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  1. Cocoa & Heart at Hever Castle

    - THE CHOCOLATE EDIT -

    This week at Cocoa & Heart HQ

    Stall-holders are a peculiar breed all unto themselves. I’d forgotten this saying before our three day festival in the grounds of Hever Castle.  Every hopeful ‘there’s always tomorrow’, ever pessimistic ‘wrong space, wrong place, wrong type of customers’, ever ready ‘I was up at six to make a few more items’. So, as a small scale, small business barometer to the nation’s business fortunes what’s the verdict?

    Well, it’s hardly a CBI survey but virtually every stall holder we talked to said that takings were down up to 30% on this time last year. And that wasn’t just for Hever – but right across the board.

    ‘People just aren’t spending like they used to’ was the familiar refrain. Uncertainty over Brexit was mentioned by several stall-holders. Whatever the reasons, business was as slow for many as the proverbial boat to China.

    Clearly people are still eating but what they buy and how much of it is changing. I guess selling handmade chocolates we are at a mid-point in the mind of customers. Our product is a consumable – therefore they might come back for more when they’re finished it. Equally, it could also be bought as a gift for a friend or relative or saved for a special occasion. In which case it’s a one-off special purchase.

     Cocoa & Heart Chocolate Bars

    Most of our business is now concentrated on providing courses and workshops as well as catering for parties and special events. Of course, we also sell on line as well as private commissions.

    Interestingly, people were keen to know that they could learn how to make chocolates as well as just buy them.  Providing activities and experiences is something we, the public, are generally happy and willing to pay for, as a good use of precious leisure well spent with friends. Agonising over a £4 box of handmade and gift wrapped chocolate buttons, less so!

    If takings at Hever weren’t all we’d all hoped for – then at least there were some non-monetary compensations. Like enjoying the magical early morning views across the lake towards the castle. And strolling in the Italianate gardens before the public arrived. Free hot drinks for the duration also helped – strong coffee and plenty of it – fortified the mind and body alike.

    Hever Castle

    Elsewhere in the chocolate world...

    And so onto other news. And guess what – yet another study into the health benefits of otherwise of chocolate made the headlines this week. ‘Eating three bars of chocolate a month avoids heart attacks’ screamed the sub titles.

    The study presented at the European Society of Cardiology assessed more than half a million adults to look at how consumption of chocolate impacts cardiovascular health.

    After various forms of testing, they concluded that eating up to three chocolate bars per month can reduce the risk of heart failure by 23%. This was compared to people who didn’t eat any chocolate.

    However, they also found that eating a lot of chocolate can raise risk of heart failure by 17%.

    So, what did the research really tell us? Excessive saturated fats – present in higher levels in milk chocolates – are not good for us. Hardly new and not newsworthy but any story about ‘the nectar of the gods’ is a heaven sent opportunity to splash a giant photo headline after we’ve consumed all we can of the small print. Not to mention the milk, dark and white caveats.

    What was more revealing and buried deeper than a hazelnut in a Topic bar was the quote from the report’s leading researcher that moderate dark chocolate consumption is good for your health. Will this send the big chocolate manufactures into making more of the dark stuff? I doubt it. So, reward yourself instead, by searching out some good quality dark chocolate and let your senses take in its rich and all enveloping aroma. And then you can always taste it! One of the joys of my day is simply to dip my nose into a giant bag of Casa Luker dark chocolate and then enjoy the flavours that come from the bag. It’s invigorating – like a pinch of snuff – without having to pinch any of the stuff to eat, whatsoever. Like walking in the dawn dew at Hever or admiring the setting sun over the ramparts there’s a magical quality about dark chocolate. Go on, take a walk on the dark side of life!

    Nick

    nm author

  2. Chocolate He Party Photo

    - THE CHOCOLATE EDIT -

    Preparation is everything. That’s the oft quoted mantra. And it’s never truer than when it comes to preparing for one of Cocoa & Heart’s chocolate parties. It takes the same time to prepare for a shorter party as it does for a longer one. The most important thing to do is first print out the checklist. It’s in table form and divided into sections, such as equipment, ingredients, sundries and the like.

    I usually start with the tablecloths which need wiping and cleaning. Trays need to be sorted out and aprons ironed. Again, I take the clean in that area. I find that there’s something comforting about ironing aprons; although when you’re ironed up to twenty aprons, all with the same Cocoa & Heart logo, yes it can get a big repetitive.

    Oh yes, that assumes that they’re all clean in the first place. If not, the washing machine gets a spin. Washing – whether by hand or using the machine is a big part of preparing for a chocolate party. It goes without saying that everything needs to be spic and span. Not everything can go in the dishwasher so plastic bowls and spatulas and dipping forks and prongs are often washed by hand. My hand! And rinsed several times as chocolate and cocoa butter can leave tell tale smears and fat deposits if not carefully cleaned first. As Magdalena has reminded me more than once!

  3. Chocolate Hug in a box detail

    - THE CHOCOLATE EDIT -

    Well, you don’t need me to tell you that the British heatwave continues virtually unabated. The newly acquired air conditioning unit is on full blast and paying for itself inside the first month. Our handmade chocolate production continues and there seems to be no let up either in the heat or the demand.

    So long as chocolate melts in people’s mouth and not before everyone seems happy. We’re preparing for a three day Festival at beautiful Hever Castle, in Kent,  starting on 31 August and before that there’s a Chocolate themed Hen party in Hailsham, East Sussex. Usually when I say that we’re in demand for Hen Parties – several of my male friends get envious and several of my female friends mention the word ‘stripper’ with what seems like a question mark at the end of the sentence. Either that or they ask what type of moulds we are using!

    As for me, I’ve stopped blushing by now. I can assure you (or disappoint some of you) that it’s all perfectly above board and tasteful – in every way. I’m always amazed at the sheer effort and creativity that goes into organising and arranging Hen Parties – whether it’s a relatively modest affair at home or a cottage specially booked for the week-end. The ladies are always keen to learn chocolate truffle techniques and experiment with different flavouring and combinations. Anything with Champagne or Baileys seems to be particularly popular. Sometimes they even say they might share one of their artistic creations with their menfolk! 

  4. Large Chocolate Lego Men

    Well, you don’t need me to tell you that the British heatwave continues virtually unabated. The newly acquired air conditioning unit is on full blast and paying for itself inside the first month. Our handmade chocolate production continues and there seems to be no let up either in the heat or the demand.

    So long as chocolate melts in people’s mouth and not before everyone seems happy. We’re preparing for a three day Festival at beautiful Hever Castle, in Kent,  starting on 31 August and before that there’s a Chocolate themed Hen party in Hailsham, East Sussex. Usually when I say that we’re in demand for Hen Parties – several of my male friends get envious and several of my female friends mention the word ‘stripper’ with what seems like a question mark at the end of the sentence. Either that or they ask what type of moulds we are using!

  5. Three Arty Chocolate Bars

    - THE CHOCOLATE EDIT -

    We’ve been busy making chocolates to order at Cocoa & Heart, but this week, we thought we’d take a more in depth look at what’s been happening in the wider world of chocolate. And one announcement in particular.

    Will less sugar be a sweet recipe for success?

    Would you change a sure-fire recipe for success? Probably not. Most of us might just play safe and stick with the old adage ‘if it aint broke don’t fix it.’

    In the dog eat dog world of big business, even a slight change in formula can have a major impact in how well the product is received by its customers.

    So, consider this.  A Dairy Milk chocolate bar with 30% less sugar will go on sale in 2019. First introduced in 1905, it’s one of the best-selling single chocolate bars nationwide and even globally and a flag ship line for manufacturers Cadburys.