What it Means to be a Chocolate Sommelier

Confession: I envy people with a clear, recognizable job title. Ever since I started hosting chocolate tastings in 2016, I’ve struggled to coin the right term for my work. Chocolate blogger? That felt too limiting. Chocolate lover? Too personal. Chocolate educator? That was more like it. For a couple of years, I thus referred to myself as a chocolate educator.

After hosting my first wine & chocolate pairing events, however, I realized my colleague Sophia Rea of Projet Chocolat in Nashville called herself a chocolate sommelier. That sounded fancy. Could this be better-suited descriptor for my work? To answer this questions, I decided to research the meaning of the word “sommelier.”

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a sommelier is “a waiter in a restaurant who has charge of wines and their service : a wine steward.” Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need a certification to be a sommelier, though you can pursue one with the Court of Masters Sommeliers. For a deeper dive on the topic, check out Wine Folly’s detailed post on various wine sommelier levels.

As a wine steward, a sommelier works in a hospitality setting, like in a restaurant or a wine bar. In her book Cork Dork, author Bianca Bosker explains that a good sommelier should do more than pairing food and wine, they need to have solid people skills as well. Reading a table, listening to customers, and being receptive to potential dynamics at play at a table (someone may be able to impress their date!) are all important parts of a sommelier’s job.

This short foray into the wine world convinced me to start calling myself a chocolate sommelier. After all, whether I’m hosting an in-person wine & chocolate pairing or hosting an online chocolate tasting, I take great care in selecting bars or bonbons for each event. I strive to look for products that will expand a group’s chocolate horizon, while staying respectful of every attendee’s palate since some people, like my husband, will never like dark chocolate*. I also feel comfortable suggesting pairings to maximize your enjoyment of chocolate, because some bars will taste better when paired with wine, fruit, or tea.

This laser focus on the guest’s enjoyment is, in my experience, what sets a chocolate sommelier apart from a chocolate educator. So, while some of my peers may have an official a chocolate taster certificate with the International Institute of Cacao and Chocolate, I believe they need to be in a position of service to claim the “chocolate sommelier” title.

* Every single person perceives taste differently and I highly recommend attending Dr. Jessica Henderson’s chocolate tasting on the topic on September 25.

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This Chocolate Will Not Melt

Summer-friendly cacao tasting kit

Oh, what a difference a year makes. In July 2020, I was hosting online chocolate tastings for people like you whose original summer plans were cancelled by the pandemic. These days, my mailbox is filled with out-of-office messages and I spend more time under the shade of our oak tree than in my office on Zoom.

If you’ve been able to get away this summer, I hope you’ve had a wonderful vacation. If you’re now looking for a fun activity to do while escaping the scorching heat, I have good news: tickets for my summer-friendly cacao & chocolate tasting are officially live! Read on to learn more.

The idea for this tasting was born from a question: are there cacao products that do not melt in the heat? The answer, I found out, is yes. Innovative companies like Good King in Seattle and Jinjii Chocolate in Baltimore are reimagining how cacao beans are transformed, from crunchy snacks to squeezable liquid chocolate. Over in Ecuador, Cocoa Supply collects cacao fruit pulp into the cutest pouches to use in cocktails and more.

On Saturday, August 21 at 3 PM ET, you’ll discover these three summer-friendly cacao products that will challenge your perception of chocolate. 

Tickets for the event are $63.54 per household and include the following products shipped to your home:

  • A 3-oz pouch of cacao pulp from Ecuador
  • A 1-oz pouch of Good King candied cacao beans
  • A 3-oz pouch of Jinji Chocolate of 70% liquid dark chocolate made with cacao beans from Ecuador and agave nectar

To avoid shipping delays, the event is limited to US residents and Canadian attendees in Quebec and Ontario. Tickets must be purchased by Tuesday, August 17.

I hope to see you this month!

Please sign up 37 Chocolates newsletter to be notified of blog updates and upcoming online chocolate tastings. For corporate and private tastings, please fill out this form and I’ll get back to you within 48 hours.

This Chocolate-Maker Makes The best Dark Chocolate I’ve Tried This Year

A few weeks ago, a chocolate tasting attendee asked me how I discover new chocolate-makers. Reluctantly, I told her about my chocolate agent Barb, aka @chocochaser on Instagram. In addition to being an awesome friend (she took me to my first mammogram), Barb crosses the country looking for new chocolate bars and bonbons to try. When she finds a gem, she mails me samples and we’ll connect on Zoom with another friend (hi, Abhi!) to share our impressions on the goods.

Most recently, Barb has been quite excited about Odyssey Chocolate, a chocolate-maker based in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“Oh my gosh, Estelle, his chocolate is SO good, I have to send you samples!”

A few days later, I received three shiny morsels of 70% dark chocolate. I can’t tell you what origin they were, but I remember everything about the tasting experience: the smooth texture, the bursting flavors, and the feeling of being transported on a flavor journey. This was the most magical dark chocolate I’d had in months.

I’ve had a lot more Odyssey Chocolate since those three bites and let me tell you this: John Epps is one maker to watch. You’ll agree after a first bite of his chocolate. Until then, I hope you enjoy this interview.

