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!

November 2017 Library.png

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

Kennett Library
216 East State Street
Kennett Square, PA 19348

Chadds Ford

On 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 4:30-8:30 PM, you’ll find all the details 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

img_2076

I love with the quiet, romantic setting of Grace Winery in Glen Mills – Prince Albert of Monaco was recently there! – so I am thrilled to host a two-hour chocolate education and tasting workshop on 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

Please sign up to my newsletter to be notified of future news and updates.

Love Shack

img_2953
A piece of Love (Shack)

Happy Valentine’s Day, chocolate-lovers! This Love Shack bar by Map Chocolate is the perfect bar to eat today and not just because of its name. Let me explain.

This bar features Tien Giang cacao beans, which are sourced in Vietnam. I experienced the beans for the first time in a dark chocolate bar and all I remember is a strong (albeit nice) acidity with a faint chocolate flavor. It was good but it felt like it needed a loving arm to hold onto.

There is a belief in the chocolate world that you honor cacao by making dark chocolate with no inclusion so you can “let the beans shine.” Well, let me tell you something. I liked myself before I met my husband but I became a stronger, better person after I fell in love with him (and yes, he’d say the same thing about me.) Sometimes, cacao is like us and it needs a partner to make it stronger. If you dare to listen, it will tell you what it needs.

Last fall, I welcomed Map Chocolate’s Love Shack into my life. Mackenzie Rivers, chocolate-maker at Map Chocolate turned the Tien Gang beans into a work of art. She honored the Tieng Gans beans by giving them a partner to play with: lemon cookies. The cookies echoed the acidity of the bean, while bringing enough sweetness to balance the chocolate. Now that’s what I called “honoring the bean” and I am grateful for Mackenzie for this match made in heaven.

Map Chocolate is currently running a crowdfunding campaign to get equipment that will help her stay small (yes, I know), and I hope this post will encourage you to contribute. If anything, please watch the video because you can see me at the 3 min 29 second mark (just saying.)

To learn more about Map Chocolate, read my  interview with founder Mackenzie Rivers here.

What is Bean-to-Bar Chocolate? (2/2)

image
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 exposé 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 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 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 why it matters in the first place. In this post, I’ll explain why the concept came to matter to me as a consumer.

image.jpg
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  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, 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 bored with my chocolate selection. While it felt safe to have a list of go-to brands and bars, that first bite of Twenty-Four Blackbirds Madagascar 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 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.

image
Nightswimming, a beloved dark milk chocolate by Map Chocolate

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

First, I really appreciate knowing where my food comes from. 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 in grocery stores. While my chocolate-making friend Robert Campbell swears by cacao blends, some single origin chocolates have completely blown 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 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 the flavors will shine when hitting the tongue. Sometimes, the skilled maker is also an artist  who will infuse the bars with her or his vision of the world. In the right hands, the craft of making chocolate is elevated to the rank of art. Some bars will thus bring 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.

Did you like this article? If so, sign up to my newsletter to be notified of future blog updates.

Interview with Mackenzie Rivers, founder of Map Chocolate

Photo credit: Mackenzie Rivers
This interview was originally published on my French blog, but I think it will feel more at home here. Map Chocolate is one of  my favorite chocolate-makers. Any bars by Map Chocolate would be a wonderful introduction to the world of craft chocolate.
I discovered Map Chocolate while researching craft chocolate-makers on Instagram. At the time, the only chocolate I consumed was mass-produced, mostly because I had a few favorite brands and was not sold on the idea of spending $8-$10 on a small chocolate bar. However, I did want to make the leap to the world of craft chocolate, so I went looking for makers to lead me there. I turned to Instagram to discover the world of small makers. I saw grinders and melangeurs, shiny tempered chocolate and bloomed chocolate that reminded you of moon craters. I discovered LetterPress Chocolate and Dick Taylor, Violet Sky and Acalli.

Right when I started my “37 Chocolates” challenge, I stumbled upon Map Chocolate’s Instagram account. I fell in love with the maker’s sense of aesthetics, the composition of her photos, which was pretty, but not precious. Did I mention the captions? I read them like poetry.

When I went to Map Chocolate’s website, it became obvious that Map Chocolate was chocolate with a soul. Yes, its chocolate is made of organic cacao from small cacao farmers and no, it does not contain any lecithin, but that’s not all. I read the chocolate descriptions like chapters of a novel and, for the first time, I did not feel intimidated when reading about single origin cacao. I did not know a thing about the difference between a cacao from Belize, Madagascar, or Tumbes in Peru, but I suddenly wanted to know more. I knew right then that $8 would get me chocolate and a map I would gladly want to follow.

Please tell us about Map Chocolate. 

