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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What makes chocolate bitter?

Chocolate Envelopes
Chocolate blind tasting

At a recent chocolate lecture, I asked the crowd what each type of chocolate evoked to them. White chocolate? Not real chocolate (ahem.) Milk chocolate? Sweet. When I said “dark chocolate”, the answer was unanimous:聽bitter. I wasn’t really surprised. The first time I tried a 99% bar, I almost spit it up. Thankfully, the 37 Chocolates challenge made me realize that a good dark chocolate didn’t have to taste bitter. In fact, some beans make an excellent 100% dark chocolate bar, without a trace of bitterness. So, why are some dark chocolate bars bitter? To answer that question, we need to look at the ingredients in chocolate.

To make chocolate, you need cacao or cocoa beans (it’s really the same thing.) Genetics, fermentation, and roasting will all impact chocolate flavor. Cacao is an agricultural product and not all beans are created equal. Just like a Granny Smith apple is more acidic than a Gala, some cacao beans are more bitter than others. Fermentation is a complicated topic, but it’s easy to imagine the results of bad fermentation (mold.)

Now, let’s take a look at roasting. I had long heard rumors of big companies over-roasting their beans, but I’d never seen evidence of that. All of this changed last summer when I got my hands on a roasted cacao bean husk* from a very large chocolate company.聽I won’t tell you which one, but I bet you can guess.

Overroasted Cacao

On my left, a roasted cacao bean husk from that large chocolate company. On my right, a cocoa bean from Sierra Nevada in Colombia roasted by much smaller, award-winning chocolate company. The bean on the left was over-roasted, to the point of being burnt. What does burnt food taste like?

Bitter.

However, dark chocolate doesn’t have to taste bitter. The combination of quality cacao beans, careful fermentation, and gentle roasting can create beautiful, intense, but not bitter dark chocolate. Granted, those bars won’t cost the same as industrial chocolate, but which color cacao bean would you rather put in your body? So head to your local coffee shop or specialty food store and start browsing the chocolate section. Your taste buds will thank you.

* The husk is the outside part of a cacao bean, one that is removed and discarded during the chocolate-making process (the fancy name is “winnowed.”) Inside the husk is the cacao nib, which will ground into chocolate.聽

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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聽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,聽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,聽Kosak聽has now launched their distribution company, making bean-to-bar chocolate more accessible than ever. Department stores like Galeries Lafayette and Printemps聽have stepped up their chocolate game, making their gourmet departments definitely worth a visit. Plus, I discovered new bean-to-bar shops.

This new 鈥37 Chocolates Guide to Paris鈥 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!聽

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 鈥斅脌 la M猫re de Famille and A l’Etoile d’Or聽 — 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鈥檒l 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鈥檚 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鈥檚聽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 G芒teaux et du Pain

Four words: best croissants in Paris.

croissants
Des G芒teaux et du Pain’s super buttery croissants

Des G芒teaux et du Pain
63, boulevard Pasteur
75015 Paris – France

Jacques Genin

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Jacques Genin’s p芒tes 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鈥檛 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 p芒tes de fruits (fruit pastes) in a myriad flavors (red pepper, anyone?), and, my favorite, the Paris-Brest. Genin鈥檚 take on the classic French pastry is surprisingly light, with an intense just-roasted-hazelnut flavor. It鈥檚 hands-down the most delicious Paris-Brest I鈥檝e had to date.

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Jacques Genin’s Paris-Brest

For the best experience, come with close friends or family聽and order tea from the thoughtfully sourced menu. When so many places would skimp on the quality of the beverage 鈥渂ecause it鈥檚 a chocolate place,鈥 Genin offers perfectly brewed tea sourced from the finest plantations. The tea is served with an array of complementary chocolates and p芒tes de fruits, just because.聽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

M茅tro : R茅publique, Filles du Calvaire, Temple
Open Tuesday 鈥 Sunday, 11 AM 鈥 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鈥檛 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鈥檛 have to be this precious thing served with white gloves and a whisper, but a fun, flavor-filled food. At Kosak, chocolate聽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-Elys茅es 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鈥檛 remember to take a selfie by the wall!

Kosak
106 rue Caulaincourt
75018 Paris

M茅tro : 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?聽 Head straight to Lafayette Gourmet.