John Epps, founder, Odyssey Chocolate

Thanks for answering my questions, John, please tell us how your chocolate odyssey started.

I always preferred chocolate over any kind of “candy” as a kid so there was already a tendency towards a more complex flavor compared to something that was just sweet. Then, shortly after I graduated college, I was working on another project for mixed use live-work egalitarian communities in Santa Fe. During that summer, I was hanging out in my neighbors backyard with a few friends when one of them said something like “the cacao was only for the kings,” and for some reason that really stuck with me, so I wanted to know why that was and began learning about the history of cacao, xocolatl, and also about the psychoactive properties of cacao. I started crushing up cacao beans into a paste using a coffee grinder then boiling almond milk over the stove mixing in the cacao with honey, chili peppers, and other herbs and spices. I started drinking this in the morning instead of coffee and it changed my life.

What do you mean by that?

Well this might sound a little crazy but it’s like something comes into you. A heart-opening energy. We’ve got scientific explanations for these things now but I came to see why cacao was so important in the ancient Mesoamerican societies. This is why I love talking to people who eat a LOT of chocolate because they know what I’m talking about.

Got it.

I was working at a solar energy company at the time doing office work and sorting screws then across the street one day a sign went up “Cacao.” Of course I was intrigued so I knocked on the door where Derek [Lanter] and Melanie [Boudar] owners of Art of Chocolate were working on setting up their bean-to-bar store. I actually offered to work for them then, but they really didn’t need anyone at the time.

After they opened their shop, I would come over from the solar company to get a drink. A guy named Mark [Sciscenti] was now working there who was masterminding the recreation of ancient Mesoamerican drinking chocolate along with some other recipes that high society Europeans were drinking when cacao first came over sea.

This was my jam. I was always so excited when Mark or Derek came out with some new drink. They created a special button in their POS [Point of Sale] systems just for me to get a much larger than normal sipping chocolate.

Fast forward two years and I was interning with them. I started learning about making bean-to-bar and about how to make the mysterious flavors of those drinks.

Odyssey Chocolate display at Charlottesville Farmers Market

How did you end up in Charlottesville?

That was actually an exact opposite kind of story from the last one. Moving to Charlottesville was a very calculated decision. I did a fair amount of travelling around looking for a place that wasn’t too big, wasn’t too small, decently close to my parents and most importantly of all a place that didn’t already have steep craft chocolate competition. The Southeast [of the US] is probably one of the least chocolate-dense regions as it is, but I had it in my mind that I wanted to be “THE Spot” for whatever area I decided to set up in, so Asheville for instance was off limits due to French Broad Chocolates.

So now please tell us about your bars, what’s the goal you’re trying to reach through your chocolate?

So, I’m vegan and have my reasons for not eating animal products so naturally Odyssey’s focus is on dark chocolate. Also, as someone who really appreciates the flavor and the heath benefits of straight cacao beans, I want to bring as much of that into my bars as possible. I don’t focus on high sugar bars or add cocoa butter to my regular line because I really want my chocolate to be as healthy as possible. I also really want Odyssey to be able to take people on a journey just like the name suggests. The origins I work with are all specifically selected based on having very unique flavors. The last thing I’d want is for two of my bars to be nearly indistinguishable from each other. If I’m doing my job right, I shouldn’t need to label any melangers with what origin is in them. I only need to dip in a tasting spoon and know “oh that’s obviously X origin because nothing else I have tastes anything like it.”

At the end of the day I don’t follow any trends or pick a bean because a lot of makers are using it or something. I go after origins that are unique, and sometimes that hunt isn’t easy. For example I’m winnowing Venezuelan Chuao today for it’s premiere regular-line batch. It took me over a year of searching to find a way to get this origin.

John Epps at the Charlottesville Farmers Market

I understand you sell your bars at Charlottesville Farmers Market, how has the local community responded to your bars so far?

It’s been pretty great. It was definitely interesting starting my first business then a couple months later getting hit with lockdowns and a worldwide pandemic, but the community here has been so supportive. I remember I launched the website last March and then in April I made a post in a mutual-aid Charlottesville Facebook group and told my story there. I’ve still to this day never topped the sales that came in that month. All from local people who wanted me to succeed and make it through this pandemic. It showed me that people here really care. And I have to give a shout out to all my regular chocoholics at the market too!

What are your best-selling bars?

Okay, so my best sellers are probably my India Idukki Hills and my Vietnam Ben Tre.

So many people are obsessed with the Idukki Hills for its intense tanginess. I also really love including it in tastings with people because it’s so different from what people expect to taste with chocolate.

Ben Tre is just immaculate. I love this origin from its flavor to its texture and mouthfeel. A lot of times people ask me what my favorites are and Ben Tre is usually on that list which definitely accounts for some of the boost in sales for that bar.

You make me hungry.

