Hampstead’s craft chocolatiers lead in cocoa revolution


chocolate - Credit: Archant

In 2013, Spencer Hyman and Simon Palethorpe set up Cocoa Runners a “chocolate club” offering tasting events and subscription boxes of craft single estate bars.

If chocolate is the new coffee in the foodie revolution, then Spencer Hyman is the man flying the red flag.

The Hampstead resident has always loved the dark stuff and while travelling in the states with friend Simon Palethorpe in 2012 was overwhelmed to discover a wave of new artisan chocolate makers.

In 2013 the pair set up Cocoa Runners a “chocolate club” offering tasting events and subscription boxes of craft single estate bars.

They claim to source the world’s best bean to bar craft chocolate from Brooklyn to Budapest, San Franciso to Saigon, made by passionate producers who focus on provenance and quality using premium beans from small farmers made in small batches.

The former online music entrepreneur says the difference between a high-street and a craft chocolate bar is comparable to an instant coffee and a really good brew from well roasted beans.

“Once you have tasted one there’s no going back.”

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Like wine grapes, the quality of chocolate depends on the soil conditions, climate and terroir where the beans are grown.

“The secret to great coffee is the same as the secret to good chocolate; great beans. But it’s unbelievably hard to find them because chocolate is controlled by governments and big companies who buy them all up.”

Hyman points out that the reason most chocolate products are “not the best” is because while the active ingredient in most bars is cocoa butter, high street supermarket chocolate often replace it with vegetable fats.

“They don’t care about the flavour just about the added ingredients.”

But in the last decade a small number of craft chocolate makers have started to source better beans and make bars directly from the bean in an artisam process that involves roasting, winnowing, grinding, tempering and moulding.

Hyman says most high street brands use a process known as couverture which he says ruins the chocolate.

“Most chocolate in the UK is remoulded with stuff added to it, it’s like a chicken nugget put in a hydraulic press and reconstituted.”

Consumers are often mislead about what is in the bar – with cocoa percentages emblazoned on the wrapper but he says

“The most important thing is the ingredients rather than the percentage.

“Milk chocolate should have three ingredients sugar, cocoa butter and cocoa solids.”

He adds:“There are a lot of chocolate makers emerging but no-one knows how to buy them and find them. Chocolate is a little like wine in that the difficult thing is how do you know what’s good and where do you find it? Like the Wine Society we run around the world finding amazing chocolate bars and put them in a box of four bars, three dark and one milk sent each month. It’s like a chocolate jukebox, you open up our box and are delighted with the play list of chocolate from Iceland, Columbia, Equador.”

“When he started there were only three people making this kind of chocolate in the UK there are now many more. It does cost more but it’s not totally unaffordable, craft chocolate is something to savour rather than scoff, so you eat less of it.”

Selling at £4-£10 a bar, Cocoa Runners likes to talk to and get to know it’s chosen producers such as a Suffolk-based father and daughter team at Pump St Bakery who combine breadcrumbs in their chocolate, Menekao in Madagascar, and Islington based Damson started by Cocoa Runners’ founding member and chocolate blogger Dom Ramsey. Although his Chapel Market shop and factory suffered a fire back in July he’s hoping to be back on his feet soon.

Hyman points out that in moderation chocolate which has more flavanoids than red wine is good for you and is not highly caffeinated but contains phenethylamines that make us happy.

“We’ve tasted about 5,000 bars and chosen 650 to have on our website. It’s fantastic it’s like Christmas every day when a new box of chocolates arrives. We would like everyone to eat proper chocolate because it tastes better, is better for them and better for the planet.”


Listed on the website at cocoarunners.com are the back stories to its favoured producers

Type in the code HH10 to get £10 off your first supscription payment to Cocoa Runners of £18.95 monthly or £49.95 quarterly.