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Hands on with our champion chocolatier

On a rainy Saturday afternoon in Bristol, I set out to seek guidance from a professional chocolatier, Greg, who has run the business Chocbox for four years.

“It’s a miracle” that chocolate can be made so delicately, Greg tells us, and a group of attendees gather keenly to watch him at work. The cocoa butter must be melted very slowly in a bowl above a pot of hot water, never exceeding 45 degrees. Cocoa powder is then added and the temperature is managed down to 31 degrees; if the mixture is too hot then it will shrink too fast when poured into the moulds.

Next, Greg adds some sublime smelling 100% date syrup for a natural sweetness. The mixture is then poured onto a slab of marble in a process called tempering, where it is scraped together into a more solid form as the marble absorbs the heat. Greg’s got a strict five minute timer here, and not tempering properly can lead to blooming, where small white forms of fat migrate to the surface of the chocolate.

Greg’s technique produces high quality vegan chocolate, and there is no need for refined sugar or emulsifiers. He sends it off to local stores in plastic free, biodegradable packaging, or, in little cardboard boxes that, when returned, grant you free chocolate!

Greg uses cacao powder and butter from the company Nutricraft. They buy organic, raw, Criollo cacao beans from cooperatives acting as intermediaries for Peruvian smallholder farmers. The farmers grow the cacao naturally amongst various trees and shrubs using organic agroforestry methods.

This supply chain means you can also be certain that Greg’s products are slavery free. He pointed out to me that although chocolate can be marketed as fairtrade, this doesn’t necessarily equate to fair trade with the farmers harvesting the trees. There is worrying evidence that suggests children are exploited for labour on cocoa farms in countries like Brazil and the Ivory coast.

Although the majority of the world’s cacao is grown on farms in West Africa, its spiritual home is South America. In what is now modern day Mexico, the Mayans drank a thick cacao mixture in celebrations and ceremonies, and this was readily available in many households too. The Aztecs drank a similar chocolate drink, but they believed cacao was gifted to them by the Gods, and the beans were considered more valuable than gold in Aztec culture.

The Criollo cacao beans that Greg sources from Nutricraft are of the same variety that the Mayans and the Aztecs used. It is dubbed the ‘king of cacao’ due to its very high quality, yet it is now a much rarer variety due to its low yield as a crop.

It is only after Christopher Columbus returned from his Atlantic voyages in the early 16th century that cacao made its way back to Spain, and then spread throughout Europe and North America in the form of a sweetened drink and later in the familiar chocolate bars of today. A great extended article about chocolate’s history can be found on History’s website.

At the end of the workshop, myself and my fellow attendees know the entire journey of sustainable and ethical chocolate, all in the same city where the first chocolate bar was ever made! A delightful trip for children too, who eagerly rolled up chocolate truffles with a mixture of ground cashews, coconut oil and pumpkin and sunflower seeds.

It is brilliant to see, in Bristol, the art form behind crafting proper chocolate with sustainably sourced ingredients from Peru. You can buy Greg’s chocolate bars, truffles and porridge bombs at Smaller Footprints, or if you’re feeling more adventurous, tag along to one of his workshops at Lawrence Weston community farm to learn the process firsthand!

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