Isn’t it nice to find authenticity? Authentic chocolate, made from authentic cacao, traded authentically, nourishing people and planet.
OBOLO Chocolate founder Mark Gerrits is originally from Milwaukee and is a long-time resident of South America, where he has focused on environmentalism and most recently cacao and chocolate. He and his family live in Santiago, Chile, and he visited the Pangoa cacao collective in Peru this summer, which is where he buys the cacao from which he and his team make their award-winning chocolate in Chile. Exciting news: Mark is now the godfather of a new baby born to Pangoa growers!
As a US importer and distributor of awesome OBOLO Chocolate, I video chatted with dear Mark today, and told him how much I enjoyed the photos and videos he posted from his recent trip. He told me he is the first visitor to the Pangoa collective since the current global situation began, and that he believes not only in maintaining and strengthening relationships but also in showing the world that he means what he says: his partnership with Pangoa is authentic; his cacao is truly traceable, and ethical, as it is grown with no child labor and it is organic.
As you may know, all of the brands I work with meet my 5 Ss of first-class bean-to-bar chocolate:
Mark gave me permission to re-post his Pangoa photos, and you can see more on OBOLO’s Instagram.
You can also see more about OBOLO in my posts here (including video) and here. And, at the bottom of this post I’m sharing OBOLO-focused photos I took at the Craft Chocolate Experience in San Francisco in March 2020, where I got to spend time with Mark — and so many other chocolate makers and chocolate lovers, plus photos from my own little distribution center and staging area here in sweet home Chicago!
Enjoy this photo-journey to a cacao harvest in Peru, where you’ll see the opening of a cacao pod, and fermenting, drying, and sorting the cacao, and Pangoa families!
**Update: three wonderful craft chocolate bars made with Caribbean cacao, by 9th & Larkin Chocolate, Crow & Moss Chocolate, and Sirene Chocolate, are in the April 2020 issue of Luckbox Magazine in a clever piece on rum, chocolate, and cigar combinations, along with chocolate tasting notes by yours truly; click for the digital edition and see pp. 36 – 38! Thank you LuckboxMag and TastyTrade! **
What do these chocolate bars have in common?
Yes, they all meet my 5 Ss of first-class craft chocolate in that they are:
soy-free and additive-free
In addition, they are all made from cacao grown in the Caribbean!
When you think of food and drink of the Caribbean, maybe you think of excellent rum, cane sugar, jerk chicken. Cacao and chocolate also have important and delicious roots in Caribbean soil.
The Caribbean islands became a major part of the cacao industry in the 1500s, after European colonizers brought cacao from native lands in South America to the islands for cultivation and export to Europe. Spain controlled most of the trans-Atlantic cacao trade from South America, so by growing cacao in the Caribbean, the English — and Dutch pirates — were able to compete. Slave labor was often used, and when slavery was abolished in Puerto Rico in 1873, profits went down, and commercial cacao-growing in the Caribbean became less important to Europe, especially as West African farms were being exploited and people there were finding themselves slave laborers.
Today, 2.1 million children work on cacao farms in Cote d’Ivoire, most in slavery or hazardous conditions, generally without schooling and often away from their family homes, so that we can have cheap chocolate in the west. The big brands are complicit, as articles and more articles reveal.
Good news: the rise of artisanal bean-to-bar chocolate made from ethical, traceable, single-origin cacao, provides a new opportunity for growing cacao in the Caribbean, in a way that supports people and planet.
For example, Reserva Zorzal in the Dominican Republic is a sustainable cacao farm plus bird sanctuary, where plants and animals live in a mutually beneficial ecosystem. The cacao is grown for quality, not quantity, and you can taste this in a chocolate bar like the one made by Crow & Moss Chocolate of Northern Michigan. The chocolate bar contains just 2 ingredients: cacao and sugar — all you need to make chocolate! My tasting notes:
Deep notes of cherry, caramel, and cinnamon, opening into earthy fudginess, and coming up to conclude on a lightly grape-meets-fennel finish. Long finish. Some complexity, yet relatively straightforward, with clarity, without muddiness. True to the bean. No bitterness. Ultimately interesting, balanced, accessible.
