Visiting the CASFA cacao growers in Tapachula, Chiapas

The day after our tour of the Tapachula chocolate museum, we met Don Rubiel, a representative from CASFA, the biggest cooperative in the area.    Don Rubiel’s job is to make the rounds at the plantations to insure that the farmers are properly fermenting the beans or pruning the trees regularly.   Don Rubiel took us to meet a cacao farmer named David, who showed us around his plantation.  David owns 10 hectares of land, half of which is cacao and the other half, bananas.   It was interesting to see the difference between the two.  The banana plantation was totally uniform, growing exclusively bananas and  in contrast, the cacao plantation was more diverse, mixing cacao trees with fruit trees and flowers.  The trees provided plenty of shade and food to support the local wildlife.  David told us that parrots came to feed on the fruit in the afternoons.  There was even an eagle’s nest nearby.   Here was proof that cacao  plantations help support biodiversity.
After we got our fill (quite literally) of the plantation, we took a long hot drive to the coast to visit another plantation.  This one looked quite similar to David’s, except it had way more mosquitos!  I was really excited to see for the first time, a theobroma bicolor tree.   Bicolor is a relative of theobrama cacao but the seed does not provide anything nearly as tasty as its cousin’s.  Locals do use the fruit to prepare a drink called “pozol” which combines cacao and bicolor with corn.  It’s quite delicious if you ever get a chance to try it.  I recently learned that bicolor might benefit cacao by helping it resist disease.  The ancient Mayans may have grown them next to each other for that purpose.  Amazing!
Although the kids were quite fed up by now with our cocoa explorations, we took another long and bumpy drive to the town of San Jose, where we visited a chocolate factory.  One of the owners, Bernadina Marciel, showed us around.  There was no chocolate  being made that day because the harvest season was still a couple of months away yet it was interesting to see the equipment nevertheless.   Bernadina walked us past the roaster and the winnower,  and straight to the melanger.  We soon found out that the melanger was her domain and it is where she grinds the rough cacao paste into smoother liquor.  Next she took us  to the tempering room, where they mold the chocolate once it is out of the melanger.  Mexican chococlate is never conched, which is why it tastes so gritty.  I suppose this step isn’t necessary if you drink the chocolate like the Mexicans do. Apparently, it also retains more of its beneficial antioxidants if processed this way.
After taking a peak at the roaster and winnower which were  fairly old but looked to be in good condition, we went outside to say goodbye.   I told Bernadina that I was inspired to make chocolate after seeing her operation. I think by seeing a female chocolate maker, I felt less intimidated by the  prospect of making chocolate from the bean.

Luis Robledo, from the Salon du Chocolat to Mexico City

Last week we visited a chocolate shop called Tout Chocolat in the Condessa neighborhood of Mexico City.  It took some work to get there: dragging the kids through the busy Mexico City subway system was no fun, neither was getting turned around several times before getting the map right. We were hot, tired and disgruntled by the time we got to the shop and we made it just before the afternoon rains.

Luis Robledo,  owner and chocolatier extraordinaire was there to greet us as we stumbled into his shop.  Cool, mellow and self-effacing, he instantly made us feel welcome and at ease (Darius later pointed out that Luis shares these characteristics with many other chocolatiers we’ve met).  He seemed genuinely surprised that we made the trek to visit his shop after reading an article about him which counted him as one of the 10 best chocolatiers in North America.  In appreciation he gave us a plate of his favorite chocolates to try.

We, of course,  ravaged them, fighting over the ones that peaked our curiosity such as the lime caramel and the white peach and apricot(the one for which he was now famous).  They were all amazing.  The lime caramel blew me away with its intensity.  The spiced caramel was rich and complex and so was the single origin ganache made with 100% Mexican chocolate.  It was exciting to taste these bold flavors and meltingly smooth ganaches and centers.  His execution was nearly perfect every time.  This is not by accident; Luis Robledo has an impressive CV.  He has worked with Daniel Boulud, Francois Payard and Canada’s own Thomas Haas in New York. He also counts Le Circque and the Four Season’s New York as his past employers.  Little did we know, but we watched him compete for Mexico at the World Chocolate Masters at the Salon du Chocolat in October!

[See the photos that we took of him in Paris at the end of this post.]

Since I was fresh out of chocolate, I needed to stock up for the next little while.  I bought a large box of chocolates (the largest), a couple of bars (he uses Valrhona) and some fruit and nut bark (which ended up being one of my favorites).

These items brought us great pleasure over the next few days in Mexico City.  I might even go so far as to say I had a revelation about chocolate while tasting his spiced caramel bon bon.  But more on that in the next posting…

[Mini Gallery of Photos from the World Chocolate Masters at the 2011 Salon du Chocolat in Paris]

Day One at the Salon Du Chocolat

We went up to Paris to see the opening day of the Salon Du Chocolat at the Porte De Versailles expo center. After a long subway ride, we arrived and excitedly went in!

