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!
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
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.
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.