Grid Magazine Cover Story + Upcoming Event

Cacao Selfie

As you may have gathered from the @37chocolates Instagram account, I spent a glorious week in Colombia, visiting cacao plantations and fermentation facilities. The trip was organized by cacao broker Uncommon Cacao in collaboration with Cacao Hunters and I’m grateful for Denise Castronovo of Castronovo Chocolate for letting me know about it. A highlight of the trip was witnessing her giving her creamy 63% Sierra Nevada Dark Milk Chocolate to Don Pedro, one of the Sierra Nevada farmers (there may have been some tears…)

There’s so much more I’d like to share on the journey, so watch for future blog posts and (hopefully) magazine articles. If you know of an editor interested in my experience, please send them my way! Until then, I’ll continue to feel grateful to have found a field that keeps me endlessly interested.

Grid Magazine Cover Story

Grid Cover Story

If the recent Washington Post story on child labor in cacao fields left you depressed, read my (first) cover story in the June issue of Grid Magazine.

An affiliate faculty of African studies, Dr. Kristy Leissle offers a definition of sustainability in cacao and exposes the roots of poverty on farms. The piece also highlights the work of three Philadelphia area chocolate companies, i.e. Nathan Miller Chocolate, Repurposed Pod, and La Chocolatera’s drinking chocolate food truck, as well as Uncommon Cacao. These four companies strive to bring positive changes in the industry and I hope their stories will leave you inspired.

You can read the Grid Magazine story here.

Upcoming Event

Unionville Saddle

Join me this coming Saturday from 11-2 at WorKS in Kennett Square as part of Unionville Saddle’s Father’s Day pop-up shop. There’ll be shirts, bourbon, and chocolate — does life get any better? I’ll be there with several bars, including Castronovo Chocolate’s Sierra Nevada Dark Milk Chocolate and the best-selling Lemon Sea Salt White Chocolate. I hope to see you then!

WorKS
432 S. Walnut Street
Kennett Square, PA 19348

To be notified of future events, please sign up to my newsletter!  It’s really the best way to keep in touch.

The 37 Chocolates Guide to Paris Chocolate Shops

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Sign for almond milk hot chocolate in front of Rrraw in Paris

In 2017, I wrote about Three Paris Chocolate Shops You Must Visit on Bar & Cocoa’s blog. Since then, many of you have used the article to plan your bean-to-bar adventures, which is amazing! But two years later, it’s time for an update.

The chocolate scene has indeed changed a lot in a very short amount of time. Once a small shop in Montmartre, Kosak has now launched their distribution company, making bean-to-bar chocolate more accessible than ever. Department stores like Galeries Lafayette and Printemps have stepped up their chocolate game, making their gourmet departments definitely worth a visit. Plus, I discovered new bean-to-bar shops.

This new “37 Chocolates Guide to Paris” should come in handy if you plan on spending a vacation there soon. Feel free to email it to a friend, share it on Facebook or Pinterest… Anything to spread the word on good chocolate! 

Keep in mind this post isn’t a comprehensive list of ALL chocolate shops in Paris. Instead, it’s a timely, sometimes quirky, chocolate-centric list of places where I’ve personally shopped at. You’ll notice some classics are missing — À la Mère de Famille and A l’Etoile d’Or  — because I’ve not been there (yet) and, besides, I like to do things differently. I hope you find the list useful and remember to report back with YOUR chocolate finds in Paris. Bon voyage !

Tip: I use the Mapstr app to save addresses on my phone. You can set up the app so your phone vibrate if you’re close to any of your saved locations.

Ara Chocolat

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Owner Andres Zakhour with a vegan chocolate popsicle

Located near Gare du Nord, Ara Chocolat is an off-the-beaten path gem that will delight bean-to-bar chocolate enthusiasts. In their shoe-size shop, owners Andres and Sabrina Zakhour turn ethically traded cocoa beans into bars, bonbons, and popsicles. Depending on the weather, you’ll find hot chocolate or frozen treats to enjoy by the window, as well as bars and bonbons to bring to your hotel room. All their chocolate goods boast complex, bold flavors, but it’s the bonbons that stood out to me. Without dairy to mute their flavor, their fillings taste strong and bold. One year after trying them, I still remember how the praline and citrus versions felt on my tongue.

Good to know: all of Ara Chocolat’s products are vegan, a rare feat for a Parisian chocolate shop.

Ara Chocolat
54 Rue de Dunkerque
75009 Paris
Open from noon – 7 PM, closed on Tuesdays and Sundays

Phone +33 7 85 14 92 57/ +33 6 70 09 87 75

Des Gâteaux et du Pain

Four words: best croissants in Paris.

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Des Gâteaux et du Pain’s super buttery croissants

Des Gâteaux et du Pain
63, boulevard Pasteur
75015 Paris – France

Jacques Genin

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Jacques Genin’s pâtes de fruits and chocolate bonbons

When I think of chocolate shops in Paris, chocolatier Jacques Genin’s always comes to mind. His chocolate bonbons are fantastic, both delicate and flavorful (don’t miss the mint ones!) but what makes their shop on Rue de Turenne a must-visit is the attention to a million of details.

