Love at First Taste: 3 Chocolate Loves of 2016, Part 2

By Valerie Beck, Founder/CEO Chocolate Uplift and Valerie’s Original Chocolate Tours, and “chocolate muse”

 “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare

Do you call filled chocolates “bonbons” (technically any filled chocolates), “truffles” (chocolates filled with ganache), or chocolates?

Or do you just call them delicious!

Selecting my favorite chocolate bar, chocolate bonbon, and chocolate beverage of the year is never easy, because I get to taste so many wonderful creations by so many talented and hard working people.

So here we go for bonbons –

My 2016 bonbons (or truffles, or chocolates) of the year are by…


I first encountered Chocolatasm on Instagram. The business is run by chef and chocolatier Paul John Kearins, an Englishman in Blue Ridge, Georgia, and it was chocolate love at first chocolate sight.

I was intrigued by Paul’s unique flavor combinations like the blueberry sesame confection (in my photo above), and also by the pristine and well-organized kitchen in which he takes enticing snapshots of his chocolate artistry.

I had to learn more, and reached out to Paul, who proved as kind, generous, and humorous as he is artistic, accomplished, and professional.

When I tasted Paul’s creations, it was even deeper love at first taste, due to unique and thoroughly successful flavor combinations, plus superlative chocolate!

Paul has started collaborating with marvelous Mackenzie Rivers of map chocolate of Oregon (see my photo above), in that he uses custom bean-to-bar chocolate by map as the couverture for his bonbons, instead of using an often very delicious yet more common or commercial type of chefs chocolate. 

This partnership gives his chocolates exciting new dimensions, because his brilliant flavor combinations get to dance with truly unique chocolate. 

Moreover, map chocolate is made with traceable cacao, free of child slave labor in the supply chain. And it contains no soy lecithin, so the taste is more immediate, the texture is richer without slickness, there are no solvents present like hexane or acetone, and the health benefits are uncompromised!

All of this is critically important to Paul of course, who selects his chocolate with great care, and matches it to his flavor combinations with delicious thoughtfulness.

As an example, Chocolatasm’s smoked pear truffle in Peru 45% milk chocolate (photo above) plunges you into layers of rich flavor. The milk chocolate adds a wonderful tang, while graciously sharing the stage with smoked pear. A sommelier client and I selected this bonbon for a Port pairing because the deep flavors of the truffle absolutely sang with a vintage port.

I asked Paul how he thinks up flavor ideas, and he described how he has always had access to a rich cache of olfactory memory. He can remember smells and flavors from the past, and can perceive in his mind how to combine them in new ways. 

Paul was born in London, worked as a chef and chocolatier there and in Amsterdam, and now lives and creates in the US, 90 miles north of Atlanta in a town located within the gorgeous wooded mountain landscape of the Chattahoochee Forest. 

Paul’s history and memories provide such a benefit for us, the chocolate lovers, who get to enjoy Chocolatasm delights such as strawberry balsamic truffles with black pepper, or cranberry cabernet chocolates.

I look forward to writing another photo-filled blog post about Chocolatasm after I visit Paul’s beautifully situated kitchen this spring!

But first, there’s more…

As enthusiastic as I am about Chocolatasm’s bonbons, the chocolate bars are also exciting and innovative!

For example: dark chocolate from Honduran cacao with Ethiopian coffee and lemon, or a white chocolate with muscovado sugar and lime that turns people who think they don’t like white chocolate into people who realize they’d simply never tried the right or real white chocolate!

If you’re in Chicago, you can pick up Chocolatasm bars at Foodease or Beatrix Streeterville – tell them Valerie the Chocolate Lady sent you! : )

Could the bars be part of a forthcoming Chocolate Uplift craft chocolate subscription box

Stay tuned!

In the meantime, here’s to Chocolatasm, my 2016 bonbon love, where craft couverture meets endless imagination, international perspectives, and top chef professionalism, for new journeys into deep deliciousness.

Whether you call chocolates “bonbons,” “truffles,” or “chocolates,” Chocolatasm adds a new word of love to the chocolate lexicon!

Want more chocolate?

Click for my chocolate bar love of 2016,

Click for my chocolate beverage love of 2016 – coming soon, and

Click for my 2015 picks!

Onward and upward into a 2017 filled with love and light, taste and delight!