Those flavors are all from the cacao, and from how Mike Davies, founder of Crow & Moss and a professional baker and hobby farmer, roasts and grinds the cacao into chocolate in his 2,000 square foot manufactory.
Tasting the Caribbean through chocolate is exciting, and let me know if you’d like to travel with me to the source, as I am talking with Zorzal founder Chuck Kerchner, a PhD in forestry, about special upscale agri-tours to his cacao estate in the Dominican Republic.
In the meantime, you can find selections of the four brands featured here at stores like these:
9th & Larkin — The Grail Cafe, Totto’s Market
Bixby Chocolate — Beacon Hill Chocolates, Honeycreeper Chocolate, Rare Bird Preserves, Spilt Milk Pastry, Yahara Chocolate
Crow & Moss Chocolate — The Grail Cafe, Totto’s Market
I’m commuting between Los Angeles and Chicago this winter, to teach a class at UCLA Extension on International Business Law, to promote craft chocolate like local LA small-batch wonder Letterpress Chocolate, and to thaw out from Chicago winters!
I don’t drive, and LA is a very car-focused city as you know, so this adds a layer of adventure!
… across from Widener Library, one of many favorite Harvard spots where I spent a lot of time back when!
Aztec revivalism: Mexican hot chocolate at L.A.Burdick’s in Harvard Sq, an old favorite sip at an old favorite cafe!
New and old: thoroughly exquisute Castronovo Chocolate at #cardullos, a super special #harvardsquare shop I’ve been visiting since freshman year when I would buy the chocolate bars that were available then! What a treat to connect with the new owner of this classic shop, over new chocolate, an ancient delicacy! And yes I took off my scarf and took this picture; standard operating procedure! : )
Brunch recap, at amazing #aldenandharlow in #harvardsquare: loved this fabulous, inventive, and warm cinnamon roll, with berries, pistachios, and white chocolate – plus the cleverly named “ubiquitous kale salad” which was creatively freshened with creamy pistachio dressing, and all the other delicious not-shown food we ate! – while catching up with a very dear friend from college! The restaurant is in the same location as beloved former Casablanca cafe, next to the Brattle Theater which still shows classic and independent films on its single screen; so much fun to go back to school and to old places and old-spaces-turned-new!
Taza Chocolate factory tour – from bean to bar!
Scrumptious Taza souvenir – not shown: all my many other scrumptious Taza souvenirs!
Some of the smaller stone grinders at Taza Chocolate in Somerville, outside of Boston, home of stone-ground sustainable slavery-free soy-free chocolate!
Chocolate love at Taza HQ
Macaron Cafe now available at Gourmet Boutique in Boston, former chocolate tour stop
Chequessett Chocolate available at Beacon Hill Chocolates, down the hill from where I lived during law school
Chocolate scouting in Boston’s Copley Square; chocolate tour guests used to pose on the steps of the Boston Public Library in between chocolate stops!
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
Washington, DC, is particularly sweet in spring, when cherry blossoms bloom, and chocolate innovation springs forth, as I re-discover every year on my springtime trip to our US capital.
DC’s cherry blossom trees were originally a gift from Japan, facilitated by author and traveler Eliza Scidmore, who fell in love with the sweet blossoms in Japan and enlisted the wife of President Taft to help coordinate the trees with Japan in 1910 and 1912.
Today, the city blooms beautifully in spring not only at the “usual” sites such as the Tidal Basin with its spectacular views of the monuments, but also in special and strollable corners of the city such as Stanton Park, and restaurant-rich Dupont Circle.
As for chocolate, we chocolate lovers know it is a gift as well. Chocolate comes from cacao, which is the seed of the fruit of the cocoa tree. The Aztecs believed cacao was the fruit of the gods. At beloved Co Co Sala chocolate lounge and boutique, the chocolate is heavenly indeed.
