Launching a luxury chocolate brand in the middle of a recession can’t be easy but Steph Saffer, founder of Kokopelli’s Chocolates in April 2012, and part of a growing band of artisanal chocolatiers, is undeterred. Steph says she has always loved chocolate, and has dreamed of working with it since she was a little girl. And now, after a hectic time promoting her latest collection at the December 2012 Chocolate Festival in London, Steph is seeing the dream unfold; an experience she describes as "immensely satisfying".
Steph’s current collection comprises chocolates made with fresh, quality ingredients in a jewel-like assortment of impressive shapes, colours and flavours. There are fruit fillings (eg: Lime, and Strawberry & Black Pepper), nutty ones (eg: Roasted Hazelnut, and Peanut Butter Praline), a Caramel or two, an Earl Grey Tea, and a spicy Indian one. All come across as well put together and having plenty of personality. There’s skill and dedication here, sensed it in the way Steph is striving for visual impact as well as originality and excellence.
In the mix of dark, milk and white chocolates, Valrhona couverture is used for most of them. One filling that stands out is the Chai Spiced Caramel – nice and creamy but not at all overpowering. Spices, as we know, have had a long association with chocolate, so it’s good to find chocolatiers unafraid of reinterpreting them for modern tastes. The Quince is another combination Steph has assembled with aplomb. It is delicately balanced yet full of flavour. Equally so the Ginger Triangle (smooth and warm) and the Sesame & Honey Praline (robust without being loud). The Sea Salt Caramel though, which comes shaped like a little cocoa pod, is a veritable triumph. The caramel has a rich buttery taste, with just the right consistency to mingle unctuously with the deep, chocolatey couverture as it lingers on the palate. If ever you find yourself eating through a box of these chocolates, best leave the Caramel Sea Salt till last. It would be unfaithful – nay, unseemly – to combine it with any of the others.
In addition to the delicious flavours on offer, Steph’s bright little collection comes packaged in a pale turquoise box with gold lettering on the lid, and a gauze ribbon wrapped around the side. Completing the look, there’s a menu inside with photos of the chocolates printed on thick, shiny card. In fact, chocolate making is not Steph’s only artistic skill. She is also an accomplished photographer, with enticing pictures of her latest creations regularly appearing on her website.
Although Kokopelli’s Chocolate is primarily a mail order enterprise, mostly from the website, Steph is hoping to have a regular spot in London sometime in 2013 – possibly a market stall or a concession. So what does the future hold for Kokopelli’s, if one can delve into such a realm? Steph says it’s still early days yet and doesn’t want to be too prescriptive. However, she acknowledges being small and specialised makes it easier to maintain close relationships with customers. It also gives room to manoeuvre, providing the flexibility to tinker with flavours and the ability to accommodate bespoke orders. All of which is important in the development of a luxury brand.
And what of the brand name itself? Kokopelli is the Mezoamerican god said to weave magic on his flute as he wanders from village to village. Part trader, part creator and part fertility bringer, Kokopelli also spreads playfulness and joy wherever he goes. This playfulness and joy is very much in evidence in the attractive chocolates Steph has put together, confirming the spirit of Kokopelli is still alive and well. It is welcome news, too, for any chocophiles looking for a bit of mythological magic in their gastronomic reality.
Kokopelli chocolates are available from www.kokopellis.co.uk. Image: Steph Saffer; Blake-Ezra Photography.