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Taste. Better. Chocolate. Advent Calendar – You made it happen!

Today is very special. My dream project, the Taste. Better. Chocolate. Advent Calendar just got a huge step closer to become a reality. And this is only possible because of you all who supported my campaign.

lbc taste better chocolate advent calendar
THANK YOU!

So to all 131 of you who backed my Kickstarter campaign in the last 32 days, let me express my most profound gratitude by saying Thank You! And then I get back to work because the project doesn’t end here at all. Chocolates are still on the way to Little Beetle Chocolates HQ, boxes and sachets are being prepared, shipping dates are getting closer. I’m crazy busy, excited and literally still can’t believe that this happened! 🙂 Thanks again!

lbc taste better chocolate advent calendar

Also, I would like to take a moment to thank the 24 chocolate makers featured in the calendar for accepting my invitation, for delivering their highest quality chocolates and for their continuous support. In addition, without the help of my husband, my family and my closest friends I wouldn’t be able to pull this off either, so huge thanks to them as well (but no rest until 1 December, haha!).

lbc taste better chocolate advent calendar

MORE CALENDARS?

After the Kickstarter doors closed, there are still about 45 advent calendars remaining. I’m already negotiating with some retail partners but in case you want one or a few more calendars extra, reach out to me via email to arrange a purchase.
Disclaimer: due to the time restriction for shipping I can accept purchases from UK only. Thank you for your understanding.

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Taste. Better. Chocolate. Advent Calendar – 24 Makers (video-series)

I’m thrilled to let you know that my Kickstarter campaign for the Taste. Better. Chocolate. Advent Calendar is now 111% funded! With a few hours to go until the campaign ends on 9 October (23:59 CET), I’ll be able to send out these unique craft chocolate advent calendars to my lovely backers.

To bring the project even closer to you, I decided to create a mini video-series where I introduce the makers featured within the advent calendar. Each video includes 4 makers:

Episode 1: Duffy’s, Pump Street Chocolate, Chocolate Tree, Solkiki Chocolatemaker

Episode 2: Dormouse Chocolates, York Cocoa Works, J.Cocoa, NearyNógs

Episode 3: Ara Chocolat, Mike&Becky, Original Beans, Zotter

Episode 4: WKND Chocolate, Askinosie Chocolate, Raaka Chocolate, Endorfin Foods

Episode 5: Harrer Chocolat, ChocoCard, Fabric Chocolate, Jordi’s Chocolate

Episode 6: FriisHolm, Malmö Chokladfabrik, Vento d’Oro, Aelan Chocolate Makers

 

The kind of chocolate that they will have within the advent calendar will remain a secret until December when I will share with you day-by-day each new maker and new flavour. I’m so excited about this project and can’t wait to hear what you think about the chocolates within the calendar, so if you haven’t got it yet, jump on board and get one of the limited edition Taste. Better. Chocolate. Advent Calendars. Hurry up, as there are only 200 calendars made and 121 of them are already gone. The calendar is exclusively available through Kickstarter until 9 October, offering worldwide shipping.

I’d like to take a moment here to thank all my lovely backers and also everyone who shared my project with others either by talking about it or by sharing it on social media and in email. The positive response to my idea blew me away and I am intensely grateful for all your support!

Don’t forget that by getting a Taste. Better. Chocolate. Advent Calendar you not only help me make my dream project come true, but you also support 24 craft bean-to-bar chocolate makers (most of whom are micro-batch businesses), and through them you strengthen a more sustainable and more ethical cacao supply chain and ensure a better livelihood for cacao farmers around the world.

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Taste. Better. Chocolate. Advent Calendar is on Kickstarter

Hi Everyone,

Just letting you know that I pressed the LAUNCH button on my very first Kickstarter campaign on Friday 7 September and the project is already 18% funded!

I am so excited to share with you my dream project, and I hope you will enjoy looking through the project page to learn more about it. The Taste. Better. Chocolate. Advent Calendar is the first of its kind, showcasing 24 different chocolate makers and their 24 different chocolate samples from around the world. It’s the perfect way for you to countdown to Christmas and discover the wonderful diversity of craft chocolates every day.

Here is the project video that I created:

Make sure to check out all the amazing rewards that I organised for anyone backing the project. The tiniest support can mean that this project will be funded and that I will be able to create these unique Advent Calendars. Please share the project with your family, friends and colleagues, I’m sure there are many chocolate-lovers among them who would love to get their hands on these chocolates.

Thank you so much for being here and for your support!

Have a chocolatey day!

Lilla / Little Beetle Chocolates

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Flavoured Indian chocolates

After comparing 7 plain dark chocolates made with Indian cacao, I thought it would be interesting to see how they work with added ingredients. I have 4 bars in my stash, so let’s dive in!

1. Soklet 55% Milk Chocolate
Ok, so this is not a flavoured bar, just a plain milk chocolate, but I felt that it belongs here rather than with the dark bars. An interesting addition is ghee (purified butter) which is traditionally used in Indian cuisine. This is a tree-to-bar chocolate (the chocolate maker uses cacao from their own plantation) and all the ingredients are sustainably sourced. The packaging is minimalist and elegant black and gold. The bar is wrapped in a thick gold foil.

Soklet India
This bar was part of my Chocolate Advent Calendar in 2017 too.

The chocolate bar has a plain mould that can be segmented into small rectangles. With its 55% cocoa content, this dark-milk has a nice medium brown colour and smooth surface. The aroma is sweet and the texture is slightly more grainy than most European-style chocolates, it feels like soft icing sugar. The melt brings out notes of sweet hot chocolate, browned butter, clotted cream, dulce de leche. (Decadent.)

2. Earth Loaf American Barrel Aged

EarthLoaf Barrel Aged
Aging cocoa beans in whiskey, rum, bourbon barrels is an interesting trend, and this is one of the first bars that I try. The cacao (more precisely the cacao butter) gets infused with the aromas of the barrel, giving the chocolate a slight peaty, smokey note, that is already present in the aroma. This is the third bar from Earth Loaf that I try (see the previous two in this post), and the mouthfeel is instantly recognisable. The packaging is black with gold drawings. This 72% dark chocolate is made with beans from the Karnataka Estate that were aged in American oak barrels that previously held bourbon and single-malt spirit. So strictly speaking this is still a two-ingredient bar, but I wouldn’t say it’s plain.

EarthLoaf Barrel Aged

I have tasted whiskey and rum but I’m not a big fan of strong spirits so I can only say that the chocolate pairs really well with these spirit barrel notes. The original woody notes of the cacao are further enhanced and accompanied by this peaty, slightly smokey note of the spirits creating a perfect balance of flavours. This pleasant side-note lingers in the mouth long after the chocolate has been swallowed. Beautiful pairing that I would suggest to people who are already familiar with single origin chocolates and who can appreciate the added gentle flavour notes, and of course people who like spirits.

3. Choxco Salted Jaggery Banana Coconut and Fennel

ChocXo India

The same base chocolate that I tasted in my week of India post received a generous amount of interesting inclusions. Just look at this chocolate! Jaggery (sugar) coated banana chips toasted with salt, coconut and fennel. This made me so curious to try it straight away. Chocolate, banana chips and coconut makes me think about tropical trail mixes, fennel is one of my favourite spices, so I was intrigued how it pairs with the other ingredients. The aroma of the bar doesn’t give away too much information about what’s inside.

ChocXo India

Due to the amount of inclusions, this is definitely a chocolate to chomp at the beginning at least. It melts easily, leaving behind all the lovely crunchy and aromatic inclusions. The chocolate itself is really just a perfect base for the inclusions to shine through. The banana flavour is not dominant, I got more the taste of the coconut and the fragrant fennel which btw works brilliantly here. Maybe the ratio of chocolate to inclusions could be slightly different so that the inclusions disappear at the same time as the chocolate. Otherwise, it’s a perfect snacking and sharing chocolate (if you do :D).

