2 degrees C this morning. It’s as good an excuse as any to boost the central heating with a few bars of chocolates.
Hands-on From Beans to Bar (Warsaw Insider, November 2011)
Say Polish chocolates and the household names that spring to mind are Wedel and Wawel. Looking promising and aiming to make a splash are the new chocs on the block by Manufaktura Czekolady, founded by two high school friends who have jettisoned their corporate careers and rehabilitated into craftsmen of bittersweet delights.
“At first, it seemed crazy,” says Tomasz Sienkiewicz of their game plan to convert cocoa beans into chocolate bars. But after finding out about artisan producers who have succeeded, he concluded that it’s not rocket science. Together with Krzysztof Stypułkowski, the duo dived into months of fervent R&D, powered on by the drive to hammer out something tangible they could be proud of and would stand the test of time. The initial outcome is six dark varieties that look pro and have marvellously clean and rich notes. These men are the dark chocolate types but they have recently added two models of milk chocolates into their collection.
Since sampling is their occupational hazard, I asked how they stay lean. “Our chocolates are not packed with excessive sugar or other fattening addictives,” explains Tomek.
“Look at the ingredient list on the packaging. It’s only cocoa beans and cane sugar,” Krzysztof chimes in. Conspicuously absent are lecithin, emulsifier and the E-series preservatives and flavour enhancers.
They source raw cocoa beans from the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Ecuador and the Philippines. “Chocolates are products of agriculture. Each batch of coco beans is different,” says Tomek. Roasting the beans in-house is the first step in harnessing the characteristics of the pellets. This sets Manufaktura Czekolady apart from the producers who buy pre-processed ingredients like cocoa powder, cocoa liquor and cocoa butter to bypass the toasting stage.
“It’s like drinking juice made from fresh fruits, instead of from fruit concentrate,” says Krzysztof, explaining that thee difference in the quality of the final product is highly dependant on whether you start off with whole beans or off-the-(warehouse)-shelf components. The subsequent stages at their workshop employ time-consuming traditional methods that the pair believes also contribute to capturing the complex nuances of cocoa.
“In each stage, the hands are involved,” says Krzysztof of their small-scaled operation in Cegłów (about 50km from Warsaw) that yields about 5 thousand bars per month.
Surely manual labour alone cannot justify the zł. 14-16 for a 50g bar. The babcia in the neighbourhood deli also hand crafts her pierogi but you don’t see her slapping on a steep fee for that. In Manufaktura Czekolady’s case, there’s another factor upping the price tag.
“We are the only chocolate producer in Poland certified as organic,” says Krzysztof. “Cocoa is the second most sprayed [with insecticide/herbicide] crop in the world.” By choosing organic, they are proud to be helping mom-and-pop farmers to survive instead of losing their livelihood to commercialised mega-plantations. Health benefits aside, Krzysztof says that the industrial chemicals impair the natural flavours.
These school-friends-turned-partners-in-chocolate-making still have to get the public’s buy in, literally, to high-end chocolates. “15 years ago in Poland, people used only Lipton or Saga. Now, more and more people are buying quality tea. I hope the chocolate market will develop similarly,” says Krzysztof, fully aware of the bumpy paths for pioneers in any fields. Their experience in the corporate world isn’t a total write-off for the business skills they acquired are being put to managing production, marketing and securing sales channels. The clearheaded business approach coupled with the seriously delicious goods that Manufaktura Czekolady have wrapped up, there is a healthy chance it will become a household name.
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