First, the space: large, airy, and calm, with fresh flower arrangement and the coolest spiral staircase to look at. Next, the food: chocolates, yes, but also barely sweetened pâtes de fruits (fruit pastes) in a myriad flavors (red pepper, anyone?), and, my favorite, the Paris-Brest. Genin’s take on the classic French pastry is surprisingly light, with an intense just-roasted-hazelnut flavor. It’s hands-down the most delicious Paris-Brest I’ve had to date.

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Jacques Genin’s Paris-Brest

For the best experience, come with close friends or family and order tea from the thoughtfully sourced menu. When so many places would skimp on the quality of the beverage “because it’s a chocolate place,” Genin offers perfectly brewed tea sourced from the finest plantations. The tea is served with an array of complementary chocolates and pâtes de fruits, just because. Two years ago, I remember leaving my table well fed and cared for. Isn’t that what we all want?

Jacques Genin
133 rue de Turenne
75003 Paris

Métro : République, Filles du Calvaire, Temple
Open Tuesday – Sunday, 11 AM – 7 PM (7:30 PM on Saturdays)

Kosak

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An ice cream parlor/bean-to-bar shop, Kosak offers the largest selection of bean-to-bar chocolate in Paris. When I discovered Kosak on Instagram, I quickly fell for its famed chocolate wall. When I started chatting with their friendly owners, Nathalie and Catherine, I realized we shared a similar vision of chocolate. We talk about bars in the similar terms: they don’t bat an eye when I say Svenska Kakaobolaget’s bars taste punk rock because they feel that way, too. That’s why they commissioned me to write all the product descriptions on their website and distribution catalog.

In a city that many perceive as a large scale museum, Kosak holds proof that chocolate doesn’t have to be this precious thing served with white gloves and a whisper, but a fun, flavor-filled food. At Kosak, chocolate can be crunchy like a piece of Ajala Rustic bar, sophisticated like a bite of Solkiki Chocolatemaker’s salted caramel coconut bar, and bold like Hogarth Chocolate’s Gianduia.

In 2018, Kosak launched a distribution company, making their international selection of bean-to-bar available outside of their Montmartre shop. You’ll find a Kosak display at the ground floor of Lafayette Gourmet (see below,) as well as at Galeries Lafayette’s new Champs-Elysées location.

Tip: have lunch at Soul Kitchen up the street, then head down for a chat, chocolate samples, and a bag full of memories. Oh and don’t remember to take a selfie by the wall!

Kosak
106 rue Caulaincourt
75018 Paris

Métro : Lamarck-Caulaincourt

Tel: +(33) 9 80 73 35 60
Open from 11 AM – 8 PM, closed on Mondays.

Lafayette Gourmet

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Chocolate bonbons by La Manufacture par Alain Ducasse at Lafayette Gourmet

In an ideal world, every tourist would spend at least two weeks in Paris, enough to visit all of the museums and eat all of the food. In real life, some of us can only devote a few hours, if that, to chocolate shopping. So, what’s a time-strapped chocolate enthusiast to to?  Head straight to Lafayette Gourmet.

Located behind the legendary Opéra, this food hall gathers creations from some of the city’s most renowned pastry chefs and chocolatiers.

On the first floor, you’ll find creations by chocolatiers Pierre Marcolini and Jean-Paul Hévin. Bean-to-bar aficionados will head straight to Alain Ducasse’s corner to shop for single origin bars (recommended: Mexico.) All chocolate products were available for sampling, so feel free to ask for a small bite to help you select the right bars and bonbons. The chocolate-covered candied citrus were delicious. Before you leave the floor, make sure to stop by Sadaharu Aoki’s booth for Japanese-inspired creations.

Next, take the escalator to the ground flour and browse through Bonnat’s bars and Kosak’s second chocolate wall. Selection may include bars by Ajala (Czech Republic,) Chocolate Tree (Scotland,) Hogarth Chocolate (New Zealand,) and Svenska Kakaobolaget (Sweden.)

Good to know: the bathroom on the top floor is free and very clean.

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Praline-filled bars by La Manufacture par Alain Ducasse at Lafayette Gourmet

Lafayette Gourmet
35 boulevard Haussmann
75009 Paris

Métro : Opéra

Open Monday to Saturday from 8:30 AM until 9:30 PM. Closed on Sundays.

La Récolte

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Chocolat Madagascar at La Récolte

On the Well Tempered podcast, Karine Guillemette once shared that Chocolat Madagascar’s 100% chocolate would be a bar she’d bring to the cosmos. When I heard that, I knew I had to try it. Sadly, the bar is almost impossible to find in the US, although you can get it on Bar & Cocoa’s website.

Thankfully, the universe had my back: on my way to Pralus last year, a small, fresh convenience shop called La Récolte caught my eye, so I went in. The teeny tiny shop only carried one brand of chocolate — you guessed it — Chocolat Madagascar. I was obviously thrilled to find the 100% bar, which I tried it within an hour.

