Easter is coming, and for us chocolatiers that means the silly season is in full swing. From dusk til dawn our senses are stimulated by the cacao that surrounds us. Any thoughts we might have in our spare moments slowly melt into a chocolate-y gloop. And you can work out exactly what we’ve been doing by following the trail of sticky, brownish handprints around the room.
It’s just as crazy and fun as you’d imagine.
As many of you Chocolutionaries already know, we’re in the middle of a massive workshop at Kew Gardens. This isn’t the first Easter workshop we’ve put on at Kew, but it’s by far the biggest and most ambitious. We’ve turned the cavernous Banks Building into a working chocolate factory and are guiding hundreds of people through daily, unwrapping the chocolate process from bar to bean while simultaneously experimenting with all the cacao we can get our hands on.
It’s proving to be a great educational activity for adults as well as kids, and we’ve been delighted to see that people are loving the experience. We’re loving it too, and more importantly we’re learning a lot about ourselves, about how people interact with chocolate and, of course, about chocolate itself.
After five days of fundemonium (and with 11 still to go), I want to share with you some of the interesting truths we’ve realised.
1. Chocolate doesn’t need any added flavours to be wonderfully diverse
Okay, so we already knew this one. But it really hits home when you’re explaining to a roomful of people why your 70% Ecuadorian dark chocolate is intensely citrusy while the soft, floral 70% Trinidadian chocolate next to it – made with exactly the same process and the same proportions – tastes completely different. We’ve made 10 different chocolates already at this workshop, each with its own distinct character, and there are plenty more to come. There is a staggering diversity of flavour amongst different types of cacao: artisan producers embrace it, mass producers mask it.
2. Kids absorb their parents’ eating habits from a young age
During the workshop we perform a taste test of a few chocolate, then ask visitors to vote for their favourite. We expect kids to choose the sweeter milk chocolate, and mostly they do. However, in about 30% of cases a young child chooses one of our dark chocolates as their favourite. Almost inevitably, the child’s parents tell us they’ve been raised in households where dark chocolate is eaten in preference to milk or white chocolate.
As these kids haven’t been exposed to the overly sugary substitutes most of us knew as children, they have learnt to appreciate proper chocolate from a young age. It’s an important lesson in how children develop habits and provides an interesting insight into how we can improve our kids’ diets on the whole, not just their consumption of chocolate.
3. A hands-on experience is worth a thousand words
One of the great things about running a workshop like this is that participants can get involved in a meaningful way at every stage of the process. As we’ve fine-tuned the workshop over the first five days, we’ve been able to get more people participating, answering our questions and asking questions of their own. It’s clear to see on the faces of the participants, especially kids, how much better they understand things when they get to be actively involved and are encouraged to think about the processes themselves.
4. People are ready for a change in the industry
There’s a reason artisan food has been getting more popular in recent years. It’s because people are becoming more aware of the almost nightmarish processes much of what we eat is put through before it reaches our plate, and the adverse effects that has both for our health and the lifestyle of those who produce it. The reactions we get from participants when we explain the differences between fine-flavoured and high-yield beans, or what conditions are like for workers on the bigger and more industrial plantations, or how larger companies substitute nutritious cacao butter for cheap, unhealthy palm oils show that people don’t want to be a part of this destructive cycle and are ready for a change. We need meaningful reform, not just in the chocolate we eat but across the food industry as a whole.
If you’d like to check out our workshop at Kew Gardens, there are still plenty of sessions available over the next 10 days. You can book here in advance, or take your chances at the door.
Viva la Chocolution!