My Monster bar was born out of a need for a vegan milk chocolate bar. I essentially came to the realization at one point that I didn’t really need a replacement for the milk itself because I didn’t need to actually mask anything in the chocolate, I just needed to make it less intense and sweeter, so I took my most gentle origin (which at the time was Catongo from and now it’s Chuao) mixed it with a bit of Uganda for the familiar flavor of an earthy origin, then added in Ecuadorian vanilla, sugar and a bit more cocoa butter to house it all, and BAM I couldn’t stop eating so I thought I’d created a monster!

The best thing about the Monster bar is that the flavor grows. What I mean is that it’s sweet but has a long finish. Milk chocolate doesn’t really have that because of the actual milk.

I actually have a bar that’s been in the works for a long time now that’s going to be “The Penelope” I plan on it having its own packaging and everything. I plan on doing that for the Monster bar as well. Penelope will be a blend at 90% and it’s gonna be amazing.

Odyssey Chocolate display at Charlottesville Farmers Market

So it sounds like you’ve been really honing your craft and focused on making a good product. Do you consider your business successful?

What I would say is that it’s a mindset. I started last year with essentially nothing, and now I have so much more in every way imaginable from equipment to customers to packaging to a certain small level of recognition, and I’m of the mindset that I’m very much still starting this business. It’s been a year and three months. The progress that has been made greatly outweighs the uncertainty to me. I feel like I’m pushing the right buttons.

The name of your company is Odyssey… so where do you want to take us?

Well where I really want to take everyone is a journey of a topic in and of itself. The vision for Odyssey Chocolate is to set up a full fledged bar/lounge in Charlottesville where we make the chocolate and serve drinking chocolate elixirs as an alternative to “going out for drinks.” I really want to make a place where people want to come on a date, with their friends, or with their families to relax in a warm colorful environment. I really want to introduce more people to the ancient drinking chocolate recipes. Of course there will also be factory tours, tastings, samples, kids classes all that kind of stuff, but what I really envision looks a lot like a bar where alcohol has been replaced by cacao.

If I can bring this business to high enough level of success I’m going to transform it into something completely different – the income source for an egalitarian community much like Twin Oaks just 30 minutes from Charlottesville. To make clear what that means and why I’m a crazy person: that means I’ll build up this business to as big as I can make it and then give it away. This is my actual biggest goal in life. To make a chocolate community.

Do you have an anecdote to share about a customer reaction when trying your bars?

There was one time a blind woman came up to my stand at the farmer’s market. I told her what I sell and she expressed that she likes to put a little chocolate in her coffee. I gave her a sample and she got really quiet and had a sort of serious look on her face. She told me “I can’t put this in my coffee. That would be a waste. This is too intense. I don’t think you would be able to understand, but as a blind person this is transporting me somewhere – to a different place.” And that’s what Odyssey Chocolate is all about.

Order Odyssey Chocolate at http://www.odysseychocolate.com.

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A Dream Come True + April Chocolate Tasting

Photo credit: Ruth Kennison, The Chocolate Project

Ever since I started my chocolate journey, I dreamed of connecting a loyal community of chocolate lovers with cacao, aka the source of our favorite food. Through a series of serendipitous encounters and good old-fashioned teamwork, that dream came true this month. 

On March 13, Melanie told us about how her team in Guatemala processes cacao beans into chocolate at Diego’s Chocolate. She went all out for us, cutting a fresh cacao pod, grinding cacao beans, and answering our many questions about their chocolate-process. Nico, the US distributor of Diego’s Chocolate, translated her explanations to non-Spanish makers like me. It was an amazing experience and the awe on every attendee’s faces made this tasting one for the books. 

If you missed Diego’s Chocolate tasting, don’t worry, you’ll have an opportunity to connect with another chocolate-maker on April 10.

Upcoming Online Tasting

A pioneer of the bean-to-bar movement, Amano Chocolate has been turning carefully sourced cacao beans into instant chocolate classics for 15 years. If you’ve had the company’s Dos Rios Bar, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If not, sign up to my next tasting to find out!

On Saturday, April 10, at 2 PM ET // 11 AM PT, you’ll sample three (vegan!) bars by Amano Chocolate and share your impressions with the group. Art Pollard, co-founder of Amano Chocolate, and his son Aaron Pollard, vice president and chocolate-maker, will share the stories behind each bar and answer your questions on their chocolate. I’m planning to bring a twist to the tasting, but I can’t say too much now 🙂 Tickets are $52/household and include three chocolate bars shipped to a US-based address. I saved a few spots to international attendees, please email me at estelle(at)37chocolates.com to arrange shipping.

On a side note, you can watch a 20-minute interview of Denise Castronovo by Seth Godin here. You’ll be hearing the story behind the Castronovo Chocolate 80% Arhuacos dark chocolate so many of you love. 

I hope to see you soon! If you’d like to schedule a private tasting for your family or team, please fill out the following form

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Cocoa Nib Recipes + February/MArch Chocolate Tastings

February in Pennsylvania is a lot more exciting than it seems. Between Groundhog Day, snow storms, and (online) chocolate tastings, we’re barely thinking about summer; we’re too busy shoveling our sidewalks.

