Interview – Solkiki Chocolatemaker

What was the point of starting your own chocolate label?

In 2007 we were looking for a decent dairy-free white chocolate, but there were very few options and none were delicious, so we started experimenting. That same year, we sampled fine flavour dark chocolate in San Francisco and were excited by the flavours and nutrition but also the ethics behind the fine flavour movement.  The point? Deliver exploitation-free chocolate that tastes great and protects everyone in our chain; from the creatures and trees in the rainforests, to the farmers and our customers. Consuming fine-flavour chocolate really makes a positive difference, and we want to be part of that change and make good decisions easy for people to make!IMG_2803

Is chocolate a luxury item?

What is a luxury item?  Something you don’t really need.  Because of its high nutrition we think fine flavour, low processed chocolate is a necessity, like apples and broccoli – only more powerful and beneficial!  Is ultra-processed industrial chocolate a luxury? Absolutely.  The planet would be better off without industrial chocolate.

How did you go about starting the company?

We started with a very basic shoestring budget. We invested in simple equipment and wanted to recoup some of the costs so we tested selling online as a hobby and found there was a demand for our product. Some of the most important steps were; finding great farmers, finding reliable sources of great cacao, finding the route to market, gathering equipment and obtaining government approval to import, make and sell.

What were some of the biggest challenges?

Finding affordable space in which to build our workshop.  We found a very old building to renovate in the rural countryside and it took a long time to make it ready for 

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production.  As well as an international relocation and raising a young family, it was a true challenge to get Solkiki off the ground.

Did you find any aspect of setting up the company to actually be fun?

Almost everything about it is fun! Coming up with the name and logo, and finding the Solkiki way to do things is great fun. Starting something new, with hopes and experiments and energy… it’s a dream come true. You’ve got one life, so try to enjoy it, right?!  We’re really lucky to have found our passion, and to be rewarded while doing it is something we appreciate every day.

What inspired the company name?

Sol means the Sun, and Kiki comes from a Dutch word (Iris is Dutch) that speaks of nature, all things that grow, live and die. Solkiki – it speaks of all the things we really need. We added ‘Chocolatemaker’ to make the distinction between chocolatiers (remelters who use chocolate made by others to then be made into bonbons etc) and chocolatemakers (who produce the actual chocolate made from the cacao bean).

How do go about developing your recipes?

We feel that every variety of cacao bean that we work with has a right to shine, whether as a single source bar or with an inclusion. We like to find the things that are special about the bean and put it in the spotlight. How we go about it is different per cacao bean. Sometimes it’s in the flavour of the unroasted bean, sometimes in the roasted bean. Other times we find inspiration in something less directly related – a memory of a flavour or perhaps an aspect of a dish we recently tried, etc. We find that when you follow a lead it can bring you to very interesting roads. Many dead ends too! We are not afraid to fail, but persevering sometimes brings you to a very delicious place where the chocolate is just divine and it was well worth meeting the dead ends that came before.

What do you want the buyer to come away with after tasting your creations?

We work to generate a feeling of discovery and excitement for fine-flavour chocolate. We create chocolate that hopefully excites you and makes you feel great – mind AND body!

Who is doing exciting things in the chocolate area, in your opinion?

The Heirloom Cacao Preservation initiative is working hard to find, promote and conserve delicious and especially unique cacao trees.  Their work here is invaluable because if people don’t act immediately then many amazing cacao varieties will be lost forever.

The International Chocolate Awards and the International Institute of Chocolate and Cacao Tasting are doing an incredible job of promoting fine flavour cacao and chocolate tasting worldwide, and of course the International Chocolate Salon do a great job promoting fine flavour chocolate in North America.

Are there any developments in the field that you find very exciting?

There are more and more chocolatemakers popping up around the UK and also around Europe. There is a steady interest for quality chocolate that is different and new, and we also see a growing interest from the public in understanding and exploring the ethical side of cacao.

Chocolate made without dairy is receiving more interest and we feel this is really motivating because we feel that dairy should not be an automatic ingredient for white and milk chocolate. This might sound strange at first, but we feel one can enjoy an extremely delicious white, milk or dark milk chocolate using other types of milk, like coconut milk for instance. They’re at least equally delicious.

We are also seeing new bean-to-bar specialist shops run by enthusiastic chocolate curators popping up more and more throughout Europe. It’s really great to see more interest in cacao as a food, and people understanding that cacao is a lot like fine wine, not just something to quickly satisfy a craving with (although there is nothing wrong with that too!), but that it can also be a food to savour and enjoy at a deeper level.