Located behind the legendary Op茅ra, 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聽Pierre Marcolini and Jean-Paul H茅vin. Bean-to-bar aficionados will head straight to Alain Ducasse’s corner to shop for single origin bars (recommended: Mexico.) All聽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,聽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

M茅tro : Op茅ra

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

La R茅colte

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Chocolat Madagascar at La R茅colte

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聽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 R茅colte 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鈥檚 super addictive and I can see it being my new go-to afternoon pick-me-up. Grab it at either one of La R茅colte’s locations in Paris.

La R茅colte Batignolles
18 boulevard des Batignolles
75017 Paris

La R茅colte 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聽
Multiple locations across Paris

Pierre Herm茅

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Who needs fashion boutiques when you have Pierre Herm茅? OK, I exaggerate a bit, but please, don’t leave Paris without a stop at Pierre聽Herm茅’s flagship store. Known as “the Picasso of Pastry”, Pierre Herm茅 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, Herm茅 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聽stop at Pierre Herm茅’s store will refill your creative tank.

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Pierre Herm茅 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 Carr茅 de Caf茅 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
T茅l.: +33 (0)1 57 40 84 55

M茅tro Rambuteau

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

Printemps du Go没t

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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 Go没t, 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 Go没t 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 Go没t
107 Rue de Provence
75009聽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鈥檓 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鈥檛 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 M脹RE聽first. All the cool Parisians gather at this veggie-centric, organic cafeteria and you want to be part of them, too.聽Merci to my friend Eliane for聽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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My Top 5 Books for New Chocolate Enthusiasts

** This post contains affiliate links.**

For years, it felt like the world of chocolate books was divided in two: on one side, baking books with beautiful photos and super indulgent recipes 鈥 triple chocolate mousse cake, anyone? 鈥 on the other, serious books with in-depth information cacao genetics and the Mesoamerican roots of chocolate — too ambitious reads for a sleep-deprived mom.

As a new chocolate enthusiast in 2015, I longed for books I could read after putting the kids to bed, i.e. entertaining enough to keep me turn the pages, but with enough informative to deepen my chocolate knowledge.

Thankfully, the past couple of years have brought an abundance of books that fit that niche. With the holidays on the horizon, I thought I’d share my top 5 chocolate books for chocolate enthusiasts of all ages.

From Cocoa Beans to Chocolate, written by Bridget Heos, illustated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman

58693D16-C1F1-4BEB-8EAA-A8BBCA6367FBWritten for a junior audience,聽From Cocoa Beans to Chocolate聽by Bridget Heos covers all aspects of chocolate production, from the cacao growing on a fair trade plantation in the equator 鈥渨here it鈥檚 warm all year鈥 to chocolate-making in a 鈥渟mall chocolate factory.鈥澛With lively illustrations by Stefanie Fizer Coleman, this kids book provides a simplified yet accurate overview of the chocolate making process.

Bean-to-Bar Chocolate, America’s Craft Chocolate Revolution聽by Megan Giller

B2B Megan Giller

To the non-initiated, the world of bean-to-bar chocolate can be nebulous. Three years ago, I didn’t know most makers, didn’t understand chocolate labels, nor could I place cacao-growing countries on a map. The only way to make sense of that world, it seemed, was to eat my way through it — that’s how the 37 Chocolates challenge came to be.

Since then, Megan Giller released Bean-to-Bar Chocolate, giving chocolate enthusiasts a much-needed bean-to-bar primer. In this abundantly illustrated book,聽you’ll learn how chocolate is made, where it’s coming from, and how to taste it. You’ll meet the pioneers of the American bean-to-bar movement and discover trusted, established chocolate-makers. I personally loved the pairing ideas (bread! beer! cheese!) and the conversational, sometimes self-depreciating tone of the book (you’ll love the story of Megan trying to make chocolate.)聽Peppered with maker profiles and recipes, it is the book I wish had existed when I started my chocolate journey.

The Chocolate Tasting Kit by Eagranie Yuh

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**This kit was gifted to me by Chronicle Books **聽

The Chocolate Tasting Kit by Eagranie Yuh is a great聽gift for the food-lover who likes to entertain. The kit contains everything you need to throw a chocolate party, from tasting sheets and flavor flash cards to an introductory booklet for the host or hostess. I like how the latter provides very specific guidance on how to select chocolate by naming actual company names (hello Pralus and Askinosie.) In fact, I wish you could actually buy it on its own, as it provides much needed guidance to those new to the world of craft chocolate. The kit would make a lovely gift alongside a selection of fine chocolate聽bars.