Your friend in chocolate,


– Let it go to your head: here I am in my Chocolatasm cap! –

Valerie Beck 

Founder/CEO Chocolate Uplift and Valerie’s Original Chocolate Tours 

Chocolate services to the trade and the public: Brokering, Consulting, Speaking, Subscriptions, Tours 


Uplift Through Chocolate!

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,


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

Instagram: @chocolateuplift

Chocolatasm: Light Touch, Strong Success

by Valerie Beck, Chocolate Expert and Chocolate Broker

Artisan chocolate by Chocolatasm
Artisan chocolate by Chocolatasm

As soon as I saw the chocolates by Chocolatasm on Instagram, I knew they were something special. When I tasted them, I was impressed with their exquisite subtlety and delicate yet impactful flavor combinations. And when I spoke with the chocolatier behind the brand, I knew he was a true professional.

Sweet innovation
Sweet innovation

Chef/chocolatier Paul Kearins was born in London, worked as a pastry chef and chocolatier in Amsterdam, and now lives and creates in Blue Ridge, Georgia.

When I asked him how he develops his unique flavor combinations such as white chocolate with lime and muscovado sugar, or milk chocolate with honey and blueberries, or dark chocolate with lemon and Ethopian coffee, he told me that ever since childhood he’s had the ability to remember smells and to combine them in his mind with other smells.

His olfactory creativity plus his skills as a professional chef and chocolatier come together magnificently in his brand Chocolatasm.

Light touch, big impact
Light touch, big impact

To taste Chef Paul’s delicious creations is to experience a gentle and pure poetry of chocolate and other flavors. His chocolate doesn’t overwhelm, it delights. Chocolatasm is available at beloved upscale lunch spot and market Foodease inside Chicago’s Water Tower Place (a popular Chicago Chocolate Tours spot back when I operated the original Chocolate Tours as founder/CEO), and I’m thrilled to have brokered the relationship between such a special brand of artisan chocolate, and such a fabulous seller of artisan foods.

On the shelf at Foodease in Chicago
On the shelf at Foodease in Chicago
Before they got to the shelf at Foodease: in the kitchen at Chocolatasm
Before they got to the shelf at Foodease: in the kitchen at Chocolatasm
Valentine's Day every day
Valentine’s Day every day

For a peek behind the scenes, enjoy this Chocolatasm video.

Keep eating chocolate!

Come see me on Instagram too! Your friend in chocolate,


Valerie Beck, The Chocolate Queen

CEO/Founder Chocolate Uplift

Social media: @chocolateuplift

What is a Bonbon? Batch PDX

What is a Bonbon? Batch PDX

Package of paradise
Package of paradise

Chocolatier/owner Jeremy Karp of Batch PDX is basically a chocolate magician.

Pure ingredients, precise technique, and classic yet creative flavor combinations, make these bonbons from Portland, Oregon, some of the most exquisite I’ve tasted in quite some time. Everyone who sampled from my batch of Batch PDX fell into rapture and reverence.

The Nutty Crunchy PDX, with hazelnut and feuilletine
Portland to Chicago: unwrapping a bounty of bonbons, including the hazelnut, almond, and feuilletine Nutty Crunchy PDX

What exactly is a bonbon? A bonbon is a candy, usually covered in chocolate.

And what is a truffle? It’s a ganache center covered in chocolate. What is ganache? Ganache is chocolate mixed with cream, and other ingredients may be added, such as raspberry, Champagne, or whatever the chocolatier chooses in order to tell the desired story or explore the desired path. So a truffle is chocolate covered chocolate, you ask? Basically, yes, and hooray!

Sometimes bonbon is used as the general term, and a truffle is a specific iteration.

The Vietnamese Ice Coffee: chocolate ganache, with coffee and milk, in a dark chocolate cup.
The Vietnamese Ice Coffee: chocolate ganache, with coffee and milk, in a dark chocolate cup.

And how did the truffle get its name? Chocolate truffles are named after mushroom truffles, a fungi delicacy that comes out of the earth, covered in dirt. The original chocolate truffles were rolled in cocoa powder, as some still are, which was seen as resembling the dirt that covered mushroom truffles.

Nature and art dance, and amazing creations like Jeremy’s flavorful and balanced Batch PDX bonbons are the result. These are truly lovely chocolates.

