Fair trade is about stable prices, decent working conditions and the empowerment of farmers and workers around the world. The chocolate industry is undergoing a revolution. There are a number of organisations that aim to give chocolatiers and chocolate lovers a conscience when it comes to sourcing their chocolate. We aim to do the same.
Unless a chocolate company is 'bean to bar', where they have the facilities to process the beans, they will use chocolate couverture to turn into their amazing works of art. We think it is important to know where this comes from. Some of the more common brands of couverture that chocolatiers use that you may have heard of are Valrhona and Callebaut. Our couverture comes from a company called Original Beans. We're really excited to be working with such an amazing chocolate, not only because of the outstanding taste and the high quality but also because of the values that Original Beans maintain.
The last piece of chocolate that you ate – do you know where it came from? There is a complex supply chain in getting chocolate from the tree to that final product that you enjoy. Our chocolate is made using cacao sourced directly from the farmers. This avoids paying the middlemen, and means the farmers can be paid more. In turn this allows them to send another child to school and not use them for child labour, which is an issue that has been common in the chocolate industry. Original Beans obligates itself to pay the farmers more than the sixfold of the official fair-trade premium in exchange for high quality and ecological commitment. The farmers protect their environment and make a living from their land.
Original Beans have the same attitude towards chocolate as we do. Good cacao requires hardly any add-on ingredients to become the finest chocolate. Its all about the origin of the chocolate, the climate, the soil, and the way in which it is farmed. This is what the French call 'Terroir'. We believe chocolate deserves to be appreciated like a top wine or a fine coffee.
Learn more about the Virunga National Park here, where the chocolate originates from. We think it's really special.
Chocolate is like wine. Its flavour is affected by many different variables such as origin, climate, soil and processing techniques. This only gets you half way though. Then there is the work of the chocolatier that can transform that chocolate again by manipulating it in different ways and adding other ingredients. We believe, like all good things in life, good chocolate shouldn't be messed with too much, as it doesn't require large amounts of sugar or cream or artificial flavourings to make it taste good. To some people chocolate is all about the sweet sugary taste and with that kind of chocolate I say stick the whole lot in your cake hole and swallow it down as fast as possible. But with the real stuff we have some tips to make the most of it.
So how do you appreciate good chocolate? If you want to take it seriously gather up a selection of chocolate tablets to compare the difference. You could find plain 70% tablets from different origins and see how their flavour profiles differ. Try and get a range from supermarket to boutique to give you a broad spectrum and start by looking at the ingredients in each one. Do you know what each ingredient is? You may find something called ‘confectioners fat’. This is a generic term for fats used in items such as chocolate or other sweet treats, and could be anything from cocoa butter to palm oil. We say, why write ‘confectioners fat’ when you could write cocoa butter and be honest about it? There is no obligation on NZ chocolate manufacturers to declare their use of palm oil. It can also appear as ‘vegetable oil’ in lists of ingredients.
Number one rule with chocolate tasting is to make sure it is not cold out of the fridge. If your chocolate is too cold you won't be able to taste the full flavour. Room temperature is ideal. Chocolate should generally be stored between 16-18 degrees away from moisture and strong odours. It is also important to make sure you have a clean palette for a serious tasting session. Eat a slice of apple or some plain crackers and drink water. Now think about the way you taste wine, and I mean good wine. Now apply the same principles to chocolate.
Look at the colour of the chocolate. Does it have a reddish tinge or is it so dark it is almost black?
Look for blemishes on the surface of the chocolate. Is the bar shiny and smooth or does it have a dull matt appearance?
If there are white marks on the chocolate this is known as blooming and is where the cocoa solids are separating from the fats within the chocolate. It's absolutely fine to still eat and certainly won't do you any harm, but it does effect the texture and mouthfeel of the chocolate (yes mouthfeel is a word!)
In the same way you smell a wine before taking a sip this adds to the tasting experience. You can even go so far as to put it up your nose if you want - read our blog post from back in July Love is the Drug. When you put the chocolate in your mouth you will be inadvertently smelling it anyway, through a process called retronasal olfaction, don't you know. When eating, the odour molecules travel from the back of the throat using the back entrance to the nose. This explains why you can’t taste properly when you have a cold for example.