No matter where you live, I hope you are healthy and hopeful about the weeks ahead. If “eating more chocolate,” is one of your 2021 resolutions, I hope you’ll try your hands at making drinking chocolate from cocoa nibs and attend an upcoming 37 Chocolates tasting. Scroll down to learn more!

Cocoa Nibs: Recipes Outside of the (Granola) Box

There are so many ways to use cocoa (or cacao) nibs beside sprinkling them on oatmeal or adding them to smoothies. I like brewing them to make cacao tea, use them instead of nuts in brownies, and even turn them into a cup of hot chocolate. Find out how in my latest piece for Edible Delmarva’s website.

Upcoming Zoom Chocolate Tastings

On Sunday, February 28 at 2 PM ET, you’ll have a chance to follow me on a virtual trip to Colombia. This tasting was inspired by a trip I took to Colombia with chocolate-maker Denise Castronovo in 2019. During this 90-minute tasting, you’ll be discovering quirky facts about life on cacao plantations and taste through three single origin chocolate bars by Castronovo Chocolate.

Tickets are $67/household and include three full size bars shipped to your home. Curious on what to expect? Listen to food writer Joy Manning’s experience with a previous Colombian-themed tasting on the Local Mouthful podcast. 

Ever since I launched 37 Chocolates, my goal has been to build a community to explore the world of chocolate at large and connect with incredible makers in the US and beyond. In fall of last year, I fell head over heels with Diego’s Chocolate in Guatemala and I want YOU to discover the company’s story and chocolates, too. You’ll understand why after watching this video.

On Saturday, March 13 at 7 PM ET, we’ll thus be tasting Diego’s Chocolate Mayan chocolate rolls. Founder Diego Cumes developed his signature chocolate based on his grandmother’s drinking chocolate recipe. Every roll is 100% handcrafted in Guatemala, from the roasting and winnowing of the cocoa beans to the dyeing of the wrapper.

Nico Silverman, the company’s US distributor, will join the event to answer your questions and tell us how his previous job at Etsy led him to meet Diego and his team. I can’t wait for you to meet him. Tickets are $67/household and include four chocolate rolls shipped to your home.

Please sign up 37 Chocolates newsletter to be notified of blog updates and upcoming online chocolate tastings. For corporate and private tastings, please fill out this form and I’ll get back to you within 48 hours.

Happy New Year + January & Valentine’s Day Chocolate Tastings

In March of 2020, my chocolate business brought in a revenue of exactly $0. For days, I spent hours refunding tickets of cancelled live events. I was heartbroken. Was this the end of the business I’d spent five years building?

Sad as I was, I still cared a lot about chocolate and quickly committed to post bi-weekly live chocolate reviews on Facebook. To my surprise, several of you showed up to watch every. single. video. Interacting with you became the highlight of my week. You motivated me to keep going and a couple of months later, you became the first paid customers for my Zoom chocolate tastings.

It’s been six months since I hosted that first event. I now have customers I’d never dreamed of having and am booking tastings weeks in advance with the loveliest people.

2020 brought the previous iteration of my business to a halt and March was the month I came the closest with failure. I spent days dancing with it, looking at it from each angle and that intimacy made me lose my fear from it. After all, here I was, still standing, still smiling, and still going. A lightheartedness has emerged from my encounter with failure, which makes running a business so much more fun.

As 2021 brings new promises, I’m looking forward to getting to know you even better and excited for the new relationships ahead. Stay safe, healthy, lighthearted, and remember to eat lots of chocolate!

Upcoming Zoom Chocolate Tastings

The Acalli Chocolate tasting on January 16 sold out weeks ago, so I added an online event the next day day to welcome people on the waitlist.

For this one-hour tasting, I selected three bars to accommodate the tastes of a birthday lady. There’ll be a sweet, 64% dark chocolate and two dark milk chocolate, including the fabulous sweet potato milk chocolate bar by Hogarth Chocolate.

Tickets are $58/household and should be purchased by Monday, January 11, 2021. There are 10 total spots available.

Tickets for this event are no longer available.

Boho Chocolate likes their chocolate dark and spicy – think 87% dark chocolate and warming chai spices – so the New-England-based company was a natural fit for Valentine’s Day’s chocolate tasting on Sunday, February 14.

During this 2-hour event, you’ll sample four (4) bars by Boho Chocolate and share your impressions with both the group and Charlie Burke, founder of Boho Chocolate.

Your ticket includes the following vegan (dairy-free) 3-oz bars shipped to your home with USPS Priority Mail or UPS Ground:

  • 87% Dark Chocolate
  • 70% Belize Single Origin Dark Chocolate
  • 70% Dark Chocolate + Spicy Chai
  • 62% Dark Lemongrass and Ginger

Tickets are $67 vs. $72 per household with the code “37CHOCOLATES”.

I’ve truly been grateful for your trust, loyalty, and support in 2020, and I hope to see you again soon as part of another Zoom chocolate tasting. Please leave a comment if you’d like to be part of a specific tasting or meet a particular maker. I love hearing back from you!