Making Chocolate, From Bean-to-Bar to S鈥檓ore by Todd Masonis, Greg d’Alesandre, Lisa Vega, and Molly Gore

Dandelion

First, a disclaimer: I have no interest in becoming a chocolate-maker. However, as a chocolate lover and educator, there comes a time when you want to know more. Why are some bars grittier than other? How exactly is life on plantations? And how do you bake with a two-ingredient bar?

Written by the team at Dandelion Chocolate, Making Chocolatetouches on all of these topics and then some, in a engaging, approachable way. This beautifully illustrated volume is for anyone who loves chocolate, from the gourmand looking for a single origin chocolate mousse recipe to the the budding professional who wants to start making chocolate at home.

As a chocolate educator, I rely on its show-stopping picture of cacao pods, drying beds, and plantations to bring context to my tastings. It鈥檚 also the only mainstream book I found that makes the less glamorous aspects of chocolate-making look fun: the reports of chocolate sourcerer Greg d’Alesandre are funny and the tech-inspired approach to roasting beans is fascinating. There鈥檚 a way the authors talk about machines that make you feel giddy about a roll mill. This is must-have if you ever dream of making chocolate at home.

Les secrets du chocolat by Franckie Alarcon

Les secrets du chocolat

Somewhere between a chocolate connoisseur manual (the author shares details about a cacao sourcing trip with St茅phane Bonnat) and a baking book (you鈥檒l find a few recipes in there), this French graphic novel is the most entertaining chocolate book I鈥檝e read to date. Playful yet informative, it is light enough to read after a long day at work, but serious enough to deepen your appreciation of chocolate.

Written through the lens of its author, French graphic novelist Franckie Alarcon, Les secrets du chocolat provides incredible insight on the philosophy behind the work of a great French chocolatier, Jacques Genin. If you can’t intern with Genin but read French, do yourself a favor and get this book! And if you don’t, you鈥檒l enjoy this anecdote: Jacques Genin never tasted chocolate as a kid. As an adult, he worked as a pastry chef and, when becoming a dad, decided to work with chocolate so he’d make the best looking birthday cakes for his daughter. This is one of the many, many touching moments of the book.

Now, tell me, what are your favorite books about chocolate?

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Fall 2017 Chocolate Tastings

I was sipping my cappuccino at Philter Coffee this fall one day when a lady named Chelsea asked me about my next chocoldunaiate event. Although I had none planned then, I promised her to organize one. After I emptied my cup, I headed straight to the library, where it took all of 30 seconds to book a chocolate tasting workshop with Alex. Gosh, I wish all my meetings were that productive.

I now look forward to meeting Chelsea and her friends at the Kennett Library this Saturday, November 18, 2017. I have a couple more events planned this year to satisfy your chocolate cravings, including a Map Chocolate pop-up sale that same Saturday and a tasting at Grace Winery next month. Here are all the details, I hope to see you at one or all of these events!

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Join me at the Kennett Library this聽Saturday, November 18聽for a FREE chocolate tasting workshop at聽2 PM.聽Spoiler: you’ll touch a cacao pod and taste camel milk chocolate from Dubai.聽Space is limited so make sure to register聽here. The event was completely booked last time so don’t wait to聽save your spot!

Kennett Library
216 East State Street
Kennett Square, PA 19348

Chadds Ford

On聽Saturday, November 18, I will have Map Chocolate bars for sale at the inaugural Potts Meadow Tree Lighting event, presented by the Chadds Ford Barn Shops and the Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art. I’ll be there with several cool artists (Katee Boyle! Bri from Arden + James!). The event will run from聽4:30-8:30 PM,聽you’ll find all the details聽here.

The history of the Barn Shops goes back 50 years, when some historic buildings (old general store, gas station, etc.) in Chadds Ford, PA, were moved to their current location for preservation purposes. My friend Bri and her father have been fixing up the shops all year and they’re proud to share them with the local community.

Please note you MUST park at the Brandywine Museum down the road and take a shuttle to the event. For safety reasons, including Route 1 traffic backup and children wandering around, you can’t park at the Barn Shops.

Chadds Ford Barn Shops
1609 Baltimore Pike
Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania 19317

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I love with the quiet, romantic setting of聽Grace Winery in Glen Mills聽– Prince Albert of Monaco was recently there! – so I am thrilled to host a two-hour chocolate education and tasting workshop on聽Friday, December 15 at 6 PM – 8 PM. Tickets are $50 and include your first glass of wine. If you’d like to learn more about your favorite food, hold a cacao pod, eat a cacao bean, and taste several chocolates, secure a spot now on EventBrite.

