Events do not just happen, they are created with a lot of work and stress. The organisers’ Jack Steijn and Philippe Kauffman, supported by a magical team including Caroline Lubbers, and Vera Geling and Cristina Castellanos Stephens from Into Choco, put it all together in record time.
This year, for the first time, Chocoa was a mix of virtual and physical, which sounded cool, but I was sure there would be problems. I did not think it was possible for the speakers to come on stage in real-time and for the mixed panel to be streamed live and blended together, but they did it.
Chocoa is Ours
It may sound selfish to say Chocoa is ‘ours’, but I mean that it has become an event to represent the under-represented small chocolate makers equally to the bigger players.
- It’s a real community. The re-connection of colleagues friends and old acquaintances in a post-lockdown world was more than pleasant. it was therapeutic!
- A collective sense of purpose and an ideology underpin the entire craft market. But we need to avoid the ‘group think’ to be effective, and Chocoa allows different views to accomplish the common goal, through debates.
My son Peter came with me for the first time and people made him very welcome. I saw him engaged in conversation and it was an opportunity for him to deepen his understanding of what drives this unique industry.
We could be at one stall and would be directed to another business to meet so and so or talk about this and that. During a visit to Mike and Becky chocolate, Bjoern pushed me across the aisle to Blue Yellow Cacao, where I met Juli Beikun, a Ukrainian chocolate maker. Now, I’m pleased to say, we will be helping Juli with some free promotions.
However, because I got so distracted by the conversation, I never went back to pay for the bars of chocolate I took from Bjorn. So, yes, I stole chocolate from Mike and Becky. So sorry Bjorn, I’m going to make it up to you!
Shaun and Dot from Neary Nogs came to both events where I was moderating and sat in the front row
Bartalks has written about Neary Nogs previously, relating to the way they were bringing in their Cocoa by sailboat and horse and cart, to be stoneground in Ireland. But meeting the couple later at Silva Cacao’s after-work party was such a highlight for me. The funniest and down-to-earth, open and welcoming people you could hope to meet.
Talking of Silva Cacao, Katrien and her husband J.P. were central at the event, both physically and in presence. Katrien, talked passionately about the industry, with a quiet intensity and confidence, but always with a smile on her face, and J.P. was in constant movement, greeting people on the stand, and welcoming each person to the party on the first evening, which they generously sponsored.
One One Cacao
Nick Davis from One One Cacao taught me about Cocoa from Jamaica, among many other things. We co-moderated each others talks, and, as an ex-BBC journalist, and person with a colourful background, I thoroughly enjoyed his company. Expect to hear more about One One Cacao and chocolate from the region in the future.
One of our favourite bars with inclusions was from Nadine Burie at Likkle More, a chocolate maker from Jamaica with striking contemporary ‘splattered paint’ designs and imaginative inclusions using ingredients local to the island. Our favourite was fresh Jamaican thyme and orange.
Vera and Cristina from Into Choco were supportive and organised in putting together our programme at short notice. But I didn’t know a lot about Into Choco, until I met Joost, the CEO and found myself lost in a deep conversation over Cocoa, business and philosophy.
Joost looks at business from new perspectives and applies new thinking to old problems. I can’t wait to see how they tackle the transparency issue with their technology.
They make a profile page for each company, and then create the QR code which can be scanned to provide a complete map of each ingredient.
Your chocolate bar (spread or drink) will display everything! From ingredients to a map tracing your cacao. Who your supply chain partners are, the impacts you create. The story behind each chocolate product and the sustainable practices you make.Into Choco
A number of impressive chocolate makers, including Fjak and Mike & Becky have already signed up.
… and we only scratch the surface.
I know I’ve missed out many of the wonderful conversations we had, and apologies that I couldn’t list them all. I urge you to attend future events, physically if you can, because we need times like this to come together and to learn and support each other.