Chocolate, the food of the gods, is from Theobroma cacao, a plant native to the Amazon Basin.
Chocolate was first used, not as we know it, a bar of chocolate, as a drink by early MesoAmerican civilisations.
The earliest known use was the Olmecs. A drinking vessel found at an Olmec archaeological site on the Gulf Coast of Veracruz, Mexico, dates chocolate’s preparation by pre-Olmec peoples as early as 1750 BC. Traces of choclote on a drinking vessel dated 1900 BC have been found on the Pacific coast of Chiapas, Mexico, a Mokaya archaeological site.
Recent research places domestication and use of chocolate a few thousand years older, than had been thought.
The Mayans and Aztecs used chocolate.
The Mayans had a glyph for chocolate, the Aztecs used cacao beans as a currency.
Christopher Columbus encountered cacao beans on his fourth trip to the New World. He found the natives who greeted him using the beans as currency.
Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés in 1519 encountered the Aztecs drinking chocolate at the court of Montezuma.
Bernal Diaz, who accompanied Cortés in the conquest of Mexico, wrote of this encounter which he witnessed:
From time to time they served him [Montezuma] in cups of pure gold a certain drink made from cacao. It was said that it gave one power over women, but this I never saw. I did see them bring in more than fifty large pitchers of cacao with froth in it, and he drank some of it, the women serving with great reverence.
Hernán Cortés took cocoa beans back with him on his return to Spain as a gift for the King.
Jose de Acosta, a Spanish Jesuit missionary who lived in Peru and then Mexico in the later 16th century, described its use more generally:
Loathsome to such as are not acquainted with it, having a scum or froth that is very unpleasant taste. Yet it is a drink very much esteemed among the Indians, where with they feast noble men who pass through their country. The Spaniards, both men and women that are accustomed to the country are very greedy of this Chocolate. They say they make diverse sorts of it, some hot, some cold, and some temperate, and put therein much of that “chili”; yea, they make paste thereof, the which they say is good for the stomach and against the catarrh.
The Spanish took chocolate back with them, it was still consumed as a drink, to which they added sweeteners and drank it hot.
It was the priests who first served hot chocolate in their monasteries.
The recent history of chocolate is that of using slave labour.
Chocolate grows as a pod, inside the beans, a cob of beans, strictly speaking seeds, surrounded by an edible fleshy fruit.
The pods are hacked off the tree with machetes, the pods hacked open with a machete, the seeds scooped out.
The seeds or beans are then fermented over several days, then laid out to dry in the sun.
Quality chocolate, and that immediately rules out Cadbury’s, now owned by Kraft, does not substitute. One of the commonest cheapest nastiest substitutes is palm oil.
If chocolate, or any product, contains palm oil, refuse to buy, complain to the retailer and ask not to stock, and complain to the manufacturer. Palm oil is bad for people and planet.
Quality chocolate use cocoa butter.
Quality chocolate is from artistan chocolate makers, expensive. Quality chocolate is often bean-to-bar.
Artisan chocolate makers are following the lead of coffee, direct trade, often single origin, cocoa beans roasted to bring out the best flavour profile of the beans.
In the late 1990s Scharffen Berger led the way in San Francisco. In 2005 sold out to Hershey for $50 million, who closed the headquarters in San Francisco, relocated to Illinois and changed their production methods.
Others, for example Dandelion, have followed, are now the artisan chocolate makers, purists, only use cocoa solids and sugar.
Chocolate has more flavour notes than coffee, which in turn more flavours notes than red wine. If Dandelion chocolate tastes of raspberries, it is not because they have added raspberries, or God forbid raspberry flavouring, that is the inherent flavour of the chocolate.
Industrial chocolate all tastes the same. We are used to chocolate tasting of chocolate.
The first chocolate was gritty, industrialisation of the process the roasted cocoa beans were crushed into a liquid.
