Interview with The Chocolate Journalist, Sharon Terenzi with Victoria Cooksey

Note:  This interview was originally published on 8-7-16 on my Dark Matters Fine Chocolate Reviews blogspot site.

The chocolate Journalist, Sharon Terenzi

I’m extremely pleased to bring you this interview with The Chocolate Journalist, Sharon Terenzi. Sharon is a chocolate blogger, a member of the FCIA  (Fine Chocolate Industry Association), and does a fantastic job at promoting fine chocolate in all it’s luscious forms.

Victoria Cooksey:  What does chocolate mean to you, both as a food, and as it is presented in the world?

The Chocolate Journalist:  To me chocolate means humanity. It is the end product of a long line involving people in different countries, from different backgrounds, with different expertise, coming together to realize one of the most enjoyable foods in the World. A chocolate bar is the sum of races, places, faces. Every time I try a chocolate bar, I like to visualize the care of the cacao farmers, the challenges of the middlemen and the determination of the chocolate makers. Chocolate is a highly “human” product and to me that is the most fascinating aspect of all.

VC:  What is your first memory involving chocolate?

TCJ:  My first memory involving industrial chocolate goes back to when I was 4 years old. My grandfather would pick me up from kindergarten and bring me a Kinder Egg by Ferrero every time, the one that has the suprise inside and has been banned in the US. The anticipation of that moment can’t be described with words.

My first memory involving craft chocolate goes back to 2013. I used to work for an Italian food importer in NYC. Whenever I got bored of dealing with wholesale orders and deliveries, I would sneak inside the retail store right next to the office. Somehow I would always find myself in the chocolate isle checking labels and ingredients’ lists (an obsession of mine since I was a teenager). That’s how I first came in contact with fine chocolate brands like Domori and Guido Gobino.

VC:  What are your goals in covering chocolate?

TCJ:  I started The Chocolate Journalist with the aim to drive consumers’ money in the right direction. The further I move people away from industrial chocolate the smells like health dangers, child slavery and environmental destruction, the happier I am. This is why through my blog and Social Media platforms I care to give potential fine chocolate consumers all the tools they need to make conscious choices. At the same time, I also like to help small chocolate makers by giving them public coverage and sharing with them my latest findings from the industry.

VC:  What is the most challenging/frustrating thing about your work in the world of chocolate?

TCJ:  The most frustrating thing is that you can never be 100% sure where the truth stands. Once you get passionate about fine chocolate, you’ll think that bars with USDA Organic or Fairtrade stickers are the healthiest and most ethical ones that can be found. But the deeper you dig, the more you realize that those certifications don’t really mean anything. Another scenario is that you become a huge fan of a certain brand. Then you participate to a chocolate event and some veteran of the industry reveals you very bad things about the same brand you adore. You get disappointed. But months later you find out that your beloved brand and that person are direct competitors in the same country. Was it the truth or was it just propaganda?

Unfortunately, there is no way to know everything about everybody in one sit. It’s a kind of  “knowledge always in progress” and I can only give my best and share the “truth” of the moment.

VC:  Throughout your time covering chocolate, how have you seen attitudes change towards it, both by consumers, producers and farmers?

TCJ:  I started covering fine chocolate in January 2015 when I started my blog. There has been a growing and enthusiastic interest among consumers towards fine chocolate in the past two years. I have seen a lot of blogs about fine chocolate reviews popping up everywhere online, and they really helped small artisan brands get known around the World. On the producing side, I have met many people in their 30-40s tired of their corporate jobs that looked into craft chocolate making to live a more passionate life. The craft chocolate movement is growing and it has no intention to stop.

VC:   If you could bring chocolate farmers/producers/retailers together with any other industry/field what would it be (beer, wine, spirits, etc.)?

TCJ:  I would bring chocolate people together with coffee people. There are many similarities between chocolate and coffee, from the manufacturing process to the countries of origins to the determination of the flavors. I am now researching about Single Origin chocolate bars and bars made with Blends instead, and the parallelisms with coffee are surprising.

Specialty coffee is probably a decade ahead of specialty chocolate in terms of consumer’s awareness and appreciation, so I think that chocolate professionals could learn a lot from coffee people, and together they’d make a pretty badass team.

VC:  Forecasts in the chocolate industry predict shortages, as soon as 2020; what, if anything, do you see changing in the way chocolate is sold?