Chocolate blends nature and art, and it’s perhaps that juxtaposition of natural forms and artistic vision that has drawn me to the Alexander Calder mobile at the National Gallery of Art in DC, ever since I first experienced it on a DC visit at age 8 and wanted to bring it home with me. The glorious 76-foot work wouldn’t quite fit on the airplane, and I’ve visited it on my trips to DC ever since.
Back to our regularly scheduled chocolate, it’s always a treat to see another longtime friend in DC, Jane Morris of J Chocolatier, who creates unique and flavorful artisan chocolate bars, such as my new favorite from her, the fig/walnut/pepper chocolate bar, which she sells from her adorable weekends-only perch atop a charming boutique on Barracks Row.
In addition to visiting old friends, I always love making new ones, and was thrilled by DC’s newest doughnut shop, District Doughnut, where the goods are pastry-inspired, fresh, light, not too sweet, and absolutely delicious and delightful.
by professional speaker and chocolate expert Valerie Beck
I love speaking about the history and health benefits of chocolate, and about entrepreneurship. Getting me to stop talking about my passion topics would be the hard part!
I also love “chocolate scouting:” visiting old chocolate friends and searching out new ones, in any given neighborhood.
So when I was invited to speak to a women’s initiative group at a law firm in New Jersey, with time the next day to explore a favorite neighborhood in New York, I hopped onto a flight and off I went!
Thank you to my sister law school alumna Chris Osvald-Mruz of Lowenstein Sandler for inviting me to speak to her group of partners, clients, and contacts, after we sat next to each other at a reunion dinner in Cambridge to celebrate 60 years of women graduates of Harvard Law School.
She asked for my “Eat Chocolate, Be Skinny” talk, plus remarks on how I transitioned from law to entrepreneurship, founding the original chocolate tours years ago and now working on speaking and consulting projects. I’m always happy to create a custom talk, especially for such a special client.
What a treat it was to talk with her ultra-professional and ultra-engaged group on how to interpret chocolate bar labels and choose the right kind of chocolate for maximum health benefits, how to choose ethical chocolate, and how to use the ABCs of Attitude, Belief, and Commitment in any transition, career, or project. We also sampled raw cocoa beans (pure health!), and delicious and satisfying bean-to-bar chocolate that I brought from Askinosie.
Plus, I was thrilled to be able to include delicious chocolates by another friend, Elyissia Wassung of 2 Chicks With Chocolate, who is located in New Jersey not far from the law firm and who set up such an enticing display that I was impressed with the audience for being able to stick to savory food and my chocolate samples during my talk, before diving into her creations later during the Chocolate Hour!
At the end of the night, I gave away one of my Sweet & Chic sets in a prize drawing.
The evening was elegant and energized, filled with food, fun, networking, and of course chocolate, and I was honored to be part of it!
The next day, I zipped across the river to Manhattan in an Uberx, for a day visiting old friends and new in “sweet Soho.”
Among the many stops I made in this delicious New York City neighborhood was the famous bakery of Dominique Ansel, creator of the Cronut – a croissant-doughnut pastry with deliciously layered dough and ever-changing flavors. Cronuts sell out practically by dawn of course, but there’s no shortage of classic and whimsical French pastry on hand any time of day, including some of the best macarons and canneles anywhere.
I enjoyed hearing Chef Dominique speak at the Fancy Food Show in New York last year. He was very humble, and spoke of growing up poor in France, saving money as a boy for a beautiful shirt, and then hanging it in his closet to save it for a special occasion. When that occasion finally came, years later, he found that he had outgrown the shirt! He learned to seize the moment, and do it now.
After visiting Laduree and other lovely locations, it was time for some chic with my sweet, so I popped into one of my favorite boutiques anywhere, M Missoni. I held a book signing event there a few years ago, wear the brand and the parent brand Missoni regularly and with relish, and was delighted to see the Soho team!
A trip to sweet Soho wouldn’t be as glamorous without a stop inside the gilded cocoa room at Mariebelle, where I had lunch – yes, actual savory food! 🙂 – followed by an exquisite chocolate mousse cake and spicy Aztec hot chocolate.
