Many of us reach for comfort in the form of small edible treats – and in 2020, perhaps unsurprisingly, sales of chocolate in the UK rose by £50 million. But popularity doesn’t always guarantee quality. Cacao beans, which are rich with difference, are often blended to make the mainstream chocolate we’re most familiar with, smoothing out the flavours to create one generic taste.
Nevertheless, in countries like Vietnam, Peru, eastern Congo and Ecuador, it’s possible to find passionate cacao growers who sell their beans direct to craft chocolatiers. Venezuela is home to the most prized variety, Criollo, as Club Oenologique magazine’s resident food writer Fiona Beckett discovered. But there’s also Forastero and Trinitario varieties, as well as numerous hybrids, and in combination with varying climates and soils, they make the world of bean-to-bar chocolate a rich territory to explore.
According to Spencer Hyman, co-founder of craft chocolate delivery service and subscription, Cocoa Runners, it’s single-estate chocolates that really show off the qualities of terroir and process. ‘Good chocolate has ingredients your grandmother can understand, it has the name of the farm or the estate where the beans were grown, and it has flavour,’ he explains. During lockdown, they saw a huge growth in interest, with people joining their weekly virtual tasting sessions to learn more about the provenance of chocolate and what gives it its different profiles.
So while you might not find craft chocolate in your supermarket, you can easily have it delivered to your door. The following chocolate delivery services are sending out the finest bars and sweet treats to UK addresses – in time for Christmas and beyond.
The best craft chocolate delivery services
Handcrafted by chocolatier Kae Shibata, Cartografie’s collections celebrate the flavour profiles of cacao beans which are sourced from nine different estates. The St Vincent 65, for example, grown by family-owned St Vincent Cocoa Company, is paired with passion-fruit ganache to bring out the caramel and citrus notes of the chocolate, while the morello-cherry profile of Virunga 70, from eastern Congo, is paired with hojicha and wild-English-cherry ganache.
Boxes start at £7.50, cartografiechocolate.com
Domori, based in Turin, was the first Italian chocolatier to use Criollo, an exceptionally rare Venezuelan cacao bean used by the Mayan and Aztec civilisations. With a creamy, round and sweet flavour, it is naturally free of tannin but was at risk of extinction due to its low yield. Domori has dedicated itself to promoting its survival and encouraging the biodiversity of its varieties. The Napolitains 100% Criollo range in particular shows off the richness and aromatic nuance of the bean.
Bars from €4.95, domori.com
Still renowned for the Channel 4 programme made about his chocolate factory in Devon, Willie Harcourt-Cooze’s commitment to quality cacao is unquestionable and his enthusiasm for chocolate unabated. With no fewer than eight single-estate bars to try, the 100% Sur del Lago, made from beans grown south of Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela, is most impressive, conched for 21 days to remove any acidity.
Bars start from £1.15, and a monthly chocolate delivery subscription is £19.99, williescacao.com
Founded in 2008 by conservationist Philipp Kauffmann, Original Beans puts climate impact at the heart of how it makes chocolate, precisely because terroir has such a significant impact on the flavour. Using the rarest cacao beans from remote rainforests, it plants a tree for every bar sold, making its sweet treats climate-positive.
A bar of Cusco 100% is made from Chuncho cacao grown in the Sacred Valley in Peru and costs €5.45, originalbeans.com
Isobel Carse is the chocolatier behind Dormouse Chocolates, the first bean-to-bar chocolate maker in Manchester. With three guiding principles behind her sourcing of cacao beans – flavour, transparency, and people – she trades directly with growers wherever possible, and the variety of flavour in the different bars she makes are testament to their work. As well as a classic core selection of bars, she also makes experimental limited editions, available to members of the Bean to Door Club.
Subscriptions start at £20 for three months; bars start from £6, dormousechocolates.co.uk
Pump Street Chocolate
Father-daughter team Chris and Joanna Brennan founded Pump Street Bakery in 2010 in Orford on Suffolk’s Heritage Coast. A self-taught baker, Chris ventured into chocolate-making, and now produces craft chocolate with beans from single estates and co-operatives around the world. Their respect for the farmers is shown in that they pay higher prices for the beans, they name the farms on their bars, and they never blend the beans, so the unique characteristics of the cacao shine through.
Bars start from £6.25, pumpstreetchocolate.com
Sourcing chocolate made by small producers from all over the world, Cocoa Runners is more curator than chocolate maker, providing a subscription service that delivers a monthly ‘playlist’ of small-batch chocolate. You can also buy individual bars from its consortium of 135 craft makers safe in the knowledge you’re supporting growers as well as receiving high-quality chocolate.
Subscriptions start from £22.95 per month plus delivery, cocoarunners.com