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What I got up to at Speciality & Fine Food Fair 2019

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Believe it or not, Cardiff isn't the cutting edge for all things chocolate in the UK. Shocking, I know. So, to get my latest fix of all things cacao, I made a beeline for Speciality & Fine Food Fair 2019 at London's Olympia.

Speciality & Fine Food Fair 2019
The Speciality & Fine Food Fair 2019 at Olympia London

I entered the venue full of apprehension and left with my mind bursting at the seams, full of ideas and inspiration.

Small business owners, deli managers, café owners, department store buyers, and supermarket category managers typically attend the annual trade-only show.

The premise is that food brands can get a foothold in the market through the contacts made at the show.

Speciality food brands exhibiting at the show can range from popcorn makers to tea blenders, bakers to distillers, and everything else in-between.

As a chocolate blogger, I'm in a unique position. Permitted to attend the show, I got to meet a diverse range of large and small brands to find out why they were exhibiting at the show, and why their products were unique.

For two-and-a-bit days I ran solely on a diet of premium chocolate while burning 20 miles of shoe leather.

So who did I meet?

Here's the list in alphabetical order:


BbyB Chocolates

I first came across BbyB Chocolates on a mini cruise to Bruges. The white, almost clinical, interior of the store lets the chocolates do all the talking, with the vibrant packaging offering flashes of colour. A menu - much like a chocolate periodic table - sits overhead, listing the diverse and interesting flavour combinations.

I tried recipe #25 at the stand, which was a dark chocolate baton filled with a runny strawberry, pepper and lemon centre. The flavours are carefully balanced against the chocolate so they work in harmony. I liked the addition of the pepper to curb the sweetness with a gentle savoury tone.

An interesting project they've been working on is "The 6". Six Michelin-starred chefs - Bart Desmidt, Thierry Theys, Gert De Mangeleer, Viki Geunes, Nick Bril, and Jan Verleye - each created their own chocolate for this collection, which is priced at €15 a box.

The 6 Chef's Chocolates by BbyB
Chocolates created by Belgian Michelin starred chefs

I'm pleased to hear BbyB is seeking a UK distributor, meaning we may well see these Belgian 'babeluttes' and 'boobies' on British shelves shortly. They are available to order online in the meantime.

For further information, head to their website.


Cacao Equador

Portuguese producer Cacao Equador seeks to take you on a journey, from the beautiful artwork on the packaging and the tales told by postcards, through to the smooth and satisfying taste. Visit one of their shops and you'll find a characterful boutique designed to deliver a memorable experience.

The cacao is sourced from São Tomé and Príncipe, and their ambition is to revive the original varieties that thrived on the islands in the 1800s. Cacao Equador takes the product from bean to bar, so has a direct social and economic impact on the African islands.

Bars from the Cacao Equador range
Varying intensities of cocoa in the chocolate bars from Cacao Equador

I have a collection of bars to review soon, and look forward to tasting these again. At the show, I preferred the level of intensity at 73%, but liked the inclusion of cacao nibs in the 68% bar.

The bars are available to purchase online via their website as well as at Cacao Equador stores in Porto and Coimbra in Portugal, Girona and Barcelona in Spain, Doha in Qatar, and hopefully in the UK in the near future.

For further information, head to their website.


Chief Chocolate Officer

What made Chief Chocolate Officer leap out at me, besides the distinctive and colourful branding, was the innovative concept. Bars have been designed to pair with different varieties of wines.

Better still, you don't need to be a wine lover to enjoy the chocolate. Indeed, you can be teetotal and still enjoy the varied and sometimes unusual flavour combinations. Flavours like Fig, Smoke & Pink Peppercorn stand up on their own, but are designed to pair exceptionally well with certain types of wine, so a robust Malbec in this instance. My favourite, the creamy Pear & Elderflower milk chocolate that simply bursts with fresh flavours, compliments a crisp Sauvignon Blanc.

Chief Chocolate Officer Pear and Elderflower milk chocolate
Pear & Elderflower milk chocolate bar designed to pair with a Sauvignon Blanc

The 50g and 100g bars are stocked in a variety of chocolate shops, delicatessens, and department stores, and are also available online.

For further information, head to their website.


