Category Archives: chocolate gift baskets

At East Van Roasters, Chocolate is a Vehicle for Social Change

11 Nov

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Vancouver has many fine chocolate shops but East Van Roasters is one-of-a-kind. Located in the Downtown Eastside, EVR is a business with social change baked right into the DNA.

 

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

 

Head Chocolate Maker and Director, Shelley Bolton founded East Van Roasters in 2013 as a non-profit social enterprise. Her mission was to create a training and employment program for the women residents of the Rainier Hotel located above the chocolate factory on Carrall Street.

 

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

 

The women in the program face multiple barriers to employment and East Van Roasters serves as a place where they can develop skills and build their resumes before rejoining the general workforce.

 

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

Head Chocolate Maker and Director, Shelley Bolton. Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

 

The business recently expanded to include a second location half a block away. The new location houses a retail bakery as well as the confection production facilities, while the original location operates as the Vancouver’s only bean-to-bar chocolate factory/coffee shop.

 

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

 

The social impact of East Van Roasters extends beyond the local level. The chocolate at EVR is made in-house from responsibly sourced cacao beans. This means that the farmers that grew the beans were paid fairly. This is chocolate you can feel good about buying and giving as a gift.

 

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

 

Making chocolate is a long process that requires skill and attention to detail. Shelley and her team start with carefully selected raw cacao beans. The beans are sorted, roasted, cracked, winnowed, ground, refined and tempered before being molded into fine chocolate bars and bonbons.

 

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

 

If you are a dark chocolate purist, you should try their single origin bars. They are made to highlight the unique flavour properties of the cacao beans. For a real treat, try a couple of bars side-by-side and observe the differences. A bar made of beans from Madagascar will taste drastically different to a bar made of Ecuadorian beans.

 

Jasmine Lukuku of ChocolateCodex. Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

Jasmine Lukuku of Chocolate Codex. Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

 

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

 

If you prefer a sweeter treat, EVR has a selection of flavoured bars and delightful filled chocolates and truffles. Some recent standouts include the chocolate dipped cacao nib toffee and layered truffles featuring pâte de fruit. The fillings and inclusions are all selected to work in harmony with the chocolate. Love Nutella? EVR sells its own chocolate nut butters; perfect for slathering on toast or eating with a spoon.

 

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

 

Saul Good is proud to include East Van Roasters chocolate in many of our Vancouver Gift Baskets and Canada gift baskets. 

 

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About the Author

Jasmine

 

 

Jasmine Lukuku is a professional sweet tooth who spends much of her time baking, eating, photographing and writing about treats.

 

She co-founded chocolatecodex.com to share her love of fine chocolate with the world. Follow Jasmine: @chocolatecodex

 

 

 

 

About the Photographer

leah bio

 

 

Leah Villalobos Bartok is a mother, hiker and lifestyle photojournalist. She has a unique ability to document stories and capture personalities.   

 

View more of her work on Instagram: @photogbyleahv and browse through her site www.photographybyleah.ca 

Where does chocolate come from?

25 Oct

 

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

Photo Credit: Photography By Leah

 

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Chocolate is one of our most cherished foods. We love to eat it and we often give chocolate as a gift. Despite our enthusiasm, most people don’t know how chocolate is made. Fine chocolate is often associated with countries such as Belgium, France, and Switzerland but where does it really come from? How does the humble cacao bean become a fancy bon-bon?

 

I recently traveled to Ecuador to learn more about this process and see how chocolate is made from tree to bar.

 

Growing Cacao

Cacao plants prefer to grow under tree cover in the tropical rainforests. These forests are located within 20 degrees north or south of the equator. This means that the majority of chocolate begins its life on small farms in developing nations. Farmers are the unsung heroes of the chocolate world.

 

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Cacao blossoms and cacao tree

Harvesting Cacao

The fruit is typically harvested by hand using machetes or sticks with sharp blades. The bright white pulp of a healthy cacao fruit tastes incredible. It is sweet and tangy, but it doesn’t taste like chocolate. The chocolate flavor is developed in the beans through a series of steps in the post-harvest process.

 

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Cacao fruit

The Fermentation Process

Once the fruit is harvested, the beans and pulp are removed and placed into boxes where they are covered with banana leaves and left to ferment. Fermentation is one of the most important steps in the flavor development process. In recent years, farmers and chocolate makers have been experimenting with different fermentation processes to improve cacao flavor.