4. Earth Loaf Caramelised Mosambi and Caraway

EarthLoaf Mosambi

The most aromatic of the four bars is definitely this one, which is the fourth Earth Loaf bar in my stash. The wrapper is the same as the barrel aged only this is vibrant yellow already giving a hint about the citrusy flavours inside. First, I had no idea what Mosambi was, but thankfully the back of the wrapper explains that it’s a sweet lime. The inclusions are beautifully arranged on the back of the bar making sure that you get a piece of lime and some caraway seeds in every bite.

The chocolate is a 59% rich dark that creates a lovely base for these refreshing inclusions. Sadly my teeth gave up on chewing the Mosambi pieces, they dried out too much in my opinion and became very hard. They still gave away a pleasant sweet citrus flavour that’s enhanced by the fragrant caraway seeds. The whole seeds also make the mouthfeel interestingly textured, crunchy along with some caramelised sugar crystals from the Mosambi. Although caraway is probably a rarely used spice in chocolate (I’ve only had it once in a milk chocolate by the Belgian chocolatier Laurent Gerbaud) it surprisingly works very well. Shame for the hard lime pieces, otherwise it would be a perfect summertime chocolate bar that tastes like a refreshing botanical cocktail.

EarthLoaf Mosambi

That’s all for now about Indian chocolates. Time for me to gather chocolates from another country, and I think I’ll choose Peru for next time as I have quite a lot of bars from different makers with this origin.

Hope you enjoyed, and let me know if you try any of the above-mentioned bars and what you think about them. Also feel free to suggest other makers or bars for me to try!

Have a chocolatey day!

x

Lilla / Little Beetle Chocolates

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Taste of India

Collecting lots of chocolate bars from around the world, my stash sometimes often grows to an unmanageable size. To help reduce this amount, I decided to do comparative tasting sessions based on various criteria. Instead of just reviewing one bar by one maker, I will post about chocolates made from the same origin (by different makers), or the same maker (different origins), or made in the same country (made in Belgium, South Korea etc. – different makers, different origins).

indian chocolates
Representing India

This post is compiling tasting reviews of bars made with Indian cacao which is a relatively new origin among craft chocolate makers. Although cacao has been cultivated in Southern India for about 200 years, it was mainly used by big industrials, and from the 20th century mainly by Cadbury. The originally planted criollo varieties have been swapped for higher yield forastero varieties serving the bulk market (producing less than 1% of the world’s cacao). Small-batch bean-to-bar producers have only started to discover Indian cacao in the last 4-5 years. The interest for this origin is constantly growing, so I thought it would be worth comparing different bars to see whether there are some unique flavour notes specific to this cacao growing area. Nowadays you can even find tree-to-bar chocolates, Soklet is one of the most well-known brand to make chocolate from their own beans.

To organise this horizontal tasting, I created a randomised list of the chocolates in my stash to try each day for one week. The list is as follows:

DAY 1 : Earth Loaf 72% Kerala – made in India

This Earth Loaf bar is wrapped in a thick craft paper that almost feels like a fabric. Could the small brown flecks be cacao husk pieces? That’s my bet. (Update: David, one of the makers confirmed that they use traditional Indian handcrafted paper enriched with cocoa husk!) Underneath, there’s a thin, vacuum-sealed silver foil. The chocolate bar has a warm, dark-brown colour with some dullness on the top side (it’s probably my fault that I left it out in a relatively warm room). Very easy to segment into squares, it is not too thick. It has a slightly soft snap (again, could be due to being in a warmer room), but the breaking line shows a perfect temper. The aroma is predominantly rich chocolatey. Upon melting, it becomes thick and creamy like a rich hot chocolate. The overall flavour is like an intense chocolate brownie, very mellow, no bitterness or astringency at all. This base note is accompanied by hints of sweet red fruit notes, like cherries. Very pleasant, like a dessert.

earth loaf kerala
click here for more photos

earth loaf bar

DAY 2 : Chocolatoa 70% Kerala – made in Belgium

Not all Belgian chocolate is created equal. Thankfully, there’s a growing bunch of artisan makers who are working hard on putting the craft back into chocolate and showing people the real flavours of chocolate. Mario Vandeneede is one of these makers using cocoa beans from Madagascar, Costa Rica, Tanzania, Dominican Republic, Ecuador or in this case India. The packaging is simple and practical. Personally I really like these resealable pouches because they protect the opened bar from odours and heat, and they are not making a mess in your bag 🙂 The name Chocolatoa refers to an Inca princess, Toa who we can see in the round logo. She represents the philosophy of joined forces for success, which Mario shows by working closely and in an ethical way with the cocoa farmers to create his high quality chocolate bars. The back label is mainly in Flemish, which I only understand partially thanks to my faint German knowledge (and thanks to Google Translate :D).

chocolatoa
click here for more photos

As I opened the pouch, there was already a strong aroma escaping, which is a very good sign. Sniffing inside (not very professional, I know, as the packaging imparts some of the aroma) the aroma of freshly roasted fruity cocoa beans made me want to jump right inside. The 40g slim rectangular bar is segmented in an interesting way resulting in strips rather than squares. The colour is medium dark brown with a nice sheen. Perfect snap and texture. During the very creamy melt the chocolate releases intense fruity notes, sweet and slightly tart bouquet of red berries like raspberry and sour cherry. Still quite mellow and has an undernote of a rich chocolate cake, but that comes out only towards the end and in the finish. A very bright and pleasant bar.

Interestingly, this bar is also a two-ingredient bar like the previous one, yet the flavour and texture are completely different. This really shows how the choice of ingredients (coconut sugar versus regular sugar), roasting (or not roasting), and some other factors like length of refining can add to the final flavour even if the cocoa comes from the same origin. That’s also the reason behind this series of tastings where I will show chocolates from the same region made by different makers, as we can’t really generalise the flavour notes of a certain origin. There are of course tendencies (fruity, earthy, nutty, spicy), but in the end, all chocolates will come out unique due to all these variables.

DAY 3 : Amazing Cacao 70% India – made in Russia

Love the colourful packaging of Amazing Cacao that is full of interesting information about the origin and the direct trade ethics. The front is decorated with indian fabric motifs and the image of a couple eating chocolate. The entire packaging is bilingual (Russian – English). Inside, we can read about the local cacao farms and their circumstances (no electricity, everything relies on solar energy), a detailed map of the region and a photo of a farmer couple with buckets of fresh cocoa beans. The packaging is recloseable (always a plus!) and the bar is protected within its own plastic box. The custom mould is segmented in various 3D triangles with the logo in the middle.
The dark brown bar has a perfect appearance and sharp snap. It has a creamy melt that brings out woody flavour notes like fresh wood shavings (timber is suggested on the back of the bar) with some minor acidity.
This one is the mellowest of the three bars I tasted so far. Very approachable for people new to craft chocolates.

amazingcacao
click here for more photos

DAY 4 : Trinity 70% India – made in Belgium

This bar is special because it was made by not one but three Belgian chocolate makers, hence the name Trinity. A collaboration of six hands to create a chocolate made from South-Indian cacao beans. The bar was exclusively available at the Salon du Chocolat in Brussels in Spring 2018, and I received it from my Belgian chocolate friend Céline as part of our chocswap. The packaging is colourful on the front and monochrome inside. They crammed as much text as possible on the inner three sides to give plenty of information about the growing region and the chocolate making process. They included a map and an “identity card” listing the main characteristics such as detailed origin, type of cacao, harvest year, recipe, roasting and conching. Although, unless you have some knowledge about the chocolate making processes, it won’t tell you much knowing that the cocoa was roasted for 1 hour at 120°C. While I like geek info like that, I think “light roast”, “medium roast” might be easier to understand for enthusiastic amateurs.

trinity
click here for more photos

The colour of the bar is medium brown, it could almost be mistaken for a milk chocolate. Smooth, glossy surface with a few air bubbles on the edges. Perfect snap and very creamy melt (note the +10% added cacao butter). Lightly sweet aroma followed by an extremely mellow flavour profile. Notes of raisin and wood, well-balanced acidity and a bright but relatively short finish. Based on the previous three bars this one might have lost a bit too much of its fruitiness. Pleasant but not very memorable.