We left the kids back in Fontainebleau with Grandma and Grandpa. Don’t worry! They will come back to the Salon over the weekend (when it is open to the public.) First, here is a short video that shows some of our impressions of the Salon and the World Chocolate Masters competition.


The French member of the jury was one of our chocolate heroes, Patrick Roger. As you may remember, Kerstin went to his store in Paris this March, as reported in this blog posting. It was great to see him evaluate all the the sculptures with an expert’s eye.

One of our early favorites was the Japanese entrant, Umezaki. Like everyone else, he only had 3 hours to assemble his sculpture. He had a very complex delicate design, and he executed it with ease.

We saw that the Canadian entrant was a woman, Veronique Rousseau, from Quebec. She was the first woman to ever represent Canada, and she came out blazing. She was the only one of the 19 finalists to use a carving technique instead of molds. This meant that her scuplture weighed over 60kg, but it looked uniquely artistic. Watch the video above for some action shots of Veronique working!

The Dutch contestant won the WCM title, and his sculpture was large and scary! I think the shock value was what pushed him ahead of the pack. I hope Veronique comes back next year to try again!

At the end of our day we had a great chat with our Japanese chocolate hero, Koji Tsuchiya of Theobroma Cacao, a pioneer of fine cacao in Japan.

Stay tuned for our report from the “Grand Public” Salon, coming in a few days!




A tour of the chocolates of Fontainebleau

Outside of Frederic Cassel in Fontainebleau

Fountainebleau is a town on the outskirts of Paris. We are here with Cyrus’ family who is visiting from the Netherlands and New York.
The town is famous for its palace and palace gardens which date back about 400 years. To be honest, I don’t know much about the history of the place. I’ve been too busy checking out the Fountainebleau food scene.

Kerstin at Frederic Cassel

Much to our surprise, Fountainebleau has at least 6 chocolate shops within about a 1km radius. We visited 2 of them today.
The first is a French franchise called “Jeff de Brugge”. Our B&B host purchased it and has given it to his daughter to run. He gave us a tour and explainded the operations of the business. The selling point seems to be that the chocolate used in production comes from their own cocoa bean coop in the Ivory Coast. It’s something that they advertise on their brochures and marketing material. It’s good to see that there’s a demand for responsibly traded cacao. The chocolate was o.k. I preferred the bark which used a 70% cacao over the bon bons.

The bon bons at the place up the street, on the other hand, were REALLY good. The shop is called Frederic Cassel and everything looked pretty wicked. There was a good selection of macrons as well as a other pastries, cakes and baked goods. I purchased a few bon bons to try and loved the bee pollen one I had earlier.

I’m a little concerned about my chocolate consumption as we approach the Salon du Chocolat which starts tomorrow! Cyrus and I will take the early train in to Paris and hope to get there when the doors open at 9am. There we will meet the great chocolatiers of Paris and France. Stay tuned for photos and updates in the coming days!

A fountain in Fontainebleau

Gearing up for our first leg, preparing for Paris!

We leave for Europe on October 6th and our preparations for our departure are reaching a fever pitch. We will be visiting some family in Germany for a week, and then we go to Paris and prepare for the Salon du Chocolat. We might even get to go to the famous Chocolate Fashion Show (Click this photo for more images.)

To give you an idea of what we do to prepare, we are reading the list of exhibitors and figuring out who we want to see and what chocolate we want to taste.

(NOTE TO OUR BLOG READERS: If you have any booths that you would like us to check out while we are at the show, please leave your requests in the comments below. We will do our best to blog about it here!)

We have also arranged a visit to Valrhona headquarters in the town of Tain-l’Hermitage which is located in the wine-growing district of Hermitage, near Lyon. We hope to find out how they develop all of  that wonderful chocolate that they make there!

In other news we have been in contact with the folks at Madecasse Chocolate, and they have agreed to set up a visit to their location in Madagascar when we go there in mid November. We hope to give you more details about our plans soon.

We will be blogging regularly from now on, so keep your eyes glued to this blog!

A chocolate bouquet for Mom.

Yes, Mother’s Day is this Sunday, and our Mother’s Day chocolate bouquets are now ready at the shop. The flavors for this year are:

-Lemon Rosemary Olive Oil (in our Dark-Milk Chocolate)
-Milk Chocolate Praline Bark
-Cherry Cocoa Nib (in our Dark Chocolate)

If you haven’t tried our bouquets before, this is the year to get one for Mom!

Patric – we love you

After a few months away, Patric is back in the Shop. The return comes with several new bars, as well as a fun, beautiful packaging makeover…

Patric Chocolate was also recently named one of the “Best New American Chocolates” by Food and Wine magazine.

For all you milk haters out there, he says this one will bring you over to the dark-milk side.

The classic 70% Madagascar with the addition of crunchy cacao nibs. Check out a picture here.

Peanut Butter and “Jelly”… the jelly is the natural fruity notes of the cacao. Seriously – OMG

We also have Patric’s well loved 67% Madagascar (incredibly smooth with bright, citrusy punches), as well as a new 70% blend. So for those of you who were missing Patric, or those of you who are new to this small batch, craft manufacturer, stop by and take a peak… and leave with something wonderful.