So what does it taste like? Well, the keto and Paleo-friendly bar boasts a lovely acidity, a slight fruity sweetness, but zero bitterness. It’s super addictive and I can see it being my new go-to afternoon pick-me-up. Grab it at either one of La Récolte’s locations in Paris.

La Récolte Batignolles
18 boulevard des Batignolles
75017 Paris

La Récolte Beaubourg
43 rue Beaubourg
75003 Paris

Monoprix

Monoprix? Yes, people, Monoprix. For those who don’t know, Monoprix is a large chain of grocery stores (with cult-like following, I may add) and I urge you to explore at least one of them during your trip because that’s where real Parisians actually shop!

If you’re a chocolate-loving tourist, browse the chocolate selection for a quick reality check. No, French people don’t eat chocolates from Jacques Genin on a daily basis, they buy mass-produced chocolate like everyone else. Grab some bars before checking out the (stylish! affordable!) clothes selection.

Monoprix 
Multiple locations across Paris

Pierre Hermé

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Who needs fashion boutiques when you have Pierre Hermé? OK, I exaggerate a bit, but please, don’t leave Paris without a stop at Pierre Hermé’s flagship store. Known as “the Picasso of Pastry”, Pierre Hermé dusted off the world of French pastry with his semi-annual collections and beautiful macarons with inventive fillings, such as passion fruit milk chocolate.

While he reached cult status with his Ispahan, a delicate pastry blending litchi, rose, and raspberry, Hermé is a wizard when it comes to chocolate. He’s the author of a dessert chocolate cookbook and, in 2017, he developed a macaron-based dessert filled with Belize single origin chocolate from the Xibun estate. The pastry was surprisingly bright and I loved the contrast with the candied almonds.

Simply put, a stop at Pierre Hermé’s store will refill your creative tank.

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Pierre Hermé Paris
72 rue de Bonaparte
75006 Paris

Open Sunday to Friday from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM and Saturday from 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM.

Pralus

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The Pralus shop on rue de Rambuteau

Granted, Pralus doesn’t make chocolate in Paris, but their stores are so beautiful and welcoming that I suggest pushing their doors. At the Rambuteau location, you’ll find the company’s entire single origin range (hmmm, Trinidad) next to the famous pink-praline-filled brioche, which you can sample for free.

After making bean-to-bar chocolate before bean-to-bar was a thing, Pralus has continued to innovate and stay relevant to the contemporary chocolate scene. Case in point: the Carré de Café bar, a square bar made where cocoa butter acts as a vehicle for Arabica coffee. There are two versions of this bar, milk and dark, both of which will deliver your caffeine fix in the sweetest way.

If your budget and suitcase space are limited, grab a Barre Infernale (bar from hell), a thick chocolate bar filled with a sweet, high quality filling like nougat or orange. My favorite? Pistachio.

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The whole range of Pralus Barre Infernale bars

Although there are three Pralus shops in Paris, I recommend visiting the one on rue Rambuteau because of its more convenient hours. Plus, it’s located near Centre Pompidou, which you don’t want to miss.

Pralus
35 rue Rambuteau
75004 Paris
Tél.: +33 (0)1 57 40 84 55

Métro Rambuteau

Opening hours: 10 AM – 8 PM Monday to Saturday, 10 AM- 7 PM on Sundays.

Printemps du Goût

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I said it before and I’ll say it again — Chocolat Encuentro was the best chocolate surprise of 2018. So, when co-founder Antoine told me to stop by Printemps du Goût, one of their retailers, I knew I could trust his taste!

Located on the 7th floor of Printemps Homme department store, the newly renovated specialty food store is a gem with an entire aisle devoted to chocolate, all with an unbeatable view of the Eiffel Tower. You’ll find bars by Chapon, Michel Cluizel, Chocolat Encuentro of course, as well as some lesser known brands.

What I respect and appreciate the most is that every single product featured in the shop was selected as part of a blind tasting. As the flyer indicated, “good thing for some, too bad for others.”

Good to know: Printemps du Goût isn’t located far from Lafayette Gourmet, so you could visit them both the same day.

Tip: consider ordering a coffee from Cafe Lomi and sip your espresso while taking in the view.

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Printemps du Goût
107 Rue de Provence
75009 Paris
Closed on Sundays

Rrraw

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Rrraw’s hot chocolate in Paris

A bean-to-bar workshop with storefront located in the heart of Paris, Rrraw makes chocolate products using only unroasted Peruvian beans. The brightly-lit shop carries a nice range of products, from cocoa beans and bars, to bonbons and hot chocolate.

While no bar really wowed me (I’m not a fan of chocolate made from unroasted beans, the aftertaste can sometimes be… odd), I really liked the licorice one. And if I liked the cube-shaped bonbons, it’s the hot chocolate I loved.

Made with almond milk and served with an assortment of chocolate goodies, it was rich, chocolatey, not too sweet, and without any of that weird, artificial almond aftertaste. It was also very easy to digest. The warm sun didn’t deter me from sipping my cup behind the glass window, watching people go by at the bustling intersection. The drink was soothing and the shop felt like a haven as I was preparing for my very first Parisian chocolate tasting with Kosak. To me, the drink is reason alone to discover Rrraw.