Please sign up 37 Chocolates newsletter to be notified of blog updates and upcoming online chocolate tastings. For corporate and private tastings, please fill out this form and I’ll get back to you within 48 hours.

Holiday Gift Guide + January 2021 Online Chocolate Tasting Schedule

This post contains affiliate links.

In an ideal world, I’d publish a gift guide on the blog the day after Thanksgiving, complete with photos and product descriptions. However this is the real world so I’ll simply recommend my top 5 books for new chocolate enthusiasts, this fabulous book by Natalie Nixon on creativity, these drinking chocolate cups by Cocoa Nouveau, this chocolate pairing guide by Projet Chocolat, and a couple of jars of Soom’s delectable chocolate tahini (use code 37chocolates10 for 10% off your order.) Also, check out Map Chocolate’s cool gift guide on Instagram.

If you’re in the mood for chocolate bars, head out to the 37 Chocolates e-shop and maybe you’ll grab the last Bourbon-aged chocolate by Violet Sky or this milk chocolate with buttered toast with sea salt by Hogarth Chocolate. A seat to a chocolate tasting also makes for a great gift, scroll down to learn more about January’s Zoom event.

Upcoming Zoom Chocolate Tasting

This month’s tasting with Acalli Chocolate filled out quickly, so I added a date on Saturday, January 16 for another chance to meet Carol Morse, founder of Acalli Chocolate in New Orleans. Her company was on Melissa Clarks’ list of top 13 chocolate-makers for the New York Times last February  but it’s been on mine for years! Five years ago, the 65% Milk & Nibs bar blew my taste buds away with its bold, tart fruit notes and, to this day, it remains one of my desert island chocolate. 

During the two-hour tasting, you’ll get to sample the three bars pictured above + a mystery dark chocolate. This tasting is for you if you love bold flavors. Tickets are $58 per US household.

I wish you a beautiful and safe holiday season, filled with good health and chocolate. If you’re struggling to juggle remote-schooling duties with work, please know you are not alone. I recently shared the challenges of parenting while running a business in a pandemic in this Instagram video — I hope it will give you some comfort.

As always, feel free to contact me with any questions or comments. You can also fill out this form to book a private or corporate tasting for your team. 

If you’d like to be notified of blog updates and upcoming online chocolate tastings, please sign up 37 Chocolates newsletter. Happy holidays!

December 2020 Online Chocolate Tasting Schedule + A Spicy Chai Bar

Last Sunday, I hosted an online chocolate tasting with Karl and Marina Hogarth of Hogarth Chocolate in New Zealand. We tried four amazing bars, including a rich gianduia and a playful sweet potato milk chocolate. I was thrilled to see many familiar faces on my screen and left the Zoom hangout with a massive smile on my face.

Building the 37 Chocolates online tasting community has been the highlight of my year. Seeing you show up over and again for these chocolate hangouts fill me with so much joy, that I’ve planned not one but TWO chocolate tastings next month. Read on to learn more about what’s in store and if you’d like to order some Hogarth Chocolate bars, you can do so on the 37 Chocolates e-shop (you’ve got to try the Buttered Toast & Sea Salt Bar!)

Here’s what Adel said about the Hogarth Chocolate chocolate love fest:

“It was such a great event, again. You seem to have a steady group of followers and it’s starting to feel like meeting up with friends when we gather at your tastings. You have an amazing ability to assemble a collection of bars that everyone enjoys, may they be newcomers or seasoned pro tasters. I’m always happy to participate.”

Upcoming Events

On Sunday, December 6, you’ll have a chance to meet Carol Morse, founder of Acalli Chocolate in New Orleans. Her company was on Melissa Clarks’ list of top 13 chocolate-makers for the New York Times last February but it’s been on mine for years! Five years ago, the 65% Milk & Nibs bar blew my taste buds away with its bold, tart fruit notes and, to this day, it remains one of my desert island chocolate. 

Carol Morse, Founder of Acalli Chocolate

During the two-hour tasting, you’ll get to sample the three bars pictured above + a mystery dark chocolate. This tasting is for you if you love boldly flavored chocolate. Tickets are $58 per US household.

The following week, on Saturday, December 12, you’ll discover three bars by Violet Sky, a chocolate-maker based in South Bend, Indiana. Founder Hans Westerink is a chocolate poet and I’ve been a fan of his work since the 37 Chocolates challenge. His chocolate is silky smooth, with lots of nuanced flavors. Hans already added the event to his (very full) calendar and I’m excited for his participation!

Tickets for the tasting are $52/household and include three 77% (vegan) dark chocolate bars: one single origin (either Venezuela or Guatemala), another made with Bourbon barrel-aged cacao nibs, and a bar coated with maple sugar.

For this last ticketed event of 2020, I’ve also asked chocolate educator Hazel Lee to join the party. Hazel lives in the UK and she’s the creator of the Taste with Colour Chocolate Flavour map pictured with the Violet Sky bars. She’ll be telling us how connecting flavor with color inspired her to create her map. 

New on the 37 Chocolates Shop

In four words: dark chocolate + spicy chai.

In three words: I am obsessed.

You can order it here.