The Yuzu Gimlet: a citrusy cocktail of a bonbon
The Yuzu Gimlet: a citrusy cocktail of a bonbon, dancing here with cocoa beans

By the way, why is Portland nicknamed PDX? That’s the airport code!

Spicy Passion: passion fruit and local peppers enrobed in white chocolate - sweet with heat
Spicy Passion: a Batch PDX bonbon of passion fruit and local peppers, enrobed in white chocolate – sweet with heat

Here’s to uplift through chocolate!

Your friend in chocolate,


Valerie Beck

Chocolate Expert, Speaker, Consultant

From Harvard to Paris to Chocolate Uplift

From Harvard to Paris to Chocolate Uplift

By Valerie Beck, founder of Chicago Chocolate Tours and Chocolate Uplift

November 2014 marks the 9th anniversary of my chocolate services business. The dream that led me here started more years ago than that, when I was in college. Here’s the essay I wrote for my college reunion book this coming spring, describing the chain of events.

Quincy House at Harvard, where I woke up with a special dream
Quincy House at Harvard, where I woke up with a special dream

One day toward the end of our junior year at Harvard, I woke up thinking of Paris. The thought stayed with me, indeed it permeated me, and I decided to spend the next semester in Paris.

As you’ll recall, studying abroad wasn’t common in those days. My roommates had no reason to expect I’d abandon them. Professors raised an eyebrow when signing a form stating that my Sorbonne courses would give me the same credit as Harvard courses. No one knew what to make of my announcement that I was going to study in Paris. I didn’t know what to make of it either. I loved being at Harvard. I only knew that Paris was calling, and I had to answer.

Debauve et Gallais, the Paris chocolate shop where I tasted the bonbon that changed my life
Debauve et Gallais, the Paris chocolate shop where I tasted the bonbon that changed my life

My semester in Paris was transformative. I loved the lifestyle, the history, my classes, the soft lavender early morning air, and the chocolate. Above all, the chocolate. I had been a chocolate maniac all my life: at age four I declared to my mother that the only way I was going to drink milk was if it were chocolate.

I can still taste in my mind the first piece of fine French chocolate I had during my semester in Paris. I had gone “chocolate scouting” – as normal a thing for me to do as finding my classes, the bookstores, and the Seine – and I selected a square of ganache at the great French chocolate house Debauve et Gallais. The richness, power, and purity of flavor in that tiny, perfect bonbon made me determined to enjoy chocolate of exalted quality for the rest of my life, and to take others with me on the journey of fine chocolate.

I began immediately. I asked a few Sorbonne friends if they wanted to come with me and sample the best chocolate and pastries in Paris. They looked at me for a moment as though I had invited them on a tour of paradise, which in fact I had. They said yes, and off we went on the first chocolate tour that I created. I didn’t call it a tour, or imagine that I would grow the concept into an international chocolate tourism and chocolate services business. I was simply sharing my passion.

Pralinette Chocolates Bruges
Pralinette Chocolates Bruges

After we had eaten our way through the truffles and chocolate croissants of Paris, I decided we needed to go to Belgium and do the same thing. And we did. We celebrated my 20th birthday in the glorious chocolate shops of Antwerp, Brussels, Bruges and Ghent, during a weekend in December of our senior year. Thus took place the first chocolate travel club trip that I created; I didn’t imagine that there would be more.

Today, after a not atypical career diversion into the practice of law, and some additional time in the chocolate and pastry centers of Europe, my passion, mission, and career are one: “uplift through chocolate.” I founded a business 9 years ago which was the first chocolate tour company, then I expanded into multiple cities, and now the company has grown to provide chocolate services such as tours, travel, and “Eat Chocolate, Be Skinny” wellness seminars for the chocolate-loving public, and consulting and importing for professional chefs and chocolatiers as well as for cocoa-growing and chocolate-producing nations.

The next step is to continue the current chocolate revolution by ending the child slave labor practices and other monstrous abuses that occur behind 70% of the world’s chocolate, and by replacing slavery chocolate with delicious fair trade chocolate for the public and culinary professionals. Chocolate can uplift chocolate lovers, chocolate workers, cocoa growing nations, and the planet. For irregularly-timed posts chronicling some of this journey, you can join me on my blog at

As a 19-year-old Harvard senior in Paris, where I created the first chocolate tour
As a 19-year-old Harvard senior in Paris, where I created the first chocolate tour

I’m grateful it all flowed from a thought I woke up with when we were at Harvard.