Tip: if you do go, consider having lunch at the nearby MÛRE first. All the cool Parisians gather at this veggie-centric, organic cafeteria and you want to be part of them, too. Merci to my friend Eliane for recommending it to me.

Rrraw Cacao Factory
8 rue de Mulhouse
75002 Paris France
Tel: +33 7 83 78 21 38

Open Monday – Friday, 11:30 AM – 7:30 PM. Closed on Sundays.

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4 Changes I’d Like to See to Chocolate Marketing, One Year Later

In June of last year, the Fine Chocolate Industry Association released the results of a fascinating survey on consumer perception of fine chocolate. Turns out, “pleasure” is the number one driver of fine chocolate purchases (for more on what defines “pleasure,”, check out the survey’s summary here.) Interestingly, direct or fair trade labels don’t influence purchases that much.

There are so many ways you can convey pleasure through chocolate. Taste is obviously one way, but the overall purchase experience matters too. As such, packaging plays a big role in enticing chocolate-lovers. After all, a wrapper acts as the storefront to a chocolate product, be it in a bar or bonbon.

When I find new bars at a coffee shop, I often have less than a minute to make a purchase decision. Unless I’m familiar with a particular maker and origin, I’ll likely pick a bar based on packaging and I know I’m not alone.

I wish every chocolate-maker and chocolatier would take a hard look at how their packaging conveys pleasure. Unless you’re marketing to chocolate fanatics like me, Costas Esmeraldas or Ucayali doesn’t mean much to most consumers, and neither does a term like “conching.” Conveying pleasure through other ways is key to grow the fine chocolate market and that’s why I shared 4 changes I’d like to see in chocolate marketing last year.

The article struck a chord with many readers and it became the most read and commented post of 2018. Even better, several chocolate industry professionals took action based on my suggestions. As a follow-up to that piece, and with the Fine Chocolate Industry Association’s survey results out, I figured it would be helpful to hear from chocolatiers and makers who changed their packaging. 

If you’re a chocolate eater, I’d love to know what you think of these “before” and “after” photos and testimonials. Please also leave a comment with what matters to YOU when you purchase chocolate. And if you’re a member of the chocolate industry, I hope the case studies below will help you make the right decisions for YOUR brand.

Testimonial #1: Paul-John Kearins, Chocolatier, Chocolatasm

Paul-John Kearins is the founder of Chocolatasm in Provincetown, Massachusetts. His flavor combinations are so off-the-beaten path (rhubarb sage bonbon, anyone?), I interviewed him on his creative process on the blog last year. Paul-John also molds bars with intriguing flavor combinations. He recently changed his wrappers from the colorful ones on the left to the more simple one on the right. Here’s what motivated the change.

 

 

 

Why did you change your packaging?

I changed my packaging because of your blog and the discussion on Well Tempered (a Facebook group for fine chocolate industry professionals.) I decided NOT to bombard people with tasting notes and elaborate descriptions and opted for visuals. It’s too much to cram onto a bar …. so I cut it down. I Marie Kondo’d my wrappers.

How do customers react?

They are extremely wowed. In [social media] posts where my bar is shown amongst other makers people are commenting “ohh, I want the octopus one!”

In stores, it jumps out at you. With a simple label in the corner with a catchy name and minimal description it doesn’t matter whether there are notes of plum or salmon or whatever… people want it because it’s pretty.

Testimonial #2: Will Marx, founder, Wm. Chocolate

Wm. Chocolate is a young bean-to-bar company based in Madison, Wisconsin. Its founder, Will Marx, is one of the kindest and most articulate people I know (read his interview on the Bar & Cocoa’s blog) and his Belize bar my biggest chocolate crush of 2017.

Wm. Chocolate was one of the first company who tweaked their packaging based on my expressed views. Before (left photo below,) the front of the package was packed with information on sourcing and you had to flip the package to read detailed tasting notes. After the changes (photo on the right,) the flavor profile migrated to the front. Here’s what Will has to say on the new wrapper.

 

 

 

What changes did you make to the packaging?

I started putting a more generic two-word “flavor summary” in bold on the front of my bars. I’ve noticed that often customers will go down the bar lineup reading these, and then ask to try one by naming its flavor summary rather than its actual title (origin, %). For example, they say “I want to try ‘sweet & fruity.'” This is not always the case, but it happens often enough to confirm the value in using these simplified descriptors.

Second, I am noticing a general increase in sales of smaller/”mini” bars. In stores that carry both sizes, the mini bars tend to sell much more quickly, even though the larger ones are a better value and the buyers are repeat customers who have tried them before. Hence, there seems to be an element of favoring the smaller purchase regardless of value.

That said, large bars sell better when I’m sampling at point of purchase. It seems that a taste validates preferences powerfully enough to drive the larger purchase.

In any case, for these reasons and more, I am all but decided on making mini bars the new default size, such that all products will be offered as minis, with only the “classics” (demonstrated sales success, reliable cacao supply) in large too.