Grace Winery
50 Sweetwater Road
Glen Mills, PA 19342

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Chocolate Shops & Independent Coffee Shops in Paris

Tour Eiffel

** May 2019 Update: Check out The 37 Chocolates Guide to Paris for detailed reviews on several of these chocolate shops. **

Guess what: I’m going to Paris in May! Plane tickets to France are at an-all time low so聽I finally booked that long overdue聽trip to my homeland. This will be my first trip to Paris as a chocolate-lover and I am excited聽to see the city through the聽lens of chocolate.聽As I was imagining myself hopping from one shop to another, I started compiling a list of chocolate shops in a聽notebook, but notebooks get lost and stained, so I thought why not compile them all on my blog instead? As an added bonus, it may help some of you plan your own visit. So there you have it,聽a list of chocolate shops to check out in Paris: some are bean-to-bar storefronts, others chocolatier shops, but all have聽been聽recommended by a friend or fellow chocophile.

I made sure to add the name of the closest subway station as well as opening hours. And because coffee is a chocolate’s best friend, I have added a list of independent coffee shops in Paris, too. I hope you’ll find the lists handy and please feel free to list your favorite Parisian chocolate (and coffee) shops in Paris in the comments.

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Photo credit: Le Chocolat des Fran莽ais

Chocolate Shops

A l鈥橢toile d鈥橭r
30 rue Pierre Fontaine
75009 Paris
Open Monday, 2 – 8 PM
Tuesday – Saturday,聽10:30 am – 8:00 pm

According to David Lebovitz, this is聽“best candy shop in Paris.”聽It is also the only place outside of the original shop in Lyon that sells Bernachon chocolate.”

Ara Chocolat聽
54 Rue de Dunkerque
75009 Paris
Open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday: noon – 8 PM.
Tuesday: 4:30 – 8 PM.
Closed on Sundays

Atelier C
123 Avenue Daumesnil
75012 Paris
Metro Gare de Lyon, Reuilly-Diderot, or Montgallet.
Open Tuesday to Sunday, noon –聽8 PM

Atelier C hosts 2-hour bean-to-bar workshops one Sunday per month. You can contact them on Instagram for a schedule of their classes.

Chocolatitudes聽
57 rue Daguerre
75014 Paris
Metro Denfert-Rochereau, lines 4 and 6
Open Wednesday, Friday, Saturday: noon – 7 PM; Thursday: noon – 8 PM; and Sunday: noon – 2 PM, 4 – 7 PM

Laurence Alemanno, owner and founder of the company, is also the author of several books in French about cacao and chocolate, which you can discover here.

Chocolaterie Cyril Lignac
25聽rue聽Chanzy
75011 Paris
Metro Charonne on line 9 and Faidherbe-Chaligny on line 8
Open everyday,聽8 AM – 8 PM.

Cyril Lignac is an acclaimed pastry chef and the host of Le Meilleur P芒tissier, the French equivalent to the Great British Bake-Off. His latest venture is a boutique entirely devoted to chocolate. On Instagram, and I have seen chocolate bars in gorgeous, colorful wrappers, pralines, and bonbons.

Comptoir du Cacao

192 av de Versailles
75016 Paris
Open Tuesday through Saturday 10:30 AM to 7PM
Sunday 10:30AM to 1PM

118 rue Ordener
75018 Paris
Open Tuesday through Saturday 10:30AM to 7PM
Monday 2 PM to 7PM

The chocolate factory is located outside of Paris in聽Bazoches sur le Betz. You can check out directions to the facility here.

Jacques Genin

Turenne Shop:

133 rue de Turenne
75003 Paris
M茅tro : R茅publique, Filles du Calvaire, Temple
OpenTuesday – Sunday, 11 AM – 7 PM (7:30 PM on Saturdays)
There is room to sit and enjoy your chocolate at this location.
Varenne Shop:
27 rue de Varenne
75007 Paris
M茅tro : Rue du Bac, S猫vres Babylone, Varenne
Open Tuesday – Saturday, 10:30 AM – 7 PM

I only knew Jacques Genin by name until I read Franckie Alarcon’s graphic novel Les secrets du chocolat. The graphic novelist followed the chocolatier for a year and wrote about his experience in the book. Genin comes across as a generous, passionate, and approachable, which made me eager to check out his shop.