If you’d like to be notified of blog updates and upcoming online chocolate tastings, please sign up 37 Chocolates newsletter, as I don’t always post new events on the blog.

October 2020 Online Chocolate Tastings with Qantu Chocolate

2020 has been full of surprises. Some weren’t good, others much better. On one hand, it wasn’t easy to kiss goodbye to my beloved wine and chocolate pairing events. On the other, I’m now excited to reach an audience way beyond my one-mile-square town. Since I started hosting chocolate tastings on Zoom this spring, I’ve met chocolate-lovers in Philadelphia and Seattle, New York City and Puerto Rico. What’s more, I can now invite special guests to my events, such as my favorite chocolate-makers, so my attendees can feel more connected to their food. Can you imagine if talking to a restaurant chef for an hour after a special meal? That’s how it feels to be part of a 37 Chocolates event.

As we ease into fall, I’d like to virtually cross the Canadian border and introduce you to one of my all-time favorite makers: Qantu Chocolate in Montreal, Canada. We currently have two tastings scheduled: one for US-based guests on Wednesday, October 14 at 6 PM ET, and one for Canadian residents on Sunday, October 18, at 2 PM ET. You can sign up for the US event right below. Head to Qantu Chocolate’s website to be part of the Canadian party.

Qantu Chocolate makes some of the finest chocolate around and trust me, I’ve had hundreds! Their bars are the little black dress of my chocolate stash: classic, elegant, and beautiful in many settings. I’m particularly fond of their 70% Gran Blanco, which will be part of both events. It’s very mild, with beautiful citrus aromatics. It seems to pair with almost any light to medium body wines (both white and red), it’s stellar with orange liqueur, and delightful with tea. Did I mention I’m a fan?

You’ll receive three full size bars with your ticket: the 70% Gran Blanco, the 70% Chuncho aka Golden Bean Award and Gold Medal at the Academy of Chocolate Awards 2018, and the Silk Road, a beautiful bar inspired by the fragrant spices of the Silk Road. You’ll be joined by company founders Elfi Maldonado and Maxime Simard who will answer your questions, both in French or English. You’ll also receive a list of pairing wine, tea, and fruit recommendations prior to the tasting, so you can try my favorite pairings at home. 

Elfi’s on my right and Maxime’s on my left

This event is online, but I promise the feeling of connection is there. Here’s what a previous guest said about my previous, Colombia-inspired event.

“I had such a wonderful time at your chocolate tasting this evening—thank you for an event that was as delicious as it was fascinating! Such an incredible group of participants, too! I loved hearing about the single origin … chocolate bars, and they are some of the best chocolate I’ve had. It reminded me of a family trip to Ecuador a few years back, where we visited a cacao plantation and got to see their whole growing, roasting and chocolate-making operation. 
I’m so glad I got to participate, and I look forward to future events.”
– T., California 

So, will I see you then? Remember you can email me at estelle(at)37chocolates.com to schedule a private (online) tasting chocolate or corporate (online) event… Holidays are coming soon!

If you’d like to be notified of blog updates and upcoming online chocolate tastings, please sign up 37 Chocolates newsletter.

Interview with Hasnaâ Ferreira, Founder of Hasnaâ Chocolats Grands Crus in Bordeaux, France

Hasnaâ Ferreira, founder of Hasnaâ Chocolats Grands Crus

There aren’t a lot of women bean-to-bar makers in the US, but there are even fewer in France. In fact, I was aware of zero female chocolate-makers in my homeland until I discovered Hasnaâ Chocolats Grands Crus a couple of years ago on Instagram. When I did, I was immediately drawn to Hasnaâ’s pistachio and raspberry wonder’barre and her kind personality. I took note of the company’s two retail shops in Bordeaux and promised myself to visit her chocolate mousse bar one day (yes, internet, a single origin chocolate mousse bar.)

Well, that day hasn’t come yet, but I did meet Hasnaâ Ferreira in Colombia last year. She and I were part of the same cacao sourcing trip organized by cacao broker Uncommon Cacao (merci to Denise Castronovo of Castronovo Chocolate for having me along.) Between bus rides on dirt roads and cacao plantation visits, I got plenty of opportunity to get to know her.

Born and raised on Morocco, Hasnaâ launched her company back in 2014 after a formal chocolatier training. Today, her chocolate repertoire covers everything from serious, two-ingredient bars to crowd-pleasing bonbons, all presented in eye-catching packaging (her husband, Vincent, was once a creative director, so he knows the importance of strong visuals.)

While her dark chocolate bars have a coarser texture that I like, I’m personally quite fond of her dark milk chocolate line (the Arhuacos is my fave.) Perhaps more importantly, the French woman goes above and beyond to positively impact the lives of her sourcing partners. A few months after returning from Colombia, Hasnaâ welcomed the brother of an Arhuaco* farmer in her Bordeaux workshop to teach him chocolate-making.

*The Arhuacos are an indigenous tribe in Colombia.

