Wine & Chocolate Pairing + Upcoming Zoom Tasting

A photo of an early wine & chocolate tasting by my sweet photographer friend Becca Mathias

It’s been weeks since we adjusted into a new normal, but every once in a while, I get a glimpse of life “before.” On Friday, for instance, I had a brief, masked meeting with a sommelier. We talked about my latest Zoom tasting, shared wine book titles (Wine Girl* is a must read) and favorite brands of gin (Forthave Spirits is my fave). The conversation was fun, it made me miss the camaraderie I built with wine industry professionals before COVID. 

The good news is that I’m playing with wine & chocolate pairings again, albeit on my own. It will be a while before we can safely gather in a room聽sans聽mask, so you can count on me for fun tastings in the fall and winter. I don’t always post about events on the blog, so please sign up to the 37 Chocolates newsletter to be notified of all future tastings.

* Affiliate link.

Upcoming Events

In-Person-ish Tasting: Self-Guided Wine & Chocolate Pairing

I’m thrilled to partner again with Harvest Ridge Winery in Toughkenamon, PA, on a wine & chocolate pairing on Sunday, August 23, 2020. Tickets are $25/person and feature four summery pairings, including a red sangria. Please note this is a self-guided tasting and that the number of spots is very limited for safety reasons. I won’t be at the event, but I did curate all of the chocolate. You can sign up here.

Zoom Chocolate Tasting: A Trip to Colombia

Join me on Thursday, September 17, at 6 PM ET for a tasting experience inspired by my trip to Colombia last summer. Tickets are $52/US household and include three (3) full size bars by Castronovo Chocolate, one of the most awarded chocolate-maker in the USA.

During this 90-minute tasting, you鈥檒l discover quirky facts about life on cacao plantations (spoiler: machetes are involved), learn about the indigenous people known as the Arhuacos, and eat through three single origin bars, each featuring a different Colombian cacao. This is my most popular tasting and the one featured on the Local Mouthful podcast! You can sign up below.

“You are very well suited to lead these classes. I appreciated your efforts to draw participation by all the guests and that your joyful personality really came through. This can be challenging with a virtual format but it worked because of you.” – C.


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: THANK YOU for your kind words and support during these very weird times. I’ve loved getting to know you through Zoom tastings and I look forward to seeing you again, whether on my screen or with a mask in town. Until then, please stay safe.

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.

If you鈥檇 like to be notified of blog updates and upcoming online chocolate tastings, please sign up 37 Chocolates newsletter. It鈥檚 the best way to keep in touch since I don’t always list events on this blog.

Classic Chocolate Truffles Recipe

Photo by amirali mirhashemian on Unsplash

COVID-19 threw a wrench in our holiday celebrations this year, didn’t it? Confinement orders translated into intimate Passover Seders. Bare grocery shelves will rob Easter dinner of its rich cakes. My solution to turn your next dinner into a celebration? Make a batch of truffles.

Truffles are within any home cook鈥檚 reach: if you can warm up cream, then you can make truffles. If you have kids, enroll their help! Once the ganache* is ready, little chefs will enjoy shaping the chocolate balls (yay for chocolate-covered hands!) and pick toppings 鈥 crushed pretzels truffles, anyone?

The recipe below is quite straightforward, as long as you follow one rule: don’t boil the cream. This will cause the cocoa butter to separate, resulting in a layer of fat on top of your ganache. If this ever happens, place the truffle mixture in the fridge until the fat starts just begins to harden, about 15 minutes. Use a spatula to incorporate the fat into the truffle mixture and place in the fridge for another 10 minutes. Phew, crisis averted.

I recommend using 脡clat Chocolate 71% chocolate chips (available at their West Chester store) which you can buy in 1-lb bags. The chips have a complex flavor with a nice acidity. If you can鈥檛 find them, use another high quality chocolate like Guittard Bittersweet Chocolate.

* Ganache is the French word for a cream and chocolate mixture. It sounds fancy, but it’s actually an old-fashioned way to say “idiot.”

Classic Chocolate TruffleS

Makes 20-24 truffles

Ingredients

100 g (3.5 oz or 1/2 cup) heavy cream
200 g (7 oz) 60-70% dark chocolate, finely chopped OR high quality chocolate chips from 脡clat Chocolate or Guittard Bittersweet Chocolate
For garnish: finely chopped nuts, cacao powder, vermicelli, or crushed pretzels

Preparation

Place the chopped chocolate in a glass or Pyrex bowl.