Choco Group (Mulaté)

On my way to another stand, colourful packaging together with unusual flavours caught my eye at the Choco Group stand. Under their Mulaté brand, you'll find Cannabis chocolate and Tahini chocolate alongside an 88% dark chocolate and a sea salted dark chocolate.

Flavoured Mulaté chocolate bars on display
Cannabis and Tahini chocolate headline Mulaté's range

The flavours in these delicious organic Lithuanian chocolate bars are balanced so as not to overpower the taste of the dark chocolate. So, the chocolate comes first followed by a gentle hint of sea salt, or warming winter spices, or hemp.

In the case of the milk chocolate, the flavours are more prominent, assisted by the additional creaminess. Tahini delivers a roasted sesame seed flavour while Peanut is more akin to a delicious peanut butter.

Their range of bars and spreads can be found in delicatessens and garden centres.

For further information, head to their website.


Chocolat Madagascar

Chocolat Madagascar is based on the simple idea of producing chocolate near where it grows. It's a rarity these days where chocolate is often produced far away from the plantations, distributing wealth to the places that seldom need it.

Award winning chocolate at Chocolat Madagascar
Award-winning chocolate on display at the Chocolat Madagascar stand

The MAVA plantation of eight farms spans the Sambirano valley of Madagascar, and each farm produces cacao beans with slightly different characteristics. The chocolate is produced on the island and exported around the world, crucially generating revenue in the local community. Chocolat Madagascar call this 'Raise Trade', a scheme that contributes to raising the wealth at origin.

I sampled a variety of chocolate at the stand and loved the aromatic White Gold chocolate. The Vegan MilC brand (made using Madagascan cashew milk) also deserves to be raved about.

I have a bar of Chocolat Madagascar chocolate ready to review, so be sure to head back soon to read about my thoughts.

Award-winning Chocolat Madagascar is available at Amazon here° and from fine chocolate retailers including Chocolate Trading Co here°, Chococo here, and Cocoa Runners here.

For further information, head to their website.


Chocolate Tree

If you want an enthusiastic conversation with a passionate chocolate maker who definitely knows his beans, talk to Chocolate Tree's Alastair. He's incredibly knowledgeable about the source of his fine cacao beans, and he's determined to source the best crop, purchased from farmers at a true premium.

The Chocolate Tree stand
Lots of variety available on the Chocolate Tree stand

At the show, Alastair showcased his fabulous bean-to-bar range, produced using premium heirloom cacao from the likes of Madagascar, Peru, Mexico, Belize, and Venezuela. As you'd expect, the flavours are clean, with each variety of chocolate exhibiting its own quality.

He kindly gave me a couple of bars to sample Chocolate Tree's handiwork, and a review will follow on this website shortly.

For further information, head to their website.


Chocolates by Eloise

For chocolates created with love, look no further than Chocolates by Eloise. It was abundantly clear that Emma is incredibly passionate about creating chocolates that her customers adore.

Chocolates by Eloise
A selection of vivid bars and gift boxes at Chocolates by Eloise

She trades at markets and uses the immediate feedback to fine-tune flavours, creating a diverse range of delicious and varied chocolates. I sampled the Banana and Burnt Sugar filled chocolate which was absolutely delicious. She'd managed to lock the flavour of fresh banana inside the shell, with caramel notes coming from underneath to round off the flavour beautifully.

Delightful hand-painted Easter Eggs were also on display alongside vividly packaged chocolate bars with creative flavours such as Sour Cherry & Fennel.

Right now, you'll need to head to farmers markets and selected speciality grocers in London to get hold of these delicious chocolates. A small range is available to buy online although I hope to see more products available soon (especially the bars).

For further information, head to her website.


Divine Chocolate

Think of Fairtrade chocolate and you may well name Divine Chocolate. As one of the pioneers of giving cocoa farmers a fairer deal, the chocolate brand has gone from strength to strength, and is stocked by department stores, supermarkets, and delicatessens across the land.

At the show they were showcasing their new chocolate flavours. I brought back a bar of 85% Dark Chocolate with Lemon and a bar of 85% Dark Chocolate with Turmeric and Ginger to review soon.

For further information, head to their website.