Kosak
106 rue Caulaincourt
75018 Paris
Metro Lamarck-Caulaincourt
Open Tuesday – Sunday, 11 AM – 11 PM

Kosak is an ice cream shop located in Montmartre that also specializes in bean-to-bar chocolate. The shop carries a lot of the brands I tried during the “37 Chocolates” challenge, such as Dick Taylor. From my interactions on Instagram, the owners of the shop seem super friendly.

Le Chocolat des Fran莽ais

The chocolate is available in many locations across the country.聽Find a list of retailers here.

La Manufacture de Chocolat Alain Ducasse
40 rue de la Roquette
75011 Paris
Metro Bastille, lines 1, 5, 8
Open Tuesday – Saturday, 10:30 AM – 7:00 PM

Chef Alain Ducasse opened his bean-to-bar operations in Paris a few years ago. I was not too crazy about his Colombia bar but French writer Martin Page swears by the unconched chocolate, so I plan on giving a try.

Pierre Marcolini
235, Rue Saint-Honor茅
75001 Paris
Open Monday to Saturday 10:30 AM – 7:30 PM

89, Rue de Seine
75006 Paris
Open Monday to Sunday, 10:30 AM – 9 PM

3, Rue Scribe
75009 Paris
Open Monday to Friday, 10:30 AM – 7 PM
Saturday, 10:30 AM – 7:30 PM

Yes, Pierre Marcolini聽is from Belgium but for those of us who cannot take the trip to Brussels, we can always聽head to one of his Paris shops. A pioneer of the bean-to-bar movement, Marcolini is also the author of an imposing book about chocolate, which my friend Penny聽recently reviewed.

Pralus
35 rue Rambuteau
75004 Paris
Metro Jacques Bonsergent, line 5
Open Monday to Saturday, 10 AM – 8 PM; Sunday, 10 AM – 7 PM

Coffee and Cream

Independent Coffee Shops

Caf茅 Lomi
3 rue Marcadet
75018 Paris
Open everyday, 10 AM – 7 PM

Coutume
47 rue de Babylone
75007 Paris
Open: Monday – Friday : 8 AM – 6 PM
Saturday – 聽Sunday: 9 AM – 6 PM

Fondation
16 rue Dupetit Thouars
75003 Paris
Metro: Temple (line 3)
Open 8 AM – 6 PM on weekdays,聽8 AM – 6 PM on weekends.

Hexagone Cafe
121 rue du Chateau
75014 Paris
Metro: Line 13 Pernety or 13 Ga卯t茅; line 6 Edgar Quinet
Open 8 AM – 6 PM on weekdays; 10 AM – 6 PM on weekends.

Hollybelly
19 rue Lucien Sampaix
75010 Paris
Metro Jacques Bonsergent, line 5
Open聽9 AM – 5 PM on weekdays, 10 AM – 5 PM on weekends.

Ob-La-Di
54 rue de Saintonge
75003 Paris
Metro Temple, Line 3
Open Monday-Saturday, 8 AM-6 PM;聽Sunday 9 AM-6 PM

Ten Belles
10 rue de la Grange aux Belles
75010 Paris
Metro聽Gare de l’Est (lines 4, 5, 7); Jacques Bonsergent (line 5); Goncourt (line 11); Colonel Fabien (line 2)
Open 8 AM – 5 PM on week days, 9 AM – 6 PM on weekends.

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How is Chocolate Made?

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How Cocoa Beans Become Chocolate: Graphic Developed聽by Ecole Chocolat and Megan Giller of Chocolate Noise

How is chocolate made? Find that out in my latest post on聽the Choco Rush blog. A big thank you to Ecole Chocolat and Megan Giller of Chocolate Noise聽for providing the fun and educational graphics, including the one here. Happy reading!

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Interview with Carol Morse, Founder & Maker, Acalli Chocolate (New Orleans, Louisiana)

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Carol Morse, maker and founder, Acalli Chocolate. Photo credit: Erin Krall.

“So. Much. Flavor.”

Those were my thoughts as I sampled the Milk & Nibs bar by Acalli Chocolate聽last summer. The brand had been recommended to me by Laura, a chocolate-loving barista, soon after I committed to the 37 Chocolates challenge. I was looking for recommendations and she was happy to share hers. She jotted down the names of four makers on a piece of parchment paper before commenting on each brand.

“Acalli. I like what she does in New Orleans.”