DAY 5 : Earth Loaf 72% Malabar Forest – made in India

Another single-origin bar from Earth Loaf made with cocoa beans from Malabar region, more precisely from two villages situated in protected forest land. According to the makers, they use the same beans as the Amazing Cacao bar I tasted on Day 3.

The packaging is the same as the Kerala bar, with a different illustration and sticker. The bar has a dark brown colour and a faint citrus aroma. The slow melt results in a thick, creamy mouthfeel, but it’s less “sticky” than the Kerala bar was. Light citrus notes mix with a woody undernote (unlike the fresh wood shavings note in the previous bars, here it is more an old oak note, or something more mature), low acidity. The finish tastes like a lime caramel in dark chocolate.

earth loaf malabar
click here for more photos

DAY 6: Frederic Blondeel 70% India – made in Belgium

I bought this bar by Frederic Blondeel specifically for my Ecole Chocolat Mastering Chocolate Flavour course as we had a tasting assignment dedicated to cacao varieties, so I had to find bars made with Forastero cacao. Unfortunately there’s not much information about the bar itself due to the very basic packaging. The 45g bar is segmented into 5 strips with the maker’s name engraved into each of these. The thin cellophane bag has a transparent sticker showing the origin and percentage and some basic info in French and Flemish.

“100% Forastero: All my childhood” was a motto intriguing enough for me to buy this bar. Our childhood memories of chocolate, our first taste of it, our favourites, chocolates that we were gifted at our birthday, or that we secretly received from our grandparents, these are important flavour memories. This bar has a nice, shiny appearance, warm dark brown tone and it has a perfect snap. It is quite thin so melts easily on the tongue. The added cocoa butter and soya lecithin create a super smooth and creamy mouthfeel. The aroma is sweet and fruity. Upon melting, it is surprisingly sweet and chocolatey, I would probably guess that it is around 55% rather than 72%. Mellow, rich and pleasant chocolate flavour but without any other particularly strong note. Very light acidity, no bitterness.

fblondeel
click here for more photos

DAY 7 : ChocXo 70% Anamalai – made in USA

I received this ChocXo bar from Patricia (@myic2016) in our third chocswap along with more products from this brand as she visited their factory-store. The packaging is modern and simplistic with only the most important information. I like the way they used a bit of colour to imitate colourful Indian fabrics. Inside the resealable pouch the bar is wrapped in thin silver foil. The bar has a smooth dark brown surface and perfect snap. It has a very faint chocolate aroma. Quite slow to melt, the mouthfeel is creamy and smooth. The melt releases mild notes of roasted coffee, rich chocolate cake and hints of tart fruits in the finish. Moderate acidity and pleasant clean finish.

chocxo
click here for more photos

Final thoughts about Indian chocolates

First of all, thank you for reading so far. After an entire week of chocolates made with Indian cacao my general impression is that all of these bars were mellow and very approachable. They don’t have bitter or astringent notes, so they are perfect for people who are just starting to discover craft chocolates or higher percentage dark chocolates in general. The flavour notes are mostly familiar, like a rich chocolate dessert, in some cases with a nice fruity or woody note that balances very well. Overall, all of the above-mentioned bars were pleasant, but for a more experienced taster like me, some of them were lacking a bit of character. For this reason, I preferred the ones that presented bolder, sharper fruity or woody notes, like the bars from Amazing Cacao, Chocolatoa and Earth Loaf. It was also very interesting to see, that even though almost all 7 bars were the same percentage (70-73%) and either using 2 or 3 ingredients only (added cacao butter), the mouthfeel and texture of each bar was so different.

Next up

In a follow-up article I will show you a few bars that are also made with Indian cacao but with some added flavours to see if the added ingredients make any difference.

Thanks for reading, have a chocolatey day!

x

Lilla / Little Beetle Chocolates

 

Sources:
Dom Ramsay: Chocolate, DK, London, 2016, p 94.
https://www.chocolatiers.co.uk/blogs/guides/56415365-indian-cacao

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Top 7 Valentine’s Chocolate Picks – UK

Even before the big Christmas rush is over, chocolate makers and chocolatiers are already busy designing new products and exciting flavours for the next big event in the chocolate calendar, Valentine’s Day. Still, this is one of those days that always seems to be quite far ahead, and suddenly you look at your calendar, and it’s: tomorrow!? So in this post I will try to remind you just a little bit ahead of the last minute and show you the products that I found the most interesting among the UK Valentine’s chocolate offer. Forget the boring dessert boxes and give your loved one something better to indulge on. (And yes, your loved one could be yourself too ;))

Dormouse Chocolates – anatomical chocolate heart

Healthcare professionals, biology addicts will surely appreciate this anatomical heart made out of single-origin bean-to-bar chocolate. Available in Peruvian dark and milk, and caramelised Madagascan white chocolate.

dormouse heart
photo credit: Dormouse Chocolates

Zara’s Chocolates:  filled hearts & Valentine’s collection

These pretty half hearts are filled with either hazelnut praline or salted caramel and available in dark and milk chocolate. Perfect size to share (if you do). The Valentine’s filled chocolate collection also includes some interesting new flavours such as a caramel with cep mushroom, a rose and lemon turkish delight truffle, honey and whole almond, espresso martini and they come in a beautiful red velvet heart box.

zarasheart
photo credit: Zara’s Chocolates
zarasbox
photo credit: Zara’s Chocolates

J. Cocoa: Hearts in a heart

Lovely Nicaraguan cacao is used to make these hollow hearts, Nicalizo for the milk and Rugoso for the dark version. Both decorated with edible gold leaf and holding two smaller hearts, one filled with caramelised milk chocolate ganache and the other with fresh raspberry jelly.

jcocoa
photo credit: J. Cocoa

Solkiki: vegan white (pink) chocolate bundle

No more trouble if you’re loved one is vegan and you struggle to find non-dairy chocolate delights for them other than dark chocolate. Solkiki specialises in vegan, ethically and directly traded bean-to-bar chocolates and they have some amazing milk and white versions. Their Valentine’s offer includes two special edition vegan white chocolate bars: Strawberry Meringue Cream and Raspberry.

solkiki bars
photo credit: Solkiki

Dulcedo: Valentine’s filled chocolate collection

A local pick is my new favourite dessert kitchen in Cambridge, Dulcedo. They have amazing pastries and cakes on display every day along with a wide selection of fresh macarons, filled chocolates, nougats, honeycomb and a variety of dragees (my favourite is the chocolate covered coffee bean with cinnamon). Their Valentine’s filled collection includes hearts, lips, lipsticks with flavours such as blueberry, salted caramel, gin&lemon, strawberry crunch and orange.

dulcedo

B is for Brownie: fudge heart brownies

More into cakes? Up your beloved’s usual brownie experience with this single origin chocolate brownie topped with generous scoops of muscovado fudge, now heart-shaped, and always freshly baked to order.

bisforbrownie
photo credit: B is for Brownie

Gift Voucher from Little Beetle Chocolates

If you still can’t make up your mind or you’re truly late (it’s already the 14 Feb and you’ve got nothing), you could get a gift voucher (I can send you an e-voucher too), so your beloved can choose some chocolates for themselves from my webshop. Or even better, why not book both of you on my upcoming Craft Chocolate Club tasting event on Saturday, 17th February 2018!