Break the chocolate with your fingers and listen out for that satisfying snap sound that indicates a well tempered chocolate. Note the thickness of the bar and size of the squares and any textured pattern it has.
Now this requires some self control so as not to woof down the bar in one hit, and then move on to the next one. You should let chocolate melt on the tongue so as to let the cocoa butter coat the palette and work with the bitterness of the cocoa solids. Notice how the flavour develops over time. Is the chocolate light/heavy, bitter/sweet, powdery/smooth, creamy/sharp? Is the flavour long lasting or does it quickly vanish?
Now that we’ve covered the basics, give yourself a gold star, you can move on to the more advanced level of chocolate pairing. This is basically a good excuse to just eat all your favourite things together at the same time. You’re welcome!
Obviously I'm going to start with wine. There is infinite possibilities with this one, as you can vary from milk to dark chocolate and from dry to fruity wines and work out what works together or not. Some argue that chocolate and wine don’t complement each other at all as they are in fact too similar. Both have bitter, astringent and sour flavours and so to put the two together can be overkill. It’s all about personal preference. We've recently partnered up with a local winery and made Brick Bay chocolates using their Martello Rock red wine. This is a Bordeaux blend and works well with our 70% chocolate.
Also try beer with chocolate. This is something we recently got into after using a friend’s home brew for making chocolate ganache. So goooood! The hoppy notes of a good pale ale work well with chocolate. Again it comes down to the type of beer and the type of chocolate. We have found dark chocolate to be the best pairing with beer. Also try different types of tea and coffee.
Spices work well with chocolate. Chilli has almost become as popular with chocolate as fruit and nut! We like to use seeds and herbs with chocolate as well. Savoury flavours are great with chocolate, another favourite is sea salt. We make our Organic Sea Salt chocolate tablet using a touch of Marlborough Sea Salt to bring out the flavour of the chocolate, rather than make you feel like you’ve poured a salt shaker in your mouth. Other savoury flavours that are worth a try with chocolate are bacon, olives and cheese! Sounds like an awesome idea for nibbles at your next gathering. Chocolate is also used in savoury dishes with gamey meats such as venison to bring a richness to the meal. And there’s your main course sorted!
Tasting chocolate can be as relaxed or as serious as you want it to be. Chocolate is after all meant to be enjoyable, so have some fun with it. A tasting party is a great excuse to indulge or you may prefer to block out all distractions and treat yourself to a private tasting for one on a Friday night. No judgement! Either way send us your tasting notes when you try our chocolate as we really appreciate feedback and love putting chocolatey smiles on your faces!
A few weeks ago we visited the French Cafe for dinner and I've been dying to write about how good it was! We went for a special celebratory meal. It's not the kind of place we frequent very often (unfortunately). From the moment you step inside you are transported a world away from Symonds street and into an environment that makes you think twice about licking the plate. My advice is do it anyway cos if you don't you'll miss out on those extra few seconds of food heaven!
We went the whole hog and had the 7 course tasting menu ... with matching wines, she whispers under her breath, ahem ... and it was goooood.
Our stand out dish of the evening was the smoked venison with juniper, blackcurrant, walnut and beetroot served with a Portugese grape variety red wine.
If you have never been to a restaurant like French Cafe before then I urge you to book a table 3 months in advance and save save save. It might be a moment on the lips but it is an experience that you will remember. My advice is to put your evening in the hands of the experienced and knowledgable staff. I love being served by people who treat their job as a career and love it even more when customers treat them that way. They will get you to try new things and you'll usually learn a thing or two (if you can remember it after that second glass of wine!)
The French Cafe is definitely the kind of restaurant you get dressed up to go to. We noticed a group get a talking to for coming in what looked like their running shoes, and rightly so. Places like this exist for special occasions and making an effort.The interior is stunningly beautiful in a contemporary and sophisticated manner. As much as I love the laid back friendly service that NZ does so well in the majority of restaurants, I do love the ceremony of dining out at what is most commonly referred to as 'fine dining'. No you won't be able to afford to eat for the rest of the month, but it is so worth it!!
The French Cafe is the closest dining experience in NZ we have come to compare to the Michelin star restaurants back home in Europe. Our favourite meal that we are still yet to top was in 2013 at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin Oriental in London. The food was incredible, surprising and totally over the top. We loved it! But what really stood out to us was the service. The knowledge of our waiter felt like you were talking to the Chef and their ability to know what we wanted before we even knew ourselves was ridiculous. It was one evening, but we still talk about it now.