Testimonial #3: Wednes Yuda, Cokelat nDalem

To say this testimonial blew my mind is an understatement. You see, Wednes Yuda, founder of Cokelat nDalem, is based in Indonesia. Indonesia! It never would have occurred to me someone from such a distant place would have found value in this blog. The internet is amazing. This testimonial is lengthier than the previous two, but I think you’ll appreciate the thought process behind all the changes.

Wednes, can you tell us about your company and the changes you made on your packaging?

We started our business in 2013 from our home with a brand called Cokelat nDalem. nDalem means “home” and “Cokelat” is chocolate in Indonesian. We didn’t start as a bean-to-bar chocolate maker to adapt to the Indonesian market. Instead, we used what you call “compound chocolate,” which is made from cocoa powder and a substitute for cocoa butter, mostly coming from palm oil fraction.

We do this because real chocolate made with cocoa butter is quite expensive for Indonesian people. In addition, handling real chocolate and distributing it is challenging in a tropical climate in Indonesia. Basically, it’s not economically sound to start a small business making real chocolate. Although “it just”compound chocolate, we try to make it as good as possible by choosing a good manufacturer who provides us with compound chocolate blocks. The concept of our chocolate is combining Indonesian inclusion to produce Indonesian chocolate flavor with Indonesian culture history in the packaging. I put our packaging below.

 

 

 

The concept to combine Indonesian flavor with Indonesian culture as packaging become a good concept for a souvenir. It’s indeed customary for Indonesians to bring something back from our travels to share with our relatives. Chocolate meets that need nicely.

In 2014, as our business grew, our local government invited us to a group discussion with small business owners and local cocoa farmers. We had no idea these farmers lived so close! They asked us: “Since you’re making chocolate, why don’t you make chocolate from our beans then ?” We explained that making chocolate would involve big machines and a lot of capital and, at the time, we weren’t there yet.

It took us about one year to research bean-to-bar chocolate and that’s when we found Chocolate Alchemy’s website. In 2015, we decided to have two different product for two different markets. Again, most of Indonesian aren’t familiar with higher quality chocolate. Our bean-to-bar chocolate is for people who’ve tasted real chocolate before or have been abroad where they tried chocolate. This market is growing but our sales are modest relatively to the Indonesian population. Since our goal is to help the farmer get the most benefit from their beans, we tend to sell the bars directly to the customer so we can get more margin that than we can split with our farmer. We currently pay the beans three times the cost that what local middle men offer.

Our early packaging for the bean-to-bar range tells the customer about the farmer and how proud we are to produce from a local source. We made this choice because trace-ability is getting more popular in Indonesia. Eating responsibly is getting increasingly important. With this kind of packaging, we can ensure that the customer gets the idea of what we’re trying to do. Here’s our first version of the packaging.

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With time, we realized our market preferred a classier packaging, something less crowded, without too much information to distract them when picking chocolate.

In 2018, we got a designer help to re-design our bean to bar packaging. The idea is remained the same, as we want to tell the customer what we do, who’s our farmer (traceability), and what’s the benefit of eating our chocolate. We added a piece of small information on how to make chocolate in our small company.

 

 

 

We haven’t put any information regarding texture yet because our market is not on that level yet. But hopefully, we can adjust that on later packaging. And we do not put notes in the front panel because we want to make the information is as easy as possible for our current customer. We do put information regarding notes in the back of our packaging (our packaging are printed on both sides.)

With this current packaging, our market for the bean-to-bar chocolate is growing nicely. We actually need to find new farmers because our farmer’s production is no longer adequate to follow our need.

I hope you found these testimonials helpful. If you or your company are looking for a creative, out-of-the box take on chocolate naming and descriptions, email me at estelle(at)37chocolates.com. I’ve already worked with Kosak and I’d love to collaborate with you! If you liked this article, sign up to my newsletter to be notified of future blog updates.

Video Training: How to Design a Chocolate Tasting Lecture & Workshop

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Photo by Becca Mathias Photography

If you’ve been following me for a while, you may know I’m a food writer and chocolate sommelier in the Philadelphia area. Over the past three years, I’ve led chocolate tastings at libraries, schools, and private clubs and institutions. I’ve also collaborated with Chester County wineries on wine and chocolate pairing events. For a peek into these events, check out photographer Becca Mathias’ relevant blog posts here and there.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve received an increasing number of questions from the chocolate community on how I pick bars for tastings, how deep one should go on the chocolate-making process, and how to price the offering. I decided to address all these questions, and then some, in a 32-minute video geared towards chocolate industry professionals. You can watch it at http://gum.co/chocolatetasting.

Watch the Video: How to Design a Chocolate Tasting Lecture & Workshop

The video is a recording of an Instagram live, packed with resources (books, tasting guides) with a clear action plan to find venues for your tastings and create memorable events. You are free to contribute whatever your budget allows to access it (suggested contribution: $15.)