LBC Gift Voucher

Special Offer: use VAL18 at checkout for a ‘buy one get one free’ offer to this specific event.*

choc bars

I hope I gave you some good gift ideas. And of course Valentine’s Day doesn’t mean that it’s the only day we ought to show our love for each other (including partners, family and friends), so let’s keep sharing the chocolate love! I’ll make sure you Taste. Better. Chocolate. if you follow my journey. There are some very exiting things ahead. Stay tuned!

cocoanibs
Sharing the chocolate love

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. I didn’t receive any money or products in exchange for featuring these brands. The products listed might be subject to availability.

*offer valid until there are available places left, valid only for Craft Chocolate Club on Saturday, 17th February 2018.

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Some like it hot (chocolate)

hotchoc1

Without even setting a goal for it, I just happened to follow a morning routine from the 1st of January: ramble through my stash of craft chocolate bars or hot chocolate flakes, choose one, decide whether I’ll use milk or water, grab my frother and after a few minutes I’d cozy up with my hot chocolate before starting the day.

Think about for a second, what comes into your mind when you think about hot chocolate? My earliest memory is from my childhood when my grandmother used to prepare a traditional hot cocoa drink using unsweetened cocoa powder, then there was the rise of the instant cocoa powder (‘blame the bunny’) that even I could mix up with cold or hot milk. For a long time, hot chocolate meant a cocoa powder based drink, although I sometimes sacrificed a leftover Easter bunny or chocolate Santa, only issue being that they never mixed well and were way too sweet.

An interesting language fact is that in Hungarian we have two separate words for hot cocoa drink and hot chocolate. The former is referring to the cocoa powder-based drink, the latter to the drink made with hot chocolate mix or real chocolate. So when travelling abroad, I had many disappointing experiences of ordering hot chocolate or chocolat chaud, and instead of a creamy, thick hot chocolate I ended up with a hot cocoa drink. The situation is further complicated by the use of ‘sipping chocolate’ and ‘drinking chocolate’ in English, these are both used to describe the chocolate-based drinks and not hot cocoa drink.

choctreeperu
Hot chocolate made with Peruvian single-origin, bean-to-bar chocolate shavings by Chocolate Tree.

When you realise how endless are the possibilities with using real chocolate to make your hot chocolate instead of using cocoa powder it’s a real game changer. Of course, the craft chocolate bars that you collected during chocolate shows are more expensive than a tin of cocoa powder or hot cocoa mix, I was also quite reluctant at first to melt them down into a drink. Let me share with you a few tips and basic recipes that will certainly give you a delicious chocolate drink that you won’t regret.

‘Frankencocoa’ – recycled chocolates

The term “Frankencocoa” popped up on Instagram coined by Jess (@seattledessertgeek) referring to hot chocolate made with a mix of different pieces of chocolates, basically a “house blend” of your own. It’s a great way to use up odd ends and small bits of chocolates or bloomed pieces that just linger around in your cupboard or box and wouldn’t give you a great satisfaction if you’d decide to just eat them on their own. Bloomed chocolate especially has a very dry, chalky texture due to fat migration (cocoa butter separates and moves to the surface of the chocolate creating white spots). These pieces can get a second chance of revival in the form of a hot chocolate. You can also play around with different types, percentages and origins and see how the overall flavour changes from one recipe to the other. For example, instead of adding sugar, you can sweeten your drink by mixing in some white chocolate, that will also make it creamier.

frankencocoa
“Frankencocoa” blend with added cornflour for extra thickness

Taking it one step further, my friend Patricia from Eating the Chocolate Alphabet started to create what she calls a Chocolate Solera. Basically she collects a piece of all the unflavoured chocolates she tries throughout the year, and on 1st January 2019 she’ll whip up a gigantic Frankencocoa. I can’t wait to see the final mix and the resulting drink!

Thick or thin?

It’s all a personal preference whether you like your drink to be light, like a hot cocoa drink or thicker and creamier, more like a pudding. I personally prefer the thicker versions, but if the flavour is right, I don’t mind a lighter version either. Thickness and creaminess are easier to achieve with a milk-based drink due to the higher fat content. For extra creaminess, try adding some double cream to your recipe. Playing around with chocolate to liquid ratios, you can even do a ganache-based hot chocolate using only double cream and chocolate, this creates a decadent version and less is probably more, so opt for a smaller mug or teacup when serving as it can be particularly filling.

I firmly recommend you to use a mini-whisk or even better a milk frother to mix your hot chocolate as you need to create a perfect emulsion for a delicious result. A simple spoon is unlikely to do the job (I know this from my failed attempts as a child to melt down my Santa-army) as you need friction. Just like making a mayonnaise or vinaigrette, you’re mixing water with fat, so the whisk helps to break down each element’s molecular structure and help them bind together into an emulsion. The result is a homogenous, creamy liquid instead of tiny chocolate particles floating in milk (which happened to me as a child). Also, the frother just makes it so much fun to prepare the hot chocolate. I love how it swirls the liquid and I could watch for hours the foam that forms on top. I also noticed that the fresher the milk, the thicker and more stable your milk froth will be. Once I frothed for so long, and incorporated so much air into the milk that the entire mug of hot chocolate (a more liquid version) became a chocolate milk foam and more than doubled in size. I also use this little gadget when making water-based hot chocolate. In fact, I think it is even more important in this case. Funny to compare the difference of foam bubbles on top:

arachocolatchaud
Water-based (vegan) hot chocolate in Paris at Ara Chocolat made with Costa Rican dark chocolate.
milkhotchocolate
Bubbly foam on top of a hot chocolate mixed with whole milk.

Looking back to the traditional Mayan and Aztec versions of hot chocolate or recipes that are used up to now in Central and South America, the addition of cornflour/cornstarch is an easy way of thickening up your recipe without it becoming heavy. Depending on your recipe, you can end up with a very thick, pudding-like hot chocolate, that is even delicious as a treat when cold.

hotchocolateyork
Spanish-style hot chocolate made with 85% Colombian chocolate at York Cocoa House with a complimentary white chocolate button.

Choose your base

Then, there’s the big question: what base to use dairy or water? Of course, again, it is a personal choice. The main difference here is that because water has no fat content compared to milk (or milk alternatives such as rice/almond/hazelnut/coconut milk), in order to get a creamier hot chocolate, you need to increase the amount of chocolate and decrease the amount of liquid. The advantage of water-based hot chocolates is that you don’t compromise on the flavour, so make sure that you choose a very good quality chocolate. The nuances and unique flavour profile come through beautifully, but so do the flaws. Consequently, if you want to hide off-flavours, bitterness or unpleasant notes, using milk will help you to achieve a nicer result.

kokoacollectionricemilk
It’s harder to froth the mix if using rice milk for example, but keep experimenting as there are different brands and some are easier to use for baristas.
kokoacollectionwater
Preparing a water-based hot chocolate, first you pour in hot water just enough to cover the chocolate to melt it, then mix, and fill up with more water. Here using Kokoa Collection buttons.

If you’re using milk, the consistency and creaminess depends on the kind of milk you use. I always go for full-fat cow’s milk, because I prefer the flavour, but you can use semi-skimmed milk too. Fat-free milk would almost fall in the same category as water in this regard. Milk alternatives such as rice milk, nut milks, soy milk, coconut milk tend to give less creamy results than full-fat milk, but slightly creamier than water. Important reminder here is that these alternative milks have their own unique flavour (whether sweetened or unsweetened), so this will also influence the final flavour of your hot chocolate (same goes for goat’s or sheep’s milk, if you choose those).

