Posts Tagged ‘artisan chocolate’

Bullion bean to bar craft chocolate

February 6, 2020

What was I expecting? Coffee shop, large glass windows, beyond busy making chocolate?

I had trekked out from Sheffield city centre to Kelham Island, a desolate area of abandoned Victorian buildings, or at least caught a bus, choice of No 7 or No 8, driver not very helpful, had passed by where I needed to alight, with the eventual help of a lady at a flea market in one of the abandoned buildings, found Cutlery Works, in the far corner, a dim and dingy corner, Bullion, no one around, a sign instructing ding a bell. I decided to take a wander around the two floors of Cutlery Works, claimed to be the largest food hall in the North.

After a not very good coffee from Foundry Coffee Roasters, I returned to find now someone around.

A little crowd-funded coffee shop, not much larger than a kiosk, a seating area, and beyond, where bullion bean-to bar chocolate made.

I had encountered Bullion at Steam Yard, I was now at their chocolate making facility.

Three bars of chocolate, No 1, No 2, No 3. wrapped to look like bars of gold.

I thought Bullion, gold bars, expensive. No, though could be, cacao beans were used by the Mayans as currency, such did they value chocolate, which they consumed, not as bars or as chocolate, a hot spicy drink for their elite. Gold bars as currency.

Christopher Columbus encountered cacao beans on his fourth voyage, where he found to be used as currency.

Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, a seventeenth century writer and historian, gave an account of what the cacao beans would buy among the Nicaroa people.

  • one rabbit – ten beans
  • eight pieces of a local fruit munoncapot – four beans
  • the company of a lady – ten beans
  • a slave – one hundred beans

When Spanish Conquistadors raided closely guarded treasure houses they found not gold, sacks of cacao beans.

Chocolate was a gift from the gods. Mesoamerican cultures transformed cacao beans into a mystical drink that was a portal to other worlds and dimensions.

Chocolate maker Max introduced himself. Offered samples of No 2 and No 3 to try and apologised no No 1.

Taste was that of fruits, not added flavourings  God forbid, the natural favours notes of chocolate, each different.

I would have had a coffee, but no barista. I regretted my coffee at Foundry Coffee Roasters, as Bullion were sourcing top quality coffee from Caravan.

On offer various chocolate themed cakes.

I was looking forward to a cookie, but had sold out.

Currently experimenting with coffee infused chocolate. If chocolate good but not good enough to stand on its own merits.

The coffee beans ground very fine in an EK43 coffee grinder, then ground again with the chocolate.

I tasted. It changed the flavour profile of the chocolate, though not noticeable coffee.

Coffee grounds have their uses, add to compost heaps, add to cakes. I suggested try adding coffee grounds. Max was not sure due to water content.

I also suggested embed coffee beans on the top of the bar of chocolate to give a crunch and interesting texture when biting into the bar.

Another possibility chocolate coated coffee beans.

Food for thought.

Bean-to-bar chocolate is following in the footsteps of coffee. Direct trade, working with growers, fairer prices for quality, not the Fair Trade scam, transparency and traceability, care with fermentation to bring out the intrinsic flavours, roast profile to safeguard the intrinsic flavours.

I came away with a beautiful presentation box, into which exactly fitted three bars of chocolate and a bookmark with information on the chocolates. No number 1, but I was given a small sampler bar as recompense. I could have popped to Steam Yard but no time. Luckily I found I had No 1 from a recent visit to Steam Yard.

On the bookmark, details of the different chocolates.

There are as many wines as people, as many coffees as people, as many cacao as people.

We are used to seeing the name of the chateau or vineyard the year on a wine label. We are seeing the same with specialty coffee, starting to see with bean-to bar chocolate, the name of the farm, the grower, the variety, how processed, altitude, region.

Coffee has more flavour notes than red wine, chocolate more than coffee.

In the early 18th century,  in his Conversations with Eckermann,  Goethe said: ‘One cannot develop taste from what is of average quality but only from the very best’.

Taste is dictated by culture, some may think Cadbury’s make chocolate, to eat at McDonald’s is haute cuisine or that tax-dodging Starbucks serves coffee.

Paulo Coelho discusses with reference to fashion in The Winner Stands Alone, we all wish to belong to a tribe, dress in the uniform of the tribe, all look alike.

In Clear Bright Future, Paul Mason contrasts the diktat of  fashinistas with the individuals of the 1960s who led not followed.

Bourdieu calls this phenomena habitus, the influence upon us of our surrounding culture.

When the beans are roasted, be coffee or cacao, the roast profile is determined by the desire to bring out the intrinsic flavours of the beans. Which in turn are determined by the grower, the terroir.

