Solkiki Chocolatemaker began in the UK two years ago, crafting chocolate from bean-to-bar. Owners Bob and Iris find the best cacao beans from all over the world, working directly with farmers and fermenters – cutting out middle men and ensuring farmers are properly rewarded for their work.
“Direct Trade is a reciprocal relationship,” explains Iris, “farmers keep consistent, high quality over their beans and are motivated to do this since they are being rewarded properly. In return we receive very special, well-fermented cacao beans we can then further process into chocolate.
“We want to be part of creating a brighter future for everyone involved from the people that grow the cacao to the people that eat our chocolate.”
An ethical and innovative brand, the business is vegan, with no animal products used in the entire process. A lot of time and effort goes into finding just the right roast profile, percentage, grind and conche time for each chocolate.
Where it all began
So what led Iris, originally a clinical psychologist, and Bob, a former games industry creative director, to set up their own chocolate making business?
“A few years ago, I’d been trying to find a delicious, dairy-free, white bar, but couldn’t find anything I liked which prompted me to find out how to make dairy-free white chocolate myself,” says Iris.
“We were both working in other jobs at the time and it was on a business trip to the US that Bob brought back a dark craft chocolate bar, which opened our eyes to what chocolate can taste like. Up until that point having only consumed chocolate that is widely available everywhere, tasting craft chocolate was a revelation!
“From that moment on we started experimenting making our own chocolate, dairy-free white, but also dark and dairy-free milk chocolate. We bought a small Indian spice grinder to make small batches, grinding the chocolate to a smooth paste and things started to grow from there to a much bigger capacity.”
Today, Bob and Iris make chocolate from a specially designed chocolate workshop attached to their home, supplying independent stores across the UK and internationally in places like Munich, Paris and Amsterdam. From buying the cacao, to the chocolate making, tempering, packing and selling, the couple do everything themselves with a little help from their two children (aged 10 and 6) who help taste the chocolate!
“We sell our chocolate as couverture to high end chocolatiers and patissiers,” Iris continues, “we’ve won many awards with our chocolate – almost 30 international awards and counting! Winning the awards is a great honour and it has been so motivating to receive international recognition for the quality of our chocolate.
“The world has consumed one type of heavily-processed chocolate for a hundred years, that’s why it tastes bitter,” believe Iris and Bob. “Many cacao trees are hard to grow and low yielding but taste great and don’t need to be heavily processed. We are bringing this new type of chocolate to the UK.
“Our chocolate is lightly processed and is much more nutritional than chocolate that has been alkalized and heavily processed. But the most important thing is flavour, all of this is pointless if the chocolate doesn’t taste amazing, so we do our best to create the best and tastiest chocolate with the most interesting and enticing flavours. We like to offer new flavours and evolve to keep things interesting for us and for the chocolate lovers out there.
“Cacao is a seasonal product and every harvest is a little bit different, so even if we have a chocolate in our core range, this still means that one year a chocolate can taste a bit fruitier than another year, or perhaps more biscuity or nutty. In this respect you can compare chocolate to wine – even though it comes from the same farm the taste can differ slightly from year to year.”
Solkiki sell almost 30 different bars (56g/2oz), in a variety of white, milk and dark chocolate, also with inclusions. Many are limited editions.
The Tahitian Nougat/Salty Peanut White Chocolate bar is particularly popular, as is the 60% Salty Caramel Dark Coconut Milk Chocolate from Marañón, Peru.
The 70% Dark chocolate from the Kablon Farms on the west coast in the Philippines was awarded 2 Great Taste gold stars last year. A lovely dark chocolate – without bitterness, there are natural notes of biscuit, banana, spice and red fruit.
“Every chocolate we make – whether that is a plain bar or a bar with an inclusion – is a journey,” Bob continues. “When we receive a new cacao bean it first undergoes a lot of tests. We inspect the beans to see how clean they are then hand-sort the good ones from the bad. Only the good, well-fermented beans are selected for roasting. Then we roast the beans in a variety of ways, selecting the roast that brings out the flavours of the beans to the best profile.
“We try out different percentages of chocolate and make sure that the flavours in the chocolate work well together. Each chocolate from each source will taste different and we want to make the differences shine and create a harmonious chocolate. Often, we feel the chocolate needs to settle or ‘age’ to be sure that the end flavour is just right.
“When it comes to inclusions, this usually starts with an idea of an ingredient that we find might work well with a particular chocolate. From then on, we test this ingredient or ingredients together with this chocolate in various quantities, decide if we want to grind it through the chocolate or add it later in the process. As with the single source chocolates, there is always a lot of testing and a lot of tasting involved.
“There is a lot of demand for our chocolate and we work hard to be able to supply everyone, sometimes there is a small waiting list when a business approaches us for a big order, but when people come to us with a window for when they would want the chocolate that works best for us. We always keep everyone informed along the way so they’ll know exactly when they’ll be receiving their chocolate. For single customers you can see if the chocolate is marked available in the online shop, if not, it will be marked as out of stock.
“In the near future we’re hoping to keep growing and become more efficient,” says Bob, “we are always experimenting with new origins or sources of cacao beans, new flavours and inclusions and introducing new bars. We have a lot of choice and have a lot of fun with new inclusions.”
All Things Artisan readers can get a 10% discount on all Solkiki chocolate when ordering online with the voucher code: ALLTHINGSARTISAN10.
Find out more
You can buy all bars online solkiki.co.uk. They post to anywhere in the world and in the UK there is free post and packaging. Sign up to their mailing list to be the first to hear about new releases, discounts and give-aways.