Your guide to New Zealand’s craft chocolate movement
The craft chocolate scene in New Zealand is growing, with a focus on fairly traded cocoa from the Pacific Islands. We meet some of the brands producing bean-to-bar chocolate and a few boutique players doing things their own way.
Struggle to choose between milk and dark chocolate? Try navigating the world of craft chocolate – it’s a whole new level of weighing-up and deliberation. There are percentages, countries of origin, cacao strains and processing styles to consider, before you even get into flavours.
New Zealand’s craft chocolate movement has been growing slowly but steadily for the past eight years. This labour-of-love confectionery is produced using a ‘bean-to-bar’ approach, with makers roasting and conching (lengthy mixing and agitating) their own beans instead of starting with cocoa paste or liquor as most manufacturers do. Milk and other additives usually don’t appear in the ingredients, meaning the focus remains squarely on the taste of the cacao bean (confusingly, it’s also known as a cocoa bean, and technically is a seed rather than a bean).
Craft chocolate makers tend to develop strong relationships and direct trade arrangements with growers or co-operatives, paying higher prices for higher quality, organically grown cacao beans.
You don’t get into the industry for the financial rewards, says Luke Owen Smith, owner of online craft chocolate store The Chocolate Bar. The passionate Wellington foodie also runs tasting events and sells chocolate at markets and some stores in the capital.
“I love how the bean-to-bar craft chocolate world is helping people to properly connect with what they’re eating, where it comes from and who has made it,” he says. “There’s a huge reduction in the chain from farmer to chocolate maker to customer.”
Even those not producing bean-to-bar are becoming more acquainted with their source of cacao and working with organic ingredients and unexpected flavours. Here we look at some of the country’s craft producers and
a few chocolatiers doing things their own way.
Wellington chocolate factory
What do they make? Fairtrade, organically grown, single-origin chocolates with experimental flavours including craft beer. Each wrapper is illustrated by a different New Zealand artist.
Who makes it? Rochelle Harrison, one of New Zealand’s original craft chocolate producers, leads a team of 25. Eight people make the chocolates in the Wellington factory, which is open to the public for tours.
Where to buy: Select supermarkets, gift shops, organic stores and from wcf.co.nz, or visit the factory at 5 Eva Street, Wellington.
What do they make? Boutique Samoan chocolate flavoured with vanilla, orange or cinnamon. They also sell cacao nibs and the popular cacaoccino, a solid block of cacao used to make traditional drinking chocolate.
Who makes it? Hawke’s Bay couple Nia and Phil Belcher, using beans grown by Nia’s family and other growers in Samoa.
Where to buy: Various organic and specialty shops. Find stockists or buy direct at olapacifica.com.
What do they make? A much-lauded range of organic chocolate, featuring single-origin options and a decadent Nelson hazelnut blend. The brand also produces single-origin drinking chocolate and chocolate for chefs.
Who makes it? Former deep-sea fisherman Karl Hogarth works with his Argentinian wife, Marina, in their small Nelson factory.
Where to buy: Go to hogarthchocolate.co.nz to shop or for stockists, or try it at restaurants such as Queenstown’s Rata, Auckland’s French Cafe and Nelson’s Cod & Lobster.
What do they make? Single-origin chocolates made with cacao sourced from the Pacific Islands. Interesting flavour combinations include horopito and kawakawa and ‘beekeeper’, made with manuka honey, bee pollen and puffed amaranth.
Who makes it? Ocho stands for Otago Chocolate Company, which was founded by Liz Rowe. Her team of four work in the brand’s Dunedin factory, which has an onsite cafe and shop.
Where to buy: Find stockists or buy direct at ocho.co.nz or visit the store at 22 Vogel Street, Dunedin.
What do they make? A range of bars and nibs using beans from the Solomon Islands. Flavours include orange and mint, and there’s a choice of organic or coconut sugar.
Who makes it? Former coffee grower Glenn Yeatman is a director of C-Corp, which grows cacao in the Solomon Islands and has helped to develop the local industry. Glenn, who also worked for C-Corp in the Solomon Islands, makes the cacao into chocolate in Tauranga, with help from wife Angie and two others.
Where to buy: Select gourmet and specialty shops or at solomonsgold.co.nz.
What do they make? While it’s not considered a craft chocolate because of its manufacturing process and volume, Whittaker’s is New Zealand’s original and largest bean-to-bar manufacturer. Single-origin bars include Dark Ghana and Samoan Cacao, and its locally flavoured artisan range gives a nod to the craft industry.
Who makes it? Founder James Henry Whittaker’s grandsons Andrew and Brian Whittaker run the brand, with Andrew’s daughter Holly the marketing manager. The company produces its chocolate in a Porirua factory just outside Wellington.
Where to buy: Most supermarkets and dairies stock the brand. See whittakers.co.nz.
What do they make? Organic dark chocolate with cupuaçu, a unique Brazilian fruit, and additions including coconut and sesame seeds.
Who makes it? French chef and chocolatier Marie Monmont with a small team in Wellington, using Brazilian beans and cupuaçu. She also works with the Department of Corrections and the Red Cross, giving packaging work to refugees and prisoners.
Where to buy: Shop or find stockists at wildness.co.nz, or try it at Wellington restaurants such as Logan Brown.
What do they make? Organic, fairly traded milk and dark chocolate in flavours such as Sri Lankan spices, crisp mint and salt toffee crisp.
Who makes it? Trade Aid bucked the trend for processing your own beans, preferring to upskill and pay more to cacao growers from the Conacado Co-operative in the Dominican Republic to process them. The chocolate is made in Trade Aid’s Christchurch factory.
Where to buy: Trade Aid stores, some supermarkets, specialty stores and at tradeaid.org.nz.
What do they make? A range of organic chocolates infused with “love” and “creativity”, offering multiple flavours and treats such as the chocolate-filled and coated Decadent Dates. The brand also makes a range of single-origin bean-to-bar products.
Who makes it? She Universe was founded by spiritual teacher B Prior, whose meditation technique is practised daily at the company. A team in Christchurch makes the chocolate, headed by the brand’s original chocolatier, Oonagh Browne.
Where to buy: At the brand’s headquarters and cafe in Christchurch’s Governors Bay or its shop at The Tannery. Also available at shops throughout the country or from sheuniverse.com.
What do they make? Tea made from cacao husks, which are removed after the cacao beans are roasted.
Who makes it? Sam Angliss, who discovered the tea at a chocolate-making class in Peru. He sources husks from Wellington Chocolate Factory and Hogarth.
Where to buy: Shop and find stockists at mayanman.co.nz.
The connoisseur’s guide to chocolate
A tasting guide by Gemma O’Sullivan, writer and chocolate maker based in Wellington
Take a piece of chocolate – ideally over 50% cocoa – and examine it. High-quality chocolate will have an even, glossy sheen. There should be no dullness or white tones that indicate poorly tempered chocolate.
First breathe in the aroma, then pop a small piece in your mouth. It should melt easily on your tongue. Chew the chocolate and swish it around a little. Now, with your mouth closed, inhale through your nose to elevate the flavour. Note what you can taste. Is it sweet? Sour or bitter? Or even savoury?
Chocolate can vary greatly in flavour; it can taste fruity, floral, spicy, roasted, nutty or earthy. Once you get a taste for it, chocolate can pop with flavours such as banana, coconut, cherry and even tobacco. These aren’t added flavours – they are the natural notes of the beans. The more you experiment with tasting, the more you’ll develop your palate for chocolate.