She?

That was a first.

I was not aware of any female chocolate-makers. I obviously had to learn聽.

A few weeks after that conversation,聽聽I found myself in Wayne, Pennsylvania, trying to escape the scorching heat with my friend Teresa. We pushed the door of Gryphon Cafe and, as I ordered an ice latte, my eyes caught the sight, on the elevated counter, of a small orange box with the name of that Louisiana maker – Acalli Chocolate.聽The bar, a combination of 聽65% dark milk chocolate, was sprinkled with cacao nibs. I was intrigued.

After we picked our drinks, Teresa and I sat down, we breathed a sighed of a relief – cool, at last. I聽opened the聽orange box, inside which was a thick cellophane wrapper that聽I聽unsealed聽to reveal a聽dark piece of chocolate. I cut the bar into squares, one of which landed on my tongue.

“So. Much. Flavor.”

That day, I finally understood what craft chocolate was about.

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Soon after I posted my video review of Acalli Chocolate’s Milk & Nibs bar聽, I connected with Carol Morse, founder of Acalli Chocolate and we spent a couple of hours on Skype getting to know each other. Unlike other makers, who fall into chocolate by wondering how chocolate is made, Carol became curious about chocolate after finding herself on an actual cacao plantation. How cool is that? I found her story so interesting that I聽invited her聽to share it with you. In this article, Carol answers a few of my questions about her background,聽her brand, and what’s next for her company.

Thank you, Carol for sharing your聽chocolate story.

1) When we first talked last year, I was surprised to learn that you have a PhD in Anthropology. How did you make the switch to becoming a full-time chocolate-maker?

I don鈥檛 have a PhD, but anthropology was my college major. I also have a background in economic development, as I worked in micro-finance before I made chocolate. So the full chain of chocolate making – from cacao and the people that grow it to the final bar – lets me combine a lifelong love of chocolate with an interest in people and the work that they do.

My husband is an archaeologist (he is pursuing his PhD), and three years ago we spent a summer in Guatemala while he studied a Mayan language and I worked remotely for a California micro-finance nonprofit. We visited Maya Mountain Cacao in Belize and I met Guatemalan chocolate-makers. I was just fascinated by everything, and when I got back to the U.S., I ordered small equipment and cacao from John Nanci (I don鈥檛 know what I would鈥檝e done without his Chocolate Alchemy website!) to begin making chocolate at home. The Chocolate Life was also a really helpful forum for me when I started out聽–聽so many chocolate-makers offering advice and guidance.

In 2014, I visited the Norandino Cooperative in Northern Peru, and was impressed by both their work and cacao. I began buying from them shortly thereafter.

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The original line-up of Acalli Chocolate bars. Photo credit: Carol Morse, Acalli Chocolate.

2. What is the origin of the name Acalli?

The name Acalli (ah-CALL-ee) means 鈥渃anoe鈥 in Nahuatl (the Aztec language that also gave us the word 鈥渃hocolate鈥). It seemed appropriate as a name since canoes connect people even across great distances, and were an early method of transporting cocoa beans. I also just think it鈥檚 a pretty word and one that evokes the spirit of travel and a sense of adventure. My husband is an anthropologist and linguist, so he helped come up with it!

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Carol Morse, founder and maker, Acalli Chocolate. Photo credit: Erin Krall.

3. When I think of New Orleans, I think about hot and humid: what challenges does that climate pose for a chocolate-maker?

I鈥檓 constantly learning about the impact of climate on chocolate here! I didn鈥檛 realize what I was getting into when I started, but I do feel like I understand chocolate better because of the time I鈥檝e spent figuring out why things go wrong. Humidity is a big issue – I have a humidity monitor in my workshop and it rarely reads below 50% relative humidity. It鈥檚 often above 65 or 70鈥nd I have learned that you can temper in those conditions, contrary to popular belief! Summers are also difficult when it comes to keeping the temperature down, especially for tempering and molding. But like anywhere, I guess you just figure out what works for the conditions you have. I definitely get nervous making summertime deliveries, but I appreciate ice packs more than ever before!

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Park Morse, Carol’s brother, at work making chocolate. Photo credit: Carol Morse, Acalli Chocolate.

4. You just added two new bars to your existing bar line-up. Could you tell us a bit more about your chocolate?

Of course! I鈥檓 currently buying all of my cacao from the Norandino Cooperative, and it鈥檚 a big cooperative that spans several regions of Peru. I started out last year with three bars. Two are made with beans from six communities in the Tumbes region of Peru, and one is made with beans from the community of El Platanal in Chulucanas, Peru.