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Kokoa Collection Madagascar mixed with water
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Kokoa Collection Madagascar mixed with whole milk

Add-ons

Of course, the possibilities are truly endless already, but you can go even further by adding some extras to your hot chocolate. I’m no maths person, but I’m sure you could easily have a different kind of hot chocolate for a whole year by trying all the possible combinations (and maybe even more!). Challenge accepted?

Depending whether you use any extra sweetener, you can play around with different sugars, honey varieties, sugar syrups (those coffee-syrup things), maple syrup, agave, coconut sugar, or any other alternative you have on hand. Just bear in mind again, these will alter the final flavour of your drink.

tchogoldenmilk
Tcho Chocolate’s Golden Milk bar was a great base for a spicy, warming hot chocolate, but you can add the spices yourself as well to create your own version.

Spices are another great way to customise your hot chocolate. Cinnamon, vanilla, gingerbread spice mix, nutmeg, chilli, cardamom, star anise, chai spices are some of the easiest options. You can also be a bit more adventurous and try a version of golden milk using turmeric and ginger or add matcha powder. If you can find freeze-dried fruit powders, you can make fruity hot chocolates. Strawberry and raspberry go well with dark, milk and white chocolate equally. Another option is using flavour drops (you can get them in the baking aisle of supermarkets or specialist shops like Lakeland) and make orange, lemon, mint or marzipan flavoured (if using almond extract) hot chocolates.

Although I’m personally not a big fan of marshmallows, it’s fun when they melt into your hot chocolate. I was converted by Pump Street Bakery who put a giant vanilla marshmallow on top of their single origin hot chocolate, and I was just blown away how creamy, frothy the drink was because of this. (I’m not sure I’d say the same about those pink and white mini mallows you can get in supermarkets and that smell like plastic bags… ouch.)

pumpstreet
Pump Street Bakery’s in-house hot chocolate using their Grenada bean-to-bar chocolate topped with a giant vanilla marshmallow (and accompanied by their amazing Eccles cake)

Adults-only

A splash of rum, Irish cream or Cointreau? Again, whatever your heart desires. Just make sure no kids go near your mug. And while we’re here, have you ever thought about mulled wine hot chocolate? Sounds crazy right? I saw this recipe in one of my favourite chocolate books, Adventures with Chocolate by Paul A. Young. Now, he is the one known for his truly adventurous and unique flavour combinations (think his Marmite truffle or the more recent Beef dripping caramel), so I knew this will be phenomenal. The recipe calls for a water-based hot chocolate with added cocoa powder, mulling spices, sugar, clementines and of course red wine. The result? Mind-blowingly delicious. I’ll share it with you in my next post along with other hot chocolate recipes that I love.

hotchoccookies

Hot chocolate is not just for kids, I hope this post made you realise that. With creativity and good ingredients, you can create delicious hot chocolates that will delight you and give you a boost of energy and happy feelings (chocolate triggers endorphin release in your brain, like when you’re in love). “It’s like a warm hug from the inside” we tend to say, and it’s true. Use the best ingredients you can find and you’ll be rewarded with not just a hot drink, but with all the benefits it will bring to your day and life.

In a follow-up post, I’ll share with you my experience of having a hot chocolate each day as well as my favourite recipes. Until then, please share your hot chocolate thoughts in the comments below.

 

 

Disclaimer: This post reflects my true and honest opinion and I wasn’t paid or recompensed in any way to write it or to include the above-mentioned brands or products.

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Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé – Tasting review

If you’ve been waiting for this review for a while, I apologise for taking this long. I hope that you’ll enjoy reading it and you’ll be able to try these (or others) bars from Rózsavölgyi (remember how to pronounce? 🙂 listen here). Let me know in the comments below if you’ve tasted already.

Small gorilla chocolate

Starting the tasting with this small dark chocolate bar of 75% Tanzania I received from Kati during my visit to their factory in Budapest last year. If you haven’t read it, here‘s my detailed post about that visit.

chocart gorilla
(photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé)

As opposed to most of their packaging that is designed by Kati herself, the wrappers for this small bar and its pair, the full-size Mababu bar were designed by illustrator Jake Blanchard. The vibrant colours depicting the colourful jungle with gorillas and cacao pods still fit quite well within Rózsavölgyi’s standard range. The bar pays tribute to the mountain gorillas of Kongo, Rwanda and Uganda by supporting the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.

From the wrapper: “Mababu is a tiny village on the slopes of the Livingstone mountain with lush vegetation by the Malawi lake in Tanzania. This trinitario cocoa is bought directly from a group of only 60 families pioneering quality organic cocoa farming.” The 30g square bar is made with their simpler mould design showing part of their logo. Inside the box-type packaging the bar is wrapped with the same precision as all the other Rózsavölgyi bars.

Upon removing the little red logo sticker and opening the inner wrapper, the aromas of this Tanzanian chocolate are predominantly woody and somewhat spicy. The thin bar breaks with a sharp snap releasing more aroma at the breaking line. It melts quickly and easily and it has a very creamy mouthfeel. No strong or harsh tasting notes, just rich and deep chocolate with a faint acidity peaking at the roof of the mouth and finishing off in sweet and warm spicy notes like nutmeg.

Chuao

This Venezuelan origin is very special to me as it was the very first single origin craft chocolate that marked me back in 2013. I was amazed by its mellow taste, that made me think I was eating a milk chocolate albeit the 74% cocoa content and no dairy present. This was a bar made by Benoit Nihant, Belgian chocolate maker who will be soon featured in a post as well.

Chuao
Chuao cacao growers enjoying the result of their hard work. (photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé)

So you can understand that I had high expectations when choosing to try Rózsavölgyi’s version. Even more so that this specific bar won the award for the best Venezuelan Grand Cru dark chocolate in 2016 in Paris. Championing over well-known makers such as Alain Ducasse, Pralus, Bonnat, A. Morin, Willie’s Cacao, Domori among others.

The packaging is in line with Rózsavölgyi’s other origin bars: the light blue craft paper with colourful motifs of flowers and birds is meticulously folded around the square bar. All the information about the bar is found on the additional sleeve closing the packaging, everything is written in Hungarian and in English. From the front we can learn more about Chuao itself, this tiny coastal village in Northern Venezuela only accessible by boat. The back of the wrapper lists the ingredients and we can also see the certificate of traceability issued by La Empresa Campesina de Chuao, local cooperative that has sole authority to farm, harvest and sell Chuao cacao.

Chuao
(photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé)

Under the blue paper, there’s the usual white paper wrapper with the red logo sticker. Opening that you are faced with a beautifully designed chocolate bar. Hungarian folkloric and floral motifs make this look like an antique fireplace tile rather than a bar of chocolate. I need to take some strength to even break it up to taste. The aroma isn’t very strong, but at the breaking point there’s a slight roasted smell. Due to the mould design there are no set breaking lines making it harder to break a specific amount off. The snap is sharp and loud. Easy and creamy, smooth melt. The overall taste of this 73% dark chocolate is mellow, mild with no peaks or accents. It has a slight acidity, but mostly it is characterised by a rich chocolate taste with a roasted nutty background and hints of liquorice.

Over the course of the year I tasted this bar several times to see whether I can get a better description, but I still can’t come up with anything more specific. It is a beautiful chocolate that really shines through with its finesse, gentle tasting notes and you can definitely taste the amount of care that was put in to making it.