Guittard

Suppliers of chocolate to the likes of Paul A. Young, American brand Guittard benefits from a growing market share, competing against the likes of Barry Callebaut and Valrhona to supply trade customers with chocolate for baking and production.

Guittard and HB Ingredients stand
Guittard chocolate bags on display at the HB Ingredients stand

While their catering products are geared towards industry, us home cooks can find Guittard products for baking, cooking, and small-scale chocolate production on sites like eBay, Ocado, and Amazon here°.

For further information, head to their website.


Harris & James

From coffee roasters to single origin chocolate bars, Suffolk-based Harris & James' story is an interesting one. They craft their bars in small batches to maintain a high quality product.

At the show they introduced their new stylish notebook-style packaging. They also explained their collaborative projects working with gin distillers to create chocolate bars infused with botanicals. The concept has a lot of potential for working with other drinks producers.

Single farm origin bars from Harris & James
A range of single farm origin bars from Harris & James

Combine chocolate and coffee and I'm a happy bunny, so the work at Harris & James is like a dream come true for me. I'd like to see pre-selected chocolate and coffee pairings where chocolate bars are packaged alongside a bag of freshly roasted coffee matched based on the flavour profiles of both products.

You can buy both the chocolate and coffee on their website. You'll also find both available in the family's Twyfords Café in Beccles, near Lowestoft in Suffolk.

For further information, head to their website.


House of Dorchester

The most surprising fact I learned about House of Dorchester at the show is that it is now part of the Charbonnel et Walker family, opening up access to Charbonnel's buying power. The immediate effect of this change can be tasted in their powerful Marc De Champagne milk chocolate truffles.

Chocolate boxes at House of Dorechester's stand
Book-like boxes of truffles at the House of Dorchester stand

The growing heritage range emblazoned with the Great British Union flag is an important one. I liked their new range of Book Boxes, made to look like lengthy literary reads. This quirky packaging contains 70g of chocolate truffles and would be perfect for hiding from family members in plain sight on a bookshelf.

House of Dorchester products are available online through their website and are also stocked in department stores.

For further information, head to their website.


Kim's Chocolates (Cachet)

The Cachet packaging enticed me into a chat with the Kim's Chocolates team at the Speciality & Fine Food Fair 2019. A range of packaging was on display, but it was the animal-themed boxes I loved the most.

Cachet chocolate at the Kim's Chocolate stand
Colourful Cachet chocolate bars at the Kim's Chocolate stand

There's a range of interesting flavour combinations that piqued my interest too. Dark Pecan & Fudge, Dark Marzipan & Apricot, and Milk Kiwi & Mango are just some of the more unusual flavours.

The brand also has a feel-good message as through their Cocoa for Schools project, they're investing in education in Tanzania. The aim is to help improve the lives of cocoa farmers and their families in the Kyela, Busokelo and Rungwe districts of Mbeya, Tanzania. So far, they've completed 529 classrooms out of their target of 1,718.

Bars aren't available to buy on their website but they can be found in selected garden centres and delicatessens around the country.

For further information, head to their website.


Lauden Chocolate

This Yorkshire brand by Stephen and Sun has many accolades behind it, and is supplier to the likes of British Airways and Cunard. If you've nibbled on chocolates in the First Class cabin on BA lately, there's a good chance it was made by Lauden Chocolate.

Stylish packaging at the Lauden Chocolate stand
Stylish packaging at the Lauden Chocolate stand

The philosophy is simple - quality chocolate with robust, clean flavours. This was perfectly demonstrated in the green-domed Japanese Yuzu & White Chocolate Ganache Chocolate I sampled. The citrus notes were clear but not overpowering, and the creaminess from the white chocolate helped to cleanly round off the finish. No wonder it is an award-winner as it makes use of precise flavours in a controlled manner.

Stephen gave me a beautiful tin of six chocolates and you can look forward to a review very shortly.

For further information, head to their website.


Le Chocolat des Français

How could I resist asking about the vibrant packaging at the Le Chocolat des Français stand? Especially when this giant colourful advent calendar was on display:

2019 advent calndar by Le Chocolat des Français
A colourful advent calendar by Le Chocolat des Français

Artists create the packaging, signing their artwork on the rear of the wrapper. The vibrant art showcases French history and life, with much of it designed to put a smile on your face. It's also designed to be as important as the chocolate contained beneath, providing you with a cultural experience.

