Was Seaforth inspired by Mast Brothers?

http://www.chocolatereviews.co.uk/seaforth-cows-milk-60/
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Photo credit: Garrett Ziegler via Flickr
http://www.chocolatereviews.co.uk/seaforth-cows-milk-60/
Photo credit: Lee McCoy via Chocolate Reviews

First, a disclaimer: I’ve never tasted Seaforth Chocolate. I have to assume it tastes better than what Mast Brothers was putting out the last time I tried their bars. I also have no reason to doubt Seaforth is (and always has been) a true bean-to-bar chocolate company.

The disclaimer is warranted because I’m about to compare certain marketing choices made by Seaforth to those of Mast Brothers. And, as many of you may know, Mast Brothers recently fell from grace after being outed last December for misleading consumers by selling remelted Valrhona as their own bean-to-bar chocolate. While the chocolate community was well aware that Mast Brothers had once made their bars out of industrial couverture chocolate (the texture of Valrhona is not something a bean-to-bar start-up company can reproduce without hundreds of thousands of dollars of specialized equipment), consumers were taken aback when they learned the truth.

So I don’t make the comparison between Seaforth and Mast Brothers lightly. And in all fairness, the similarities are almost entirely superficial. But that said, the similarities are significant. It appears that the new UK-based company is attempting to fill Mast Brothers’ big, hand-crafted shoes.

Let’s start with the less obvious similarities — the ones I would normally chalk up to mere coincidence. First, like the famous brothers, Seaforth’s chocolate has a maritime theme. And like Mast Brothers, the company claims to have sailed its beans from the Caribbean on a wind-powered schooner in an attempt to reduce its carbon footprint.

But I probably wouldn’t have noticed these similarities had it not been for the striking resemblance of Seaforth’s  packaging to classic Mast Brothers bars. The wallpaper style wrappers and square stickers are incredibly similar. And even Seaforth’s font choice perfectly mimics Mast Brothers. Take a look for yourself and tell me if you don’t agree.

Seaforth’s mold design:

https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjchdzPs9XLAhVBJB4KHf5ACA8QjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.chocolatereviews.co.uk%2Fseaforth-cows-milk-60%2F&bvm=bv.117218890,d.amc&psig=AFQjCNGCR3rwOpJ_rJmrXoiNblYEcIS5EA&ust=1458774193299303
Photo credit: Lee McCoy via Chocolate Reviews

vs.

Mast Brothers’ packaging:

https://bluebergitt.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/choosy-about-chocolate/
Photo credit: Blue Bergitt

If you still aren’t convinced, compare these blurbs from the two companies’ marketing materials.

Seaforth’s sail boat:

The cocoa beans for this bar were transported from the Dominican Republic on board the Tres Hombres. This traditional wooden sailing boat has no engine but relies on the wind and the waves (to be specific the currents) to deliver its delicious cargo across the world. As a result, this bar is not only Fairtrade but almost carbon neutral as well.

vs.

Mast Brothers’ sail boat:

In May 2011, the Black Seal, a 70-ft schooner built by its Captain, Eric Loftfield, sailed down to the Dominican Republic to retrieve a shipment of cocoa bean for Mast Brothers Chocolate. In 14 days, the schooner sailed back to Mast Brothers’ headquarters in Brooklyn using only wind power. The Mast Brothers later boasted that they were the first since 1939 to sail cargo into New York City.

The Mast Brothers directed by Brennan Stasiewicz, from The Scout on Vimeo

So, what do you think? Inspiration or coincidence?

And, perhaps more to the point, does it matter that a smaller, newer company is borrowing to such an extent from a more established company? Chocolate makers and chocolatiers are often inspired by the marketing choices, packaging, chocolate styles, and flavor combinations of other industry participants. Maybe that’s okay. What do you think — when does inspiration cross the line?

Raaka’s 60% coconut milk bar

Raaka Coconut Milk Chocolate Bar

Raaka Coconut Milk Chocolate Bar

This, my friends, is what milk chocolate tastes like when it’s all grown up.

The other day I posted about my latest obsession: dark milk chocolate. But it wouldn’t be fair to write a whole post about dark milk chocolate without giving credit to the chocolate bar that opened my eyes to all this deliciousness in the first place.

