Interview of Cynthia Leung of Soma Chocolatemaker with Victoria Cooksey

David Castellan and Cynthia Leung of Soma Chocolatemaker at Slow Move Picnic 

Soma Chocolatemaker is a craft chocolate maker located in Toronto, Canada that was founded by David Castellan and Cynthia Leung.  This interview focuses on answers given by Cynthia Leung.

I’ve had the pleasure of devouring many of Soma Chocolatemaker bars.  I first discovered Soma when Ecole Chocolat posted a picture of Soma’s Dark Side of the Mug drinking chocolate on instagram (https://www.instagram.com/ecolechocolat/?hl=en) and I knew I had to have it! So I placed my first Soma order, and the rest is history.

Throughout this interview you will find pictures of just a few of the Soma bars I’ve had concluding with their Milk Old School bar which (spoiler alert) tied for first place in the 2016 Dark Matters Chocolate Awards.

Chocolate makers are extremely busy people, so a huge thank you to Cynthia for taking the time from her busy schedule to answer my questions.  I am truly grateful, and look forward to seeking out  all of Soma’s future creations!

Soma Chocolatemaker Dark Side of the Mug Drinking Chocolate

Victoria Cooksey:   What was your first experience with fine chocolate, and what made you decided to turn your passion for chocolate into a full time career?

Cynthia Leung:   We were reading Maricel’s first edition of her book, “Taste of Chocolate” at home and eating a bar of Domori’s Madagascar. In combination this was our portal into the world of cacao.

V.C.:   I had your raspberry bar around the holidays, and had read that it took several months to perfect it.  It definitely tastes like a fresh raspberry!  What was the inspiration behind this bar, and how much of a process was it to create?

C.L.:  The raspberry bar took around 6 months to perfect, the thought bubble started a couple years prior playing with a combination of berries and white chocolate. We wanted this bar to capture the true essence of raspberries, which are wonderfully tart, you know that pucker face you make when shoving a handful of raspberries into your mouth? This bar was made to wake your mouth up in the same manner.

Our newest fruit bar is the mango bar with lime chili salt. This was inspired from eating at the fruit carts on a trip to Thailand. The fruit sellers will slice up a perfectly ripe mango, put it in a bag with a squeeze of lime and a sprinkle of chili salt and shake. Such a perfect snack for exploring the steamy-hot streets of Bangkok.

Soma Chocolatemaker Raspberry Bar Pic Taken in Port Townsend, WA

V.C.:   Your labels are very specific about the types of cacao beans, and origins of the beans used.  How close are you working with farmers to ensure the beans are what they are, and/or is genetic testing done to know the true type of beans used?  Do you feel other makers are as thorough as Soma in this process?  

C.L.:  The backstory for each cacao is so different- sense of place, terroir, genetics, farming techniques, historical back stories- fascinating stuff. As makers I think it’s important to pass this information along to the end-users. Of course alot of people will mow down on a bar right away for an immediate tasting experience but all the information is there should they want to explore further. 

There are time and money constraints to traveling to every farm we source from, but generally “as close to the farmer as possible”. The most intimate relationship is with Desmond from Jamaica who owns a family farm near Blue Mountain. We have become good friends over the years. It was a real treat for us to spend time with him on the farm because it closes our loop from tree to bar. The next visit will be to set Desmond up with a small bean to bar line to make his own bars, this will complete his loop too.

Over the years we have built up a wonderful network of farmers where cacao is bought directly from, other makers we share beans with, and trusted brokers to connect us to special lots of cacao and cacao from politically difficult countries to navigate within. It’s a very exciting time for cacao, there are exponentially more small farms growing high quality cacao and providing positive community impacts than 10 years ago. Right now there are 20 different very promising samples at the factory.

V.C.:    When a consumer sees a specific type of bean listed, should they  assume the bar is made from 100% of that bean  when reading chocolate labels?  

C.L.:  I would hope so. That is what a label is for.

Soma Chocolatemaker Peru Nacional Bar

V.C.:   How does conching, and roasting times vary when it comes to rarer beans like Porcelana, and Chuao, versus a bean like Forastero?  What should consumers understand about the process of conching, and roasting?  Do you feel there is a consumer interest to see roasting listed with terms such as:  light, medium, dark in the way coffee is described?  Is there a growing consumer interest in knowing conching times?

