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