CBD Craft Chocolate: an Interview with Iris Stork, Co-Founder Of Solkiki

Bob Spink and Iris Stork, founders or Solkiki. Photo credit:  Michal Lucky

Disclaimer: Solkiki gifted me both of their CBD bars prior to this interview.

Fine, I’ll admit: Solkiki got me at CBD. Once you read this brilliant piece of reporting on cannabidiol (CBD), my guess is you’ll feel the same. Sadly, my only experience with CBD-infused edibles left me unimpressed (who knew gummy bears could taste that bad?), so I haven’t ingested as much CBD as I thought I would by now. That was until Solkiki sent me one of each of their CBD bars all the way from the UK.

Solkiki makes good chocolate and by good, I mean award-winning, boldly flavored bars that so happen to be vegan. Since 2008, founders Iris Stork and Bob Spink have blown tastebuds away with inventive bars like The Elvis with salted peanuts and bananas or Dutch Breakfast Cake, a 70% dark chocolate with spiced cake crumbs, alongside high percentage, single origin dark chocolate. Their product range is wide (43 bars!), but every variety I’ve tried has packed a ton of flavor. If anyone would make CBD-infused chocolate taste good, I knew it would be Iris and Bob. Here’s the video proof:

In addition to making great chocolate, Iris and Bob are such nice people. They show a lot of gratitude for their audience by actually engaging with them on Instagram. They answer comments and direct messages by writing whole sentences, if not paragraphs!!! (Yes I used three exclamation marks because IT IS A BIG DEAL!!!). I appreciate that so much, I swear it makes the chocolate taste better.

We could all use an extra dose of kind right now, so I sat down with Iris to talk about CBD chocolate, working with a spouse, and what bars she’d recommend ordering beside the 33mg CBD and 77mg CBD bars. I hope you enjoy.

You are known for your delicious vegan bars and you recently added CBD chocolate to your line-up, what motivated that decision?

The CBD bars were at least 2 years ago, Bob is just checking that. Ah he says it was 2017. It always takes a while for things to get noticed.

We met Daisy and Bart from Daiba at a fair in 2016, we tried their CBD oil and got chatting about how our bars would taste with their CBD oil. There was a lot of bad CBD oil at the market at the time (low amount of CBD) and the chocolate that we did find with CBD oil was also made with industrial chocolate. We felt that people deserved better CBD and also deserved better chocolate, the flavours were much better when we made it!

Solkiki CBD 77mg Photo credit:  Michal Lucky

CBD has a very strong taste, was it challenging to create CBD chocolate that tasted good?

We experimented with CBD oil because we liked the flavours, we’re selling it because there is a demand for it. Often, we design bars just for ourselves. So, we never know if people like it. It’s a huge bonus if they do of course.

It was a challenge to create a nice chocolate with CBD oil. We tried lots of different cacaos and different percentages, different recipes with different fat content and different amounts of CBD oil.

That sounds like a lot of work!

We’re just having a discussion on how many experiments we did. Bob says about 30 before we chose our recipes, I honestly don’t remember, but there were many.

When we’re after a certain flavour, flavour combo or idea, we go for as long as we need to, we don’t do short cuts, life is too short to be so short. We stop when we feel confident it can’t be improved.

We’re always working on experiments in the background. This morning as well, but I can’t tell you what it is yet. We’ve done about 7 experiments this week. Some are for our exclusive subscriptions and others are for our core range.

Solkiki CBD 33 mg. Photo credit:  Michal Lucky

Could you tell us more about the chocolate base you used for your CBD bars? Lots of people do not know about cacao varieties, so what do you think they should know about the Gran Nativo Blanco?

The chocolate base is 63% Gran Nativo Blanco. It’s a dark milk, but without dairy of course, since we don’t use animal products, but made with a coconut milk. The coconut milk is very understated and most people don’t even detect it.

The Gran Nativo is a Piura and a typical Piura in the sense that it is fruity and tangy and contains lots of white cacao beans, which in our hands helps create a creamy chocolate. We source this cacao through Luis [Mancini] from Cacaotales in Northwest Peru.

Do you mean they naturally contain more cocoa butter?

It’s not a particular fatty bean I would say, when I said creamy chocolate, I meant the white beans bring a softer profile in this case to the flavour of the chocolate. Not so much the structure or texture.

Craft chocolate remains a niche in the chocolate industry. Do you find that your CBD bars help draw a new clientele to your brand? Do customers come to you for CBD chocolate and browse the rest of your selection?

There is a different audience for CBD, I’m sure it helps promote craft chocolate. At the fairs (before Corona[virus]) we meet people who are just interested in CBD. After chatting a bit with them and tasting our chocolate, a lot of them walk away with a few extra bars without CBD. So, we hope we create more interest this way for craft chocolate.

It works the other way around too. Some people come to us for the craft chocolate and by coming to us they can try CBD for the first time and they then get more into the CBD this way.

We all have to help each other we feel. Good chocolate introduces good CBD. Like what you do helps the craft chocolate industry and hopefully interviewing us helps the movement and everything too 馃槈

Photo credit:  Michal Lucky

Amen! You鈥檝e been making chocolate for years now and I鈥檓 struck at how connected to your customers and general audience you鈥檝e stayed. You promptly reply to Instagram direct messages and take time to connect with us despite a busy schedule. How important is it for you? Am I the only person who comments on it?