The merit of a bar of chocolate is no more determined by how bitter, how dark, the percentage of cocoa mass,  than the merit of a bottle wine the alcohol content or a cup of coffee how bitter or strong.

The role of the barista source the best beans to deliver an excellent cup of coffee, that of the bean-to-bar chocolate maker source the best beans to deliver an exquisite bar of chocolate, no additives, no emulsifiers, only cocoa mass, cocoa butter sugar and maybe a little vanilla.

If do not wish to trek out to Kelham Island, then visit Steam Yard, excellent coffee and not only Bullion on sale but also Bare Bones.

Nearby Tamper Westfield Terrace on my last visit also had on sale Bullion, though I do not recall the complete range.

Both coffee shops serve excellent coffee.

Bullion is featured in From Bean to Bar, a whimsical tour of bean-to-bar chocolate makers in Great Britain.

Luisa’s bean-to-bar craft chocolate

January 18, 2020

It is not every day I visit a bean-to-bar chocolate maker, craft beer brewery and a coffee roastery all in one day.

I was on my way to Sneinton Market, an area of Nottingham I had not visited before, to find Blend, a coffee shop.

Sneinton Market fairly easy to find, head off straight down the street from Wired. The further I walked down the street the seedier it became.

Google Maps says five minutes, more like ten minutes. Though I did pop in Bookwise on the way. Never miss up the opportunity to look in a second hand bookshop.

Steinton Market something of a disappointment. I was expecting a vibrant market something like Trinity Market in Hull. I was also expecting fruit and vegetable stalls. But no, revamped units, now let to small businesses and start ups by the local council. A good idea. Though nearly everything appeared to be closed. And the area was dead, literally no one about.

And that was how I happened upon Luisa’s bean-to-bar craft chocolate, the jewel in the crown of Sneinton Market.

I popped in, but at a delicate process. I am asked can I pop back? No problem. I am off to Blend coffee shop, I will return a little later.

Sneinton Market is three rows of long low outbuildings. In the second row I find a craft brewery. I pop in. Not open to visitors, but I walk in anyway. I buy a can of expensive IPA, only a choice of two. I don’t like cans, I prefer beer in bottles.

In the third row I find Stewarts of Trent Bridge, a coffee roastery. Again I pop in. I am kindly shown around, not that there is a lot to see apart from a Probat coffee roaster.

Then to Blend, a coffee shop, the retail outlet for the coffee roastery. Something of a disappointment as a coffee shop, and an abysmal failure if to showcase the coffee roastery.

It is then back to Luisa’s. An interesting conversation on chocolate ensued.

I had tasted samples earlier. Another taste. Each one better than before. In essence it is wow. Mind blowing chocolate. I have never before tasted such exquisite chocolate, though I have yet to try Bullion or Bare Bones from The Steam Yard. One fruity, maybe cherry like, another more citrus. Mind blowing flavours. The last one I tried, as I hold it in my mouth, the flavour intensifies.

These are not added flavours, these are the intrinsic flavours of the chocolate. This is what chocolate should taste like, not like Cadbury’s.

A coffee analogy, coffee does not taste like the vile tasting undrinkable coffee served in Costa or Starbuck’s.

Specialty coffee has more flavour notes than red wine, chocolate more flavour notes than specialty coffee.

Why is the chocolate expensive? Why is red wine more expensive than plonk? Why does specialty coffee attract a higher price than catering supply commodity coffee?

We pay for quality. Wine from a vineyard, a chateau, a year, attracts a higher price than wine in a carton, the vineyard or chateau on the label.

The terroir affects what grows, what we drink, what we eat.

Commodity coffee, commodity chocolate, is quite literally that, a commodity, the price determined on commodity markets.

Fair Trade attracts a tiny premium, barely worth the effort, a marketing scam to make Middle Class shoppers feel good, but maintains farmers in poverty as there is no incentive for them to improve.

Direct trade, coffee roasteries are prepared to pay a premium for quality, they work in partnership with the growers to help improve quality.

The same is now happening in chocolate, single origin, direct trade, relationships with the farmers and growers.

After becoming an apprentice, I embarked on a journey of chocolate discovery. The whole experience of making chocolate from the raw cocoa bean to chocolate was captivating. It was fascinating to learn that each cacao bean has a completely different taste profile dependent on the terroir (soil, temperature, humidity, flora & fauna) and good farming practices. All these conditions plus the way the cacao bean is fermented plays an integral part in the end taste of the chocolate we eat and enjoy. Creating super premium chocolate is ‘all about the bean’. Without super premium beans to start, we can’t do our magic.

