Since I’m fascinated with where food comes from, the next logical step in my ‘farm-to-table’ ‘bean-to-bar’ chocolate adventures was to try growing my own cacao trees…in London!
It was a challenge, with the first hurdle being to get fresh pods back from Ingemann in Nicaragua through US customs. After enduring a good hours’ worth of questioning by a typically Texan border enforcement official, the pods were let through!
When you’re asked by the Academy of Chocolate to attend and speak at the Finnebrougue Fine Food Fair in Killyleagh Castle, Northern Ireland, courtesy of Food NI 2016 – the obvious answer to this request is ‘yes’.
The trip was all planned out by Food NI, and after an exhilaratingly turbulent 55 minute flight from Gatwick, I touched down in Belfast City Airport, greeted at the airport by Sharon Machala of Food NI – my chauffeur for the next 28 hours (this was very much a flying visit).
August Bank Holiday weekend saw the boy whisk me off to Venice for a belated birthday surprise! Arriving close to midnight, we stayed in the San Sebastiano Garden Hotel; a little out of the centre, but easy walking distance to the action.
Like most trips, I like to research the destination as much as I can, and create a little map with timings and things to do at each location. Very geeky, I know, but it means that if time and/or funds are not on your side, you can still let the place get under your skin, just about.
Hotel Chocolat are probably what most people think of when considering well-known chocolatiers in London, and although they are a ‘highstreet chain’, their chocolates (and hot chocolates) are not only divine award winners, but also inventive! My favourite is their classic hot chocolate, with a bit of a twist. Whilst a classic hot chocolate with chocolate shavings on top is an option, there’s something really special and a bit naughty about adding a shot (or two) of rum into the mix, and topping it off with the extremely flavourful cacao whip.
York! A medieval walled city in Northern England with a vibrant history dating as far back as Roman times and beyond. Defined by it’s medieval cathedral or ‘Minster’ – built in the 13th Century, and extensive Roman wall (since rebuilt in various places), it is also famous for playing its part in the chocolate and candy revolution of the British Isles.
The wonders of social media mean that these days a whole wealth of different chocolate and cacao products and producers are at the touch of a button. I discovered Lockhart Martin on Instragram and was lucky enough to win a sachet of their delectable cacao tea in an Instacompetition – unlike most cacao teas that just use the husks, these guys create a rustic blend of crushed cacao beans – so you’re not just getting the dreamy, almost earthy notes of the cacao shells coming through in this brew, but also the heady rich chocolatey notes (and nutritional benefits) within the nibs themselves. To coin a phrase (that’s already been coined by these folks) it’s “drinking chocolate without the calories”, never a truer word said! For maximum effect, use 3 heaped teaspoons of cocoa infusion in your preferred loose leaf tea spoon, pour freshly boiled water over them and steep for 2-3 minutes. If, like me, you are frugal with your cocoa items, the leaves will be good for up to two flushes, but after that they will need to be disposed of.
There’s more on offer in the infusions department; the inventive bunch at LM HQ are also branching into blends, the Cocoa & Mint infusion being the first in this range and I just can’t wait to try it! Cocoa infusions aren’t the only products these guys have going, they also create their own miniature bean-to-bar bars of 90% cacao. Watch this space for reviews on these shortly!
There is an honest and inspiring story behind these guys; founded by Sarah Martin after being diagnosed with Coeliac disease amongst other food intolerances, Sarah set about creating her own products she was able to eat, along with making artizan dark chocolate bars from the beans, she soon branched into cocoa infusions, and, realising her potential, started the Lockhart Martin company. Sarah, we salute you! Lockhart Martin are an online shop so head over to their website and grab yourself a cocoa infusion!
PEYTON AND BYRNE MARMALADE DARK CHOCOLATE and ROSE DARK CHOCOLATE 25g BARS:
People are probably most familiar with these guys and their cake-making abilities. With stores in iconic locations across London, they are popular with tourists and locals alike and produce a fine range of cakes, pastries and bread served alongside specially selected teas and coffees. Me being me, I got most excited about them when I discovered they also do chocolates with witty notes on the packaging…
One of London’s oldest chocolate houses, originally founded over 100 years ago, and later co-owned by a former employee of Charbonelle & Walker, Prestat started life as a little chocolate shop in South Molton Street. After surviving two World Wars and the rationing of the 1950s Prestat rose to prominence again, becoming a favourite shop of not just royalty, but of Rold Dahl himself! Legend has it it was this very chocolate shop that influenced Dahl for his book My Uncle Oswald, and, in part, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The latest exciting news for Prestat involves their newly opened chocolate cafe at 186, Pavilion Rd in Sloane Square. There are a fine selection of delicious cakes on offer, as well as chocolate truffles and a range of hot chocolates, which is why we’re here, including: Dark, Milk, Orange and Chai. Feeling a little like branching out, I went for the chai hot chocolate, not quite as thick as some other London hot chocolates I have tried, but still just as silky and rich as it is made with real grated chocolate and a powdered chai spice blend. The warming mix of spices with the rich chocolate is perfect for any time of year, and the lack of sickly syrupyness makes it all the more palatable. Served in a classically fancy gold-rimmed drinking mug and finished with a light dusting of richly intense cocoa powder, I strongly suggest regardless of what flavour you try, add a yuzu sake truffle as an after chocolate – trust me, you won’t be disappointed!
Prestat’s Cafe can be found at: 186, Pavilion Rd, London SW3 2BF, a 3 minutes walk from Sloane Square tube station, and their miniature chocolate shop can be found at: 14 Princes Arcade, Piccadilly, London SW1Y 6DS
After our foray into the Nicaraguan jungle in search of the ancient heirloom cacao, meeting with farmers along the way, it was now time to harvest the beautiful golden-red pods of deliciousness we had gathered. Have you ever wondered what makes chocolate taste like, well, often many more things than just chocolate? It’s not as simple as you might think.
After an introduction to the world of fine cacao and its production methods at Ingemann’s processing and sorting facility, it was time to hit the (rather bumpy) road out to the cacao farms of north central Nicaragua. Here we would be meeting with the farmers, learning their trade and helping them with the harvest of some of their crop – the pods of the prized Theobroma Cacao tree.