Held in Seattle each year, the North West Chocolate Festival has been acclaimed as one of the best shows for chocolate in the world. And this year we were lucky enough to go along to check it out!
The event is split into two parts. First is the industry focused UnConference, which is mostly chocolate makers, but also chocolate retailers, bean importers, farmers, scientists, chocolate journalists, and chocolate enthusiasts. As well as having a passion for chocolate in common, the other thing we noticed about everyone was how absolutely lovely they were!
The UnConference program was a mixture of topics, including chocolate making techniques, farming & fermentation practices, and business skills/marketing. There was also a range of session styles, from the plenary session, workshops, unstructured discussions and speed mentoring to the awards ceremony.
It was an amazing experience, and we learnt an absolute tonne of information.
The top 5 things we learnt at the 2018 North West Chocolate UnConference:
- Chocolate conferences are much more fun than scientific conferences (which we go to for our day jobs), but can be just as nerdy. Think presentations on ideal fermentation techniques, roasting strategies and debates on marketing to the raw food movement.
- Japanese chocolate makers swept the awards for milk chocolate, suggesting that a creamier and sweeter style of milk chocolate is becoming more acceptable in the craft chocolate world
- Making money as a craft chocolate maker is difficult. In the vast majority of cases the chocolate makers who have the most successful businesses have diversified. This usually includes having a café in their store, and offering a broader range of products like brownies, cakes, hot chocolates and candy.
- There’s apparently little scientific evidence that ageing has any influence on the flavour of chocolate, but many chocolate makers have conducted their own tests and believe that the flavour of chocolate improves over time. This includes a mellowing of unpleasant or acidic flavours.
- Cadmium in cocoa growing regions is a developing concern. We heard the WHO are not concerned, but there are some consumer groups who are, and who are pushing for increasing regulation/controls, which could mean that a lot of lower income countries who have recently developed their economies through investments in the cocoa industry could find it difficult to sell their beans.
(It’s a social media free space so the only photos we have a selfies)
North West Chocolate Festival
The second part of the festival is a chocolate fair with around 10,000 chocolate lovers visiting over 150 chocolate stall holders, each with chocolate products to sample and wonderful stories to share. We had so much fun meeting people we’ve worked with over the years and discovering new brands we want to share with our subscribers in 2019.
After eating A LOT of chocolates, we noticed a trend for dark chocolates to be less astringent and for milk chocolates to be more prevalent. There were also some amazing flavours as well as some crazy flavours (e.g. curry and shrimp in white chocolate)!
We focused on the craft chocolate makers, but there were also truffles, pastries, cakes and other delicious things. It would have been good if there were some more savoury options – the stall with fresh fruit samples for a grocery delivery business became a favourite stop on the circuit to help cleanse our pallets.
The festival was more interactive with scheduled sessions devoted to chocolate pairings – rum, cheese, sake, beer – they were hard to get into but interesting. The best session we attended was the Taste with Colour one run by Hazel Lee in collaboration with Grenada chocolate – Chris isn’t a natural watercolour painter but had so much fun engaging a very different way to experience and describe chocolate – a must try one day!
The other thing we noticed & loved was the wide variety of really cool cocoa accessories – necklaces, earrings, t-shirts and ceramics – expect a future blog post about some of these soon! We made “bean bar you” theobroma cacao “tree-shirts” which were a lot of fun too.
As well as meeting lots of really amazing chocolate people. We also really loved sharing some great Australian chocolates with some of the worlds top chocolate connoisseurs – Everyone is really excited about the growing legion of awesome chocolate makers we have in Australia!
In all, we really loved our trip to Seattle in 2018! We highly recommend making the trip one day but be sure to go in with a plan of what you want and who you want to visit as it is overwhelming to say the least!
We can’t wait to share our special discoveries with our subscribers in 2019.