Gemma Rose meets two entrepreneurs – chocolate makers with a difference, making a difference.
Before I eat a piece of Mike & Becky’s chocolate, they instruct me on how best to do so: “Find a calm moment. Relax. Our chocolate should not be consumed in a rush.” Whilst I’m carefully chewing, they advise me to close my eyes and “enjoy the full flavour experience”. The chocolate is 50% dark milk, 100% organic, and made from cacao beans grown in the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I note the strong aftertaste. That’s good, assures Mike & Becky’s instructions, written on eco-print packaging; it means that it’s real, honest chocolate.
The chocolate tastes, well, different. Having munched on Cadbury’s chocolate and Côte d’Or for most of my life, it takes a while to re-orient my taste buds and fully savour Mike & Becky’s. The quality is evident: it’s smooth, light and there are no greasy traces. I lay the blame of my ungrateful taste buds at the door of the mass chocolate producers: I am so used to sugary chocolate that I am slow to appreciate the real stuff.
“There used to be hundreds of artisan chocolate makers, but today there are very few, due to the industrialization of chocolate production,” says Björn Becker, a.k.a. Becky, noting that many of the most popular chocolatiers buy their chocolate from multinationals such as the Barry Callebaut Group. Barry Callebaut is considered one of the largest suppliers of chocolate in the world. In Belgium, it sells chocolate to Guylian, Leonidas and Neuhaus, who then mould the chocolate into their signature designs.
The tide, however, is slowly turning away from such industrial-scale production, likely due to the levels of sugar and oil content. In the United States, Frederic Loraschi, French pastry chef and former instructor at Barry Callebaut’s chocolate academy, notes on Confectionerynews.com that consumers are getting tired of mass production and are more susceptible to smaller businesses. These businesses are not only more local, they also tend to be more environmentally-friendly and socially conscious. What seems to best describe the ethos of artisanal chocolate makers is the ‘bean-to-bar’ movement, which Mike & Becky are a part of.