 

 

Drying the Cacao

After fermentation is complete, the cacao is spread out on drying beds. The beans are occasionally raked to ensure even drying. Once dry, the beans can be sold on the international market as raw cocoa beans or they can be further processed.

 

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Cacao beans before and after drying

Sorting, Roasting, Cracking and Winnowing

The beans are then sorted to remove flawed beans before roasting. In Ecuador, my hosts used a homemade roasting drum but many people use ovens or coffee roasters. The roasting process contributes to the final chocolate flavor.

 

Once the beans are roasted, they are cracked and winnowed. Winnowing is the process of removing the paper-like skin from the beans. It is tedious work when done by hand, so most chocolate producers use machines to help with this process.

 

Cacao beans that have been roasted and winnowed are called cacao nibs. You can find cacao nibs in many stores. They make a great alternative to nuts for snacking or baking.

 

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Nibs

Refining the Chocolate

Cacao nibs are ground down to a paste called chocolate liquor. This paste is combined with sugar and refined further to make the sweet chocolate we know and love. This process can take several days and requires attention to detail in order to attain the ideal flavor and texture.

 

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Chocolate being refined with a tabletop melanger

Tempering and Molding

The refined chocolate is poured into a container and cooled. Some chocolate makers will age their chocolate as that can improve the flavour. This solid, refined chocolate is then melted, tempered and molded into chocolate bars or bonbons.

 

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Tempering and molding chocolate bars

 

When all of these steps are completed with care, the result is high-quality chocolate. Unfortunately, the majority of chocolate on the market is not produced to such rigorous standards. Industrial chocolate makers often cut costs by purchasing poor quality beans that have not been properly handled post-harvest. These cost cutting practices also result in low wages for farmers who rely on the cacao trade to survive.

 

The "Fancy-full" gift by Saul Good Gift Co.

The “Fancy-full” gift by Saul Good Gift Co.

 

The good news is that many chocolate makers are transparent about their sourcing practices. Chocolate makers such as East Van Roasters and Sirene even include sourcing information on their packaging and websites. Saul Good Gift Co. works with chocolate makers and chocolatiers who are committed to sourcing high-quality cacao and chocolate products.

 

 

For more information on buying good quality chocolate, check out this guide to chocolate bar packaging by Chocolate Codex, Buying Good Chocolate: Reading the Label

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About the author

Jasmine

Jasmine Lukuku is a professional sweet tooth who spends much of her time baking, eating, photographing and writing about treats.

She co-founded chocolatecodex.com to share her love of fine chocolate with the world. Follow Jasmine: @chocolatecodex

 

Toronto confection masters

26 Sep

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We love to brag about the incredible talent we feature in our gift baskets. In previous stories, we have showcased a sampling of artisans from BC (3 Brilliant BC Mompreneurs)  and from Alberta  (Artisans from the Heart of Alberta). In the story below, we are highlighting three fabulous Toronto confectioners featured in our newly-curated Canada gift baskets. Please stay tuned for more stories about our artisans from Ontario and all across Canada.

David H. Chow – Engineer-turned-pastry chef

David has a dynamic approach to chocolate and pastry. In his previous life, he was an engineer. If you look at his work over time, you can see the thought process that could only originate from the mind of an engineer. David explores his craft like an art and a science that flows and evolves. We can never predict what David will try next. The only constant variable is that he is continually recognized as one of Toronto’s top pastry chefs and chocolatiers.

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Over the past decade, David has cultivated a unique style that has sent ripples all over the world. His legendary status does not change his child-like curiosity and warm demeanor. You can visit his Toronto shops and explore his repertoire. You can also sample his delightful products in our Canada gift baskets.

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Laura Slack Chocolate – Edible art

Laura Slack creates edible art. She has been a baker since childhood and she has trained professionally throughout her life. From gorgeously designed chocolate bars to large chocolate skulls, you can rely on Laura to please your eyes, palette, heart and mind.

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The packaging and structure of Laura’s confections demonstrate the top-shelf quality. When you experience her products, you will taste the thoughtfulness and expertise that she pours into each hand-crafted creation. You can find Laura’s incredible products in our Canada gift baskets. You can also find her Lion’s Paw liquid salted caramel truffle on the dessert menu at Nota Bene Restaurant.

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Roselle (Steph & Bruce) – French-inspired desserts

These two lovebirds met while honing their craft in France. Their collaborative style is rooted in French traditions and their experience is international. Steph and Bruce have both worked in Michelin-starred kitchens in Europe and Asia.