We hear it a lot. I was a bit surprised at first when people starting commenting on us responding to them and sometimes even late at night or at the weekend. For us it was just common decency. We do sincerely appreciate everyone’s personal interest in us and our chocolate. People take time to connect with us and we feel it’s normal to respond back. Often people assume we are a huge business, this is obviously not the case. We are very busy, but we both make it a priority to respond as quickly as we can as it is the people that reach out to us that allow us to keep making chocolate. We are very grateful for the life we have and the opportunity to make a difference with our chocolate.

Do you feel that this personal touch is part of the Solkiki brand?

I’m not sure that a personal touch is part of our Solkiki brand, I hadn’t really thought of it in that way. It almost sounds corporate that way. I suppose it is a part of Solkiki as it’s just a part of us.

I know what you mean, people often don’t respond back when we ask something, but I do find that when I respond to people online or send them a personal message back they’re really suprised! Then they’re really lovely back, it is appreciated, so that is wonderful.

Do you have any employees?

No employees, it’s just Bob and I. The kids help us eat chocolate, haha, very helpful, they help out with tastings often and also little things like putting stickers on things etc. I made ‘palate training’ part of our homeschooling haha.

They’re absolutely amazing by the way, I think children’s palates are better than ours, they just need bigger vocabularies, I think.

How do you manage to separate personal and professional lives? Or do you even try?

There are of course good sides and more challenging sides to that. It’s a great question.

There are always so many things to discuss, creatively, practically, social media that goes on for 24/7, so it’s a bit of a conveyor belt of work that never stops, so it’s always challenging to compartmentalise. We’re often talking chocolate in one way or another, but we have other interests as well which helps a lot and takes us away from chocolate.

You have to try to have a variety in your life, that goes for everyone I think. It keeps life interesting.

Photo credit:  Michal Lucky

You have a large selection of bars on the site, what are four bars you鈥檇 recommend to someone who鈥檚 new to your brand?

I was talking it over earlier with Bob which bars we would recommend. It’s always surprisingly difficult to recommend just a few because the bars are all so different in their own ways, [it] could be the types of inclusions or the different cacao we use. We like to be creative with our flavours, but we are also always very interested to make the cacao shine in its own glory and terroir, we do our best to bring out the right flavours and create a nice balance of flavour and experience.

When people come to us at fairs and they are a bit overwhelmed with choice, as we have a lot of bars, I typically then start them out on our 60% salted caramel, dark (coconut) milk, Mara帽贸n, Peru. This was one of our very first bars. The Mara帽贸n cacao has a great story behind it since it was a cacao that was one thought to have been lost for about a century. But most of all, it has a very pleasant flavour! People who like dark chocolate like it and people who like milk like it. The salt is ground through the chocolate and grinding ingredients through the chocolate is something that bean-to-bar makers can do.

Another chocolate we want to recommend is our latest release, it’s called ‘So Woke’. It’s a cacao butter bar, it doesn’t contain any (plant) milks of any kind, but it does contain a lot of coffee and a very nice coffee at that, it was the nicest we could find. I know you have tried this bar. We included this bar into our ‘Taste of 2073‘ range. This is a collection of future chocolate that is made without any plant based milks nor any other type of milk, we’re sourcing ingredients that we think will be easier to source, that don’t need a lot of water to create, are traditional and sustainable ingredients. We feel that chocolate-making will be moving into more sustainable directions and we want to show that you can make amazing chocolate without relying on unsustainable or cruel ingredients, but not compromise on flavour at all!

Then, we are also proud of our single estate or single source chocolate. We often recommend our 70% dark chocolate, Chililique, Peru to people that are looking for dark chocolate that is a bit unusual and more fruity. It’s a good chocolate to start people on when they are being introduced to craft chocolate, it also pairs really well with various wines, liquors and other drinks, so we are told over and over.

So far, I recommended a dark milk bar, a cacao butter bar, a dark bar, which leaves me a white. Oh yeah, the 70% Chililique bar won so many awards, I can’t mention them all. Same as with my white bar recommendation, the Yirgacheffe coffee & red skin peanut white chocolate bar. We ground the roast peanuts through the chocolate, together with the Ethiopian coffee to get a smooth mouthfeel. This bar also won a crazy amount of awards and is one of the bars that many people keep coming back to us for. The coffee is understated in this bar, think of a hint, rather than a shot of coffee. Completely different than our So Woke white chocolate.

I was going to pick the Mara帽贸n dark and the Yirgacheffe coffee with peanuts!

You can still pick the Mara帽贸n dark if you mean the 68%. This was also one of our very first bars and we won so many awards with that bar. We love the flavours in the Mara帽贸n cacao. There are very clear honey notes, alongside red grapefruit which is more of a rare finding with dark chocolate we think. The 68% is just cacao beans and sugar, no added cacao butter. It means the bar has a slow melt, but your flavour journey, whilst you let the chocolate melt, is much longer. That chocolate is also a pain to temper haha, it鈥檚 so viscous when it鈥檚 liquid, it can almost stand up on its own, but it鈥檚 well worth it.

You can order Solkiki chocolate at solkiki.co.uk and follow Iris and Bob on Instagram.

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