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

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

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

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

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

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

Upcoming Zoom Chocolate Tastings

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

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

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

Tickets for this event are no longer available.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holiday Gift Guide + January 2021 Online Chocolate Tasting Schedule

This post contains affiliate links.

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

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

Upcoming Zoom Chocolate Tasting

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

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

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

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

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

October 2020 Online Chocolate Tastings with Qantu Chocolate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 sans 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’ll 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 😉

Photo credit:  Michal Lucky

Amen! You’ve been making chocolate for years now and I’m struck at how connected to your customers and general audience you’ve 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’d recommend to someone who’s 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, Marañón, Peru. This was one of our very first bars. The Marañón 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 Marañón dark and the Yirgacheffe coffee with peanuts!

You can still pick the Marañón 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 Marañón 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’s so viscous when it’s liquid, it can almost stand up on its own, but it’s well worth it.

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

If you’d like to be notified of blog updates and upcoming online chocolate tastings, please sign up 37 Chocolates newsletter. It’s 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’s 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 — 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 Éclat 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’t 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 Éclat 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.

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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 Eclat Chocolate 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 Eclat Chocolate’s website for free shipping on your purchase of $50 of more. The 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 Kimberly Yang 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 sign up to my newsletter!  It’s 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 with six chocolate tastings in nine days! 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, 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: wine & chocolate pairing event at Grace Winery in Glen Mills. 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 (!), 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’s really the best way to keep in touch.

Grid Magazine Cover Story + Upcoming Event

Cacao Selfie

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

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

Grid Magazine Cover Story

Grid Cover Story

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

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

You can read the Grid Magazine story here.

Upcoming Event

Unionville Saddle

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

WorKS
432 S. Walnut Street
Kennett Square, PA 19348

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Why did you change your packaging?

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

How do customers react?

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

What changes did you make to the packaging?

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

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

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

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

Testimonial #3: Wednes Yuda, Cokelat nDalem

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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