We’re going cocoa loco for this week’s edition of ‘8Shades Of’, as we’re talking to one of masterminds behind independent bean-to-bar chocolate label, Conspiracy Chocolate.
Founded by Celine Herren and Amit Oz, Conspiracy create vegan, ethically-sourced chocolate in a range of exciting flavours – Sichuan pepper or sourdough, anyone? – all lovingly handcrafted in Hong Kong… and we can tell you from first-hand experience that they’re absolutely delicious!
We talk to Celine about her fave eco products, why Conspiracy’s chocolates are vegan and how individual farms have a huge effect on the way chocolate tastes.
1. In one sentence, tell us what you do?
We are chocolate makers, which means we make chocolate from cacao beans – as opposed to melting and shaping chocolate, which is what chocolatiers do.
2. Why are you an 8Shader?
In recent times, chocolate has been associated with poor farming practices including slavery, deforestation, monocropping and poverty in local communities. The resulting product is usually a candy bar packed with sugar and vanilla to mask the taste of poor quality cacao.
But this hasn’t always been the case! Thousands of years ago, the Mayans were cultivating and consuming cacao as a strong drink mixed with spices; in fact, cacao was considered a sacred food. Conspiracy Chocolate is part of a global movement called “bean-to-bar” that aims to return to this ancient way of producing chocolate – slowly, manually and putting cacao back at the core of chocolate.
We work with one farm in Vietnam, pay our farmers way above fair-trade prices and have a direct relationship with the farmers who play an instrumental role in our chocolate’s final taste. The farmers carefully select the cacao trees and crops that grow around them, creating a unique ecosystem. The cacao is then fermented and dried right on the farm – a crucial, delicate process that determines the chocolate’s quality. The farmers also use sustainable farming practices, such as permaculture and using cacao pods to grow mushrooms. Thus, the relationship between farmer and chocolate maker is a true partnership, where the farmer has the leverage to set their own prices and dictate the volume that they’re willing to sell.
3. Fave eco products?
Sqwishful plastic-free sponges – they took an essential product and made it sustainable, meaning it’s an easy switch for most people.
We also love shampoo bars, as they eliminate plastic packaging and are easy and light to transport. We use ones from FlorentinHK, which is actually Amit’s mum’s brand!
4. Fave veggie dishes in Hong Kong?
The smoked eggplant at Otium, the Forrest burger from Treehouse and the vegetarian brunch on Lamma at Olive Leaf.
5. How did Conspiracy Chocolate come to be “accidentally vegan” and what’s the development process behind creating your different chocolate flavours? What is your favourite flavour?
“Accidentally vegan” comes from the fact that chocolate is traditionally only cacao beans and sugar – nothing else! The added dairy isn’t necessary when you use high quality cacao beans.
The chocolate-making process took us about eight months to learn; we’re still learning and tweaking the recipes daily! Our approach is to pair chocolate with different flavours, including spices from savoury cooking. Since we like using fresh ingredients, we’re constantly developing new methods to transform them and put them into chocolate.
Since we don’t want to use dairy products, making milk chocolate that recreates the mouthfeel and experience of traditional milk chocolate was a challenge that took us a long time to crack. We ended up using a combination of coconut and cashew to give the creamy feel and slight sourness of dairy. We’re now working on a white chocolate, which is similarly challenging – but it’s these extra challenges that make us love what we do!
My personal favourite flavour is our coarse ground chocolate; it’s based on the ancient way of consuming cacao. This bar has a unique rough texture that dances in your month and reveals bursts of cacao flavours.
6. What role does the cacao farm you source from play in determining the quality of your chocolate?
A crucial role – craft chocolate is a little like wine, with terroir playing a central part in the chocolate’s final flavour. In fact, when you look at craft chocolate bars, you’ll see the origin and often the farm displayed on the front, along with tasting notes.
We take pride in our chocolate’s long and complex flavour profiles. Our cacao grows next to peppercorn and watermelon in the hills of central Vietnam, in the coffee-growing region; this gives the cacao some earthy and spicy flavour notes.
7. Aside from being vegan, what other ways does Conspiracy Chocolate incorporate sustainability?
We try to produce as little waste as possible – for instance, the cacao husks that aren’t used in chocolate are re-purposed to make tea, cocktails and even beers. We also sell post-production chocolate scraps as cooking chocolate, through food waste platforms like Chomp and Phenix by OnTheList.
We’re currently in the process of changing our packaging to be totally plastic-free, which isn’t easy with chocolate as you need a strong barrier from smell, heat and humidity.
8. Finally, what shade of green are you and why?
Pine green – it’s a deep blue-green colour that symbolises lush rainforest, where nature thrives undisturbed.
Find out more about Conspiracy Chocolate on their website and Instagram
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