Bean-to bar starts at the farm.

Chocolate is rooted in the terroir, bean-to-bar chocolate makers have their fingers figuratively if not literally in the soil.

Luisa Vicinanza-Bedi has her fingers in the soil, she works in partnership with three female cacao farmers in Colombia.

She is also working in partnership with Future Food at University of Nottingham to analyse the microbes that form part of the fermentation of cacao beans to better understand how the flavours are produced.

Chocolate

  • cocoa mass – sugar – vanilla
  • cocoa mass – cocoa butter – sugar – vanilla

The purists will not allow vanilla, others say ok if enhances the quality of the chocolate. A moot point.

Always check the list of ingredients.

Quality chocolate will be bean-to-bar. Anything that is not bean-to-bar paying a lot of money for someone to buy in chocolate and turn into bars.

Always check the list of ingredients when buying what pertains to be quality chocolate. Is it bean-to-bar, direct trade?  Have cheap additives been added?

Soy destroys rain forests, likely to be gmo, most probably unless organic, sprayed with glyphosate. It could be worse. it could be palm oil. Green and Black chocolate is padded out with palm oil. Emulsifiers are used instead of cocoa butter. Why, because it is cheaper.

EU permits emulsifiers, USA does not.

Chocolate, high quality single origin bean-to bar chocolate has many subtle flavours, no quality chocolate maker would dream of adding additives. This would be akin to adding syrups to a good coffee.

And never be taken in by a black Great Taste award. It gets plastered on everything. It is absolutely no guarantee of quality. It may be on a quality product, but as likely not.

Luisa Vicinanza-Bedi has collected several awards for her chocolate, including the coveted Academy of Chocolate Gold award.

On display Cacao, a Standart clone, instead of coffee culture chocolate.

I suggested talk to Ideas on Paper to stock.

Inside Hotel Chocolat

January 21, 2019

Chocolate, the food of the gods, is from Theobroma cacao, a plant native to the Amazon Basin.

Chocolate was first used, not as we know it, a bar of chocolate, as a drink by early MesoAmerican civilisations.

The earliest known use was the Olmecs. A drinking vessel found at an Olmec archaeological site on the Gulf Coast of Veracruz, Mexico, dates chocolate’s preparation by pre-Olmec peoples as early as 1750 BC. Traces of choclote on a drinking vessel dated 1900 BC have been found on the Pacific coast of Chiapas, Mexico, a Mokaya archaeological site.

The Mayans and Aztecs used chocolate.

The Mayans had a glyph for chocolate, the Aztecs used cacao beans as a currency.

Christopher Columbus encountered cacao beans on his fourth trip to the New World. He found the natives who greeted him using the beans as currency.

Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés in 1519 encountered the Aztecs drinking chocolate at the court of Montezuma.

Bernal Diaz, who accompanied Cortés in the conquest of Mexico, wrote of this encounter which he witnessed:

From time to time they served him [Montezuma] in cups of pure gold a certain drink made from cacao. It was said that it gave one power over women, but this I never saw. I did see them bring in more than fifty large pitchers of cacao with froth in it, and he drank some of it, the women serving with great reverence.

Hernán Cortés took cocoa beans back with him on his return to Spain as a gift for the King.

Jose de Acosta, a Spanish Jesuit missionary who lived in Peru and then Mexico in the later 16th century, described its use more generally:

Loathsome to such as are not acquainted with it, having a scum or froth that is very unpleasant taste. Yet it is a drink very much esteemed among the Indians, where with they feast noble men who pass through their country. The Spaniards, both men and women that are accustomed to the country are very greedy of this Chocolate. They say they make diverse sorts of it, some hot, some cold, and some temperate, and put therein much of that “chili”; yea, they make paste thereof, the which they say is good for the stomach and against the catarrh.

The Spanish took chocolate back with them, it was still consumed as a drink, to which they added sweeteners and drank it hot.

It was the priests who first served hot chocolate in their monasteries.

The recent history of chocolate is that of using slave labour.

Chocolate grows as a pod, inside the beans, a cob of beans, strictly speaking seeds, surrounded by an edible fleshy fruit.

The pods are hacked off the tree with machetes, the pods hacked open with a machete, the seeds scooped out.

The seeds or beans are then fermented over several days, then laid out to dry in the sun.

Quality chocolate, and that immediately rules out Cadbury’s, now owned by Kraft, does not substitute. One of the commonest cheapest nastiest substitutes is palm oil.