It was the beans that drew me in. I walked into the Chocolate Alchemy warehouse and was so shocked–I had no idea that chocolate did not just come from one type of cocoa bean. Or that there were so many types of beans, grown in so many places. The fact that there is not just “one” bean, from one place, is incredible, because it means there is not “one” chocolate. Which meant, why the heck does it all mostly taste the same? Aside from Theo, I had never tried craft chocolate, so I went from seeing the beans to saying “I want to make chocolate.”

To me, this is what craft chocolate offers: chocolate as something real, not the idea of chocolate as one standardized flavor. That was a year and a half ago; I made chocolate for nine months before I made the leap into opening my online shops. I gave a lot away to family and friends to try, my son and his friends ate it every day, I threw out mistakes, and loved every minute. I was at a crossroads in my life and during that nine months I started working for Chocolate Alchemy (the “father” of bean-to-bar craft chocolate) and every day I would ask John a question about beans or roasting, the chemistry behind chocolate, equipment, etc. He is like the Wikipedia of chocolate! I became immersed in the world of small batch chocolate making, and the world of beans. So I have been very fortunate to have people encouraging me and believing in what I am doing, willing to taste my chocolate, and to give me, a new chocolate maker, a try. And that is why my company is called Map Chocolate: map stands for Mackenzie and People. No boundaries, finding open roads, and each of us discovering our path. I am thrilled every time I send out a bar.

And as a side note: when I was looking for molds I wanted square ones. I found my molds and when they arrived from Belgium (possibly the smallest order they’d ever had, I bought a total of 3, and could make 6 bars at a time), the invoice had the name of the mold listed as Scheherazade. She is the narrator storyteller behind the ancient stories A Thousand and One Arabian Nights…that seemed like a good sign.

Photo credit: Mackenzie Rivers

Could you give us a glimpse into a day at Map Chocolate? Is there such thing as a typical day when you are a chocolate-maker?

Because I work part time at Chocolate Alchemy (John supplies and makes bean to bar equipment, beans + supplies, and information), as well as being the sole proprietor of Map I have to be efficient and try to stick to a schedule. I divide the basic chocolate making over 3 days, then fill in everything else in the mornings and evenings. One day is for roasting, making test batches, and making my sipping chocolates. Roasting is when I often get my inspiration for my bars, because at this point it is truly about the beans; I get the first hints of what chocolate the beans might become, and, for me, it is the area that requires the most skill and intuition. I use a barrel roaster, which also gives me a good way to gauge the roast depending on the aroma, and how it changes and shifts during the roast. The second day I reserve for tempering/molding bars, and nothing else; I still hand-temper, so there’s a lot going on that day. The third day is for wrapping bars and creating my wrappers, and then on day four I try to fill orders, box, and ship. The actual melanging/conching takes place 24/7. I built my website and do all the maintenance/uploading products, and I create my packaging, which I fit in early in the mornings. If I were an animal I would be a mule: stubborn, persistent, not afraid to work, a bit quirky, often with a mind of its own. But “Mule Chocolate” does not have the same ring 🙂

Photo credit: Mackenzie Rivers

Your sense of aesthetics and product descriptions are one of the things that set Map Chocolate from other chocolate-makers. Which are some of the artists and writers that inspire you?

Always in the back of my head is advice about writing by Ernest Hemingway: say one true thing. I want this to come through in what I am making, as well as what I write. I think his quote is from A Moveable Feast. I try to write and stay true to what the voice in my head is saying, and if it feels difficult or a struggle then I know that is a sign that I am not listening, and it isn’t true to my voice. I hope that what I write will open a window, not necessarily point a route to a certain path. As a chocolate maker I’m just a guide: I choose the bean, decide the %, craft it to what I think tastes good, and choose how it will be presented, but then it leaves my hands. Chocolate might be a small thing, but I think there is something amazing about it beyond taste that not only makes us happy, but carries within it the journey of the bean, and awakens memories. This is the story part of it for me, and what I love is that I might say “notes of lemon and birdsong” but then every person has their own notion of what that bird might sound like. Or maybe they will then ask themselves, what would that taste like?

Photo credit: Mackenzie Rivers

I love the seasonality of some of your chocolate collections – I have a soft spot for the Squirrel Stash – could you share some of the chocolate creations you are working on for this winter?

I love creating collections! They came about because the truth for me is that big bars of chocolate can be daunting, and not just the price. What if I take a bite and I don’t like it? what if I unwrap it and now I’m faced with this big bar and I don’t want it to go to waste? And when I was first trying craft chocolate, how was I supposed to choose an Ecuador Camino Verde over a Bolivia? What exactly does a Bolivia mean when it comes to chocolate? The packaging out there implies the buyer must already know what an Ecuador tastes like, and the typical tasting notes only help perpetuate and widen this chasm. There is no reference point; for me, when I eat chocolate it takes me somewhere, either back in time or clarifies the present moment. I want to share this with the people who are trying my chocolate. Also, the flip side of that is that I selfishly don’t want to just make (or eat) the same old thing, and I think chocolate is as seasonal as any real food. So, for this year I have a 25 piece collection for the holidays that is inspired by the winter sky (various hues of dark, a few flickers of bright, and alpenglow will all be in there) a small 9-piece collection inspired by Admiral Byrd called Packing List: Antarctica (he had chocolate and coffee on his packing list), and another small set called The Tip of the Iceberg which features nine different salts atop one origin.

