What got you interested in chocolate?
I have always loved food, cooking and eating, and I have always been interested in how foods are produced and their origins etc, and who doesn’t also enjoy a bit of chocolate? But it wasn’t until I was at a chocolate demonstration at a food festival that I really got drawn down the rabbit hole. It was a demo on how to flavour chocolate, fill chocolates and whatnot, but at the end of the demo someone asked ‘but how do you make the chocolate?’ to which the exhibitor had to admit that she just buys it all in ready made, so this got me thinking, how many companies actually do make their own chocolate? And to my surprise, very very few do. So in my over casual manner I stupidly thought ‘well how hard could it be?’ and so it began…
When did you first make chocolate?
The curiosity all started in 2015, but depends what you mean by chocolate, as my early attempts certainly didn’t replicate any chocolate I had ever seen before. The appearance, taste and texture should probably be described as ‘rough’. It is safe to say making chocolate proved more difficult and complex than I had ever imagined, but I was now hooked and driven to make something at least edible.
How was your first attempt at making chocolate?
As mentioned it wasn’t exactly plain sailing and to be fair I had no idea what I was really doing. There was no one that I knew of who actually made chocolate from bean to bar to ask for help or tips so everything has been done with in depth research online, reading history of food books and a significant amount of good old trial and error, with mostly errors, but they say you learn from your mistakes and that I certainly did. My first attempt was made up of unintentionally burning the cocoa beans to a brittle horrid flavoured mess followed by cracking them with a rolling pin, de-shelling with a hairdryer (what a mess that made) and grinding them up in a blender. If I part any wisdom on future makers, do not do the last part. It took me to blow up two blenders to realise that making chocolate in a blender doesn’t work.
How and from where do you source your ingredients?
I start by working directly with the growers or co-operatives to ethically source the highest quality cocoa beans paying a premium of over 5 times the Fairtrade rate. This means that finally the farmers are getting greater recognition, and a true price for the demanding work and time that goes into growing and cultivating the cocoa, enabling farmers to actually make a living from their cocoa instead of just surviving. They can keep their children in schools and re-invest to grow their businesses instead of being forced into selling their cocoa to large confectionery companies at ridiculously low prices. Only Organic ingredients where possible are added to my chocolate, with only 2-3 ingredients in my dark chocolate bars. I never use emulsifiers, strongly believing that for great chocolate, Less Is More.
Is there anything you are particularly proud of about your products?
I am immensely proud that my chocolate has come a long way in the 4 years since seeing that demonstration and its very humble, chaotic beginnings. What started as curiosity, turned into a hobby and became a full business. My bean to bar chocolates are internationally award winning, collecting an award for every bar created and entered so far. Including winning Gold at the 2018 international chocolate awards.
What’s your best-selling product?
My hand painted giant Easter eggs. They are all individually decorated in different colours and slightly different designs so that every one sold is unique to that person enjoying it, packaged in my zero waste own design boxes. However that’s only seasonal, in general the best selling chocolate variety is the new coffee milk chocolate. This is the one that collected gold in 2018 and flies out as soon as I make a batch. It is enjoyed by cafes, restaurants and bar customers alike for its truly natural and subtly blended flavour.
What achievement are you most proud of?
One of my greatest achievements is not only ethically sourcing ingredients but also sustainably producing and packaging my chocolate. At J.Cocoa I make a specific pledge to the environment to protect our planet, after all, this is the only planet with chocolate on it! I have reduced the businesses waste to an absolute minimum. Any packaging from deliveries either gets reused, repurposed or recycled. Nothing gets wasted throughout production, and I have designed most of my machines and equipment which have then been built here in the UK from recycled stainless steel, and everything is either powered manually or by electricity.
Packaging is the biggest issue when it comes to waste, particularly plastics. So I set about designing my own zero waste chocolate packaging that was still functional, hygienic and protected my bean to bar chocolate. It took me the best part of a year, but it eventually all came together. My single origin bars are packaged in fully compostable starch-based wrap, inside a totally glueless recyclable acid free card box, all of which is produced here in the UK minimising fuel usage. My hot chocolate stand up pouches are re-sealable and also fully compostable. My shipping boxes are custom fit to the bars minimising movement and the need for excessive protective packaging. Though in circumstances where this is needed I either use paper, compostable pellets, or simply re-use protective packaging from deliveries I have received. The boxes are then secured with fully recyclable tape.
I am most proud of persevering with making chocolate too. It has brought many highs and lows and it is no easy product to produce. It is a very complex time-consuming process, and by changing one small aspect within it will yield a completely different end product, which at times has been a nightmare. But I do it because I love it, and I want others to enjoy what I make.
I am proud to use the chocolate as an avenue to implement real change particularly in cocoa growing countries which also happen to be some of the poorest regions on earth and historically taken advantage of.
What are your ambitions for the future?
Looking to the future I want to carry on making chocolate, sounds obvious but it is a tough path to walk. I also want to continue increasing the range of chocolates I make, working with more amazing growers and invest in fully renewable energy sources such as solar panels, rain water storage with purifier and wind generators etc to eventually become totally sustainable and continue to form a business and product that creates a big taste impression whilst leaving no imprint on the planet.
What’s your mission statement?
To produce the most delicious bean to bar chocolate in a fully ethical and sustainable manner, to use the chocolate as an avenue to implement real change economically and environmentally. To enjoy making something that brings joy to others.
What’s your favourite type of chocolate?
Very difficult, I love so many different chocolates dark, milk, white, filled, bars etc. There’s so many really amazing chocolate makers and chocolatiers. Some of my favourite go-to chocolates are basically anything from Zara’s chocolates, Eponine and Fifth Dimension, the triple chocolate truffle from JK chocolates is incredible! Chocolarder’s Sambriano Dark bar is one of my all time favourites and bars from Dormouse and Solkiki are too brilliant to name just one. And that’s to name just a few!
You will be able to try James’s award-winning chocolate at the Exeter Chocolate Festival! But if you can’t wait until then, you can order direct from the website by clicking here.