Then, it was back to sweet home Chicago, where the excitement of the trip didn’t end, as a stunning bouquet of flowers from my dear and thoughtful client greeted me at home the next day.
It’s a joy to work with great people, doing what I love, and spreading chocolate education and enjoyment. That’s Uplift Through Chocolate!
For more information on my speaking engagements, click my old site or my new rebranding site – in beta but live:
Chocolate is naturally healthy, unless we add junk to it. Chocolate is made from the cacao bean, which is the seed of the fruit of the cacao tree. Cacao is a superfood, because of it is rich in nutrients and benefits. For example:
Cacao has more antioxidants than blueberries, green tea, or red wine.
Cacao is the highest source of plant-based iron.
Cacao is one of the highest sources of magnesium.
Cacao has more calcium than milk.
Cacao is a natural mood booster.
Of course, to receive these benefits, you want to eat artisan chocolate, not commercial chocolate. This is because commercial chocolate has been processed which removes nutrients, and because commercial chocolate usually contains added negatives such as pesticides, artificial ingredients, soy lecithin, and high amounts of sugar. In addition, commercial chocolate is often farmed in ways that harm the workers; abominations such as child slave labor are common on West African cocoa farms, which produce the bulk of the world’s commercial chocolate.
How can you make sure you’re eating chocolate that aligns with your health wishes and your moral code? Read the label! For example, you can look for chocolate bars with just 2 ingredients: cacao and sugar (plus any inclusions such as fruit or nuts). You can also look for chocolate bars with the country or estate of origin on the label, such as South American or other non-West African countries.
We go into more detail in my seminars, such as talking about:
the #1 ingredient to avoid in chocolate,
when to eat chocolate so that you maximize your health benefits,
how to incorporate raw cocoa beans into delicious meals and snacks, and
Click for info on and tickets for my next Chocolate Wellness seminar open to the public, at Kendall College in Chicago, on Saturday, February 7, at 11 am. Samples are included in all of my speaking engagements! Click here.
Or book a private seminar for your corporate, association, or other group. Again, samples are included! Click for details.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org anytime for more info.
And, here’s a sneak preview of my new still-under-construction site, which will also house info on my Chocolate Wellness seminars. The site is a mock-up and will ultimately be brought under the Chocolate Uplift domain, but here you go for now!
Sweet Travel: Our 2015 Chocolate Uplift Travel Club Destinations
by Valerie Beck, chocolate expert, culinary travel pioneer, and founder of the one and only Chocolate Uplift Travel Club
Happy new year!
Have you made your 2015 travel plans yet?
Let’s make them sweeter: travel with me to one or more of the below destinations, where I’ll open my address book of friends and contacts I’ve made throughout my chocolatey career, and will take you behind the scenes to visit top chocolatiers and chefs. We’ll experience the local culture the way the local style-setters do, and we’ll enjoy the best in food, fashion, art, and of course chocolate.
A few of the trips have 2 packages to choose from: all-inclusive, or a la carte. The double-package trips are Miami in January, LA in March, DC in April, Charleston and Savannah over Memorial Day weekend, Boston in May, and NYC over Veteran’s Day weekend.
And, you can vote on where you think our Labor Day and Columbus Day trips should go!
Scroll down for dates and destinations, contact me at email@example.com to book or with questions, and here’s to sweet travel!
2015 Chocolate Uplift Travel Club Destinations
Miami Chocolate Festival, Miami, Florida. Friday 1/23 – Sunday 1/25: Miami Chocolate Festival at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Package 1: $2,000 includes hotel, meals, excursions, Chocolate Festival, meet-and-greets with select chocolatiers at the Festival. Package 2: $100 includes meet-and-greets at the Festival.
Florence Sweet & Chic, Florence, Italy. Wednesday 2/11 – Tuesday 2/17: Florence Artisanal Chocolate Festival, and Ferragamo Fashion & Shoes. Encompasses Valentine’s Day and President’s Day. Package: $3,200 includes hotel, meals, excursions, Festival, meet-and-greets at the Festival, tour of the Salvatore Ferragamo headquarters and museum.
