Welcome to #BehindtheBar. For the next seven Sundays, we will be releasing blog posts that take an in-depth look into how our products are made. With a never before seen insight into the processes taken to produce a finished bar. These blogs aren't to be missed. Be one of the first to hear by signing up to our mailing list via the footer on our website.
Our first blog post starts right at the source (literally!) and will look at:
The companies which supply our cacao and their commitment to improving the lives of the cacao farmers.
How the terroir can influence the flavours present in our craft chocolate bars.
How Max (our founder) chose the origins which we use to make our chocolate.
To ensure the cacao is the best quality, we choose to work with companies that are committed to sustainability and the fair treatment of farmers. Our cacao is provided by two highly respected companies; Uncommon Cacao and Silva Cacao.
In the early days of the business, Max conducted extensive research to make sure his suppliers were ethical and that they aligned with his vision for the brand. He chose to work with companies that practiced direct trade rather than fair trade, This is because the direct trade supply chain is transparent and traceable, which means we know exactly where our cacao is from and under what conditions it was farmed.
Uncommon Cacao was the first supplier we reached out to. They were supplying chocolate makers in the USA with high quality beans, which later went on to win awards which sparked Max’s interest. A lot of the origins they were sourcing were not available on the UK chocolate market. Additionally, Uncommon Cacao share an integral belief with us - farmer prosperity is a key ingredient in good quality craft chocolate.
Uncommon Cacao are committed to ensuring farmers receive better pay in order to improve their communities. This increased pay is achieved by Uncommon Cacao having a completely transparent business model - which we are proud to be a part of.
Uncommon Cacao have launched two companies, Maya Mountain Cacao and Cacao Verapaz. These companies have revolutionised local economies by linking smallholder farmers to the specialty cacao industry. By launching these companies, and continually committing to help smallholder farmers, they’re building a more fair and sustainable specialty cacao supply chain.
When Max was in the process of launching, Uncommon Cacao was working with ten regions. Max requested samples from all ten of the origins. Working with these beans, he was able to produce a bar of 70% chocolate from each origin. All made from the same ingredients, the only difference was the origin of the beans, which created the unique flavour profiles. He was blown away that depending on the bean variety and terroir, the vast impact that it would have on the finished bar.
No two origins are quite alike which really excited Max. This became an integral belief of the company. Bullion wanted to give cacao the appreciation it deserved, comparable to that of the wine industry by showcasing the unique personalities that the farms produce, through signature Bullion.
It was decided that to achieve this in the early stages of the business, to move forward with a three bar range. Each bar was 70%, and the only difference being the cacao. Max invited his friends and family round for a tasting to decide the three most distinct chocolates. Out of the ten from Uncommon Cacao, Haiti, Bolivia and Guatemala were the chosen 3!
Our No1 bar is made using Haitian beans. When Max selected this cacao, there were very few UK craft chocolate makers working with it, if any, so it was exciting to be able to produce a bar from these beans. Flavour notes include: dried fig, tart cherry and roasted nuts.
The Haitian bean grows in the picturesque foothills of the Massif de Nord mountain range, which is located in Northern Haiti. The cacao is harvested between March and June. Out of the 1104 registered farmers, 492 are female. Uncommon Cacao is committed to improving local areas by encouraging quality and equal opportunities for all.
Once harvested, the beans are centrally fermented in wooden boxes. This process encourages flavour development, and once dried, are bagged and shipped to us. We are proud to have been able to achieve Silver with this cacao at the 2017 Academy of Chocolate.
Our No2 is produced from Bolivian beans from the Alto Beni region. These beans are grown deep in the Amazonian basin, a region which has incredibly diverse flora and fauna present. These environmental factors influence the terroir, and impact the taste and flavour notes of the finished bar.
The peak harvest time for the Bolivian bean is from April until September. The Bolivian farmers also hand pick and hand sort their harvest to ensure the cacao is of the best quality.
In 2016, Uncommon Cacao began working with Nelson and Jorge Valverde, who started the Bolivian Alto Beni Cacao Company in 2010. Since then, they have improved the lives of small-scale farmers who depend on cacao as a main source of income.
The 2016 harvest bar's aroma and flavour has notes of malt, green olive and soft fruit. We were delighted to have been awarded Bronze at the 2018 Academy of Chocolate.
Unfortunately, there are difficulties arising regarding sourcing the Bolivian bean consistently and we don’t know when we’ll be able to get more. So, if Bolivia is your favourite, make sure you stock up as once it is gone it’s gone!
