What initially inspired you to create chocolate? How did this turn into a business?
Rather than an “initial” inspiration, I think my journey of creating chocolate began with a combination of factors. I had, for a long time, made chocolate confections for events and gifts and an offhand comment sent me down a rabbit hole of learning about the process of making chocolate from beans. I was also inspired to make my own chocolate as I learned more about the conditions under which much of the “commodity” chocolate is grown and sourced. I started by just seeing if making chocolate was actually something I could do and then the flavours of the beans themselves kept inspiring me to make more. Meanwhile, friends who had begun a bakery inspired me from the entrepreneurial side. At the time, I was living in a small town in north-central BC, which was a pretty great place to start thinking about how to craft chocolate and to experiment in a fairly low-risk way. My good friends shared their commercial kitchen with me and I had great support at home to be able to take this chance. It really became a business through the encouragement of friends and by blindly taking a leap. It was not a very structured business venture.
How do you decide where to source your cocoa? What sort of conversations do you have with producers or checks that you go through to ensure the quality of the product?
Part of the sourcing was access from where I was living. I found a great company that works with farmers and fermentaries that shared my principles with regards to social values and sustainability. I researched the farms where my supplier sources their beans and they have provided me with certification as well as information about the people and the cacao produced. Someday, though, I do hope to be able to go and meet some of the producers. I have also purchased beans from East Van Roasters in Vancouver, who also deal directly with farmers in Peru. EVR also makes delicious chocolate and works with women in the Downtown Eastside, so chocolate lovers should also check them out!
How do you design your beautiful and intricate packaging?
When I was thinking about packaging, I knew I wanted something that would also be beautiful. I am half Japanese and we have a strong culture of gifting on the Japanese side. With my chocolate, I wanted to make something that you could easily buy and gift if you were, say, just going to a friend’s for coffee. Everywhere you go in Japan, almost whatever you buy can be wrapped quickly and beautifully for this purpose. While I was thinking about the chocolate business, we came across an old cache of chiyogami paper from when I was younger. That just inspired me to use the paper and then I found a company in Toronto that imports the handmade Japanese paper I use today.
What sets your chocolate apart from others? What impressions do you hope to leave customers with?
I focus on single origin chocolates and making flavour combinations that compliment or bring out the flavour of the cacao. The beans are all fine flavour cacao that is harvested fairly and sustainably. The chocolate is made in small batches with care in each one. I hope people leave still thinking about their chocolate, appreciating chocolate like they do other fine food and wanting to share their experience by gifting it to others. I call the chocolate “Cocoaro” which is a pun of the Japanese “Kokoro”, which means “heart” or “spirit”, and from the farmers to my customers, Cocoaro is chocolate with good heart.
Where do you hope to see Cocoaro Craft Chocolate in the near future? Are you looking to create any new products?
I am definitely looking to create new products! I am also looking to bring back some of the bars I had been making up north, including different percentages and inclusion bars (bars with things like salt or coconut added). I really like experimenting and exploring flavour combinations and also started producing limited run confections, that I plan to do again. I have only just been getting settled into the new environment down here, so I look forward to getting back into that side of things. I also look forward to continuing to explore new beans with my suppliers. In terms of the business side, in the near future, I just hope to develop a strong foundation and look forward to exploring the possibilities.
What are some things your would like your customers to know about you or your business?
I think I’d really like customers to know the values that I and the business stand for, which is sustainability in our food production and consumption; fair treatment for everyone, which means good working conditions for producers and paying a fair price for food and labour as well as respecting and appreciating customers. Where possible I also source organic and local ingredients. I am also super happy if people just come by the market table to learn more about chocolate! I love making, sharing, learning about and consuming good, real food.