Do you have advice for anyone wanting to get in the business?

If you want to learn about chocolate flavours, the best way to learn is eat as much fine flavour chocolate as you can. Pay conscious attention to the chocolate and compare at least two chocolates in any session.  You’ll learn a lot about what you like and dislike and it’ll give you the best possible grounding.  Taste, taste, taste again. The sort of chocolate you should make should be the sort of chocolate you like to eat, you’re the expert when it comes to your taste buds and no one comes close. So, trust your own judgement most.

Any comments on sustainability, the environment, fair trade or other areas of interest?

About sustainability. In a nutshell, cheap industrial chocolate which costs less than 10p/gram retail price does NOT come from a sustainable source. It is driving deforestation and human rights abuse on a huge scale. Industrial chocolate currently employs 2.3 million child workers and a total of 8 million workers earning half of the bottom line for absolute poverty.

We work using direct trade, which means cutting out as many middle men as possible and making sure the farmers are rewarded properly for their work. In return they look after their crops and fermentations well and can supply us with outstanding cacao. We do our best to then work with the cacao beans as best we can, making the best chocolate possible.

We would love to see more chocolatiers switch to buying from chocolatemakers that practice direct trade. The problem with chocolate from more sustainable sources where the cacao was bought through direct trade (not just fair trade) is that the end product is more expensive and not everyone will be happy to pay more for something they’ve always underpaid for.

There are a lot of issues with Fair Trade in chocolate that need to be addressed. Just because there is a Fair Trade stamp on the bar you bought, doesn’t mean it is sustainable. What it means is that only slightly more has been paid for the cacao, but it is not enough to make a difference on the farmers’ lives.

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If you can’t wait until November to get hold of some award-winning Solkiki chocolate, you can order it on their website – www.solkiki.co.uk

Photo credit: Michael Lucky.

Fundraising with Original Beans

The Exeter Chocolate Festival is proud to donate a percentage of profits to support Original Beans’ work with the Arhuaco tribe in Columbia. Funds raised will go directly towards supporting a local high school to increase self-sufficiency, reforestation, and organic cacao growing, aswell as providing high school students with locally grown and handmade cacao mass for their hot chocolate.

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Original Beans‘ Chocolate plants a cacao tree for every bar sold.

DSC06201Original Beans was founded on a passion for replenishing what we consume, carrying on their founder’s family tradition of sustainability that began 220 years ago when his forefather Georg Hartig advised “to manage forests in such a way that future generations can reap the same benefit from them as the current one.”

Through their One Bar : One Tree programme, they have planted and preserved millions of trees in the cacao origins. When you break off a piece of Original Beans chocolate, not only are you  moments away from enjoying the rarest cacao beans in their purest form—you are breaking ground for a tree.

Background

Cocooned by the pristine wilderness of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Northern Colombia, the Arhuaco tribe is hard to get to. It takes 8 hours on motorcycle on winding dirt roads – down muddy paths, crossing rivers on corroded wooden rafts – to get to the heart of their land and the communities where Original Beans buy an ancient and rare cacao, which the Arhuaco call ‘Businchari’ (meaning sunrise and new beginnings).

Schoko_Kurs_24Jan, cacao aficionado at Original Beans, was invited by the Arhuaco tribe to visit their villages and meet their spiritual elders. This is a great honour, since the Arhuaco are genuinely protective of their land due to their sad past with intruding outsiders: conquistadors, settlers, guerrilla groups, paramilitary forces, grave robbers – and most recently tourists with little respect for their customs and sacred sites.

Jan first visited the village of Katansama in 2015, where he sat down with one of the tribe’s spiritual elders, Mamo Kamilo. Telling the story of Original Beans, Jan explained that their chocolate wrapping and foil is bio-compostable. Mamo Kamilo cut the wrapping and foil into small pieces and buried it in the soil, whereafter he told Jan that he would contact him in 3 months time – “if this is really true, we can start working together”. Here, beneath a giant tree, a sacred meeting place for the community, their partnership with the Arhuaco tribe began. Since then Original Beans have been working hard to make a better living for the Arhuaco by empowering them to grow premium cacao in harmony with their rainforest home, while preserving their ancient and rare cacao heritage.

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The project

A percentage of profits from the Exeter Chocolate Festival will be donated to Original Beans’ ongoing work with a high school located in Bunkwimake in La Lengüeta, the cacao growing region of the Arhuaco tribe.

