April 9, 2009

Willie’s Chocolate Revolution reviewed – part 3

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Written by: Martin Christy

Back to the bean drama then. Look’s like Willie Harcourt-Cooze was able to sell on the Carenero he wasn’t happy with to the original Japanese customer, who presumably kept Willie’s original beans as well. The Japanese have been buying huge amounts of Venezeulan beans, but nothing outstanding seems to have materialised from these purchases yet, as far as I know. Maybe a great Japanese fine chocolate maker is busy in the making?

Willie managed to get San José Rio Caribe then from a Dutch trader, a bean I like and probably prefer to Carenero anyway. The other bean source is San Martin from Peru, which I’ve not knowingly tasted before. What’s really not clear is that is sounds like there were always going to be three origin bars, so the Rio Caribe and San Martin weren’t actually an emergency stop gap then?


One of the focus group eats Cadburys or Galaxy for breakfast. I wonder what that does to his blood sugar level? I always liked what I thought was chocolate. Growing up I surely ate a lot of newsagent confectionery, gradually moving on to darker products via a long, loving relationship with Thorntons in the old days. I have to confess that, because my sister has always threatened to ‘out’ me one day. Not sure I ever went as far as breakfast though.

We’re comparing Willie’s brand to mostly large industrial brands, with the exception of Malagasy. I understand the need to appeal to the masses, but is it wise to neglect the connoisseur hard core? The people who are currently buying Valrhona, Cluizel, Amedei?

As ever, it’s fantastic to see eyes opened as to the flavour possibilities of real chocolate. One of the focus groups says it well “I was afraid to eat dark chocolate”. That’s completely understandable given the type and quality of dark chocolate most of us have been brought up on in the UK. The next generation will be able to say something different.

The final result of the branding is certainly a departure from most fine chocolate branding, with a Roald Dahl quality to it. I wonder if this will be taken seriously enough? Maybe it will capture the wider public imagination and those who already buy on taste won’t be put off? Let’s hope.

The buyer

I notice in these programs that there’s lots of munching of chocolate samples. That’s fine, but by putting chocolate straight in the mouth and munching you’re not going to get a full appreciation. I’m not saying you have to eat it like that all the time, it’s just worth a little pause for that first piece.

Onto the numbers game with bars. I suspect any fine chocolate maker struggles to make a profit, especially if you’re trying to make money on a margin from beans to solid unflavoured chocolate bars, and most of your competition is buying couverture and remoulding it.

Baking with chocolate

I guess Willie’s been banging on about this since the first series, but the soufflé made for Marco Pierre White really proves the point that the quality of chocolate you use when baking really does make a difference to the final result. Bad chocolate means bad flavour, that doesn’t go away when you hide it in a pudding.

The final push

Willie’s looking tired by the end of all this. Not surprising really. For the first time in the mini-series it seems like the tempering has us a genuine crisis, rather than a TV one. At the end the bars get delivered and a pretty girl buys one. This is just the beginning though, and the UK’s first bean to bar fine chocolate maker is in business. We wish Willie every success, the UK needs him.

I’ve yet to actually try the chocolate, look out for reviews when we can get our hands on some.

About the Author

Martin Christy
Martin Christy is Seventy%’s editor and founder and is a leading voice in the chocolate industry, promoting the cause of fine chocolate and fine cacao and those who produce them. With twenty years’ experience of fine chocolate, he has travelled extensively visiting cocoa plantations and meeting the world’s top producers and is a consultant to the fine chocolate and cacao growing industries worldwide. Martin is Judging Director of the International Chocolate Awards, which he founded in the UK with Kate Johns of Chocolate Week. He is also Acting Chairman of the new fine cacao and chocolate industry association, Direct Cacao and is a member of the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Initiative Tasting Panel. He is also a freelance writer about fine chocolate, contributing to UK magazines and several books about fine chocolate.


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