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What better way to introduce you to Cocoa Runners than to ask co-founder Spencer Hyman and “Chief Chocolate Officer” Dom Ramsey a few questions from Kavey Eats.

Can you give us a brief synopsis of what Cocoa Runners is all about?

Spencer: Cocoa Runners is trying to bring our customers the world’s best bean to bar chocolates.  We do this via a monthly delivery service where we send our customers four bars picked around a theme, in a specially designed box that fits through your letter box. Every box also contains detailed tasting notes for each bar alongside introductions to their makers and growers.  And our online Chocolate Library gives our customers access to more bars and more information

What gave you the idea for Cocoa Runners and how did you develop and fine tune it?

Spencer: We all love chocolate, and we were all frustrated by how hard it was to find great chocolate.  Almost every corner store and supermarket sells chocolate.  But much of the chocolate they sell is confectionery and there is no guidance or easy way to find great bars.  So we thought about how the likes of Hugh Johnson and Tony Laithwaite made wine accessible and available – and now we are trying to use the web and mobile to do the same for fine chocolate.  We’ve a team that has been doing ecommerce since the beginning and we very much believe that online gives you great opportunities to access and learn about what your customers want.  For example, pretty much from the outset we’ve heard from our customers that they wanted a “dark only” option – so we’ve developed this.  Similarly many of our customers want to gift a subscription – so we are now rolling out this functionality

I think Cocoa Runners has come at just the right time, as more and more Brits are discovering the joys of good chocolate but so many are new to it and keen to learn more. How did you decide it was the right time to launch and what were the key challenges you faced in bringing Cocoa Runners to fruition?

Spencer: Thanks! We think it’s the right time too.  We’ve wanted to do this for ages.  And we do think that now is a great time for great chocolate – not least as we’re seeing more and more artisan manufacturers launching “bean to bar”. The UK has been blessed with Willie and Duffy, who’ve been around now for quite a few years.  And now almost every week there are new makers – for example in the UK there’s Pablo (Forever Cacao), Chris (Pump Street Bakery) and Ali (The Chocolate Tree).  The US is also exploding – makers such as Mast, Frution, TCHO, Taza and Dandelion pioneered the way and last year over 50 new “bean to bar” manufacturers launched.  And outside of this, bean to bar is taking off in cocoa growing regions – from South America and Madagascar  to Vietnam and Hawaii.  So we can really spoil our customers with a choice of makers from Brooklyn to Budapest, Saigon to San Francisco and Copenhagen to Cleethorpes.

You’ve sampled hundreds of bars to choose the ones to include in the Cocoa Runners boxes. Can you tell us a little about how you narrowed down the selection and what criteria you considered when picking the perfect bars?

Dom: Before we even taste a chocolate, the first thing we look at is provenance. We think it’s important that chocolate is traceable, sustainable and that it’s doing good for the cocoa farmer, and if we don’t think it lives up to those standards, we won’t consider it.

When it comes to taste, sometimes it’s a clear “yes” or “no”. When you’re dealing with small-batch craft chocolate, the passion and attention to detail of the maker often comes through in the flavour. More often than not though, we’ll still pick specific stand-out bars from a range rather than take everything.

I think it also helps that there are two of us doing the tasting. I taste most of the chocolate with Jennifer Earle, and although we’ve both been tasting chocolate for many years, we have different personal tastes. That helps us see past personal preferences and just choose the best chocolate.

Talk us through your chocolate profiling system and how you are using this to make recommendations that help customers find chocolate they love.

Dom: When developing Cocoa Runners, we looked at many different systems for profiling the flavour of chocolate, from flavour wheels to graphs. They were mostly difficult to decipher or just not very useful. We wanted a really simple system that would both help us classify the bars as we taste them, and let our members see what to expect at a glance.

What we came up with was a simple list of the most common attributes we find in chocolate. The list encompasses texture (smooth, coarse, etc.) and the natural flavour notes found within chocolate (fruity, spicy, earthy, etc.). We mark out each attribute that applies to the bar we’re tasting (so you can, for example, search for all ‘fruity & spicy dark chocolates from Peru’), then pick out three attributes for every bar that describe it at a glance.

Our tasting cards and website have icons these attributes, so you can see at a glance what to expect. This also means that we can build personal recommendations based on the types of chocolate you’ve liked in the past. Like a dating site, we find the attributes you’ve enjoyed the most and can recommend other bars that share those attributes.

What is it about chocolate that makes it so popular?

Dom: I think the first thing that makes chocolate popular is the taste.  It’s wonderful, comforting, and a little indulgent. But with the kind of chocolate we have eaten in the past in this country, there’s also a level of guilt attached.  We want to change that part!

We really want to spread the message that great chocolate is good for you  and makes a tangible difference to the lives of cocoa farmers in some of the poorest parts of the world.  All of the chocolate makers we feature have fascinating, uplifting stories  themselves, and we think sharing those stories is a vital part of what we do. These people are passionate about flavour, sustainability and the environment.