Olives & Bread, 77% dark chocolate

Have no fear. This is one of my absolute favourite chocolate bars, so it’s not listed here because it sounds weird and it will raise some eyebrows. It probably will, but only until you actually have a chance to try it. An unusual pairing idea at first, but if you understand that chocolate on its own has several hundreds of flavour components, theoretically it can be paired with almost any other food. Of course, after careful experimenting to bring out the best from each ingredient.

olive bread Rozsavolgyi
Dark chocolate with olives and bread. (photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé)

The packaging is box-style, like the Small gorilla bar, but full-size (70g bar) and the design is monochrome with black drawings on white background. The imagery is very busy with birds and indigenous figures peeking out from among a lush rainforest’s different leaves, cacao pods and berries. The bar itself is again wrapped in white paper sealed with the red logo sticker. The mould design is different, this time it’s a segmented bar. Still using the folkloric motifs and ceramic tile-like look, but thanks to the various symmetrical segments it’s easier to break up the bar.

The aroma of the bar is dominated by deep earthy and roasted notes. Looking at the back of the bar some of the inclusions are visible but they are all covered in chocolate. When I break off a segment it gives a good snap, but the presence of the breadcrumbs creates a more crumbly breaking line. First, letting the chocolate melt slowly on my tongue I taste salt and the crunchy breadcrumbs feel harsh against the creamy chocolate creating a fantastic contrast. This sensation is brought further as I start chewing on a tiny piece of dried olive that brings a satisfying salty-fruity addition to the whole picture. Savoury, salty peaks are accompanied by roasted nutty flavour notes characteristic of Venezuelan chocolates that is used for this bar with no bitterness or acidity. Perfect balance of very contrasting flavours and textures characterise this bar, there’s no more questioning about how this idea came into Rózsavölgyi’s mind to put olives and bread into chocolate.

Rozsavolgyi
Almost too beautiful to break it up. (photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé)

Almond & Pistachio gianduja

Although I put these together, the two bars represent two entirely different worlds. Gianduja is an Italian delicacy originally made with Piemont hazelnuts and chocolate mixed together into a silky smooth paste. Substituting hazelnuts with other types of nuts creates a wide array of flavour possibilities. Here Rózsavölgyi decided to do their own gianduja versions using roasted almonds in one case and roasted pistachios in the other.

The two bars have matching wrappers, the almond is cream coloured while the pistachio is bright green, both with the exact same drawings of birds with long feathers and floral motifs in vivid colours. Both bars have the same recipe, their Venezuelan bean-to-bar chocolate is mixed with 20% almond praline paste and pure pistachio paste respectively. With no added dairy, these bars are perfect for vegans too who would like to indulge with a creamy chocolate. If you like chocolate-hazelnut spreads, these two bars will be a total game changer for you with their superior quality chocolate, pure nut pastes and low sugar content.

White matcha and herbs

Rozsavolgyi matcha bar
(photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé)

Last but not least, a bar that is definitely pushing some boundaries. White chocolate that is green. I mean, naturally green. The trick is to add fine matcha tea powder to the white chocolate that blends in perfectly giving the chocolate a bright green colour and contrasting the sweetness with its own green tea taste. In this case, the recipe is even more complex by the addition of citrus oils and green herbs, creating a refreshingly balanced sweet yet light and bright white (green) chocolate. Using matcha in white chocolate is getting more and more popular among chocolatiers, on one hand because of its natural ability to create stunning green coloured chocolates and on the other hand because of matcha tea’s own growing popularity (ever had a matcha latte?). This bar is a very good example that white chocolate is not boring especially if it’s paired with the right ingredients.

Rozsavolgyi matcha
Green is the new white. (photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé)
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6 Highlights of the London Chocolate Show 2017

cacao pods

Better later than never, here’s my personal recap of the UK’s biggest chocolate event of the year, the London Chocolate Show. This is part of the Salon du Chocolat world series, and this year was the fifth occasion that the British capital welcomed chocoholics, chocolate makers, chocolatiers and cacao producers from around the world.

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Happy Beetle with two fresh cacao pods from the Dominican Republic

I hardly exaggerate if I say that I was waiting for the 15th October more than Christmas. There’s of course plenty of other chocolate events that I’d love to go to, like the NorthWest Chocolate Festival in Seattle, but since I live in the UK, London is not to be missed. Even more so that I won not one but two (!) pairs of tickets to the show on Instagram! Huge thanks again to Zara’s Chocolates and Solkiki Chocolatemaker for giving away some of their free tickets. How incredibly lucky I was, don’t you think? This made it possible for me to bring along not just my husband and son (spoilt child, I know! – although too young for chocolate still, so I had to eat his share too…;)) but my mum and my best chocolate friend too! How cool is that?!

I decided to visit the show on Sunday, which is the third and last day of the event. There’s usually less of a crowd than on Saturday, although many products sell out by then. That’s how I totally missed out on Paul A. Young’s beef dripping caramels among others. But, you’ll see, there’s many benefits to go at the end as well.

Highlights of my LCS-2017 experience

  1. Fresh cacao
    Hands-down the most exciting thing at the show for me was to try a fresh cacao bean! I’ve seen fresh cacao pods before, in fact I got two fresh pods two years ago at the same event, but when I opened one of them, the pulp was already starting to dry onto the beans and it was tasting weird. This time however, at the exhibition area of the Dominican Republic, a lady was offering the fresh beans directly from an opened pod. It was wet and sticky, with a slightly acidic smell. I was so excited to try it! I thought that the white flesh will separate from the bean easily, but this wasn’t the case. So all I could do was just to suck on the pulp and discover that it tastes like a bit underripe banana. It was a green, tropical taste, so familiar. I bit the bean in half to see the inside. Beautiful deep purple colour was revealed under the white pulp.
    The texture of the bean was similar to a soaked walnut, it was bitter, but not like bitter dark chocolate. The taste had absolutely nothing to do with chocolate. Mind-blowing! How on Earth did someone find out how delicious this little bean can be?! Wish we could time-travel to see.
    The show welcomed many origin countries and cacao producing farms this year, so tasting fresh beans was possible at a few other stands as well. I think this is a wonderful idea, as this really brings chocolate closer to people.

    freshcacao
    This is chocolate before it’s born

    Last but not least, many of these exhibitors brought along fresh and dried cacao pods, or even real cacao tree plants (!). Do you think they travelled home with those? Of course not. They were throwing away all those beauties used as props in their decorations (it’s not possible to make chocolate from them, you see). Thankfully, I knew this, and about half an hour before the end of the event I asked one of the stands whether I could take a cacao pod with me. They said yes, and even seemed happy that there’s one less thing for them to think about. In about ten minutes, their stand was all emptied as others jumped on the offer too. It’s a win:win situation. I mean look at these beauties (my mum wanted one as well of course!).
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  2. Taste Tripper Tour
    A mini version of Jennifer Earle’s Chocolate Ecstasy Tours was a perfect opportunity for me to do a quick round of some of the highlights of the show based around the title “Weird & Wonderful”. The other mini-tours included origins or chocolate pairings (such as “Gin & Chocolate”), but I love adventurous flavour combinations, so went on the W&W tour. We followed Jennifer and her umbrella (just like a real tour guide!) zig-zagging around the stalls and other visitors to find the most exciting flavours available at the show. As it was Sunday, some of the truly weird stuff had gone already (such as “Curry Shrimp White Chocolate” by FuWan Chocolates or Paul A. Young’s “Beef Dripping Caramel”), but we still had a great time trying other flavours.

    tastetripper
    All the “weird & wonderful” chocolates and some of their makers (left: Villakuyaya, middle top to bottom: Paul A. Young, Zara Snell, Russel 5th Dimension, right: Aneesh Popat)