 

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Roselle was created with a lot of heart and soul. It was a dream that floated through their minds during travels abroad. This dream then landed back in Toronto where they created a venue for their creations. You can visit their shop in Toronto and find their delightful creations in our Canada gift baskets (below).

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Canadian Craft Chocolate is on the rise

02 Dec

We are delighted to share this guest post by chocolate expert Jasmine Lukuku.

 

 

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Photo from East Van Roasters

Canadian Craft Chocolate

There is a revolution happening in the chocolate industry, Craft Chocolate is on the rise. The vast majority of commercially available chocolate is manufactured by a handful of large European and American companies. In the past, small chocolate businesses would buy pre-made chocolate from these large companies, melt it, flavour it and repackage it under their own labels.

 

Unfortunately, many of the large companies supplying this pre-made chocolate have well documented histories of exploitation in cacao growing regions such as West Africa and Central America. This is the chocolate industry’s dirty secret.

 

Palette de Bine chocolate

Photo from Palette de Bine chocolate

 

What is a chocolate lover to do? Fortunately, there is a growing community of chocolate makers committed to ethical sourcing of cacao. They are buying beans directly from growers or trusted brokers and making their own chocolate from the bean. Transparency is important to these makers and they are not afraid to share their sources with consumers and other chocolate makers. This is chocolate you can feel good about purchasing for yourself or as a gift.

 

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Photo from East Van Roasters

 

The first time you try Craft Chocolate, you may be surprised. Cacao Beans can taste drastically different depending on where they are grown, how they are handled after harvesting and how the chocolate maker chooses to roast and process them. Craft Chocolate makers delight in highlighting the unique characteristics of the beans. You can liken this to the terroir of wine. When I host group chocolate tastings, we often go through a variety of bean origins so we can compare characteristics.

 

We are lucky to have some amazing Craft Chocolate makers in our own backyard. Canada is home to some of the industry’s pioneers as well as talented newcomers. If you are looking for a great chocolate gift or want to treat yourself to something special, I recommend the chocolate makers below.

 

Sirene Chocolate

sirene chocolate

Photo from Sirene Chocolate

 

Chocolate Maker Taylor Kennedy has been scooping up international awards for his well-crafted bars. His genius Tasting Pairs combine two varietals of single-origin chocolate in one package. You can find Sirene’s cheery and sophisticated bars in several of Saul Good’s Gourmet Gift Baskets.

 

Palette de Bine

Palette de Bine chocolate

Photo from Palette de Bine chocolate

 

This Québec based maker is all about the details. Founder Christine Blais crafts elegant, small-batch chocolate from such diverse origins as Vietnam, Trinidad and Belize. The wood-grain patterned bars are packaged in simple kraft card stock with a letterpress logo. The look is simple, rustic luxury with a dose of Canadiana. They make a perfect chocolate gift!

 

Palette de Bine chocolate

Photo from Palette de Bine chocolate

 

Soma Chocolate Makers

soma chocolate

Photo from Soma Chocolate

 

If you find yourself in Toronto, you need to pay a visit to one of Soma’s chocolate cafes. Cynthia Leung and David Castellan have been making chocolate since 2003; that makes them trailblazers in the craft chocolate community. They are lauded around the world for both their bean-to-bar chocolate and their innovative confections. Their CSB Chama bar won a Silver Medal in the World Finals of the International Chocolate Awards.

 

Organic Fair

organic fair chocolate

Photo from Organic Fair Chocolate

If you love flavoured chocolate bars, look no further than Organic Fair’s impressive selection. The Sakura bar with candied ginger and sundried cherries is a personal favourite. This Cobble Hill, BC based operation makes bars that are the perfect size for snacking. They also offer a vast selection of Fairtrade pantry goods and spices.

 

East Van Roasters

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Photo from East Van Roasters

 

Vancouver residents can get in on the bean-to-bar chocolate action by visiting East Van Roasters. This chocolate cafe is a social enterprise designed to provide training to women living in the Ranier Hotel. Stop in and see how chocolate is made while sipping on a house-roasted coffee paired with some hand-rolled truffles. East Van Roasters’ bars are available in select Chocolate Gift Baskets from Saul Good.

chocolate gift basket 

About the author: 

Jasmine co-founded ChocolateCodex.com as a way to share her enthusiasm for chocolate. She spends much of her time baking and photographing her creations for theblenderist.com and collaborating on design and branding projects with her partner Chris at pleaserxvp.com. Follow Jasmine on instagram: @chocolatecodex

Jasmine