In a small pan, bring the heavy cream to a simmer. Watch the pot closely to prevent the cream from boiling.

Pour the cream over the chocolate, cover, and let rest for 2 minutes.

Using a spatula, stir the chocolate until the mixture is smooth and shiny.

Transfer to a rectangular Pyrex dish and let the ganache harden for 2-4 hours at room temperature or 30 minutes in the fridge.

When ready to shape the truffles, place each garnish in its own little bowl.

Using a small cookie scoop or tablespoon, scoop the ganache into tablespoon portion. Using your hands, shape into small balls, then roll in the garnish of your choice. This is the most satisfying, but also messiest part. Wear an apron if you must!

Serve immediately, preferably with a glass of Champagne, or store in the fridge in an airtight container. The truffles are best enjoyed at at room temperature.

To be notified of future blog posts and events, please sign up to my newsletter!  It鈥檚 really the best way to keep in touch.

Chocolate in the time of Coronavirus

My oldest daughter turned 13 last week. Soon after she was born, as a 34-week preemie, she was whisked into the NICU so her growth could be monitored. Her hospital stay was expected to last “5 days.” Instead, she was hospitalized for 28 days. During that time, I remember being sad, angry, and discouraged. I was also so busy obsessing at her discharge date that I’d forgotten to plan for our new life together. 

Those grueling four weeks taught me two valuable lessons: learn to surrender when you’re not in control but remember to plan for better days.

The past three weeks have been a whirlwind of event cancellations, Zoom-schooling, and batch cooking. When anxiety kicks in, I open the windows and let the blossoming trees remind me that life goes on.

Upcoming Internet Events

On Facebook

While waiting for the storm to pass, I’ve created new routines to create a sense of normalcy. Last week, I committed to go live on the 37 Chocolates Facebook page every Tuesday and Thursday at 3 PM ET until schools reopen. You can already watch the recordings of last week’s videos here and here.

Warning: you may order ALL the Chocolatasm Ginger Tiramisu bars after watching the second video.

Tomorrow’s live will exceptionally be held on the Facebook Page of My French Recipe, a cooking school based in Plano, TX. At 3 PM ET, I’ll be debunking 5 myths about chocolate, click here to add the event on your Facebook calendar.

On Instagram

I’ve convinced Christopher Curtin of聽Eclat Chocolate聽in West Chester, PA, to join me for a Q/A on Instagram this Wednesday, April 1 at 3 PM. Chris has run a successful chocolate business for 15 years and I look forward to him sharing his wisdom with us all. Until then, use code “STAYHOME” on聽Eclat Chocolate’s website聽for free shipping on your purchase of $50 of more. The聽Bourbon Pecan Cubes are especially delicious.

Support 37 Chocolates

I’m fortunate to have a roof over my head and food on the table. Without a physical shop or office, I don’t have to worry about paying rent or employees. The best way to support 37 Chocolates at this time is by ordering chocolate from your favorite chocolate-maker’s website. If you’re local, PLEASE consider supporting my existing tasting partners in the Brandywine Valley. Without them, there is no 37 Chocolates tasting.


If you are in the chocolate industry, now would be a good time to invest in yourself and watch my video training on how to “pitch, design, and lead a chocolate tasting and pairing event.” Use code “cheers” for 15% the list price. You could also take advantage of this time to discover the keys to crowdfunding success by watching recordings of the talk that Emily Stone of Uncommon Cacao, Enna Grazier of Enna Chocolate, and I gave at the most recent Fine Chocolate Industry Association Elevate conference. Part 1 is available here and Part 2 here — thanks to Thanks聽Kimberly Yang聽for recording these videos.


Thanks so much for your support, I look forward to “seeing” you on Facebook. Until, be strong, stay home, and remember that this too shall pass.

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

March/April 2020 Chocolate tastings in Chester County & Delaware + Hello San Francisco

** March 16, 2020 edit: most of these events are now cancelled because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Please be safe and I’ll see you in happier, healthier times. **

The past Valentine’s Day season was one for the books聽with six chocolate tastings in nine days!聽We paired chocolate with wine, of course, but also tasted two interpretations of the same wild Bolivian cacao bean at the Kennett Library on Saturday. If you missed the chance to geek out with us, don’t worry,聽you can watch the recording of the Bolivian tasting on Facebook.