Ironically, the bar in question is dairy-free.

Raaka’s vegan 60% dark coconut milk chocolate bar blows my mind. The texture is just… indulgent. I won’t go into a long flavor soliloquy full of words like “floral” and “fruity,”

Raaka Coconut Milk Chocolate Bar

because, well, I’m not training to be a sommelier. The company thinks it tastes like strawberries (it’s certainly fruity, but, seriously… strawberry?). To avoid being obnoxious, let’s just say it tastes awesome.

Note that this rave review is coming from someone who, until recently, hadn’t bought a milk chocolate bar in, I don’t know… a decade?

Funny thing is I’ve actually been avoiding Raaka for years too. I bought one of their super dark bars back in 2012 and wasn’t impressed with the texture or strong vegetal taste (if you’ve ever tried unroasted bean — or “raw” — chocolate, you know it’s a bit of an acquired taste). It seems like Raaka has upgraded their production equipment since then and are now manufacturing some really refined, top-rate chocolate. I’m glad I gave the company another taste.

Also, I appreciate that Raaka has the integrity to market its bars as “virgin,” not “raw.” But I’ll save my diatribe about “raw” chocolate for another post.

 

 

 

Truffles with dark chocolate mint ganache

Molded dark chocolate bonbons

Molded Dark Chocolate Bonbons

A couple of years ago I bought an indoor herb garden as a birthday present for my husband. We grow basil, cilantro, dill, parsley and mint, but mint is the one we seem to use least frequently — so I was excited when I realized I could use all that mint to flavor my ganache.

I won’t get into too much detail about how I made these because the process was very similar to how I made the lemon ganache truffles a couple of weeks ago. The only difference was that this time I infused the cream with mint while the cream was still cold. Being short on time, I thought it would be more efficient to blend them up together in my Magic Bullet.

Fresh mint whipped cream
Fresh Mint Whipped Cream

Well… it turns out you can make really fluffy whipped cream in a blender! I had no idea. Green whipped cream too. Whoops.

Despite this accident, it turned out beautifully. I used 70.4% dark Callebaut. Not too sweet, and the ganache had just the faintest hint of mint.

At the last minute I second-guessed myself and added a drop of peppermint oil. I wish I’d skipped it. The subtlety of the mint had been refreshing, but the peppermint oil made these truffles taste like Andes Candies — which are tasty, but not very original. I’d really hoped the fresh mint flavor would come through.

Whisked Chocolate Mint GanacheSigh.

Still, the truffles came out so shiny and pretty — I couldn’t have been happier with the result (aesthetically, anyway).

Plus, now I know how to make green whipped cream in a blender. Which will come in handy… never?

Review: chocolate delivery services

Cococlectic Bean-to-Bar Box

Cococlectic box with Cao Chocolates

I lived in New York City for 12 years… and in New York, everything you can imagine can be delivered to your doorstep at any time, day or night. Online delivery services were such a staple of my life (breakfast delivery, dry cleaning delivery, grocery delivery) that the absence of even decent restaurant delivery services here (Seamless, get your act together!) made my move to D.C. more traumatic than it should have been.

But recently I discovered the holy grail of online delivery services: craft chocolate delivery. Several new companies are now providing chocoholics everywhere with doorstep delivery of hard-to-find, small-batch bars from craft chocolate makers all over the world.

I immediately signed up for two: Cococlectic and Cocoa Runners. Here’s what my experience has been like so far.

Cococlectic is a San Francisco based company that markets itself as a “craft bean-to-bar club.” Members receive four different bars of dark chocolate from one chocolate maker each month, with prices starting at $35.99 for one shipment (which comes with a $20 gift certificate towards a monthly subscription plan).

  • Cococlectic is for pure dark chocolate lovers only! They currently don’t provide the option of receiving milk chocolate or chocolate bars with stuff in them (inclusions).

    Cao Single Origin Chocolates
    Cao Single Origin Chocolates
  • They’re marketing themselves as a way for curious chocolate connoisseurs to find out about new, little-known or hard-to-find American craft chocolate makers. They do the leg-work and vetting, providing customers with a curated selection of bars.
  • The cost is reasonable, and I like being able to buy a no-strings-attached gift box without committing to a monthly subscription.
  • My gift box came VERY fast (in just a couple of days) and included four bars of different single origin chocolates from one chocolate maker: Cao Chocolates, from Miami, Florida. Since I’d never heard of Cao, Cococlectic did deliver on its promise of introducing me to a new chocolate maker that I probably wouldn’t have found on my own.

