The Chocolate Life

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Origin Chocolate Event Amsterdam October 16th and 17th 2012

Last year the Origin Chocolate Event started as a little event: one evening, four speakers and about forty visitors. This year it was much bigger: two days, ten speakers and a lot more visitors. Location was the very beautiful Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam. The first day was for professionals and the second day for the real chocolate lovers.

Purpose of the event is to promote fine flavour and sustainable chocolate in The Netherlands. Organized by Erik Sauër (El Sauco, distributor of origin chocolate), Caroline Lubbers and me (Vera Hofman), all with  a passion for good chocolate.

The international speakers were the most important part of the program. Award winning chocolate makers and experts were doing presentations in parallel sessions in the afternoon and evening. An overview:

Sepp Schönbächler, R&D Manager at Felchlin

Sepp told us the story of Felchlin. Most important are the people, in Switzerland and in the cacao growing countries. Felchlin works with the best quality beans and the challenge is how to  get the  specific characteristics of the beans into the chocolate. The process from bean to chocolate, with special attention for conching, is Sepps specialty. He rediscovered the old traditional Lindt conches from 1879 and brought them back into production. A lot of people in the chocolate industry followed him. Moisture and remaining acids evaporate and all small particles are covered with cacao butter. This results in a very smooth texture, sublime melting  and all the flavours of the beans are beautiful expressed. We tasted an unconched chocolate and a chocolate that has been conched for 48 and 60 hours. It shows major difference in texture and flavour development. Sepps eyes gleam whenever the word chocolate is used.

Philipp Kauffmann, founder of Original Beans

Philipp has a background in nature conservation. Five years ago he started Original Beans with the mission: making the World better through chocolate. The company focuses on the “bio diversity hotspots”, the most important areas for our eco-system. Places where nature conservation is an urgent matter and where also rare cacao varieties are growing. One of these areas is the Virunga National Park in DR Congo where the last mountain gorillas live. Due to  Original Beans 13.000 farmers are now organic certified, they have doubled their income and over 3 million trees are planted. For every bar sold a tree is planted in the country of origin. Besides the chocolate from the Virunga we also tasted the Piura Porcelana from Peru, a wild bean from Bolivia and for dessert a creamy milk chocolate with fleur de sel from Ecuador.

Clay Gordon, founder of thechocolatelife.com

“How chocolate gets its taste” is his subject. Every step in the process from bean to bar is the most important step. The bean variety, terroir, fermentation, drying, roasting and conching, everything influences the final taste of the chocolate. He summarizes this into a very complicated mathematical formula. The conclusion however is not that theoretical: chocolate is there to enjoy!

Mott Green, founder Grenada Chocolate Company

In 1999 Mott founded the world’s first tree-to-bar company in Grenada. He started  making chocolate with very creative self-made machines. Today his equipment is much more modern. The company is owned by the farmers and all employees earn the same salary. Sustainability is very important: all machines run on solar power and the latest transport from Grenada to Europe was by sailboat, completely CO2- neutral. Mott told us a passionate story en showed us pictures of his newest construction for drying the beans. Half an hour is not enough for Mott, we also have to taste all his bars. Favourite is the Nib-a-Licious!

Santiago Peralta, founder of Pacari

Last weekend he won 10 of ‘The International Chocolate Awards’. Proudly he told us about his company in Ecuador: Pacari. He processes the best Arriba beans from different areas in Ecuador to beautiful chocolates like Esmeraldas, Manabi and Los Rios. Leader in making raw chocolate: fresh and fruity! Not only organic certified but also bio-dynamic ‘Demeter’. Besides the plain dark bars he makes also a large collection of bars with additions like lemongrass, Andean blueberry and spirulina.

Martin Christy, founder of Seventy% Club and Direct Cacao, head of the jury of the International Chocolate Awards

How do you become a chocolate connoisseur? Taste! And do this very slowly! Martin did an experiment with us. First we took a piece of chocolate and brought it very slowly with outstretched arm to our nose. Smell all the aroma’s. Then we put it slowly in our mouth and let the chocolate melt on our tongue. Texture, how it melts and all the stadia in flavour development you become consciously aware. As a contrast we tasted, or rather ate, a piece of chocolate very quickly. It had to be gone in 6 seconds. It is obvious you taste almost nothing. All flavours completely pass by you and there is no after taste either. The conclusion: enjoy it slowly!

Bertil Akesson, founder Akesson’s

Where as the other speakers held a presentation, Bertils session was an interactive one. He told us about his family who owned cacao plantations on Madagascar for years. The most fruity Criollo and Trinitario beans grow there. Akesson supplies these first class beans to several chocolate makers all over the world. Bertil makes his chocolate in a factory in France. We tasted his Madagascar bar with tasting notes of the pepper that grows in the neighbourhood and he adds to some of his other chocolate bars. We also tasted chocolate from his plantation in Brazil. The main tasting note of this one is hazelnut. His latest creation is a chocolate made with beans from Bali. Besides a plain dark chocolate he also makes a milk chocolate with sea salt from those beans.