The French Cafe has recently won Restaurant of the Year in the Cuisine Good Food Awards. It is described as being the total package and we totally agree.
Recipe for 8 pax
Pre-heat the oven 190c
3 egg yolks
3 egg white
125g coconut sugar
150g 70% Dark Chocolate Couverture
3 Tbsp almond milk
125g butter (diced and at room temperature)
Sieve the flour. Using a spatula mix together the 3 egg yolks and sugar till it becomes pale in colour. In a bowl, melt the chocolate with the almond milk over simmering water. Make sure to cover the bowl with cling film so the moisture doesn’t evaporate.
Whip the egg whites to a firm peak. Take the bowl of chocolate away from the simmering water and add the butter. Mix well until smooth. Add straight away the egg yolks/sugar mixture and quickly mix together. Gradually add the sieved flour and incorporate the whipped egg white.
Pour the mixture into a round cake tin and bake in the oven for about 25 minutes or until the tip of a knife comes out clean from the centre of the cake.
Once baked, leave to cool down in the tin and tip upside down onto a wired rack ready to be glazed with the ganache.
Chocolate Ganache (dairy free)
150g almond milk (unsweetened)
1 Tbsp coconut sugar
125g 70% Dark Chocolate Couverture
25g Cacao Butter
Bring the almond milk and coconut sugar to a boil. Pour half of it onto the chopped dark chocolate, let it sit for a little while and then stir using a spatula. Slowly Add the rest of the liquid. Once all the liquid is incorporated add the cocoa butter (finely chopped) and mix well using the spatula until you obtain a smooth and silky mixture.
10g Cacao Nibs
Once the cake is completely cool and the ganache ready, pour the ganache over the cake and using a spatula spread it evenly onto the cake, covering the side. Let it sit for a few minutes, then sprinkle some cacao nibs or a dusting of cacao powder.
Do you love chocolate so much that you dream of bathing in a pool of the stuff? For most people this is going too far and in our opinion a complete waste! But have you ever thought about snorting it?! Well a Belgian chocolatier Dominique Persoone has invented a chocolate shooter for that very purpose. He originally invented it as a gimmick for a private function with the Rolling Stones 10 years ago.
It's basically a tiny catapult, with two small, spring-loaded spoons that fling 100% cacoa powder into the nostrils. Yes fling! Not sure this would work when wearing a white top and I would definitely recommend closing your eyes. The point of it is to enhance the chocolate experience. Apparently a lot more tastes can be experienced through your nose rather than your mouth. I can only liken the experience to being too eager to woof down a tiramisu and accidentally inhaling the cocoa powder off the top instead of remembering to breathe and eat separately. The thought of putting the brown stuff up my nose doesn’t fill me with excitement I have to say. Have a look at this video and make up your own mind. Hilarious!
Mr Persoone is not the only one to make the most of people’s addiction to chocolate. In Western Europe there's a craze sweeping the night clubs where legal 100% cacao replaces illegal highs. Relying on research that chocolate increases levels of endorphins, these chocolate ravers claim they get a high from using 100% cacao, and that it gives a sense of euphoria and relaxation. They take this trendy substance in beverage, powder and pill form (hot chocolate, cocoa powder and m&m’s to you and me!)
There are a lot of cynics that claim it is all caused by a placebo effect, and to some extent I am sure that is true, but everyone knows that chocolate is a guaranteed mood enhancer, so why not embrace this and wake up without the hangover the following morning? Just to be clear, we are certainly not suggesting you go and snort the Nesquik you’ve got lying around in your pantry. But why not try making a hot chocolate with our 100% raw cacao powder? It’s great if you prefer your hot cocoa to be chocolatey and not full of sugar. If you like a bit of sweetness then add your own to get the balance just right for your palette, we like coconut sugar. Also it’s great with almond milk, which adds its own nutty sweetness. Our 100% cacao powder is also FULL of antioxidant properties, given the cacao has not been roasted and no other ingredients have been added. Try giving yourself a mid-winter chocolatey boost, either curled up on the sofa watching telly or in a night club surrounded by hipsters. Up to you!