Founded by four French chocolatiers, the company creates a variety of products using quality ingredients, such as chocolate covered hazelnuts, bars, and boxes of chocolate squares. The Crispy Rolled Wafers are lighter than air, delicate, and tasty (pair them with a cup of coffee for an indulgent treat).

I was given a tube of chocolate coated hazelnuts and chocolate bars to review, so stay tuned for my thoughts on their chocolate.

For further information, head to their website.


London Chocolate

Asel explained the premise of London Chocolate to me. Each bar of chocolate contains just two ingredients - single origin cacao and natural cane sugar.

Bean to bar samples at London Chocolate
London Chocolate showcasing their single origin chocolate sourced from Madagascar, Tanzania, Dominican Republic, and India

Less is more in the case of award-winning London Chocolate, where the flavours of the cocoa beans are clearly defined. By roasting at a low temperature, the fruity qualities of the beans are retained. In my chocolate flight, I tasted chocolate made using beans from Madagascar, Tanzania, the Dominican Republic, and India - the latter being my favourite in the collection. Each has a different personality, and the red and yellow fruity notes come through clearly.

Something I discovered on the website is that their mould has been designed to pay homage to London by drawing inspiration from the game, Monopoly. Smaller squares surround a larger central square, much like the layout of the board game. It's a cool touch.

The 62g bars can be purchased online as well as in selected fine food delicatessens.

For further information, head to their website.


PLAYin CHOC

PLAYin CHOC is a responsible product aimed at children. Each box contains organic, common-allergen-free chocolate, a 3D puzzle, plus a fact card.

Three ranges are available, featuring endangered animals, woodland animals, or rabbits as topics for the puzzles. There's also a Christmas selection where the puzzles feature reindeer, a Christmas tree, and Santa, amongst others.

The single-source chocolate originates from Peru, while the bourbon vanilla is from Madagascar and the creamed coconut is from Indonesia.

For further information, head to their website.


Taste With Colour

Hazel Lee is a chocolate tasting goddess within the chocolate industry, and many rave about her Taste with Colour flavour map. I'd be the first to admit that I didn't understand the concept when I first heard about it. So, when I spotted she was hosting a tasting seminar at the show, I took a seat and awaited the presentation.

Hazel Lee with her Taste With Colour map
Hazel Lee explaining her Taste With Colour map during a tasting session

Hazel explained more about how to taste chocolate before introducing the map. It links groups of flavours together by colour, helping the taster to better understand what's going on inside their mouth.

We tasted a couple of samples from Chocolate Tree and as a group identified red flavours in one and yellow and brown flavours in the other. It's an interesting concept and a handy visual reference tool for pinpointing tastes and flavours when tasting craft and single source chocolate.

For further information, head to her website.


The Chocolate Society

The Chocolate Society's new packaging and Chocolate Shaker
A peek at The Chocolate Society's new packaging as well as their Chocolate Shaker in action

I had a very good reason to visit The Chocolate Society at the show - their Chocolate Shaker. Their hot chocolate gadget secured crowdfunding support and is in production right now.

I was treated to a live demonstration and it was ready in the blink of an eye. Far from the vigorous shaking I imagined was necessary, it was pretty much effortless. The result - blending milk chocolate chips with hot water - was delicious too. I've tried water-based hot chocolate before and it was quite simply foul. This was as rich and creamy as the hot chocolate I make with milk on the hob at home. As soon as the Chocolate Shaker goes on sale I'm buying one. I'm also planning to test its limits - stay tuned for an interesting article.

There's more to The Chocolate Society than the Shaker, and they were keen to shown off their palette of vibrant boxes, each adorned with the modern new logo.

I was given a selection of bars and chocolate covered honeycomb to try and will report on these soon.

For further information, head to their website°.


The Gourmet Chocolate Pizza Company

Look at gifting websites and you'll undoubtedly stumble across chocolate pizzas from The Gourmet Chocolate Pizza Company on sale. At their stand they showcased a selection of pizzas with assorted toppings, alongside the small but cute pizza slice boxes.