The feedback so far has been very positive and I’m humbled to have reached chocolate educators across several countries. Here’s what Kristen Joslin, founder of Cocoa Nouveau in Chesapeake, Virginia said about the training:

I just downloaded and watched your tasting video, thank you!! I really struggle with tasting events, I spend all my time working with chocolate and tasting it but generally feel like I don’t know what I am doing! I took a master of chocolate flavor class and I still feel like an imposter when doing a class! ….

I took 2 pages of notes on your video. My most important take away, honor the people in front of you, meet them where they are, try to convey how labor intensive chocolate is and be known locally. Thank you!!

Bringing fine chocolate in front of tasters is essential for the growth of our industry. I hope my tips will give you the confidence to host your tastings and expand the crowd of fine chocolate supporters.  Thank you for your support and please let me know of any questions in the comments below.

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Interview with Daniel Haran, Chocolate-Maker & Founder, Chocolats Monarque (Le Plateau, Quebec)

Daniel Haran, founder, Chocolats Monarque. Photo by Carla Oliveira.
Daniel Haran, founder, Chocolats Monarque. Photo by Carla Oliveira.

I first had Chocolats Monarque two summers ago. I was attending the Fine Chocolate Industry Association’s New York City conference and, during a break, Christine Blais from Palette de Bine introduced me to Daniel Haran, the company’s founder. Right then, Daniel broke off a square of one of his bars and offered it to me. Watching for my reaction, he asked what I thought. I told him it was fine. There was no sparks, really, but I kept that for myself. I thanked him and headed to the next talk.

Earlier this month, my friend Barb drove us to Toronto for The Winter Chocolate Show. Amidst the busy crowd and flashy inclusion bars (raspberry rose bar, anyone?), I spotted Daniel in a quiet corner of the room. I waved bonjour, introduced him to my friend, then asked for samples. There wasn’t much on the table, just a few piles of bars with their simple – austere, really – black and white wrappers.

I tried a Guatemalan bar, which I didn’t think I’d like. It was fruity, which I expected, but its acidity was tamed, which I thanked Daniel for. We continued. There was a Madagascar chocolate with nutty notes and no hint of citrus (a first for both of us,) and a Sierra Nevada one, which I also liked. He told us a few stories, like how he determined his bar size (you know how I feel about the topic). I wanted the conversation to continue but other guests came in. We bought some bars and carried on.

Two weeks later, Barb asked me which maker haunted my post-festival thoughts. “Chocolats Monarque,” I said, “I’m obsessed.” She smiled. “Me too, I should have bought more.” I agreed. My love story with Chocolats Monarque didn’t start with sparks, but I know it’s meant to last. You’ll understand why after reading this interview.

Thanks for taking the time to answer to this interview, Daniel. For those who don’t know you yet, how did you get into chocolate?

Depression. I ate chocolate to get through my days.

When was that?

In 2008, a friend took me out to SOMA for my birthday, where I was doing a contract. I looked up other bean-to-bar makers after a quick conversation with David Castellan [co-founder of SOMA chocolatemaker,] who told me other makers might be free of allergens. A cousin is allergic to both nuts and soy, and grew up without good chocolate. Two weeks later I was home and getting a grinder from Chocolate Alchemy.

You’ve been making chocolate for some time, what eventually prompted you to make the transition for hobbyist to professional maker?

I had been thinking about it from the beginning, really. It was clear at first that the market was too small and I wasn’t ready to start a company.

Then 4 years ago I was burnt out professionally, doing consulting I hated after a startup in artificial intelligence… and a cancer diagnostic for my dad precipitated a midlife crisis; turns out I was 39, the age he had when he got married. I gave notice less than 10 minutes after getting the news.

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Line-up of Chocolats Monarque bars. Photo credit: Chocolats Monarque.

There’s a thoughtfulness I really appreciate in your introducing chocolate to the market. Back in Toronto, you explained to Barb and I how you decided on the bar size. Could you tell my readers the story?

Hah. Sure: early on I went out asking people what the last bar of chocolate they bought was. I knew from sociology classes that asking people how often they bought chocolate would get messed up, biased answers. I’d also ask what the reason for purchase was. One woman just took out a small bar from her purse and point blank told me this was her emotional emergency chocolate. I was floored. That’s exactly how I eat chocolate! (Also: why the hell don’t guys have purses? Bars in pockets melt). It also clarified that my bars had to be small – portable, and people shouldn’t feel bad about eating them in a single sitting.

From a commercial standpoint, this has been great: it’s also a more affordable entry point for consumers. As an impulse buy, it works well in cafés. The big inconvenience is the extra labour. I really hope to be able to buy a packaging machine soon!

Now, let’s talk about what’s inside those wrappers. You currently offer dark chocolate, correct?

Dark chocolate only. Because of my family member, I decided early on to have no nuts, soy or dairy, all common allergens. There’s no gluten either, although I’m a bit puzzled as to how that ever ends up in chocolate.

Back in Toronto, I remember you giving some chocolate made with Madagascar beans. I am so used to Madagascar tasting citrus-y and bright, yet yours was, if I recall correctly, a bit nutty. It was a really nice surprise. How do you decide which origins to work with? What do you want to convey with your bars?