Maricel Presilla, founder of Gran Cacao, chef and writer

Maricel was born on Cuba between cacao trees. She is owner of Gran Cacao, two restaurants and she writes culinary books. In 2001 she wrote the legendary book “The new taste of chocolate” in which several cacao varieties are described. Recently she is named best chef in the Mid-Atlantic region. Her new book “Gran Cocina Latina” has just been launched. Maricel told us about her love for chocolate and cooking. She only works with chocolate she knows the background of. The beans, the farmers and the producer, the whole story has to be fair. She brought a big shopping bag full of all kinds of chocolate. We tasted chocolate made with beans from Venezuela: Guasare, Chuao and Cuyagua. And last but not least water-based ganache chocolates by chocolatier Damian Allsop from Londen.

Anna Laven, Royal Tropical Institute

Anna does research and gives advice on sustainable cacao. The definition of sustainable cacao is that it has one of these four certifications: Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, UTZ or Organic. There is an agreement that all cacao has to be sustainable produced from 2025 and from this year all ‘Chocolate Letters’. The question is if sustainable according to the current definition is enough. One of the biggest problems at this moment is the average age of the cacao farmer. In Ghana it is 50 years with a life expectancy of 60. Young people don’t want to take over the farm because of the low earnings. Another problem is that not all farmers are able to get a certification. Only the 10% well organized farmers succeed. And then there’s the question: will the extra pay  reach the farmer? The big industries are making a move, but there still is a lot that can be done better.

Vincent Mourou, founder of Marou Chocolate

The history of cacao in Vietnam goes back to before 1600. In the past all cacao was sold to big companies like Callebaut, who does not care about quality, and blends the beans. A few years ago US chocolate maker Scharffen Berger made a change by producing the first single origin from Vietnam beans called ‘Ben Tré’. Vincent and his business partner Samuel Maruta both ended up in Vietnam and fell in love with the country. They quit their commercial jobs and decided to start making chocolate over there. Almost a year later they are producing five bars, each from a different region. One tastes spicy, another fruity and their latest creation has the flavours of roses. Every weekend they travel through the country searching for new cacao varieties.

Both days the afternoon program ended with a debate session

On the first day of the event the debate was about sustainability. What does sustainability really means? Retailers like Wholefoods require certifications from their suppliers. Small producers that buy the cacao directly from the farmers and pay a much higher price often don’t have the means to certify. ‘Direct traded cacao’ is not considered as sustainable by both retailer and consumer. There are already initiatives to promote this cacao. The message to the public is: tell the story about how chocolate is made en let people taste!

The second day the debate is about quality: how do you recognize good chocolate? Nature has a great influence on taste. The bean variety, terroir and processes in the country of origin like fermentation and drying. The last steps in the factory, particularly roasting and conching, finishes it. Pay attention to the wrapping: does it mention where the beans come from? And the price: you pay more for good quality. In comparison to wine and balsamic you pay a very low price for an excellent chocolate. So what the world needs is a 100 dollar bar!

Exhibitors:

-         Kees Raat of ‘Metropolitan Deli’. The first bean-to-bar maker in The Netherlands. He uses beans from Cuba and makes delicious creations with his chocolate: brownies, marshmallows and ice cream!

-         Norbert Mergen and Jan-Paul Fros of online chocolate shop ‘Chocoweb’. Besides bars of all of the event speakers also Menakao, Paul de Bondt and El Ceibo.

-         Leslie VanderLeeuw of Amsterdam chocolate shop ‘Chocolátl’ presented bars of small US bean-to-bar makers Dandelion and Ritual.

-         Geert Vercruysse from Kortrijk, Belgium is the only Belgian chocolatier who doesn’t use Belgian chocolate for his pralines. He spotted new tree-to-bar makers from Hawaii, Fiji, Australia and was also the one who introduced Marou from Vietnam. In his gorgeous pralines ganaches from all these origin couvertures.

-         Of course the best Dutch coffee and tea stores ‘Golden Coffee Box’ and ‘Evermore Tea’.

Between afternoon and evening session on the first day a plate of vegetables with a dressing of Original Beans Beni Wild Harvest chocolate was presented. The second day a chocolate dinner by NH Krasnapolsky hotel chef Jan Schramowski or chocolate tapas by chef Mariëlla Erkens.

Two wonderful days! Sharing passion and knowledge about origin chocolate.

We are looking forward to the 2013 event!

 

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Comment by Jeff on November 20, 2012 at 3:53pm

Leslie VanderLeeuw of Amsterdam..

they are carrying Lillie Belle now....

Comment by Clay Gordon on November 20, 2012 at 10:47am

Vera -

The purpose of the "mathematical formula" was to find a way to present - simply and straightforwardly - what is a very complex set of interactions. It's really just a shorthand (or a mnemonic) for displaying all of the variables involved as a way of guiding the presentation.

But you are right - in the end, it's all about good-tasting chocolate, something we shouldn't lose sight of.

Comment by Vera Hofman on November 18, 2012 at 5:37pm

 

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