The high school takes 150 students, and is a 4 hour hike from the main road. Their vision is to become self sufficient through growing their own organic food. So far they have successfully replaced 100% of the sugar with handmade sugar cane honey, achieved a 50% of reduction of rice purchasing by growing potatoes and cassava, and reached the first 30 kg local made cacao mass (of the 120kg they require) for hot chocolate consumption for the boarding pupils.

The funds we raise will go directly to:

  • Equipment purchasing and training courses to support:
    • Self-sufficiency (irrigation system, seeds, equipment)
    • Reforestation (growing the small nursery onsite)
    • Organic cacao growing (training courses, equipment)
    • Replacing the low quality supermarket bought cacao mass with high quality local, handmade cacao mass to make hot chocolate (required: 120 kg / year)

Ethical, Educational and Delicious

At the Exeter Chocolate Festival our mission is to share our passion for, and educate others about the fine quality, bean-to-bar, ethically produced chocolate being made right here in the UK.
Over our two day celebration of chocolate, you will be able to discover some of the UK’s most passionate and talented chocolate makers who are dedicated to working directly with cocoa farmers to ensure the best quality product.
This direct trade provides traceability, and means the farmer is paid a fair price for their beans, therefore supporting small farms to grow.
Dark chocolate is naturally vegan and gluten-free, but you will also be able to find a range of milk chocolates to suit all dietary needs.
We have something for everyone – exquisitely indulgent brownies, handmade truffles from local chocolatiers, you can even treat yourself to a chocolate cocktail. Rest assured you will only find it at the Exeter Chocolate Festival if it meets our strict criteria of being made from bean-to-bar, is ethically produced, fine-quality or is locally made.
Alongside the chocolate sellers, we will be bringing you a full programme of talks, demonstrations and workshops. Plenty for connoisseurs and families alike.

Date Announcement!

We are excited to announce that the Exeter Chocolate Festival will be back on November 2nd and 3rd 2019!

We will be taking over the beautiful Exeter Castle for the weekend, and filling it with amazing craft chocolate, local chocolatiers, cakes, cocktails, demonstrations, tastings and much more.

Follow us on facebook for regular updates.

It’s a wrap!

Thank you to all who came, tasted, shopped, chatted to our chocolate makers, enjoyed the fabulous music from our local musicians, took part in a tasting session or watched a demo.

With more than 3,500 visitors through the door in just one day, our first ever Exeter Chocolate Festival was a huge success!

Now we are busy planning for 2019’s event which will be even bigger and better. You can follow us on Instagram, or like our facebook page for updates.

A Musical Feast

Come along to the auditorium at any time throughout the day and you will be able to browse the chocolate stalls, meet the chocolate makers, decorate a chocolate lollipop, grab an ice-cream or piece of cake, all while listening to the wonderful sounds of our talented young local musicians!

Pop along at the following times if you want to catch a particular musician…

  • 11:30 – Charlotte AP
  • 12:15 – Ophelia Pearce
  • 13:00 – Anna Hamill
  • 13:45 – Chris Ostler
  • 14:30 – Mattie James
  • 15:00 – Sunnyside Up Ukulele Workshop
  • 16:15 – Molly Davies
  • 17:00 – Henry Buckland

About the organiser

MRP_8109As we near 1000 followers on our instagram feed, it feels important to give a big, heartfelt thanks to each and every person who is supporting our journey. It blows my mind how much love there is for our event which hasn’t even happened yet! So I thought this would be a good opportunity to introduce myself…

I am Nicola, a bona fide chocolate addict. This festival was born out of my desire to share my passion for bean-to-bar, ethically produced chocolate and to educate others about the fine quality chocolate that is being made here in the UK by dedicated and talented makers.

Many years ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel and teach in the Caribbean. This is where I first discovered the world of incredible ‘real’ chocolate! I have since then been on a mission to taste and learn about chocolate from around the world.

I became certified with the International Institute of Chocolate and Cacao Tasting, which enabled me to hone my skills in how to taste and profile chocolate. And now I am able to offer chocolate tasting sessions, and workshops to schools and corporate groups.

There are several other excellent chocolate festivals across the country, with a similar ethos to ours, and I am excited to be able to bring our event to the South West. Please don’t get us confused with one of those new confectionery festivals that are popping up, whilst we aim to offer something for everyone, we are most definitely a candy floss free zone!

I am always happy to talk chocolate! To get in touch,you can drop me an email to hello@exeterchocolatefestival.co.uk