I am very happy to present you with our first guest on The Grumpy Olive, the lovely Harmony from Cocoa Runners, to talk a bit about her obsession with chocolate.
I met Harmony years ago while working for a retailer in London. She was this super shy, super quiet girl, with a knowledge of food and drink to make anyone else look like a tool. It took a bit for me to warm up to her, but there is nothing to not love about her: clever, bright, and a great person with a crazy obsession for the food of the gods – is it?!
So given this coming Sunday, it’s actually International Chocolate Day, what a better way than to celebrate with learning all about it from our personal chocolate guru herself?
Who is Harmony?
Hi – I’m Harmony Marsh — and I basically run around the world finding the world’s best chocolate bars. I work for a craft chocolate subscription company – Cocoa Runners – where we’re passionate about chocolate that’s been crafted directly from the cocoa bean (i.e. bean to bar), and these beans have been transparently traded and crafted by the makers who are coaxing out these amazing flavors from the beans.
What has got you into chocolate and why?
For as long as I can remember I’ve been keen to know where my food has come from – it might have started with different varieties of honey and apples – and when I first saw an image of a cocoa pod, I was amazed.
They grow to the size of a rugby ball, these big vibrant bright colored pods – growing off the trunk of the tree – it’s very Dr. Seuss-like. It’s wicked.
I started a chocolate blog in 2013, just reviewing lots of different bars – I started with anything I could find in the supermarkets – and soon upgraded to proper, bean-to-bar craft chocolate, and honestly, there was no going back.
Our chocolate knowledge is very basic – how do you make it?
Chocolate goes through so many stages. Starting from the harvesting of the cacao, and actually, before that, an important factor is the genetics of the cacao and terroir – think wine, most people recognize that different grape varieties taste different, e.g. Merlot from Malbec from Tempranillo, then most people will also recognize that where those grapes have grown will taste different, e.g. French Merlot is very different from a South African merlot, and that makes sense.
The same can be said for chocolate: Madagascan cocoa is very different from Brazilian cocoa or Nicaraguan cocoa – but it’s down to how those beans are processed (on the farm) and how the maker coaxes out those flavors.
The cocoa tree – scientifically known as Theobroma Cacao – grows roughly 20 degrees above and below the equator, all around the world. This includes countries like Madagascar, Peru, Papua New Guinea – just to name a few. Cocoa trees typically have around two harvests a year where the pods will flourish from the trees. The cocoa farmer then needs to cut the pods off the trees with a machete-like knife, and then slash open the pods and inside is about 25-50 cocoa seeds that are covered in a white pulp.
The farmer will continue collecting as many cocoa seeds as possible – they’re about the size of an almond, maybe a bit bigger – and the next step is the fermentation. Fermentation is crucial in the chocolate-making process. Why? Because fermentation is the stage in which the flavor properly develops. It’s the same wonderful process that the yeasts and bacteria perform in transforming grapes into wine, hops into beer, and so on – the same happens for the cocoa seeds to be turned into chocolate.
The next stage is drying, followed by shipping the cocoa beans all around the world to chocolate makers. They are then the ones that will deal with all the other parts of processing like roasting, winnowing, grinding & conching, tempering, and so on.
You are in the craft chocolate industry, which has seen a great deal of development in the past few years possibly thanks also to the whole specialty coffee and craft beer movements, what kind of impact have both given to the industry?
The need for performing rituals or having a place to consume the crafted good. In craft chocolate, we’re not great at either of those things.
With coffee, people that are really into the whole specialty coffee movement typically enjoy the ritual of it: you can brew at home, you can have special equipment – v60, Aeropress, etc. – you can source amazing beans in small quantities. And the even better thing about both with specialty coffee and craft beer – you can go somewhere specifically to enjoy these things!
With a craft chocolate bar — that’s pretty hard to replicate. There are very few chocolate makers that actually have a physical space where you can enjoy their craft product and visit them. But it’s so few. Shoutout to Dormouse in Manchester, or Dandelion in San Francisco, or Fu Wan in Taiwan.
On the plus side, the awesomeness of specialty coffee and craft beer has made people just “get” craft chocolate that little bit more. Chocolate is often thought of as confectionary, something with lots of sugar, or something pretty luxe – but when people actually discover how radically different chocolate can taste depending on where the cocoa bean comes from, or how the bar was crafted, etc. – it’s hard to ever go back to your average joe chocolate bar.
Also, hipsters. And foodies. Having loved the craft movements in coffee and beer – and totally helped to make craft chocolate one of the newest trends.
Chocolate pairings with food and drink: what are your favorites and what is the most extravagant one you have tried?
I think chocolate and beer is brilliant – playing around with the different styles of beer and different types of chocolate – from cocoa origins to chocolate textures etc.
Chocolate and cheese too is amazing, and I enjoy eating chocolate whilst drinking specialty coffee too.
What are your current favorite producers and why?
I like Soma a lot, they’re based in Toronto, Canada: they have an incredible method of crafting it – it’s so mellow and creamy, yet not too buttery. I also like Qantu a lot, and they’re based in Montreal, Canada.
Lastly, how was your experience in Peru? We must admit we are quite jealous having seen pictures!
Peru was incredible. Going right into the heart of the jungle – Iquitos – witnessing how these farmers where harvesting, fermenting, and drying their cocoa… dreamy.
So we hope you have enjoyed learning more about chocolate, we definitely have. Harmony has also kindly provided us with pictures for this post, so we wanted to thank her for both these and the lovely chat we got to have. Who knows, one day we might even dare to record a podcast or video episode so that you can learn a lot more from this!
Cocoa Runners have a fantastic program for chocolate tasting sessions you should really try, having had one ourselves we can only say how great it was and they even managed to find a chocolate bar I ended up loving back in the day – did I mention I do not like chocolate before? No? Oh, shoot.
If you have any other questions for the lovely Harmony, make sure to leave a comment below or get in touch through socials so that we can pass them over and come back to you with an answer as soon as we possibly can!