Photo credit: Mackenzie Rivers

Craft chocolate can be expensive. In my experience, many people (I was one of them) feel intimidated by the idea of spending $10 for 2-3 oz of fine chocolate. Some argue their palate is not as refined to appreciate the experience of fine chocolate. As a craft chocolate-maker, what words would you have for someone who is about to dip their toes in the water of craft chocolate?

It all begins with intention. I think that is the gift of anything handcrafted: our intentions shape the world, so if we buy something handcrafted, or from a small farmer who might have actually been the person who lovingly pruned the apple trees, we are then acting out of awareness. It is the goal of mass marketing to get us to choose what we are told we should choose, to act out of habit and blindness.

As a starting point I would say choose based on the packaging, which might seem contrary to “it’s what’s inside that matters,” but if the outer layers are beautiful, thoughtful, have been created with details at the forefront, then that is a good indicator of what is to come inside.This is not to say fancy or expensive, just created with a respect for both the chocolate and the person who might enjoy it. I recently had a bar from a newer, small maker in Australia (Smooth Chocolator) and the packaging was simple albeit stunning. And the experience of opening it was so satisfying, just lovely; as wonderful as opening a new book and seeing the first page, reading the first sentence and having the words drawing you in, instantly. I could feel the maker’s care and love for what they are doing.

The “value” or reason to buy craft chocolate is because it is not just another bar on a long assembly line of sameness, but a glimpse into how the maker sees the world through chocolate. Craft chocolate provides not just the (hopefully wonderful) experience of tasting chocolate, but a real connection…that’s not something a factory does, or is intended to do. Because Map is so small, even in the world of small batch makers, it often feels like it is a tiny bird attempting to migrate and navigate amidst big jetliners and more than a few well-funded Lear jets, plus there is all that headwind from chocolate critics and “experts.” That said, what I believe is that the best stories travel far, and size has nothing to do with it.

You can watch my review of two of Map Chocolate bars here.

My Chocolate Plans for 2016

2015-11-09 16.39.08.jpg
A few wrappers of some of the bars I tried last year.

Happy new year, everyone, I hope January is already off a great, chocolate-y start! While 2015 has revealed my passion for craft chocolate, 2016 will be the year I will investing in said passion. Although I have learned a lot from  many makers last year, I have recently enrolled in the Chocolate Flavor 101 Class by Ecole Chocolat to learn more more about cacao production and chocolate flavor: have you ever wondered why chocolate tastes so different at different times of the day?

In 2016, also want to share my passion with more people. I have found the world of chocolate to be very intimidating to the non-initiated like I was was 6 months ago. In June of last year, I probably had the same questions you have had: why is craft chocolate so expensive? What is the big deal about single origin? Is my palate refined enough to perceive the “notes of hibiscus” mentioned on the chocolate wrapper?

60+ bars later, I now know that you should not worry about having a sophisticated palate to appreciate good chocolate and I am on a mission to convince you that appreciating craft chocolate is within everyone’s reach. How? Well, here’s the plan.

2015-11-29 15.54.19
A lovely bar by Map Chocolate

First, I will reopen my online craft chocolate shop this month. I will be carrying bars from two of my current favorite craft chocolate-makers: Map Chocolate will be back on my shelves, but I’ll be also welcoming a new maker just in time for Valentine’s Day. The selection process for these bars is simple. Are the flavors balanced? Does the chocolate give me chills? Also, do my friends like it? Yes, the bars do have to be made of ethically grown, organic cacao, but if the answer to all three previous questions is yes, into the shop they go!

let's meet

Next, I want to let you sample craft chocolate. Local Chester county friends can meet me from 2-4 at the Galer Estate winery in Kennett Square on Sunday, January 17th (this coming Sunday) to learn about my French book, using social media to promote your work, and my passion for chocolate. You’ll also meet Robert Campbell, Philadelphia’s only bean-to bar chocolate-maker, who will be there with his delicious chocolate bars  – wait until you try the Clasico! I hope to see many of you then but stay tuned for more chocolate-tasting dates. You can find more details here.

Finally, I’ll be sharing interviews with makers so they can share their answers to your questions on their chocolate-making process. Again, why is craft chocolate so expensive?!

2016 promises to be an exciting year and I hope you’ll follow me on this delicious ride.