Launched new web shop: Chocophilia Online

Well, it took a long time to get it ready, but our new web shop went live today. If you need to order chocolate from anywhere in Canada, and send it anywhere in Canada, please give it a try! Here is the link:

Some cool things about the web shop:

  • It has almost all the products that we carry in our physical store available for purchase, including some hard-to-find items such as Claudio Corallo, Domori and Amedei chocolate.
  • We ship promptly using Canada Post expedited shipping with tracking.
  • Shipping costs are calculated in real-time.
  • We can send gifts with greeting cards and gift wrapping options.
  • The checkout process is simple and fast.

Let us know what you think of it. We need your suggestions. And newsletter subscribers will be getting a promotional coupon soon in the next newsletter. Stay tuned for more!

Is it possible to have chocolate without the sugar?

Absolutely! Francois Pralus’s 100% sugar free chocolate has just arrived at our store – straight from France! According to the American Medical Association, “Today’s findings are interesting because they suggest it takes only a 6.3 gram serving of dark chocolate per day – only 30 calories worth – to lower blood pressure.” (That’s about a square a day.) So enjoy an intense and decadent chocolate experience – without the guilt!

Study for your own personal interest or for chocolate education:

A return of a favorite flavour in the bark bouquets!

We have introduced a flavour in our bark bouquets – just in time for the summer! We are featuring our Green Tea bark in our bark bouquets. In each individually wrapped bouquet includes our Green Tea bark, our very own Chai Crunch bark, and also our Dark chocolate bark with pistachios and dried cherries. Our bark bouquets are beautifully hand wrapped and make amazing gifts for any chocolate lover. Now you can have your tea, and eat it too!

Mother’s Day News

Are you still looking for a great gift that will show Mom how grateful you are for all of her efforts? Why not give her some very delicious and original chocolates that she will enjoy and appreciate.

Our Mother’s Day Ganache Collection includes five new ganaches that are guaranteed to inspire her senses. Here’s what we are offering:

Stimulate: Thyme and Honey (top photo)

Refresh: Mint and Lemon

Soothe: Thai Basil and Yuzu fruit

Relax : Lavender

Harmonize: Rose and Raspberry (bottom photo)

(The 8 piece box to the right is $12.)

We also have our ever popular Bark Bouquets available for Mother’s Day. These contain 3 sheets (one dark, one milk and one white chocolate) and are great for sharing.
The Mother’s Day Bark Bouquets contain the following 3 flavors:

* Chai Crunch (chai milk chocolate with caramelized rice crispies)
* Vanilla Spice (white chocolate with vanilla beans and pink and green peppercorns)
* Dark and Stormy (Chocolate from Madagascar with praline nuts and apricots)

Finally, we have many assorted gift bags and gift totes (see picture below) that contain a variety of Kerstin’s chocolates as well as a other great chocolates that we sell in the shop.

Two part-time job openings at Kerstin’s Chocolates

We are looking for two new part-timers at the shop. If you are interested in interviewing for these positions, please send your resume and a cover letter to (and PLEASE list contact info for your references in your resume.)

1) Enthusiastic Part-Time Retail Sales Assistant Required

Some retail sales experience preferred. Passion for chocolate is mandatory. 3 days/week (Shifts currently required are: Thursday 11-6, Friday 11-6, Saturday 10-4), totaling approximately 20 hours/week.
Starting as soon as possible.

2) Reliable Part-Time Chocolate Production Assistant Required

Attention to detail and a passion for quality is a must. Candidates must be eager to learn how to work with chocolate. Culinary experience a plus. 2-3 days/week max, approximately 15-20 hours/week. Starting May 15th.

If you are interested in either of these positions, contact us soon for more details!

New products arrive at The Cocoa Room

We have recently brought some new products into the store for you chocolate connoisseurs.

Coppeneur is a German chocolate maker, and we decided to carry their chocolate, because we find their quality to be excellent. Their organic single plantation bars are truly delicious. Also check out the Coppeneur filled bars in flavours such as Walnut & Cognac or Chili & Highland Whisky.

Because so many of you told us that you liked the Claudio Corallo line of chocolates, we stocked up once more. The popular crystallized ginger bars are back, and we have also added a delicious 70% dark chocolate with cocoa nibs. My personal favourite, the 80% with crystallized sugar, is back too.

We continue to carry the PralusLes tropiques du chocolat” line, which features single origin 75% chocolates from all over the world. This time we are testing out the mild and slightly “hazelnutish” Venezuela and the earthy Sao Tome & Principe, which has a slight hint of mushroom. And for the first time we have brought in the Pralus Fortssima with an 80% cocoa content.

Also new are Domori’s Carenero Superior, a very smooth 70% chocolate from the Barlovento region in Venezuela and a 70% super-fruity Madagascar (definitely on my top 3 list now). Finally, for those of you who have been eagerly waiting its arrival, the Domori Porcelana is back.