    6 tasting stops included: FuWan Chocolates (Dark Chocolate with Red Quinoa and Puffed Rice), Zara Snell from Winchester Fine Chocolates (Seven Seed Praline bar and her famous Moroccan Rose filled chocolate), Villakuyaya from Ecuador (Dark Chocolate with Masala Chai and Coconut & Vanilla), Aneesh Popat – The Chocolatier (Dark chocolate with chilli, popping candy and passion fruit, Dark chocolate with cardamom), 5Dimension Chocolates (filled chocolates: whole grain mustard, brie), Paul A. Young Fine Chocolates (Marmite truffle, Guittard’s single origin ganache).
    We tasted a lot in about half an hour and had the chance to talk to many of the actual chocolate makers or chocolatiers and received a tote bag with some soft drinks and snacks and a few discount coupons to use at the show. All this for £5 was a good investment I think.
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  3. Tree-to-bar chocolates
    Tree-to-bar means that the chocolate is actually made by the same people who own the cacao plantation, so it’s basically made at the source. Until recently, cacao producing countries and even farmers were selling all their crops to chocolate makers living in the US, Canada, Europe, etc. and they didn’t really get to taste their own chocolate. Luckily more and more farmers and cocoa producers had the opportunity to start producing their own chocolate and now looking to sell it worldwide and not just on their local market. The new kids on the block like FuWan Chocolates represent places like Taiwan (I seriously had no idea that Taiwan is a cacao producing country, but hey welcome!), SVG Cocoa – Vincentian Chocolate from St Vincent and the Grenadines (hint: it’s in the Caribbean above the island of Grenada).

    treetobar
    As close to the origin as you can get – chocolates made at the plantation

    Why is it such a big deal? Because more people can realise how wonderfully diverse cacao can be and also getting a closer contact with farmers can help to raise awareness about cacao farming conditions, issues and challenges all along the supply chain.
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  4. Talking to makers and chocolatiers
    Wandering around the chocolate show’s stalls, being attracted by colourful creations and the sweet smell of chocolate samples is of course a lovely feeling. But talking to the makers, getting inspired by their passion, determination, creativity, understanding a bit more what they are doing, what are their objectives, challenges, future plans, and sometimes even getting a warm, friendly hug from them is an invaluable thing for me. This isn’t just networking, this is sharing a passion for chocolate in this amazing chocolate community. I just love to be part of this. And I would like to take the occasion here to thank each and every person for their time to chat to me in the middle of this buzzing chocolate fair.

    makers
    Lovely chat to makers, distributors, industry experts, fellow chocolate lovers! (pictured left top Ali Chocolate Tree, bottom Albert 5th Dimension, middle top Ingemann Fine Cocoa Nicaragua, bottom Bob Solkiki, right Bo San Beau Cacao, not pictured: many more!)

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  5. Tasting Session with ICA
    The reason it would be great to attend all the days of the show is to be able to listen to more demos, talks and take part in tastings. This year, instead of watching live demos on stage in the chocolate theatre, I decided to attend one of the tasting sessions organised by the International Chocolate Awards. They set up a booth where we could sit down around a table and taste some award-winning chocolates while talking about different aspects of the chocolate industry. It’s always a bit of a hit-and-miss because one never knows who will turn up to these tastings. There were some people like me, fine chocolate aficionados, and also some people who just generally like chocolate, but might still be unaware of the difference between mass-produced and fine flavour chocolates. The presenter has to accomodate everyone, which went reasonably well in this particular case.
    In the first part, we tasted several award-winning micro-batch chocolates by Hummingbird, Duffy’s, Solkiki, and FriisHolm and compared flavour notes, terroir, different chocolate making styles. Micro-batch is defined by the size and type of equipment the makers use, not necessarily by the amount of chocolate they make in a single batch.
    In the second part, Sophie Jewett from York Cocoa House was talking about their new project of building a totally transparent chocolate factory and learning space for chocolate lovers and chocolate professionals alike : the York Cocoa Works. They are building on York’s chocolate heritage but bringing to the table the modern challenges of cacao farming, supply chain, chocolate manufacturing, customer education. Part of this is their new bean-to-bar chocolate line, from which we tasted a few origins. Added bonus of these sample was that they were made there and then at the show from cocoa beans coming from Casa Luker‘s (Colombia) and Akesson’s (Madagascar) stand among others. They had ovens to roast the beans and they also brought several small grinders and let the visitors crack and shell the beans, add them to the grinder, and add further ingredients like sugar to the mix. Their master chocolatier was doing a demo on hand tempering on a marble slab, moulding the bars that were later used as samples on the stand and at our tasting session as well.

    chocart
    Artworks recreated in chocolate, you can tell why Mona Lisa is smiling 🙂

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  6. Chocolate Art exhibition
    Overwhelmed by the number of stands to visit, chocolates to taste, talks and tastings to attend, I always find it hard to set aside some time to look at the additional exhibitional areas of the show. This time was no different, but I tried to have a quick look and I really liked what I saw. Making chocolate is an art in itself, but this was brought to a whole new level at the show. Chocolate was used here as paint, and we could see the chocolate smile of Mona Lisa, and the works of Munch, Mondrian, Van Gogh, Gustav Klimt, Michelangelo or even Banksy recreated in chocolate. Wouldn’t it be fun to have chocolate paintings at home? If you get bored of them, you can just eat them or melt them down in a hot chocolate or brownie 🙂 (haha, just kidding!)

+ and of course my amazing chocolate haul from the show including some of the newest makers

chocolate haul
Loads of new chocolate for me to try! Love the tote bag from Beau Cacao. Not pictured: filled chocolates from 5th Dimension and Paul A. Young, just to be fully honest with you)

Did you attend the London Chocolate Show 2017? What were your highlights? Tell me in the comments below.

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Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé – The tongue-twister dancing on your taste buds

rozsavolgyi trincheras

Pretty packaging, a square of chocolate that looks too beautiful to break and eat. It looks like an old ceramic tile with floral and folkloric motifs. You recognise this brand at first sight. Everyone raves about it on blogs, in reviews and on Instagram. Maybe you even know that it is made in Hungary. You know that all your fine chocolate loving friends know and like it, yet it’s hard to talk about it, because you’re never sure how to pronounce its name. As a fellow Hungarian I find it particularly sweet when people with other native languages try to pronounce the brand that literally means “From Rose Valley”, referring to a quarter in Budapest where the business was launched by its founders Katalin Csiszár and her husband Zsolt Szabad. I made a short video for my Instagram page where you can hear me pronounce it, so maybe next time you’ll be more confident talking about this truly wonderful chocolate.

rozsavolgyi trincheras
[photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé]

When I was planning my Chocolate Eurotrip back in April, the thought of visiting Rózsavölgyi was like a dream. I emailed them and I felt like I just wrote a letter to Santa Claus. Their reply was my golden ticket to Hungary’s most famous bean-to-bar chocolate factory! I did a thorough research about the company before my visit and then arrived all excited to their new factory location in the outskirts of southern Budapest. This is their third location which will hopefully serve them well for another few years.

BIRTH OF AN ICONIC BRAND

When asked about the birth of their family business, Katalin Csiszár is struggling to find an answer for why she decided to work with chocolate. She learned to make chocolate while she was at home with her sons taking a break from her job as a graphic designer. They then launched their business in 2004 from their garage-kitchen in a quarter of Budapest called Rózsavölgy (Rose Valley), that became their hard-to-pronounce brand name as well. They had two options to invest some money: renovate their house or build their chocolate kitchen. I think I can say for all of us that thankfully they decided to do the latter. When I asked her now, she just laughed. The house has been partially renovated over the years, but they always seem to need a new machine or more beans and the business comes first. Well, we could say: this is their second home now.

rozsavolgyi csiszar katalin
Kati visiting a cacao plantation [photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé]

Kati was very kind, approachable and answered all my questions patiently as she was guiding me through the different areas in their factory. The entrance was already heavy with the smell of freshly roasted cocoa beans. Our first stop was in their roasting and winnowing room. Zsolt, Kati’s husband is the man behind the first processing steps of chocolate making once the jute sacks of cocoa beans arrive. When I asked who decides about a specific bean’s roasting profile Kati added that everything is decided jointly. Being a growing but still quite small family-owned business, all team members have a say and they all work in each and every step of the process. At the time of my visit they were testing a new winnowing machine. At first this sounded like a great opportunity but of course, sometimes they feel like a guinea pig for the industry as all the trial and error happens here too. Still, at least they can give honest feedback so the machinery can be adapted to the chocolate maker’s true needs.