Well, I do get requests for the Colmenero bar – based on one of the recipes in that first ever book  A friend with a PhD in medieval history helped me understand the recipe (what’s two coins worth of anise seed? turns out it’s ~5g). I take a refined 100%, and add sugar, with ground up spices: cinnamon, anis, annatto and chili.

What do you mean by “that first ever book?”

Oh sorry, the first book published about chocolate. [Chocolate: or, An Indian Drinke by Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma.]

So, as to what I want to convey: the biggest thing I try to get people to understand when they visit the factory is that cacao has varietals. It’s when their eyes light up and they go “OMG, this is like wine, they all taste so different.”

I get really tired of repeating myself at markets with people wanting to know what the differences are. So the new labels will have tasting notes! In any case: people are only receptive *after* they have reaction, until then it’s all theoretical. Tasting creates a teachable moment.

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Cocoa beans at Chocolats Monarque manufacture. Photo credit: Chocolats Monarque.

What about the more straightforward dark chocolate? Like Sierra Nevada, for instance, or Haiti. What makes you think “I’ll make chocolate out of this?”

In the last year I’ve tried a lot of origins. I like doing one or two dozen test roasts, so for Tumaco and Sierra Nevada, I bought an entire bag, and did a couple batches.

Can you describe their flavor profiles?

Maybe explaining my objective here would help? I want an assortment of 5 single-origin bars that all have interesting flavours and a distinct profile.

Taste is the primary consideration. Ethics matter, though I’m not terribly concerned when the broker is Uncommon Cacao or MABCO, or when friends have visited and can vouch for conditions. I have a short-list of origins that can produce great cacao, and I’ll be visiting them shortly.

You have a current favorite bar? What do people like when they visit?

Well, the most surprising for most people is the Guatemala, which is sourced by Uncommon Cacao . The village of San Juan Chivite produces a remarkable cacao, with aromas of red fruits. People keep insisting I must have added raspberries, but all the flavour is from the bean.

I can see why it’s popular. It’s fruity but not too tart or acidic.

Guatemala is the popular favourite right now, followed by Ucayali [in Peru.] At 80% my take on this origin doesn’t require any added cacao butter, and has a strong herbal note veering into eucalyptus – it’s got a long finish with very little bitterness.

When we talked, it sounded like you were ready to start a new page for Chocolats Monarque. But to get to this point, you had your fair share of challenges, like machines breaking, for instance. What do you wish people would know about chocolate-making?

Oh Christ. For 3 years I didn’t make chocolate. I repaired machines, and sometimes chocolate came out of them.

How did you find the strength to push through? And how did you pay your bills during that time?

Well, and IT background means some people will pay me absurd amounts of money for easy work. Unfortunately they expect me to attend meetings, and the time involved slows chocolate down.

The company I co-founded was also sold, and I got a small amount from my remaining equity.

At this point, I have found people that can repair my machines, and I have back-ups for the grinder if it should break for a 7th or 8th time.

As for big plans: I’m now raising capital and borrowing money to grow the company. I’m confident the recipes are good, and I mostly know what I’m doing in production. Now the focus shifts on marketing, distribution and scaling.

What do you find is the most gratifying part of your work?

Gratifying: seeing people understand. The best part of the job is that education work. You know it worked when later on they say “you’ve ruined Lindt for me.”

My dream is to have an affordable bar in grocery stores (CAD$8/75g, about USD$6), made with great beans. I’ll obviously have to focus on a few origins that can provide large amounts. Origins producing rarer beans will stay in small format, and be priced a bit higher.

Oh, also fun: seeing people realize they can eat my chocolate. Their faces light up if they’re used to passing because of allergy concerns.

You can currently purchase Chocolats Monarque at their manufacture in Le Plateau, Quebec, Canada. The company doesn’t have a website but you can reach out to them on Facebook.

Chocolats Monarque
5333 Casgrain, #308
Le Plateau, QC H2T 1X3
Canada

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January & February 2019 Chocolate Tastings in Chester County, PA

“I should really attend one of your tastings someday.”

That’s the sentence I hear the most when I’m out and about in Kennett Square. If that’s something you’ve said to me, rejoice! You’ll have one opportunity to do just that this Sunday and three more in February. I really hope you consider attending any or all of these events, they’re fun and DELICIOUS! Just ask my previous guests.

 “I enjoyed your lecture so much – no one wanted to leave! I finally understand the essence of chocolate and how to develop taste, using a new vocabulary.”

– Lynn

As 2019 unfolds, I’ll be partnering with an increasing number of private institutions, which means a lot of my future events won’t be open to the public. So make this winter sweeter by gathering a few friends and attending one of these tastings.

Sunday, January 27, 12-3 PM — Kennett Chocolate Lovers Festival

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What? A baking festival where guests can sample entries from amateurs, students, and professionals alike. After having served as a judge for two years (note to self: don’t ever finish that cake slice,) I’m now part of the festival with a chocolate education table. Guests will sample cocoa beans, learn how chocolate is made, and enter a giveaway for a chance to win a fine chocolate bar.