TCJ:  I am in contact with many owners of cocoa plantations around the World, and they are all complaining about the scarcity of this year’s crops compared to the past ones. Diseases, adverse weather conditions, high-intensity labor and scarce profitability are the main reasons why a cocoa shortage by 2020 is predicted. Many actions are being taken by both big and small players in the industry to avoid the extinction of one of the best selling foods in the World. Nobody can know how it is going to end; one can only speculate. Nonetheless, a strong trend among consumers of “quality over quantity” is now undeniable. This is why, as I explain in one of my recent articles “Will Mediocre Chocolate Disappear In 10 Years?”, I foresee a big gap between buyers of $1 Hershey bars and $10 craft chocolate bars, without much left in between.

VC:  Given the behind-the-scenes access you have seen in your coverage of chocolate, what are some of the things that the average consumer may not realize about chocolate producers and farmers?

TCJ:

– Certifications don’t mean anything.

Cocoa farmers are already trying to survive on a maximum of $2 a day. Having to get any kind of certification to satisfy ignorant consumers means taking on more expenses, more bureaucracy and more compromises with higher powers. For instance, an Organic certification is useless: especially in the fine chocolate industry, all cacao used is organic by default. Craft chocolate makers partner with small cocoa farmers that are too poor to afford pesticides and chemical herbicides even if they wanted to. In industrial chocolate where the big money is at, corruption is daily routine. So I don’t see how a sticker on a bar can give any guarantee on their bars too.

Fairtrade certification is useless as well, as I explained in my article “Fairtrade chocolate: debunking the myth”. Rather than letting their purchases being dictated by labels, consumers should get in touch with the chocolate makers and ask directly. Who has nothing to hide will gladly entertain them with precious info.

– Chocolate makers that sell $10 bars struggle every day to make ends meet. There is no money in craft chocolate to be made. When chocolate makers ask $10 for 2 oz of handmade chocolate, there is no overcharge applied or big profit involved. Between pricey raw materials and expensive supply chains, the fine chocolate industry is not a territory for wannabe millionaires. The life of chocolate makers is no #lifegoals unless true passion and spirit of sacrifice are part of the picture.

VC:   What would you recommend as gateway fine chocolate bars for those people who are interested in getting into fine chocolate, but have only experienced bars from the grocery store?  Any recommendations for fine chocolate with those on a budget?

TCJ:  I’d suggest for them to keep in mind that for the price of a sandwich they can get THE BEST chocolate in the World. The same can’t be said for “the best” of other foods. You can’t have a prestigious bottle of wine for $10. But for that same price you can get a bar of chocolate made with rare cocoa beans from Venezuela and handcrafted by the most expert hands. Fine chocolate is the most affordable gourmet food of all. Plus, I haven’t noticed so far much discrepancy between the quality of a bar and the money asked for it. Craft chocolate makers are truly honest and 98% of the time you get what you pay for. So when you see big prices, remember that they often match the quality inside.

VC:  In your experience how is chocolate viewed differently around the world?

TCJ:  Food goes hand in hand with people’s culture and traditions. Chocolate is no different.

For instance, the Asian market has been a profitable one for chocolate companies in the past decade (even though it is now slowing down) since chocolate has never been part of the traditional Eastern Asian cuisine, like it has always been for European countries like Belgium and Switzerland. Therefore, once East Asia opened up to the rest of the World thanks to the globalization, they started going crazy for chocolate and demanded more and more of it. Other countries have instead different stories.

India for instance has only been in contact with Cadbury’s chocolate for a long period of time, since the country in the past denied imports to the Indian market to any other foreign chocolate company. I have many Indian friends that identify “chocolate” with “Cadbury”. Now things are slowly changing for India too, as I know that some Indian bean-to-bar chocolate makers are now starting their business following the example of the American craft chocolate movement.

Each country has a different story with chocolate.

VC:  Lastly, at the risk of bias, what is you favorite chocolate to eat right now?

TCJ:  I will tell you 3 bars that I truly enjoyed recently: Perù Nacional 70% by SOMA Chocolatemaker (from Canada); Guayusa Runa by PACARI (from Ecuador); Canuto-Manabi 70% by Montecristi Chocolate (from Ecuador).

The Chocolate Journalist, Sharon Terenzi & Victoria Cooksey, Dark Matters Fine Chocolate Reviews hanging out at the NW Chocolate Festival 2016, in Seattle, WA.

A huge shout out to The Chocolate Journalist, Sharon Terenzi, for taking the time to answers these questions!!!

Victoria Cooksey

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