Industrial chocolate, the beans over-roasted, tons of sugar added, vanilla if lucky, if not artificial vanilla, vegetable oils, to make a cheap uniform product.
Industrial chocolate has close parallels with commodity coffee, cheap low quality beans, over roasted to remove any defects, provide a uniform product that requires no skill in the brewing, burnt coffee is burnt coffee, tastes of burnt coffee, hence the need for added sugar or syrups as otherwise undrinkable coffee.
Chocolate is following the lead of speciality coffee, select the highest quality beans, work closely with growers, direct trade not the Fair Trade scam, care taken at all stages to bring out the subtleties of flavour, single origin, traced back to the farmer.
For example, a bag of Honduran coffee beans from Cartwheel Coffee, country of origin, the farmer, date when roasted, Q grade of the coffee.
To be called chocolate, in the United States, 100% cocoa butter must be used, the EU allows alternative fats not exceeding 5% of the total fat content. Within the EU this permits the use of cheaper substitutes to be used for cocoa butter, for example soy emulsifiers or even worse palm oil.
Quality chocolate, bean to bar, artisan chocolate, craft chocolate, purists for example Dandelion Chocolate, cocoa solids and sugar only, pragmatists, for example Patric Chocolate and Amano Artisan Chocolate add cocoa butter and vanilla if improves taste and texture.
At the time the documentary was filmed 100 shops, about to open 101, cocoa plantation on St Lucia in the middle of which is located their hotel, aptly named Hotel Chocolat.
An odd documentary fronted by a Richard Branson clone Angus Thirlwell, one of the two co-founders. The impression given, documentary made by Hotel Chocolat, then given or sold to Channel Five.
When co-founder Angus Thirlwell walks into a store and talks of an affront to good retailing, ‘no crimes against good retailing’, refers to a brand, we know he has lost the plot, just another High Street chain within a ghastly shopping centre with all the other crap corporate High Street brands, if a brand, all hype and zilch content.
Location of St Lucia, following the Richard Branson Virgin model, incorporate in an overseas tax haven to avoid tax?
Part One, very much a disappointment, an interesting insight into the company, but nothing about chocolate.
A store manager (now an area manager) drops chocolates on the floor, pops back in the box. In the design lab, women with long hair not tied back.
In the tasting room, takeaway coffee cups. Do they not care about the environment? The over packaging and plastic wrapped chocolates in their stores would indicate not.
A captive audience in an office environment, absolutely no excuse for takeaway coffee cups. The cups should have been ceramic cups or mugs, at the very least anyone with a modicum of businesses acumen would have had on the table branded KeepCup or ecoffee bamboo cups, and on sale in their stores.
Good news, Hotel Chocolat will be launching a bamboo cup.
In York, customers in a shop to taste latest chocolates, to provide valuable feedback. I was appalled to learn they have to pay.
At the hotel on St Lucia, to say the least bizarre a chef shipped out from England for a few days to design the menu. Everything on the menu infused with chocolate, even savoury dishes.
I quite like the idea of staying at a hotel on St Lucia on a cocoa plantation in the middle of a rain forest though a long way from the sea. But I would wish for authentic local dishes prepared by a local chef, not dishes dictated by a chef flown out from England, and no way every dish contaminated with chocolate or cacao, though the occasionally chocolate dessert would be fine.
What impact climate change on the plantation?
I paid a visit to a Hotel Chocolat store, a prime High Street location, lunchtime day after broadcast of Part One of the documentary.
The store was worse than I expected, hype and over packaging, bars of chocolate in plastic.
There are though plans to phase out plastic.
Would it not be better the chocolates on display, customer chooses what they want, pop in a paper bag? The norm in Athens.
I expected the shop to be heaving. It was not, I was the only customer with one young lady serving. I popped back late afternoon, store was still empty.
Contrast with what was shown in the documentary, busy stores half a dozen staff.
Although the staff were friendly and tried to be helpful, they were not knowledgeable about their core product, chocolate.