French chocolate tasting at the Kennett Library (February 2020)

You can look forward to more chocolate pairings this spring, not only with wine, but with tea, beer, and coffee too! Until then, read Everything You Don’t Know About Chocolate in the New York Times. Melissa Clarks has done a superb job explaining highlighting what makes fine chocolate special. 

March events & tastings

Friday, March 6, 1:30 PM: Emily Stone of Uncommon Cacao and Enna Grazier of Enna Chocolate, and I will be sharing our Keys to Crowdfunding Success at the Fine Chocolate Industry Association’s Elevate Conference in San Francisco. Sign up information is available here.

Saturday, March 7 and Sunday, March 8: find me at the Castronovo Chocolate booth at the Craft Chocolate Experience at the Palace of Fine Arts. Ticket information available on the event’s website.

Friday, March 13, 6-8 PM:聽wine & chocolate pairing event at Grace Winery in聽Glen Mills.聽Tickets are $42.63/person and include 4 pairings plus one 1-oz bar to take home. Since our February 7 event sold out in 6 days (!),聽get your tickets now if you’re eager to join!

Thursday, March 26, 6-8 PM: beer & chocolate pairing at Braeloch Brewing. Tickets are $25/person and include 4 pairings. Tickets available on Eventbrite.

Photo credit: Manki Kim on Unsplash

Sunday, March 29, 3-4:30 PM: tea & chocolate Pairing at Brew HaHa! in Greenville, DE (yes, that super cute one). Tickets are $20/person and include 4 pairings. 4 spots are still available The event is SOLD OUT but you can put your name on the waitlist (this would make for a lovely mother-and-daughter date).

April tasting

Photo credit: Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Sunday, April 5, 3-4:30 PM: coffee & chocolate pairing event at Little Goat Coffee Roasters in Newark, DE. I’m thrilled to partner with Newark’s coffee darling on my very first coffee pairing event. 5 spots are still available, please click here to sign up.

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

Grid Magazine Cover Story + Upcoming Event

Cacao Selfie

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

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

Grid Magazine Cover Story

Grid Cover Story

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

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

You can read the Grid Magazine story here.

Upcoming Event

Unionville Saddle

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

WorKS
432 S. Walnut Street
Kennett Square, PA 19348

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

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

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

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

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

I wish every chocolate-maker and chocolatier would take a hard look at how their packaging conveys pleasure. Unless you’re marketing to chocolate fanatics like me, Costas Esmeraldas or Ucayali doesn’t mean much to most consumers, and neither does a term like 鈥渃onching.鈥 Conveying pleasure through other ways is key to grow the fine chocolate market and that’s why I shared4 changes I’d like to see in chocolate marketing聽last year.

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Why did you change your packaging?

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

How do customers react?

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

In stores, it jumps out at you. With a simple label in the corner with a catchy name and minimal description it doesn鈥檛 matter whether there are notes of plum or salmon or whatever… people want it because it鈥檚 pretty.

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

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

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

 

 

 

What changes did you make to the packaging?

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

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

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

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

Testimonial #3: Wednes Yuda, Cokelat nDalem

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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Photo by聽Becca Mathias Photography

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

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

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

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

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

I just downloaded and watched your tasting video, thank you!! I really struggle with tasting events, I spend all my time working with chocolate and tasting it but generally feel like I don鈥檛 know what I am doing! I took a master of chocolate flavor class and I still feel like an imposter when doing a class! ….

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

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

To be notified of future blogs posts and upcoming events, please聽sign up to my newsletter.

A secret chocolate project in Paris + an upcoming tasting in Kennett Square

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Catherine and Nathalie, owners of Kosak in Paris, France

About this time last year, I started hinting at a 鈥渟ecret project鈥 involving a gazillion chocolate samples and dozens of pages on Microsoft聽Word. Many of you inquired but I managed to keep it zipped.

Well, the time has come to spill the (cocoa) beans: knowing how classic chocolate descriptions bore me, Paris-based chocolate shop聽Kosak聽owners Nathalie and Catherine tasked me with writing 150+ chocolate descriptions and 30 maker profiles in a novel way. No cryptic tasting notes, but rather short, relatable stories about life, nods to a Swedish furniture catalog, and the occasional reference to poetry. All in聽French and English. You can already read the French versions now at www.kosakchocolat.com,聽as well as on their brand new distribution catalog.

The experience introduced me to the European bean-to-bar scene (and ALL of the chocolate on Kosak’s famed wall) and聽 stretched my writing skills.聽I鈥檓 forever grateful for the trust of Kosak and very proud to be part of this new chocolate journey.