If chocolate, or any product, contains palm oil, refuse to buy, complain to the retailer and ask not to stock, and complain to the manufacturer. Palm oil is bad for people and planet.

Quality chocolate use cocoa butter.

Quality chocolate is from artistan chocolate makers, expensive. Quality chocolate is often bean-to-bar.

Artisan chocolate makers are following the lead of coffee, direct trade, often single origin, cocoa beans roasted to bring out the best flavour profile of the beans.

In the late 1990s Scharffen Berger led the way in San Francisco.  In 2005 sold out to  Hershey for $50 million, who closed the headquarters in San Francisco, relocated to Illinois and changed their production methods.

Others, for example Dandelion, have followed, are now the artisan chocolate makers, purists, only use cocoa solids and sugar.

Chocolate has more flavour notes than coffee, which in turn more flavours notes than red wine. If Dandelion chocolate tastes of raspberries, it is not because they have added raspberries, or God forbid raspberry flavouring, that is the inherent flavour of the chocolate.

Industrial chocolate all tastes the same. We are used to chocolate tasting of chocolate.

The first chocolate was gritty, industrialisation of the process the roasted cocoa beans were crushed into a liquid.

Industrial chocolate, the beans over-roasted, tons of sugar added, vanilla if lucky, if not artificial vanilla, vegetable oils, to make a cheap uniform product.

Industrial chocolate has close parallels with commodity coffee, cheap low quality beans, over roasted to remove any defects, provide a uniform product that requires no skill in the brewing, burnt coffee is burnt coffee, tastes of burnt coffee, hence the need for added sugar or syrups as otherwise undrinkable coffee.

Chocolate is following the lead of speciality coffee, select the highest quality beans, work closely with growers, direct trade not the Fair Trade scam, care taken at all stages to bring out the subtleties of flavour, single origin, traced back to the farmer.

For example, a bag of Honduran coffee beans from Cartwheel Coffee, country of origin, the farmer, date when roasted, Q grade of the coffee.

To be called chocolate, in the United States, 100% cocoa butter must be used, the EU allows alternative fats not exceeding 5% of the total fat content. Within the EU this permits the use of cheaper substitutes to be used for cocoa butter, for example soy emulsifiers or even worse palm oil.

Quality chocolate, bean to bar, artisan chocolate, craft chocolate, purists for example Dandelion Chocolate, cocoa solids and sugar only, pragmatists, for example Patric Chocolate and Amano Artisan Chocolate add cocoa butter and vanilla if improves taste and texture.

Channel 5, Inside Hotel Chocolate, a two-part documentary on Hotel Chocolat, a retail chain, a hotel and a couple of restaurants.

At the time the documentary was filmed 100 shops, about to open 101, cocoa plantation on St Lucia in the middle of which is located their hotel, aptly named Hotel Chocolat.

An odd documentary fronted by a Richard Branson clone Angus Thirlwell, one of the two co-founders. The impression given, documentary made by Hotel Chocolat, then given or sold to Channel Five.

When co-founder Angus Thirlwell walks into a store and talks of an affront to good retailing, ‘no crimes against good retailing’, refers to a brand, we know he has lost the plot, just another High Street chain within a ghastly shopping centre with all the other crap corporate High Street brands, if a brand, all hype and zilch content.

Location of St Lucia, following the Richard Branson Virgin model, incorporate in an overseas tax haven to avoid tax?

Part One, very much a disappointment, an interesting insight into the company, but nothing about chocolate.

A store manager (now an area manager) drops chocolates on the floor, pops back in the box. In the design lab, women with long hair not tied back.

In the tasting room, takeaway coffee cups. Do they not care about the environment? The over packaging and plastic wrapped chocolates in their stores would indicate not.

A captive audience in an office environment, absolutely no excuse for takeaway coffee cups. The cups should have been ceramic cups or mugs, at the very least anyone with a modicum of businesses acumen would have had on the table branded KeepCup or ecoffee bamboo cups, and on sale in their stores.

Good news, Hotel Chocolat will be launching a bamboo cup.

In York, customers in a shop to taste latest chocolates, to provide valuable feedback. I was appalled to learn they have to pay.

At the hotel on St Lucia, to say the least bizarre a chef shipped out from England for a few days to design the menu. Everything on the menu infused with chocolate, even savoury dishes.

I quite like the idea of staying at a hotel on St Lucia on a cocoa plantation in the middle of a rain forest though a long way from the sea. But I would wish for authentic local dishes prepared by a local chef, not dishes dictated by a chef flown out from England, and no way every dish contaminated with chocolate or cacao, though the occasionally chocolate dessert would be fine.