This summer, Bar & Cocoa started carrying Hasnaâ Chocolats Grands Crus in the US, so I thought you’d like to meet Hasnaâ before placing an order. You won’t find chocolate mousse on the site but I trust you to whip up a batch at home.

A couple of notes: we carried the interview in French; you’ll find both English and French versions hereafter. All photos are by Hasnaâ Chocolats Grands Crus.

Hello Hasnaâ and thank you for answering my questions. You’re the first woman who started turning cacao beans into chocolate in France, what motivated you to do that?

This is a second career for me. I was under the wrong impression that all chocolatiers worked straight from cacao beans and it wasn’t until I formally trained as a chocolatier that realized it wasn’t the case.

I find it both interesting and rewarding to work from the bean, as it allows you to express your sensibility through the first production stages of the chocolate-making production (i.e. roasting, conching). There are also not that many women [in the bean-to-bar chocolate industry], so that’s an additional motivation for me.

Bonjour Hasnaâ et merci de te livrer au jeu de l’interview avec moi. Tu as été la première femme en France qui s’est lancée dans la transformation des fèves de cacao, qu’est-ce qui a motivé cette démarche ?

En effet, je suis issue de la reconversion. Je pensais à tort que tout les chocolatiers travaillaient à partir de la fève. C’est pendant mon CAP chocolatier, que j’ai eu la confirmation du contraire.

Je trouve cela intéressant et enrichissant de travailler à partir de la fève. Cela permet d’exprimer sa sensibilité et de l’affirmer en jouant sur les premières étapes de la fabrication (torréfaction, conchage…) De plus, Il n’y a pas beaucoup de femmes [dans le chocolat bean-to-bar], alors c’est une motivation de plus.

When we met in Colombia last year, I got the impression that you only worked with beans from native cacao varieties, is that right?

That’s essentially it, but [I source from] Tanzania, India and other the countries that are not part of the Amazon basin and do not have native cacao trees. Since the quality of their beans is sublime and the societal impact is positive, we take them anyway.

Lorsque nous nous sommes rencontrées en Colombie l’an passé, j’ai cru comprendre que tu ne travaillais qu’avec des fèves issues de cacao natif, est-ce que tu peux le confirmer ?

C’est essentiellement ça. Mais [je source de] la Tanzanie, l’Inde et tous les pays qui ne font pas partie du bassin amazonien et n’ont pas de cacaoyers natifs. Mais comme la qualité de leurs fèves est sublime et que l’impact sociétal est positif, nous les prenons quand même.

Hasnaâ checking out drying beans

How do you choose your beans for your chocolate?

There are several criteria: origin, variety, quality of post harvest treatment, environmental and societal impact. We favor the diversity of origins, so we can draw a fairly large map for our customers.

Comment choisis-tu tes fèves pour ton chocolat ?

Il y a plusieurs critères : l’origine, la variété, la qualité du traitement post-récolte, l’impact environnemental et sociétal. Nous privilégions la diversité des origines, comme ça nous dessinons une carte assez large pour nos clients.

In addition to bean-to-bar chocolate, your chocolate factory is known for its chocolate mousse bar. Is this another way to let your clients know about different origins?

A very gourmand way. We notice that customers can feel the difference. A mousse made with a bean-to-bar chocolate is more intense and has a much longer finish in the mouth. Customers are delighted.

En plus des tablettes bean-to-bar, ta chocolaterie est connue pour son bar à mousse au chocolat. Est-ce une autre manière de faire connaitre différentes origines à tes client.e.s ?

Une manière très gourmande. Nous avons remarqué que les clients ressentaient la différence. Une mousse avec un chocolat bean-to-bar est plus intense et a beaucoup plus de longueur en bouche. Les clients sont ravis.

Chocolate mousse!

What is the reaction of your customers when they discover the bean-to-bar for the first time?

I pay close attention to the reaction of our customers who often discover bean-to-bar the first time with us. They’re often surprised by the strength and authenticity of our chocolates. For example, the Piura Blanco has been a revelatory chocolate for some because of its very clear grapefruit notes. One person once told me: “you put a lot of grapefruit in it.” I had to explain it was the natural flavor of the cacao bean.

Quelle est la réaction de tes client.e.s quand ils découvrent le bean-to-bar pour la première fois ?

J’observe attentivement nos clients qui ont souvent découvert le bean-to-bar chez nous. Ils sont souvent surpris par la force et l’authenticité de nos chocolats. Par exemple, le Piura Blanco a été un chocolat révélateur pour certains car il a des notes de pamplemousse très marquées. [Une] personne a dit : “Vous avez mis beaucoup de pamplemousse dedans”. J’ai dû confirmer que c’était la saveur naturelle de la fève.

Oh I love this anecdote! This bars goes so well with orange, we tested on the plane with Denise [Castronovo of Castronovo Chocolate]!

Same for the Bolivia chocolate, another person told me: “There is too much honey in it.”

Oh j’adore cette anecdote ! Cette tablette se marie bien avec l’orange, on avait testé dans l’avion avec Denise [Castronovo de Castronono Chocolate] !

Pareil pour le chocolat de Bolivie, une autre personne m’a dit : “Il y a trop de miel dedans”.