Café range from The Gourmet Chocolate Pizza Company
The new Café range from The Gourmet Chocolate Pizza Company

To grow the company, they've introduced a new sister brand - The Gourmet Chocolate Café - that looks beyond chocolate pizzas. I liked the Topitoffs - pretty chocolate discs that sit on top of your hot chocolate - but the Chocolate Bombes caught my eye the most. I mistakenly though they were chocolate bath bombs but in fact they are baubles of chocolate filled with marshmallows. Pop one in a cup, cover it with hot milk, and watch the dome melt away revealing the marshmallows. It's a very cool hot chocolate concept.

If you love coffee as much as I do, check out the Caféshots gift set. Fill the chocolate lined waffle cup with a shot of coffee and place the Topitoff disk on top for a chocolate flavoured espresso. Enjoy - then eat the cup!

For further information, head to their website.


The Painted Peacock

I was convinced Yugna's The Painted Peacock stall was more art gallery than it was chocolate stand. She displayed a selection of beautiful hand painted chocolates, with flavours including Passion Fruit, Coffee, Fresh Mint, Salted Caramel, Pink Peppercorn & Pistachio, Himalayan Sea Salt & Almond, and CBD-infused chocolate.

Chocolates at The Painted Peacock
Art gallery or chocolate display? Beautiful chocolates on display at The Painted Peacock

I tried the coffee chocolate which carefully balanced roasted coffee bean flavours with a rich dark chocolate. It was delicious, rounded, and (almost) too pretty to eat. It was a feast for all senses.

Yugna supplies premium chocolates to high-end restaurants and is looking for stockists to sell her range of boxed chocolates and bars. You can't order online (yet) but the website is full of delicious-looking photographs.

For further information, head to her website.


Tony's Chocolonely

Already a force to be reckoned with in the Netherlands, this Dutch brand is now on British supermarket shelves. The bright packaging grabs your attention almost as much as the supersized and chunky 180g bars.

Tony's Chocolonely chocolate bars
Chunky colourful bars on display at the Tony's Chocolonely stand

Tony's Chocolonely puts ethics at its core, and campaigns to banish child labour and modern slavery from the cocoa supply chain. This means that they have full traceability over the beans, and they pay above the Fairtrade premium for their crops.

I was given a bar of 51% Dark Almond & Sea Salt chocolate to review so keep an eye on Chocolatier.co.uk for my thoughts on the taste.

For further information, head to their website.


Whitakers

Think of Whitakers and you'll probably picture a box of their Mint Crisps at Christmas. In reality, they produce their own brand of chocolates throughout they year as well as producing products on behalf of other companies.

Now the company has unveiled a new modern logo symbolising a renewed focus on their own range of products. I love their new vibrant packaging, particularly for the Mint Crisps, which look more like a gift for any time of the year rather than just a family staple for Christmas. Also note the Fairtrade and Vegan Society logos on the box.

New colourful packaging from Whitakers
Vibrant new gifting packaging from Whitakers

The company has also launched their Truffle Spheres which look impressive but sound like a headache to produce. A sphere is formed with a band of one type of chocolate sandwiched between two layers of a different type. Expect to see more from Whitakers in the near future.

For further information, head to their website.


Wicked & Wonderful

Wicked & Wonderful (Benjamin Chocolatier) was at the show displaying a wide selection of products from award-winning chocolate bars and truffles through to Easter Eggs and spreads.

Wicked & Wonderful's stand
Bars, truffles, Easter Eggs and chocolate spreads at the Wicked & Wonderful stand

I loved tasting the Earl Grey chocolates, and especially liked the cute cacao pod mould used for the filled chocolates.

Their products are available to purchase on the website, and they were at the show hoping to find outlets around the country to stock their range of products.

For further information, head to their website.


Are there any producers listed here that you'd leave to learn more about? Let me know in the comments below.

Disclosure: While my Speciality & Fine Food Fair 2019 ticket was free, I paid for my travel and accommodation. I was not asked for a review. My opinions are my own. This article may contain affiliate links (identified by a ° symbol). These financially support this website - and our chocolate research - at no extra cost to you. Find out more.

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