We were recently lucky enough to take a few days to visit Amsterdam for Chocoa – a conference and trade fair for people who work in chocolate. A very sleepy team Dormouse trundled off to the airport with two cases full of chocolate early on Wednesday morning and away we went!
Our first stop was the historic town of Zaandam. Sitting just outside Amsterdam, the town grew as a centre of industry as large factories could avoid paying the higher taxes charged for building within Amsterdam while maintaining canal links with the huge port of Amsterdam (the largest cocoa trading port in the world!). Because of this link, Zaandam is still home to some world’s largest chocolate processing plants, and is also where the cocoa traders Daarnhouwer are based – visiting them was our first stop of the day! After a brief stop at their offices to drop off some bars of chocolate and meet the team, we headed off to a cocoa bean tasting and tour of the Duyvis Weiner factory with some other makers and cacao farmers. They manufacture everything from roasters the size of our kitchen to much smaller scale equipment for people working with around 10kg of beans at a time.
We then headed for a a quick pancake together and look at some local working windmills and headed off to check in at our hotel in Amsterdam before making our next stop at Chocolatl.
We supply the shop with a selection of bars and were thrilled to be invited for a ‘Meet the Maker’ event while we were over. We got there early eager to catch up with owner Adil. We had been exchanging e-mails in the run up about the kind of things we wanted to talk about at the event and we share lots of views on the bean to bar world. The primary theme of our conversations was ‘is it enough to say you are bean to bar anymore?’. It is not always indicative of quality and as with any product, there’s good bean to bar and not so good bean to bar. The Academy of Chocolate awards have this year declared bean to bar which uses vanilla be judged in the flavoured bars catagory. We talked of the need as small makers to find new ways to talk about what we do and focus on how we work tirelessly to bring out unique flavours and push ourselves to try and stand out. Just this last week Sharon Terenzi (also known as The Chocolate Journalist) published a post that also discusses this. As she’s said before in Victoria Cooksey’s Tasters and Makers Series ‘bean-to-bar doesn’t have to be craft chocolate, but craft chocolate has to be bean-to-bar’. Single origin doesn’t mean something is ‘craft’ or high quality. In one of the sessions we attended someone pointed out that Dutch supermarket Albert Heijn had recently released a range of origin bars for around a Euro, which to the untrained eye could be mistaken for something small batch when the reality is it’s probably manufactured in the same way as their other chocolate.
We had a great evening talking to people, the pressure is real when a couple have driven 1.5hrs to see you based on one bar! Adil broke open a fresh pod for everyone to try and we sampled various cacao based liqueurs .
Thursday was the first day of the Trade Fair and Chocolate Makers Forum. A day spent chatting with new and old suppliers and maker friends and trying lots of different chocolate, with a highlight being trying origins we’d not had before on the Cocoa of Excellence stand. We attended an FCCI workshop on cacao grading which Carla Martin made both fun and fascinating and we are hoping to attend the training next time they are holding it in Europe. In the afternoon the Forum held a session on Bean quality: Evaluation, practices, and techniques (incl Cadmium regulations).
We also met Karthikeyan from Tree to Bar chocolate makers Soklet on their stand and got talking while someone was giving us samples of coconut sugar. When we said we were also makers he told us there was only one company in the UK using their beans and had we heard of Dormouse Chocolates!
In the evening (after a trip to Foodhallen to try various delights for dinner) we returned to Chocolatl for an event hosted by York Cocoa House. It was really inspiring listening to how passionately Sophie talks about getting their project off the ground and their plans to push the size of the British chocolate community! Sophie shared the history leading to her love of chocolate, as well as her favourite bars, with all those in attendance. We were so happy to hear how things have been coming along so quickly since we visited only weeks ago.
On Friday we got to hang out with some friends from home as Phil from Land and Cocoa Runners were also around. We attended sessions on economics and marketing hosted by Clay Gordon and Spencer Hyman and were happy to be picked on and pointed out by Spencer (in a good way) in both sessions. The day ended with a truly international dinner with fellow makers, stockists and suppliers at an Indonesian restaurant Karen recommended and (surprisingly confidently) led the group to. Much food and chocolate chat were had and bars were inevitably handed round the table to share.
We headed home literally full of beans and ideas for the next few months and beyond. Look out for some new products and projects from us!