Hasnaâ at the chocolate mousse bar

Last fall, you welcomes Hernan’s brother Francisco to train him on bean-to-bar making. What was your motivation and what’s your memory of that time?

First of all, it was to help him and share our know-how with him. [The Arhuacos] are already great at growing cacao trees and fermenting cacao beans. However, they don’t know how to do everything else, so [welcoming Francisco] was a way of giving back to this community. The experience has grown into a powerful memory.

À l’automne dernier tu avais reçu le frère d’Hernan, Francisco, pour le former au bean-to-bar. Quelle a été ta motivation et que gardes-tu comme souvenir de cet apprentissage ?

C’est d’abord pour l’aider et pour partager avec lui tout notre savoir faire. [Les Arhuacos] savent très bien cultiver des cacaoyers et travailler la fève en fermentation. En revanche, ils ne savent pas faire tout le reste. Alors, pour nous c’était une façon de rendre un peu à cette communauté. J’en garde un souvenir très marquant.

Do you have specific memory to share?

He never runs, he embraces slowness. He didn’t eat much. He doesn’t understand the concept of eating at fixed times. Above all, he thought we ate a lot (appetizer, entrée, dessert). Also, he sowed the fruit stones at home because that’s what they do in nature! It was funny.

Also, he didn’t know the principle of time difference. His family did not understand that it was dark at home while it was still daylight where they were.

Un souvenir précis à partager ?

Il ne court jamais, il fait l’éloge de la lenteur. Il ne mangeait pas beaucoup. Il ne comprend pas le concept de manger à heures fixes. Et surtout il trouvait qu’on mangeait beaucoup (entrée, plat et dessert). Aussi, il semait les noyaux de fruits à la maison parce que dans la nature ils font comme ça ! C’était drôle.

Aussi, il ne connaissait pas le principe du décalage horaire. Sa famille ne comprenait pas qu’il faisait nuit chez nous pendant qu’il faisait jour chez eux.

An anecdote to share?

Vincent was preparing our first dark milk chocolate, which included Arhuacos. And since [Francisco] is not a chocolate-maker, he added the cocoa butter without paying attention to its temperature. As a result, the milk powder in the chocolate warmed up a bit, which changed the taste and texture of the chocolate. We then decided to use it in the mousses because the texture was not suitable for bars. Since then, it’s become our bestselling mousse, so we decided to make all our chocolate for the mousses.

Une anecdote à partager ?

Vincent était entrain de préparer notre premier chocolat dark milk notamment l’arhuacos. Et comme [Francisco] n’est pas chocolatier, il a ajouté le beurre de cacao sans faire attention à la température. Du coup, la poudre de lait dans le chocolat a un peu chauffé ce qui a changé le goût et la texture du chocolat. Nous avions décidé alors de l’utiliser pour les mousses car la texture n’était pas adaptée pour les tablettes. Depuis c’était la meilleure vente chez mousse et on a décidé de fabriquer tout notre chocolat pour les mousses.

I understand he made his first bars?

Yes, I taught him more than that. He learned to make pâtes de fruits, jams, and pralines.

Il a réalisé ses premières tablettes, il me semble ?

Oui, je lui ai même montré plus que ça. Il a appris à faire des pâtes de fruits, de la confiture et des pralinés.

Which three Hasnaâ bars would you recommend to someone who’s not yet familiar with your world? Also, do you have a favorite origin?

Idukki 71%, Tanzania 74%, and Chuncho 75%.

Idukki: full-bodied and floral.

Tanzania: balanced and elegant.

Chuncho: fresh and intense.

My favorite is wild Bolivia but we don’t have it right now.

Quelles sont les trois tablettes Hasnaâ que tu recommenderais à quelqu’un qui ne connait pas encore ton univers ? Et toi, tu as une origine chouchoute ?

Idukki 71%, Tanzanie 74% et Chuncho 75%

Idukki : charnu et fleuri.

Tanzanie : équilibré et raffiné.

Chuncho : frais, Intense

Mon préféré c’est le Bolivie sauvage mais on ne l’a pas actuellement.

Your company’s been around for six years now, what do you feel is your greatest accomplishment?

I’m especially proud of working from the cacao bean because it’s a real accomplishment here in France. What’s great is being in contact with the raw product and above all close to the producers and contribute to providing them with the income they deserve.

Ton entreprise existe depuis 6 ans, de quoi es-tu le plus fière ?

Je suis surtout fière du travail de la fève, car ici en France c’est un véritable exploit. Ce qui est génial c’est d’être au contact du produit brut et surtout proche des producteurs et contribuer à leur fournir le revenu qu’ils méritent.

What can we wish you for the future? Do you have a final word?

To keep doing my best and continue to please customers. I’m very happy to be at Bar and Cocoa, it’s a great opportunity for us!

Qu’est-ce qu’on peut te souhaiter pour la suite ? Un mot pour finir ?

De continuer à faire de mon mieux et de continuer à plaire à les clients. Je suis très heureuse d’être chez Bar and Cocoa, pour nous c’est génial !

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