The bars that I just released are smaller 鈥渢asting bars,鈥 and they鈥檙e darker, with an 81% cocoa content. They鈥檙e made with a blend of the Tumbes and El Platanal beans, and sweetened with local Louisiana sugar. The combination is so fudgy and rich, with a hint of molasses from the sugar. One bar is plain, and the other is topped with nibs and sea salt. I鈥檓 a little obsessed!

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The latest (delicious!) additions to Acalli Chocolate’s original line of bars. Photo credit: Carol Morse, Acalli Chocolate.

5) There are over 150 bean-to-bar chocolate-makers in the US today. What sets Acalli apart?

A big tenant of business model is sourcing in person. I鈥檓 not the only one doing that, but it was something important to me from the beginning, especially in light of my anthropology and development background. I want to pay a price that treats cacao as a value-added specialty product, not a commodity. Because there is a huge amount of work that goes into cacao production: cultivation, harvesting, fermenting, drying鈥 I want to acknowledge all the work that has been done by the farmers before I even receive the beans.

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Park and Carol Morse in front of a fermentation box in Tabasco, Mexico, summer 2015. Photo credit: Acalli Chocolate.

6) What鈥檚 next for Acalli?

Launching the new little bars has been such an exciting way to close out the summer! I’ll be expanding those into more retail locations, and we’re slowly starting to move toward prime drinking chocolate weather, which is great. I quietly introduced some drinking chocolates late last winter and I鈥檓 eager to start offering those in a more visible way.

My husband Luke, my brother Park and I (that’s the entire Acalli “staff,” with Park helping with production and Luke doing a lot of the web and social media work) all visited about twenty farmers in Mexico last summer to pursue Chiapas and Tabasco as potential bean origins. I鈥檓 hoping to introduce a new Mexican origin some time soon. I’ve been roasting sample batches of Chiapan beans this week, so that’s been an exciting project also!

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Finding Bean-to-Bar Chocolate in the Philadelphia Area

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Taza Chocolate bar from my local Whole Foods Market

If you live in a small town like I do, you may have a hard time gathering a large selection of craft chocolate from a wide range of makers. However, with a little curiosity, you may be surprised at the number of bean-to-bar chocolates you’ll be able to find close to your home. For instance, did you know that many independant natural stores carried lesser known chocolate brands right in the candy aisle? Your聽local coffee shop may also offer a nice selection of bars right by聽the聽register, make sure to check it out.

To me, the quest for craft chocolate is part of the fun: I love the thrill I get from finding a bar I had spotted months earlier on Instagram (I am looking at you, Askinosie’s licorice bar.) 聽I have now been looking for bean-to-bar chocolate locally聽for over a year now and, while I still have a lot more places to explore, here a list of my favorite craft chocolate purveyors in the Chester County & Philadelphia areas. A word of caution: this is a聽non-exhaustive, kind-of-subjective list, which I will update as I go. In the meantime, I’d love to know where you shop for chocolate, both in the Philadelphia area and beyond. Leave a comment to let me know!

Carlino’s – both Ardmore and West Chester locations, PA

  • Ritual Chocolate (their 75% Balao bar and 60% Novo coffee bars are excellent).

Gryphon Coffee – Wayne, PA

Lolli and Pops – King of Prussia Mall

Malvern Buttery – Malvern, PA

Philter Coffee – Kennett Square, PA

The West Chester Ice Cream & Coffee Bar – West Chester, PA

Kimberton Whole Foods – Multiple locations

Martindale’s Natural Market – Springfield, PA

Whole Foods Markets – Multiple locations

Sazon Restaurant – Philadelphia, PA

Shane Confectionary – Philadelphia, PA

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What is Bean-to-Bar Chocolate? (2/2)

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Back in December 2015, the concept of bean-to-bar chocolate was put on the spotlight after Scott, a Dallas-based blogger, published of four-part expos茅聽demonstrating that the Mast Brothers company had not always been a bean-to-bar chocolate-maker. To meet early demand, Scott explains, the company used premade chocolate known as “couverture chocolate” instead of making it from the actual beans. While there is nothing wrong with using industrial chocolate in confections, the Mast Brothers had claimed to be bean-to-bar maker from their very early days. The聽chocolate scandal, which was relayed on national media, triggered a series of reactions that made one thing clear: there is a lot of confusion around what being a bean-to-bar chocolate-maker actually means.