SOBEWFF: Celebrity Chefs on the Beach, Miami, Florida. Friday 2/20 – Sunday 2/22. South Beach Wine & Food Festival. Package: $3,000 includes hotel, meals, excursions.
Turner and Truffles, Los Angeles, California. Friday 3/20 – Sunday 3/22. J.M.W. Turner exhibit at the Getty Museum, and our own Beverly Hills Bakery Tour created by Valerie Beck. Package 1: $2,200 includes hotel, meals, excursions, private tour of Turner exhibit, Beverly Hills Bakery Tour. Package 2: $120 includes private tour of Turner exhibit, and Beverly Hills Bakery Tour.
Cherry Blossoms and Chocolate, Washington, DC. Friday 4/10 – Sunday 4/12. National Cherry Blossom Festival, and Chef’s Dinner. Package 1: $2,350 includes hotel, meals, excursions, private Chef’s Dinner and chocolate tasting with a celebrity pastry chef. Package 2: $150 includes Chef’s Dinner and chocolate tasting.
Cacao Origin Trip, Quito and other points in Ecuador, South America. Friday 5/1 – Tuesday 5/5. Cocoa Farms and Capitol City of Enchanting Ecuador. Fly to Quito through Miami or Houston. Package: $2,500 includes hotels, meals, excursions, private tours of cocoa farms, meet-and-greets with cocoa farm owners and chocolate makers.
Sweet Home Chicago, Chicago, Illinois. Friday 5/15 – Sunday 5/17. National Restaurant Association Show additional activities including the original Chicago Chocolate Tour created by Valerie Beck. Book your own Show and hotel arrangements. Package: $150 includes private Chef’s Dinner, and Chicago Chocolate Tour.
Memorial Day Weekend in the Sweet South, Charleston, North Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia. Friday 5/22 – Monday 5/25. Two sweet and chic cities. Package 1: $3,000 includes hotels, meals, excursions, private tastings with pastry chefs and chocolatiers. Package 2: $200 includes private tastings with pastry chefs and chocolatiers.
Boston Sweet, Boston, Massachusetts. Friday 5/29 – Sunday 5/31. Sweet springtime, including the original Boston Chocolate Walking Tour created by Valerie Beck. Package 1: $2,750 includes hotel, meals, excursions, private tasting of the original Boston Cream Pie, Chocolate Tour. Package 2: $200 includes private tasting of the original Boston Cream Pie, Chocolate Tour.
Sweet Labor Day Weekend, destination tbd, cast your vote! Friday 9/4 – Monday 9/7.
Sweet Columbus Day Weekend, destination tbd, cast your vote! Friday 10/9 – Monday 10/12.
Eurochocolate: Italy Sweet and Chic, Perugia, Pisa, and Rome, Italy. Friday 10/6 – Friday 10/23. Eurochocolate Festival in Perugia, Italian cashmere, artisan chocolate of Pisa and Chocolate Valley, Roman chocolate and gelato. Package: $6,300 includes hotels, meals, excursions, Festival, private tour of an artisan chocolate manufactory, private tour of a cashmere manufactory, meet-and-greets, Rome’s oldest chocolate shop, Roman gelato tour, Italian fashion visits.
The Big Truffle: NYC Veteran’s Day Weekend, New York, New York. Friday 11/6 – Tuesday 11/10. Chocolate, art, fashion, and a parade, in New York City, including our own New York Pastry Paradise Tour created by Valerie Beck. Package 1: $3,300 includes hotel, meals, excursions, private tour of a chocolate manufactory, Pastry Paradise Tour, fashion and style excursion, museum visit with VIP status, Veteran’s Day parade viewing. Package 2: $300 includes chocolate manufactory tour, New York Pastry Paradise Tour, fashion and style excursion, museum visit.
Art Basel Miami Beach, Miami, Florida. Friday 12/4 – Sunday 12/6. Art Basel Miami Beach Festival, including our own sweet and chic excursions. Package: $2,800 includes hotel, meals, excursions, art festival, gallery parties, our own chocolate brunch, our own macaron tasting.