A few steps away from the noisy machine and the hot oven where some beans were being roasted we chatted in a small room full of cacao bean sacks from different origins. Madagascar, Venezuela, Tanzania, Peru and their most recent addition from Sao Tomé. It was such an interesting experience to talk about the realities of direct trade, life and living conditions of farmers at origin as Kati had the opportunity to visit many of the farms they are sourcing cacao from. Sadly, I learned some rather troubling information about how some large cocoa processing companies pretend to help farmers with different nicely sounding programmes yet still pay the lowest possible price for the cacao beans. More shocking still is that some companies buy unfermented beans (again, cheaper!) because the flavour development during fermentation is completely unimportant for them. They systematically over roast (burn) the beans killing basically the whole flavour profile and creating a uniform baked chocolate flavour (or as a most recent finding, these beans might also be used to create the new invention “Ruby chocolate”). This happens predominantly in Ghana and Ivory Coast, the two largest cocoa producing countries in the world.

cocoa beans
[photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé]

FROM CHOCOLATIER TO CHOCOLATE MAKER

For the first three years, they made bars and filled chocolates from couverture. Upon realising that the couvertures available didn’t have the taste they were looking for in a chocolate, they decided to make their own. This was a difficult switch involving lots of investment and hard work. Thankfully, luck was on their side. Having heard about the Franceschi family in Venezuela, Katalin gave them a call to enquire about getting some cocoa beans. Guess what? The family was in Budapest! What an amazing coincidence. They met and Zsolt travelled to Venezuela, visited some farms and brought back bean samples to try. Today, they are still making chocolate from many Venezuelan regions: Chuao, Rio Caribe, Carenero, Sur del Lago, Trincheras, Canoabo, Puerto Cabello. Their other important source is Akesson’s plantation in Madagascar. Other origins in their repertoire include Sao Tomé, Peru, Tanzania and Nicaragua. They still carry a wide selection of filled chocolates and ganache squares and other delicacies as well.

bonbon
Filled chocolate selection made with the highest quality ingredients. [photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé]

The following room was where all the magic happens. Several different machines are used in a row to get from roasted, winnowed cocoa nibs to the final chocolate. Kati explained in a few minutes the importance of the different machines (roll refiner, ball mill, conche etc). From creating the desired particle size (smaller particle size equals smoother chocolate) to reducing bitterness and astringency, they all have their special role in the process. Of course, knowing that many small makers only use a small table-top grinder to make their chocolate, I had to ask what she thinks is the difference between those chocolates and hers. She said that funnily she can always tell by tasting whether the chocolate was made in a ball mill or the above-mentioned grinder, but she doesn’t exactly know how or why. As a main difference she said that the traditional machines allow the maker to have more influence on the outcome as more elements can be tweaked along the way than with a single machine.

single origins
Single origin bean-to-bar chocolates. [photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé]

As we walked past the machines through to the production area, I saw a shelf full of clear plastic boxes with shards, blocks of chocolate and immediately thought about the ageing process that many chocolate makers use to enhance the flavour of their chocolate. Kati explained that they don’t age their chocolate. In her opinion if the chocolate is processed well – it is refined and conched for the right amount of time with the right machines – the flavour is good whether you let it sit on a shelf or not. According to her, ageing is only needed if there is a missing step in the processing (or not the right machinery is used) so certain undesired off-flavours, some astringency remains in the chocolate that, with time, mellows out and becomes less strong in the overall flavour profile.

The production and packing area is probably the largest room in the facility and it is now filled not just with the sweet smell of chocolate flowing from the continuous tempering machines, but also with laughter as the team sits around a big table packaging the iconic Rózsavölgyi bars. It looks more like a fun hobby-session rather than work, although if you’ve ever unpacked one of these bars you know well how painstakingly precisely the paper is folded around the chocolate bar. Naturally, we start talking a little bit about her team and how they organise and plan workflow.

matcha
White chocolate with matcha green tea. Would you believe it is chocolate? [photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé]

EAT WITH YOUR EYES

As a graphic designer Kati created all of their visuals from logo through bar mould to packaging. She thinks this is very important to get right as the customers see the packaging first. Birds, flowers and leaves, cocoa pods are used mainly either in a monochrome (black and white, white and gold) setting or in full-on colours against a coloured background (e.g green for their pistachio gianduia, light blue for the Chuao). Just as the flavour of the chocolates, the packaging and design also mirror their vision and their taste. The recycled craft paper used as packaging is carefully folded around the bars that look like a fireplace tile with folkloric and floral motifs. It is almost counter-productive as they look so beautiful that you feel bad breaking and eating them. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons they don’t spend a penny on marketing their products: as artistic and delicious as they all are, they sell themselves.

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Candied bergamot in dark chocolate – disguised as ‘Sailor Moustache’ [photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé]

The Rózsavölgyi team is composed of people coming from really various backgrounds, bringing into the business many valuable assets from their previous jobs and experiences. Zsolt is an engineer, Kati’s brother is a cartoon director, and the rest of the team include a maths teacher, a yoga teacher, a painter and a tourism manager. Kati explained to me that passion, determination and high-quality standards are much more important for her to find in a potential new team member than being trained as a pastry chef or chocolatier. She likes clean and tidy work, and it is hard to teach someone your style if they have already learned it in a different way. So she prefers to start from square one and also acknowledges skills not related to chocolate. Should you be employed by them, you’d first start at the packing station, slowly working your way up and learning all the other steps including pouring bars, dipping truffles or creating moulded chocolates and selling in their shop. Yet, no one is alone in what they are doing, as at the moment everyone was packing bars not just the most recently employed trainee. They share all the tasks so nobody gets bored and unmotivated from doing the same thing over and over again. Similarly, they all take turns working in the shop, meeting and talking to customers.

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Rózsavölgyi team having fun at the packing table. [photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé]

When asked about their relationship with customers, Kati said that luckily most of their customers who come into their little shop in the centre of Budapest know their products and generally like dark chocolate and interesting flavour combinations. But of course, she is well aware that the mass demand is still on the sweeter side. She doesn’t mind. Even her two teenage sons have access to mass market and cheap chocolates and she thinks they have to climb the quality ladder too. In order to know what is better quality they have to taste the lower quality products as well. Yet, growing up in a fine chocolate factory definitely has a mark on their developing taste. They now know what additives, colourants and artificial flavourings are, and they started to avoid products that contain these.

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The chocolate shop’s window displays Kati’s chocolate sculptures and other creations as well. [photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé]

Before the end of my visit, I asked Kati about her newest venture. Last year she initiated and together with nine other Hungarian chocolate makers and chocolatiers, founded a group called the Hungarian Society of Chocolate Manufactures. Their goal is to create a reference standard in the Hungarian chocolate scene by educating customers about quality chocolate, shaping people’s taste rather than serving the present demand for cheap and low-quality products. I can only applaud this initiative and I will report on their activities in another post.

I would like to thank again Kati for allowing me to visit them in their new factory. Are you hungry for more? Stay tuned for the second part where I will review some Rózsavölgyi bars.

 

Have YOU already tried Rózsavölgyi chocolates? Share your thoughts on this brand in the comments below!