Where? At the Kennett High School. Here’s the address:

Kennett High School
100 E South Street
Kennett Square, PA 19348

This event is for you if… your idea of heaven is a chocolate dessert buffet.

How do I sign up? Online tickets are sold out but you can grab a ticket at the door. Find out more at KennettChocolate.org.

Good to know: The festival is a fundraiser for the United Way of Southern Chester County, which you can support by entering a recipe.

Saturday, February 9, 2-4 — Wine & Chocolate Pairing at Harvest Ridge Winery, Toughkenamon, PA

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Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash

What? A two-hour tasting where you’ll sample a selection of dry and sweet wines with award-winning chocolate curated across the US (dark milk chocolate with fleur de sel, anyone?) You’ll learn chocolate-tasting basics, nibble on cocoa beans, and discover the secret behind successful pairings (spoiler: it involves a lot of tasting) Tickets are $30/person and include four wine and chocolate pairings and a surprise chocolate for “dessert.”

Where? At Harvest Ridge Winery’s Pennsylvania Tasting Room. Here’s the address:

Harvest Ridge Winery Tasting Room
1140 Newark Road
Toughkenamon, PA 19374

The event is for you if: your BFF is in town and you’d like to treat her to a memorable afternoon.

How do I sign up? Tickets are $30/person and must be purchased online.

Friday, February 15, 6-7:30 PM — Galer Estate Vineyard & Winery

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Photo by Becca Mathias Photography

What? A guided tasting of three very fine wine with three very fine chocolate bars. Galer Estate makes beautiful American wines using European techniques. The result speaks for itself: their Cabernet Franc won a Double Gold award at the San Francisco Chronicle competition last year. The winemaker, Virginia Mitchell, is blazing a trail on the East Coast wine scene, so much that Edible Philly magazine wrote an article about her. She has a way to make tastings fun and that’s one of the many reasons why I love working with her.

Where? At Galer Estate Vineyard & Winery, right behind Longwood Gardens. Here’s the address:

Galer Estate Vineyard & Winery
700 Folly Hill Road
Kennett Square, PA 19348

The event is for you if: 

How do I sign up? Tickets are $35/person. You can reserve your spot by phone at (484) 899-8013 or by email at info@galerestate.com.

Saturday, February 16, 10-11 AM — Chocolate Tasting Workshop at the Kennett Library in Kennett Square, PA

What? A one-hour workshop packed with information AND chocolate! First, we’ll learn how chocolate is made and how to interpret the information on a chocolate wrapper to identify a quality bar. Next, we’ll sample three variations on Guatemalan cacao shipped from a beloved maker in Indiana. Considering these bars are impossible to get in the Philadelphia area, that space to the event is limited, and that the workshop is FREE, you’ll want to sign up NOW!

Where? At the Kennett Library. Here’s the address:

Kennett Library
216 East State Street
Kennett Square, PA 19348

How do I sign up? Registration is required on this Google Form.

Good to know: I love, love, LOVE my Kennett Library tastings! This is now the 6th time that Alex, program manager extraordinaire, opens the library doors to serve the local community. I’m so grateful for the support.

To be notified of future events, please sign up to my newsletter!  It’s really the best way to keep in touch.

Is it bitter or is it astringent?

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Often times, I notice people struggling to describe the tastes found both in cocoa beans and chocolate. This is understandable: after all, cocoa beans taste nothing like chocolate and fine chocolate exposes you to many more flavor notes than grocery store chocolate. As such, it can be tricky to come up with the right terms to describe the novel experience.

When I pass Peruvian Tumbes beans roasted by Acalli Chocolate, people will refer to them as bitter. However, I find  astringent to be more accurate. But when I mention the term, most tasters admit they don’t know what it means.  I hope the following explanation can shed some light.

Like sweet and sour, bitter is considered a taste. You may experience bitterness while drinking a cup of dark roast coffee, chewing the leaves of bolted lettuce, or biting in the edges of burned toast. In a lot of cultures, bitter isn’t associated with deliciousness.

Astringency, on the other hand, isn’t a taste, but a sensation. For instance, the flesh of an unripe fruit is astringent (if you ever bit into a raw quince, you definitely know what astringent is like.) If you’ve steeped a bag of black tea in hot water for a few minutes long or sipped a very tannic red wine, you’ve also experienced astringency.

The beans I pass at my tastings aren’t really bitter, and neither is the chocolate I share (yes, even the 100% ones.) Are they astringent? Yes, sometimes. They may not taste pleasant but they don’t leave a bad taste in the mouth. So, next time you bite into a cocoa bean or a fine chocolate bar, ask yourself: is it bitter or is it astringent? When I share a cocoa bean with you, the odds are you’ll find it astringent.

{ As for the photo, I took it last spring at Rrraw cacao, I was curious to know how the beans were packaged and stored as to avoid moths, so a kind employee brought the bag for me to see. Rrraw cacao makes chocolate from unroasted beans in the heart of Paris. Their vegan drinking chocolate is quite delicious.}