C.L.:  Every bean is different and every harvest changes slightly so adjustments are needed for every roast. The Porcelana and CSB Chama are both rare, historically significant & expensive so the first batch we made were loaded with excitement and a high level of anxiety not to mess it up. Rare is not a metric that determines roast or conch times, the Porcelana and the CSB Chama were roasted and conched very lightly to preserve its delicate nature.

Conch and roast times would be useful to a consumer if there was a standard for a specific cacao and maker already established. Conch and roast times vary wildly depending on the type of equipment, temperature, batch size and numerous other processing variables that are unique to that maker. Ultimately it is the end result of making great chocolate that is the goal – most consumers don’t care about how their coffee beans were roasted as long as it makes them a great cup of coffee.

Every good bean has a range of conching and roasting variables that will make good chocolate. Fresco does an amazing job of multiple interpretations of one bean. For a consumer interested in roasting and conching, sampling a range of one origin at different conch times and roast intensities are a great way to start understanding how the taste profile will change with these variables.

V.C.:  What are the joys, and the difficulties involved in making a bar using a mixed variety of beans versus designing a single-origin bar?

C.L.:  Blending is interesting, 2 different types of chocolate combined can create a totally new tasting note or a blend can be made up of isolated notes from different chocolate. Its another way to express the maker’s mark on a bar, much like a wine that is made of different grape varietals. The Little Big Man bar is made up of a berry prominent Madagascar combined with the deeper tones and bready notes of Camino Verde. It has a toast and jam flavour profile.

V.C.:   If you are looking for certain flavors what are your go to beans? For example if you want a red fruit flavor do you have a go to bean, etc?

C.L.:  Certain origins and farms have identifiable characteristics for sure but these can change with each harvest as well. The latest batch of Madagascar is so different from the earlier “very red tasting” chocolate, this latest bar has more of a lower register resulting in rounder taste. There are approximately 15 different origins stored at any given time in the factory to blend with.

V.C.:    Do you have a favorite cocoa bean, or flavor profile that you enjoy the most?

C.L.:   Not really a favourite no. Madagascar has a special place in our hearts since it was our gateway chocolate. We’ve tasted some amazing cacao samples from Colombia lately. The Tien Giang flavour profile of spices and blackcurrants from Marou was really interesting to make chocolate from because it was so different. Desmond’s Jamaican beans have a beautiful full flavour and of course I love the Porcelana for its expansive range of delicate notes.

Soma Chocolatemaker Black Science Madagascar Bar

V.C.:   What advice would you offer to bean-to-bar chocolate makers that are just starting out?

C.L.:  Keep at it, it really is a lifelong learning process there is something to be learned with every batch. If the batch is flawed don’t release it. Always have a extra set of clothes handy conching makes you smell like stinky socks.

V.C.:   Have you noticed any differences in the craft chocolate movement with makers and consumers in Canada versus the US market?

C.L.:  I don’t notice a difference. When we were in Japan for the bean to bar summit a group of makers and bean suppliers went for drinks in a tiny 6’X6’ microbar ( this is starting to sound like a joke). There was someone from every continent in that bar talking really passionately about chocolate. The community at large is very cool, there is alot of swapping of information, equipment and cacao. I think this is what makes the chocolate community very global.

V.C.:   When you’re not sampling your own chocolate, are there other chocolate makers you enjoy trying?  If so, what is currently in your chocolate stash?

C.L.:  In addition to trading with makers,  buying bars and friends gifting us chocolate, our chocolate collection is a bit out of control. There is chocolate at home, at the shops, in our car, tucked in our sofa- it’s crazy. There is so much more to try too so the collection is destined to get bigger.

Enjoying right now

Bars:

Cacao Hunters, Lonohana, Rogue, Patric, Marou, Pumpstreet, Palette de Bine, Dick Taylor,

Inclusions: Charm School, Raaka, Rózsavölgyi,

Gianduja

Guido Castagna and Guido Gobino

Also have a stash of Japanese confections. The technical quality and creativity is very enjoyable.

Soma Chocolatemaker Milk Old School Bar

Close up of the Milk Old School Bar

Thank you so much to Cynthia Leung for this interview!

Soma Chocolatemaker: 

https://www.instagram.com/somachocolatemaker/?hl=en

https://www.somachocolate.com/

Victoria Cooksey:

https://www.instagram.com/victoria.cooksey/?hl=en

Watch my chocolate reviews, and cooking videos here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCm-lp-lF_wB2oX_592jK9UQ

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