Luke Owen Smith of The Chocolate Bar in New Zealand puts together amazing bean-to-bar chocolate bars from all over the world for a monthly chocolate subscription box as well as leads chocolate tastings. As if that wasn’t enough, want to know what else makes Luke pretty special? Sometime ago he found out that I never had the chance to try Marou’s no longer available Treasure Island bar so he sent me a piece from the last bar he had in his personal chocolate stash! When I was trying to locate Chocolate Naive’s one-off bar made with sea buckthorn, The Chocolate Bar was the only place I could find it listed any longer and Luke added an extra one to his site just so I could order it. In fact, my full order arrived quickly and in great condition from New Zealand all the way to where I live in Port Townsend, WA USA.
Luke recently sent me his newest creation, a monthly Chocolate Tasting Course. The course includes 4 bite-sized pieces from 4 different tasty craft chocolates by makers from around the world. The first 6 months of the course feature a different lesson card each of those months, such as How to Taste Chocolate and the very first box includes a chocolate tasting notebook.
Read on for my mini-interview with Luke followed by pictures of his new Chocolate Tasting Course and my video on the course too.
Luke Owen Smith of The Chocolate Bar
Victoria Cooksey: What is your first non-craft chocolate memory?
Luke Owen Smith: The first thing that springs to mind is going on holiday to Germany when I was about eight years old. We had this family exchange program with a small German town that my hometown of Scarborough was twinned with. Whilst we were there we discovered Milka chocolate, and I remember my whole family absolutely loving it. There was a giant inflatable Milka cow at the supermarket and my eight-year-old-self thought that was pretty incredible.
VC: Where did the inspiration come from for your new Chocolate Tasting Course?
LOS: I’ve been running craft chocolate tasting classes and talks for the past two and a half years. People really enjoy them and I enjoy running them, so the main purpose of the Chocolate Tasting Course is take that experience and make it something that people can enjoy at home; something they can share with friends and family.
It’s also about creating something that is a bit more accessible for people, financially speaking, and a way to taste lots of different bars without needing to spend a fortune. A lot of people who follow The Chocolate Bar would love to taste everything in our collection, but they genuinely can’t afford it.
Lastly, the Tasting Course is about spreading the message of good chocolate further afield and developing a deeper appreciation for what goes into a bar of top level craft chocolate.
VC: Do you find some origins make a better base for inclusion bars? If so, which ones and why?
LOS: I wouldn’t say that any particular origin makes a better base for inclusions, but what I think is important is that chocolate makers chose an inclusion that works with the natural flavour notes of the chocolate. A lot of makers create a well rounded blend for their inclusion bars, and I think that often works really well, but what I love is when a really distinctive single origin bar is paired with a suitable added ingredient. A couple of my favourite examples of this are the Dick Taylor Black Fig and the Hogarth Rose & Vanilla Tea bar.
VC: How long do you think it will take craft chocolate to reach the point craft beer is currently at?
LOS: That’s a tricky one, and something that is probably different for each country (and area.) In terms of New Zealand, it feels like craft chocolate is currently about fifteen years behind the craft beer scene. But I don’t think there’s any way to say whether the rate of growth will follow the same trajectory.
One of the difficult things for the craft chocolate movement is that people’s bond with chocolate has been built over a long time, since before they can really remember. Beer, wine and coffee are all things that we’ve developed a taste for as adults, so their isn’t the same nostalgia and attachment to the cheap and industrial options. On the other hand, a lot more people like chocolate than like beer, so there’s a much larger potential audience. It will be really interesting to see how thing develop over the next ten years.
VC: What does chocolate mean to you?
LOS: It’s been amazing to experience the transition of what chocolate means to me over the past few years. It used to be a naughty treat that I would binge on when lonely or cold or deserving a reward for working hard. Now it’s a framework that I have built my entire life around, and something that gives me purpose and hope. It’s changed from something I would usually enjoy in solitary moments to something that has helped me connect with people throughout New Zealand and internationally. If I had to put it into one word, chocolate means community.
Victoria Cooksey with the Chocolate Tasting Course. Thank You Luke!
Each month a new course arrives (you can pause or cancel your subscription anytime, but I don’t think you will). The course is a wonderful introduction to get people started and removes the guess work when entering into the craft chocolate bean-to-bar world without the commitment, or cost, of buying full size bars.
Chocolate Tasting Course Month #1
Chocolate Tasting Course Subscription from The Chocolate Bar
A new chocolate lesson card is included with each of the first 6 months of the course.
Lesson Cards Included in the first 6 Months of the Tasting Course
The course is just the right size for 1 to 2 people to share and would make a great gift too!
Thank you for sharing your new project with me Luke!