What impact climate change on the plantation?

I paid a visit to a Hotel Chocolat store, a prime High Street location, lunchtime day after broadcast of Part One of the documentary.

The store was worse than I expected, hype and over packaging, bars of chocolate in plastic.

There are though plans to phase out plastic.

Would it not be better the chocolates on display, customer chooses what they want, pop in a paper bag? The norm in Athens.

I expected the shop to be heaving. It was not, I was the only customer with one young lady serving. I popped back late afternoon, store was still empty.

Contrast with what was shown in the documentary, busy stores half a dozen staff.

Although the staff were friendly and tried to be helpful, they were not knowledgeable about their core product, chocolate.

I was appalled to find bars of dark chocolate, wrapped in plastic, added soy emulsifier. The single origin, a wrap around paper, within, plastic packaging, had to withdraw to find any information on the contents. On none of the bars could I find the weight.

Contrast with dark chocolate from elsewhere, even M&S which makes no claim to be a chocolate company and guilty of excessive plastic for fresh produce, single origin dark chocolate, simple wrapped paper and no added emulsifiers.

The other big difference, the M&S single origin £2 for a bar of chocolate, Hotel Chocolat plastic wrapped cheap soy emulsifier to replace cocoa butter a couple of pence shy of £4 for a smaller bar of chocolate.

Did I wish for a VIP Card? Not really, as did not wish for junk mail. I was assured no junk mail, provides discount on expensive chocolates, and a free gift. Within days, received junk e-mail for a piece of junk I did not want, more household clutter. On leaving the store I was given a brochure for the same piece of junk.

Contrast Hotel Chocolat with the mouthwatering chocolates on display in Aristokratikon, a chocolatier in Athens.

As walk into Aristokratikon, a wonderful aroma of chocolate.

Also to be found in Athens, shops selling loose nuts, dried fruit and loose bars of chocolate or blocks of chocolate.

The same in Istanbul, mouth watering displays in the shops, including of course Turkish Delight, but not the low quality Turkish Delight found in UK.

Part Two of Inside Hotel Chocolat proved to be more interesting, the logistics how a chocolate passes from design to market. But again raised many questions.

Single origin chocolate from the St Lucia estate, the focus on the chocolatier, but if we draw a comparison with single origin speciality coffee, the fermentation, drying in the sun, roasting of the beans are all as important if not more important. It is the roasting of the beans that brings out the subtle flavour notes.

We heard nothing about these various stages a chocolate passes through.

If single origin from St Lucia is the flagship dark chocolate, why substitute soy emulsifier for cocoa butter? No bean-to-bar artisan chocolate maker would do this.

Strange the chef who designs the menu for Hotel Chocolat on St Lucia also designs their chocolate liquor.

Why start with whisky? Would not brandy or rum be a more suitable choice, or a neutral alcohol? Gin, the vile smell rules it out, on the other hand Hidden Curiosities Gin with its subtle aroma worth considering.

The tasting panel, yes experts on chocolate, but a liqueur? I would invite some one like Martin Hudak, Coffee in Good Spirits World Champion on to the panel, as he would be able to provide valuable insights.

A small business may start with a van or stall, move to a shop. Hotel Chocolat in reverse, a chain of shops, then a van.

Maybe a better idea a kiosk, something like FCB Coffee. But would also need coffee, then need a skilled barista.

There are close parallels with BrewDog. Two founders, passionate about what they do, turn that passion into a multi-million pound business.

Hopefully the full two-part documentary Inside Hotel Chocolat will be uploaded to vimeo.

When coffee shops first appeared across Europe they served not only coffee also drinking chocolate.

Today we are seeing drinking chocolate served in specialty indie coffee shops. These coffee shops are also where high quality chocolate can be found.

Edgcumbes Coffee have taken this a step further. They have paired with Noble & Stace who have added roasted coffee beans to their chocolate bars, which are then on sale at Edgcumbes Coffee. They also host Noble & Stace chocolate sessions.

We need to see more craft bean-to-bar direct trade chocolate makers. Too many are buying in chocolate, melting it down, remoulding their own bars.

What is not acceptable, Waitrose passing off an inferior Hotel Chocolate clone as their own, even down to the obscene use of plastic packaging. The same Waitrose that bags fresh produce in plastic, bananas on the shelves sweating and rotting in plastic bags.

We need to see more ethical stores like Hisbe, Infinity Foods, that support and partner quality local producers.

Vulture Capitalists have taken a controlling stake in Montezuma Chocolate, like Green & Black now owned by Cadbury’s, it is no longer an independent chocolate maker.