I was appalled to find bars of dark chocolate, wrapped in plastic, added soy emulsifier. The single origin, a wrap around paper, within, plastic packaging, had to withdraw to find any information on the contents. On none of the bars could I find the weight.
Contrast with dark chocolate from elsewhere, even M&S which makes no claim to be a chocolate company and guilty of excessive plastic for fresh produce, single origin dark chocolate, simple wrapped paper and no added emulsifiers.
The other big difference, the M&S single origin £2 for a bar of chocolate, Hotel Chocolat plastic wrapped cheap soy emulsifier to replace cocoa butter a couple of pence shy of £4 for a smaller bar of chocolate.
Did I wish for a VIP Card? Not really, as did not wish for junk mail. I was assured no junk mail, provides discount on expensive chocolates, and a free gift. Within days, received junk e-mail for a piece of junk I did not want, more household clutter. On leaving the store I was given a brochure for the same piece of junk.
Contrast Hotel Chocolat with the mouthwatering chocolates on display in Aristokratikon, a chocolatier in Athens.
As walk into Aristokratikon, a wonderful aroma of chocolate.
Also to be found in Athens, shops selling loose nuts, dried fruit and loose bars of chocolate or blocks of chocolate.
The same in Istanbul, mouth watering displays in the shops, including of course Turkish Delight, but not the low quality Turkish Delight found in UK.
Part Two of Inside Hotel Chocolat proved to be more interesting, the logistics how a chocolate passes from design to market. But again raised many questions.
Single origin chocolate from the St Lucia estate, the focus on the chocolatier, but if we draw a comparison with single origin speciality coffee, the fermentation, drying in the sun, roasting of the beans are all as important if not more important. It is the roasting of the beans that brings out the subtle flavour notes.
We heard nothing about these various stages a chocolate passes through.
If single origin from St Lucia is the flagship dark chocolate, why substitute soy emulsifier for cocoa butter? No bean-to-bar artisan chocolate maker would do this.
Strange the chef who designs the menu for Hotel Chocolat on St Lucia also designs their chocolate liquor.
Why start with whisky? Would not brandy or rum be a more suitable choice, or a neutral alcohol? Gin, the vile smell rules it out, on the other hand Hidden Curiosities Gin with its subtle aroma worth considering.
The tasting panel, yes experts on chocolate, but a liqueur? I would invite some one like Martin Hudak, Coffee in Good Spirits World Champion on to the panel, as he would be able to provide valuable insights.
A small business may start with a van or stall, move to a shop. Hotel Chocolat in reverse, a chain of shops, then a van.
Maybe a better idea a kiosk, something like FCB Coffee. But would also need coffee, then need a skilled barista.
There are close parallels with BrewDog. Two founders, passionate about what they do, turn that passion into a multi-million pound business.
Hopefully the full two-part documentary Inside Hotel Chocolat will be uploaded to vimeo.
When coffee shops first appeared across Europe they served not only coffee also drinking chocolate.
Today we are seeing drinking chocolate served in specialty indie coffee shops. These coffee shops are also where high quality chocolate can be found.
Edgcumbes Coffee have taken this a step further. They have paired with Noble & Stace who have added roasted coffee beans to their chocolate bars, which are then on sale at Edgcumbes Coffee. They also host Noble & Stace chocolate sessions.
We need to see more craft bean-to-bar direct trade chocolate makers. Too many are buying in chocolate, melting it down, remoulding their own bars.
What is not acceptable, Waitrose passing off an inferior Hotel Chocolate clone as their own, even down to the obscene use of plastic packaging. The same Waitrose that bags fresh produce in plastic, bananas on the shelves sweating and rotting in plastic bags.
We need to see more ethical stores like Hisbe, Infinity Foods, that support and partner quality local producers.
Vulture Capitalists have taken a controlling stake in Montezuma Chocolate, like Green & Black now owned by Cadbury’s, it is no longer an independent chocolate maker.