Our No3 bar starts its journey in the north central region of Guatemala. This lush green plateau in which it grows lies 4,500 feet above sea level and is often shrouded in thick mist. The Lanquin cacao is harvested from April until June. The area in which the Guatemalan bean grows is farmed by people of direct descent to Mayans - a civilisation of people who believed cacao was a gift from the gods.
A big inspiration for the brand was the fact that the Mayans used cacao as currency. This origin has a special place in the range because of its links with the Mayans.
In 1985, the Guatemalan community of San Juan Chivite were handed the farm, following the owner abandoning it during the awful Guatemalan civil war of the 1980’s. In 2002, the families converted a portion of the farm over to cacao and since then it remains the source of 90% of the family’s income. The community has grown in size to now consisting of 125 families. Since working with Uncommon Cacao, the region has benefitted from the installation of electricity and the community have experienced catalytic growth as a result of cacao farming.
The Guatemalan bar received the 2018 Academy of Chocolate Silver award and has sometimes been identified as our most distinct flavour with notes of floral, peach and espresso. However, to really appreciate all these bars' unique flavours, we suggest trying them for yourself. Our three bar bundle is available here.
These three origins form our core single origin bar range, but we were pleased to add to this in the form of an Ecuadorian bean with a special purpose...
Instead of being distinctive, like the core range of dark chocolate bars, this chocolate was to be different and had an alternative mission.
Upon launching our cafe in Cutlery Works, Max knew he needed a chocolate which had universal appeal. It needed to sit well in milk and dark forms, for its purpose of being used in baked goods and drinking chocolate.
Initially, Max was hesitant to do a milk chocolate. One of his goals was to demonstrate the diverse cacao flavours and wanted these flavours to be appreciated in their purity. However, he was very impressed by the Ecuadorian bean and its versatility and he soon realised the bean would be perfect as both a milk and dark bar - it’s caramel undertones had an almost malt-like quality.
We began importing the beans from Silva Cacao. Silva forms partnerships with farmers and frequently monitors their progress on these goals to measure their impact on flavour, forests and farmers.
Their aim is to deliver premium cacao from exclusive places, conserving and protecting cacao producing forests for future generations. Also, they’re determined to secure a fair income for cacao farmers and their families, provide decent labour conditions (which includes banning child labour and slavery). In delivering these better conditions, Silva Cacao is consistently contributing towards the Sustainable Development Goals. Here at Bullion, we are proud to be able to support these.
The high quality of the Ecuadorian beans contribute to the soft caramel notes which are perfect in our bakes and beverages. Ultimately, when selecting this bean, it was key that it was able to do this. From a customer perspective, they can expect classic chocolate notes that makes it easy eating and accessible to most.
The cacao is grown and farmed in the hills of Santo Domingo by the Cendeño Aguilar family.
In 2005, the family converted their palm oil plantation to a sustainable cacao farm. All workers on the farm receive care and medical insurance for their families. Also, Silva Cacao ensures each worker receives holidays and school bonuses for their children. They are committed to ensuring growth in the community and to further encourage the development of the area. The family educates their workers in order to improve technical and quality skills. They also support and encourage the transfer of their knowledge to neighbouring farms to better improve the area.
We’ve been offering this origin in our baked goods and beverages. However, Max was frequently asked whether customers could look forward to the taste in the form of a bar. Max was always keen to strictly develop the dark range as it showed the flavour profiles of the origin in its purity. But, on tasting the milk, which he thought would mask the flavour, he realised that it was just a different way of experiencing it, especially keeping the cocoa solids at 50%.
Towards the end of last year, the Fine Milk bar was launched in John Lewis Sheffield and can be bought here. This has now become one of our most talked about bars and recently Paul A Young described the milk bar as “A beautiful bar, nostalgic in flavour, soft smooth texture and impossible not to eat all in one go”.
This bar was recently praised by an online review panel, check out their thoughts here…
The beans themselves are core to the overall flavour, but what we do with the beans is how we develop and showcase them. Our next blog will cover sorting and roasting so keep an eye out for the next addition to our #BehindTheBar series. Be sure to subscribe to our mailing list to get an early peek of each process.
Over to you…
Did you know the taste of chocolate could be influenced by so many factors?
Do you recognise the flavour notes which have been listed or do you sometimes appreciate different flavour notes?
Be sure to let us know in the comments or tweet us, @OfficialBullion. We look forward to chatting with you!