Cocoa Runners is a UK based company that delivers globally. Cocoa Runners costs about the same as Cococlectic (~$30 a month, plus a ~$5 shipping fee if you live outside the UK).

  • Unlike Cococlectic, Cocoa Runners doesn’t seem to provide the option to buy a single box… it appears you have to sign up for a monthly subscription to receive your first shipment. However, their subscriptions are cancellable at any time, so it’s not much of a commitment.
  • Cocoa Runners is more customizable: you can choose to receive either a mix of dark and milk chocolate, or only dark chocolate (they carry dark milk chocolate, which I adore, so I was very tempted to check the “milk chocolate” box). And when you sign up, Cocoa Runners will even ask you about your preferences for inclusions — do you like chocolate with nibs? berries? bacon?
  • Unlike Cococlectic, Cocoa Runners appears to provide customers with bars from multiple chocolate makers in each shipment.
  • Shipment is a tad slower than Cococlectic. Cocoa Runners ships the third week of each month, so I haven’t received my first box yet. But I’ll let you know what’s in it when it arrives.

First attempt: ganache-filled chocolates

Molded dark chocolate truffles

Molded dark chocolate bonbons

Over the weekend I tried my hand at making molded chocolates for the first time. I was dying to use my new chocolate tempering machine (more on that in another post), so when I found myself with a whole free Sunday and a sweet tooth, I decided to go for it.

I whipped up some lemon ganache, poured it into a piping bag, tempered a pound of deZaan 64% dark couverture chocolate, and got to work (for full instructions, scroll to the bottom of this post).

Molded dark chocolate bonbons

Here’s what I learned:

  1. One pound of chocolate is NOT a lot to work with when making bonbons. I barely had enough chocolate for one mold sheet.
  2. It’s very challenging to get the chocolate out of the tempering machine and into a piping bag without letting the chocolate get too cold (and therefore thick and hard to work with). I’m still figuring out the best way to do this — suggestions are welcome.
  3. Make sure you have a good (wide) spatula or scraper on hand, as well as some kind of wide receptacle to catch the chocolate runoff (a clean sheet pan might be perfect for this). If you try to pour chocolate from your mold tray into a 12″ mixing bowl, you’ll leave half of it on the floor (um, yes, that happened).
  4. Put down some newspaper! Or a tarp! And wear an apron, for the love of god. Or a hazmat suit. You will get dirty.
  5. Work fast so your chocolate stays close to 90 degrees. If you let the chocolate cool too much, you’ll end up with very thick chocolate shells and less room for ganache.
  6. Clear plastic molds (rather than opaque silicon trays) have the advantage of allowing you to see when the chocolates are ready to come out of the fridge. To check them, take a peak at the bottom of the mold. When the chocolate has hardened, it will visibly pull away from the plastic (this is one of the many useful things I learned while helping out at Undone Chocolate).
  7. Don’t be like me and forget to tap the air bubbles out of the molds (whoops).

    Making molded dark chocolate bonbons
    What a mess!
  8. Don’t be like me and wait too long to scrape the excess chocolate off the top of the mold tray. If you let it harden on the tray, it will be a lot harder to remove the chocolates. Trust me on this one.

Instructions for making molded chocolates:

  1. Fill a piping bag (or a ziplock bag with the corner cut off) with tempered chocolate and pipe it into the molds (fill them completely).  Then flip the mold tray upside down, letting the excess chocolate drip into a large, clean bin or tray (you can remelt it later).
  2. Scrape the front of the tray clean with a spatula, leaving a thin coating of chocolate inside each mold. Tap the tray (right-side up) on the counter a few times to remove air bubbles. Flip it upside down and stick it in the fridge for a few minutes to set.
  3. Once the chocolate shell has hardened, pipe ganache into the molds. Leave a few millimeters at the top — it’s better to under fill than overfill.
  4. Seal the molds with a thin layer of chocolate (you may need to gently reheat your chocolate at this point, or temper a new batch if you’ve run out).
  5. Repeat step 2.
  6. Gently flip your tray upside down onto a dry surface. The chocolates should drop right out. Wearing latex gloves for this step will prevent finger prints (if you care). If necessary, trim the edges with a sharp knife.
  7. Try one! Or, um… four, if you’re like me. But who’s counting.