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A peek at my recent wine & chocolate pairing event at Galer Estate.

On this side of the Atlantic, chocolate tastings are in full swing. On Saturday, November 10, 2018, at 10:00 AM,聽I鈥檒l be at the Kennett Library聽for another chocolate tasting workshop. Attendance is聽FREE but registration will be required on the聽Kennett Library聽website. You鈥檒l聽get to taste the impact of roasting the chocolate鈥檚 flavor through three bars from Fresco Chocolate Chocolate. Each will feature a different roast (light, medium, and dark) of the same bean and I think you鈥檒l enjoy the experience.

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

Not Too Hot For Chocolate: Summer 2018 Updates

That鈥檚 right, it鈥檚 never too hot for chocolate. Last year, I shared some tips on storing chocolate in the summer聽and I remain a fan of having bars shipped to my PO Box. Added bonus: no more judgement from the mail (wo)man. 鈥淵ou got more chocolate, huh?鈥 But if you prefer someone else to do the storing (馃檵馃徎鈥嶁檧锔), I鈥檒l be happy to share some bars at my upcoming talk next week. And if you鈥檙e planning a trip to Paris, scroll down for the name of latest (French) chocolate crush.

Upcoming Events

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On Tuesday, June 12, 2018, join me at The Market at Liberty Place in Kennett Square at 6 PM for a one-hour presentation聽on 鈥淏logging to Promote Expertise.鈥 I鈥檒l be telling the story of my 鈥37 Chocolates鈥 challenge while you nibble on Czech (!) chocolate. Hors d鈥櫯搖vres will be served, networking promises to be good, so I hope you consider attending. Registration is free but you must RSVP on the Kennett Office Hours website.

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Photo credit: Becca Mathias Photography

I鈥檓 currently running a Kickstarter campaign聽for聽the third printing of my food survival guide for French expats in the US (did you know pastry chef聽David Lebovitz聽called it an 鈥渆ssential read鈥 for French people coming to the US?!) In exchange of聽your $75 pledge, you鈥檒l聽get a seat at my next sit-down tasting at Galer聽Estate on Sunday, October 14, 2018.

The setting is magical 鈥 I mean, look at these photos ! – and non-francophiles will get three chocolate bars instead of my聽books. The campaign has met 103% of its goal and, if your budget allows, I hope you聽consider backing the project聽as I try to reach my stretch goal of $4,000. No contribution is too small and rewards start at the $5 level.

April in Paris + A New Chocolate Crush

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Attendees of my Parisian tasting in April 2018

Back in April, I collaborated with the lovely owners of聽Kosak 鈥 an ice cream and bean-to-bar shop in Montmartre 鈥 to hold my first chocolate tasting in Paris, France. Attendees were curious, savvy, and yet, very surprised by the diversity of flavors in bean-to-bar chocolate. Even in France, few people are aware that chocolate can taste like caramel or, say, raspberries.

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Antoine holding a (totally delicious) passionfruit nibs bar

The next day, I was fortunate to meet Antoine Maschi, co-founder of Chocolat Encuentro, one of the handful of French bean-to-bar makers.聽After聽running a chocolate factory in the Dominican Republic for five years, he and his partner Candice launched Encuentro in the outskirts of Paris last December.

Their range of bars may be narrow, but every single one is beautifully crafted.聽I鈥檓 especially impressed by the fierceness of their 脰ko Caribe. It boasts a chocolatey backbone with red fruit notes way stronger than I anticipated.聽It is, hands down, my favorite interpretation of the 脰ko Caribe beans.

And get this: each wrapper鈥檚 illustrated with a fresh cacao pod whose color is chosen based on the bar鈥檚 tasting notes: red fror red fruit, yellow for pineapple and mango, etc. How clever is that? Mark my words,聽Chocolat Encuentro is one maker to watch.

Find out more about Chocolat Encuentro in this 2鈥54鈥-interview and discover the bars at the following retailers in Paris… Or at Galer Estate in October!

A Facebook Group for Chocolate Lovers

The one thing better than having a passion is sharing said passion with like-minded people. That鈥檚 why I鈥檓 so grateful my friend Lilla of Little Bee Chocolates started a Facebook group where chocolate-lovers like us can share our latest chocolate obsession. It鈥檚 called Taste Better Chocolate and I advise you not to go there hungry.

Now tell me, what chocolate discoveries have you made recently?

Don鈥檛 miss my next events! Sign up聽to my newsletter聽to be notified of future news and updates.