If you are not clear on the concept yourself, take a moment to read聽the post I wrote to define the concept of bean-to-bar chocolate. However, the real challenge does not lay as much in explaining the concept as in determining聽why it matters in the first place. In this post, I’ll explain why the concept came to matter聽to me as a consumer.

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This chocolate bar by Cacao Atlanta has clear dark cherry notes

Before I started my 37 Chocolates challenge last year, the only chocolate I ever had came straight from the grocery store. For the past several years, I had resorted to chocolate to help me cope with stress at my deadline-driven job. I would buy 12-packs 聽of Theo Chocolate bars on Amazon (dark chocolate with cherries and almonds was a favorite), Endangered Species from the grocery store (I had a soft spot for the blueberry inclusion variety) or the 71% dark chocolate by Valrhona that I would stock up on at Trader Joe’s (I still really enjoy this bar). I would not spend more than $3.50 on a bar because I could not justify spending so much money on chocolate I would eat for stress relief purposes and, if I am really honest, mindlessly. In addition, I had already been disappointed by $8 bars marketed as “bean-to-bar” chocolate, which had then made one thing very clear: the term bean-to-bar is not a guarantee of quality. At that time,聽I made the decision of sticking with mass-produced but reliable and inexpensive bars than taking the risk of getting disappointed again.

Now, to be fair, all of the chocolate I ate at that point was technically bean-to-bar. However, I had noticed that the phrase typically found its way on the wrappers of handcrafted, smaller batch chocolate that you find in gourmet stores and independant coffee shops. As a consumer, I typically interpret that phrase as a justification of a higher price tag, since it’s a lot more work to make chocolate from scratch (i.e. from the beans) than it is to melt and remold industrial chocolate.

Time went by, I left the stressful job and started growing聽bored with my chocolate selection. While聽it felt safe to have a list of go-to brands and bars, that first bite of Twenty-Four Blackbirds Madagascar聽chocolate made me wonder what awaited me outside of my chocolate comfort zone. I had noticed the explosion of American-made, small batch chocolate and, surely, I thought, some of these bars had to be good. Plus, there seemed to be something about the whole “single origin” chocolate, even though I knew nothing at the time about the difference between Guatemalan or Peruvian cacao. Although I felt guilty at the idea of spending the equivalent of one hour of minimum wage into a 3-oz piece of indulgence, I grew increasingly curious and related聽the likely prospect of eating disappointing bars as the inevitable bad dates leading me to “the one.” So I took a leap, opened my mind (and yes, my wallet), and never looked back.

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Nightswimming, a beloved dark milk chocolate by Map Chocolate

Today, I mostly eat bean-to-bar, small batch chocolate and, while聽I still enjoy the occasional bar of Valrhona, here’s聽why there’s no going back.

First, I really appreciate knowing where my food comes from.聽Most small batch makers will disclose the country of origin of the cacao, some going as far as mentioning the name of the region or the actual estate where the cacao is from. Remember that 40% of the world’s cacao comes from West Africa, where the practice of child slavery is unfortunately still common on some plantations. When you buy industrially made chocolate, the odds are that the cacao used in the blend comes from West Africa.

Next, I learned to appreciate the concept of single origin chocolate, which is not commonly found聽in grocery stores. While my chocolate-making friend Robert Campbell swears by cacao blends, some single origin聽chocolates have completely blown聽me away. For instance, I love the light citrus notes of Madagascar chocolate, have fallen hard for the strong caramel notes of the Castronovo Sierra Nevada bar, and will聽never forget the distinct cherry notes of this Patanemo bar by Cacao Atlanta.

Finally, I discovered that some makers truly master the craft of making chocolate, going through every single step of the process, from the sourcing of the beans to the molding of the bars, with intention and care. These women and men know how to coax the flavors of each cacao, so聽the flavors will shine聽when hitting the tongue. Sometimes, the skilled maker is also an artist 聽who will聽infuse the bars with her or his vision of the world. In the right hands, the craft of making聽chocolate is elevated to the rank of art. Some bars will thus bring聽us to our knees and make our heart beat faster. And, sometimes, the chocolate will find such an echo in our soul that we may shed a tear. This is what Map Chocolate does to me. That is what an artfully crafted piece of chocolate can do to you. $8 for a piece of art? That’s what I call a steal.

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