Anyway — I hope you have a great time making your own chocolates. Please let me know how it goes!

Playing with texture in chocolate

Nendo dark chocolate bonbons
Nendo Chocolatexture line
Nendo Chocolatexture line

Yesterday my husband forwarded me an article from Slate that profiled Nendo, a Japanese design house that has gone into the chocolate business.

Nendo’s chocolate, not yet available in the U.S., has a brilliant design team behind it. The company produces some of the most inspired and unique confections I’ve seen.

But design is only part of what makes Nendo unique. The company’s entire approach is one of reimagining the chocolate eating experience. For example, their “chocolatexture” line includes a box of solid, unfilled chocolates that look like truffles. Instead of coming in a variety of flavors like most truffles, these chocolates come in a variety of textures, the idea being that texture is a facet of taste. By putting the focus squarely on texture, Nendo is asking us to rethink how we taste chocolate.

Nendo mix-and-match flavor vials
Nendo mix-and-match flavor vials

Another inventive creation by Nendo: these empty chocolate shells and their little vials of flavored fillings — a kind of create-your-own truffle. The Slate article points out that this concept does kill the fun of biting into a truffle without knowing what’s inside, but I like their idea of creating an interactive chocolate experience.

I only hope some day Nendo Chocolates will be easier to come by in the States.

 

Volunteering at Undone Chocolate

Conching machine or melangeur

So I actually wrote this post more than a week ago but put off posting it because I was waiting for pictures.  But given the cataclysmic blizzard we’re expecting this weekend, I probably won’t get out to Union Kitchen on Sunday as planned, so pictures will have to wait.

So long story short: last Friday was amazing. Adam (founder) and Liz (chocolate maker extraordinaire) at Undone Chocolate showed me around their facilities at Union Kitchen, a D.C. incubator for food industry start-ups. What a cool place to work — there were folks all around us baking cupcakes, making pastries, smoking meat… I had no idea D.C. had such a strong  and vibrant entrepreneurial community.

But back to chocolate. Adam has a Ph.D. in plant biochemistry and originally studied the antioxidant properties of chocolate in the lab before he began making chocolate out of his tiny New York City apartment. In addition to being extremely talented and driven, he’s also a fantastically nice guy.

Adam agreed to let me volunteer in his chocolate kitchen in exchange for the opportunity to get some hands-on chocolate making experience. It’s amazing, interesting work, and Liz encouraged me to get involved in every step of production, from polishing and filling molds on the vibrating table to working with their massive tempering machine (55 gallon capacity!). I even got to help empty the enormous, 550 lb melanger, which looks something like this:

Conching machine or melanger
Chocolate melangeur (Photo credit: Mark Chamberlain via Rochester City Newspaper)

I know — yum, right?

On my first day, Liz sent me home with little baggies of chocolate samples from previous chocolate batches they had made… Nicaraguan 74%, Dominican 72%, wild Bolivian (don’t remember the % cocoa, but it was delicious)… my favorite was their extraordinary (highly addictive) spice chocolate flavored with cardamom, cinnamon and cayenne.

Undone Chocolate spice bar

My experience at Undone has been AWESOME, I can’t wait to go back. I’ve become such a fan of their chocolate too. Unlike most chocolate on the market, including high-end chocolate, Undone’s is made with only two-ingredients: cocoa and sugar (both organic). No emulsifiers, no added flavors like vanilla. Their chocolate is so intense, almost fruity, and yet so silky, without too much distracting sweetness.  That they can create chocolate like that with their limited small-batch equipment is so impressive.

I’m so bummed that I ate through all my Undone Chocolate samples right before the snow storm! How am I going to survive? I may head to Yes Organic while the streets are still drivable and pick up a few spice bars to tide me through.

For more on Undone Chocolate, check out this 2015 piece in the Washington Post. And to for the sake of transparency, I’m not getting paid a dime for this glowing review of their chocolate. It’s really that good.