It’s such an exciting world to be involved with, and we just want to share that excitement with as many people as we can.

So what did I think of my box?

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I like the packaging on two levels. Firstly, it’s designed to fit through the letterbox and protect my chocolates in transit. Both of those it does very well. Secondly, it looks good – I think the logo is really attractive and I love the old-style map printed on the inside of the box lid (see below).

Of course, the name of the business is great too; a clever play on words suggesting that chocolate is the recreational drug of choice and these guys will break all the rules to get the very best of it to my front door. It’s bold and a little risqué without actually using any naughty words at all and it makes me smile.

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The tasting attribute icons are very helpful. Really easy to identify, they categorise each bar according to chocolate type, added flavourings, texture, flavour strength and flavour notes. Each bar comes with a card featuring the three key attributes for that chocolate plus more detailed tasting notes on the other side. As Dom has explained, this makes it easier to identify your preferences and find other bars with similar profiles. My only issue here is that each chocolate is summarised with just three icons, and given that one is always chocolate type, that only leaves two icons to cover the other four categories. Still, it’s a simple system and I can see it being really useful to customers. Oh and the graphic design on the icons is beautiful too.

The chocolate itself is absolutely superb. This much I expected, as the team includes some very knowledgeable experts who are passionate about great chocolate. I’ve already been introduced to some marvellous chocolate via these same experts over the years, so I knew they’d choose only the best to go into these boxes.

Each box has a theme. The first three boxes in any subscription will be Origins (which includes chocolate from some of Cocoa Runners’ favourite cocoa growing destinations), Texture & Flavour (which, as the name suggests, explores some of the wide range of both that you can find in chocolate) and Intensity (which, likewise, does what it says on the “tin”). After that, you’ll be sent boxes according to the theme Cocoa Runners have put together for that month.

The introductory offer is £16.95 per box (dropping to £14.95 if paid quarterly rather than monthly) and each box will contain 4 bars. That price includes UK delivery; they can also ship to the EU for an additional £2.50. You can specify in your profile that you wish to receive dark chocolate only, but as the FAQ points out, “there are some fantastic milk chocolates that most people have never tried. Some of them are even 70% cocoa.” Certainly the Menakao Madagascan Vanilla 44% milk chocolate in my box is delicious and something I think even those who usually eschew milk chocolate may enjoy. Cocoa Runners also offers subscribers the option of purchasing additional bars (either of chocolate they’ve received in their boxes and loved or of any other bars in the extensive chocolate library). Postage for these orders is £2.50, free on orders over £20.

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Earlier this year, one of the client projects I worked on meant long video conference meetings with colleagues in the US every week. The meetings were long and (let’s be frank) a little boring so I took to bringing in chocolate samples I’d been sent to review, to add a little joy to proceedings. I was delighted to bring at least a couple of my colleagues around to the idea of taking origin and flavour profiles of chocolate into consideration and giving higher quality chocolate a chance over the cheap, sugary brands they were more familiar with.

Cocoa Runners aim to do this on a far larger scale and with even more exciting chocolate sourced from all around the world.

I think it’s an absolutely excellent idea and it is just as good in execution. Colour me impressed.

DISCOUNT CODE

I am delighted to invite readers to enjoy £3 off their first month’s subscription to Cocoa Runners by using discount code “kaveyeats”. This code is valid until 31 January 2014.

 

Kavey Eats was sent a review box by Cocoa Runners.
I believe in open and honest disclosure; please note that I am friends with several of the Cocoa Runners team. As always, I have shared my honest opinion of the product.

 

The lamb we were sent by Graig Farm is truly fabulous. The joints in particular have been a joy; one lamb leg roasted with za’atar and sumac and the other roasted plain. The lamb is as tender as could be, yet full of flavour too.

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When it came to the turn of the enormous shoulder of lamb, we decided to keep it classic and pair the lamb with garlic and rosemary. This lamb has such wonderful flavour that we knew it would stand up to the two strong flavours without being overwhelmed.

 

Garlic & Rosemary Shoulder of Lamb

Ingredients
1 x 1.6 kilo shoulder of lamb
3-4 heads of garlic
4-5 sprigs of fresh rosemary

Note: Adjust quantities for smaller joints.

Method

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  • Preheat the oven to 180 C.

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  • Cut the tops off 3 heads of garlic.
  • Retain the main part of the garlic heads and wrap each one in foil, sealed at the top.
  • Retrieve the pieces of garlic from the tops of the 3 heads and break open the remaining head of garlic and peel all the cloves.

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  • Cut deep slits into the lamb.
  • Push the large chunks of garlic deep into the slits.

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  • Tie the rosemary over the joint.
  • Place the foil-wrapped garlic heads in the roasting dish, around the lamb joint.

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  • Pop the lamb into the oven to roast. For medium, I give 25 minutes per half kilo plus 25 minutes; for this 1.6 kilo joint, I roasted it for 1 hour and 45 minutes.
  • Take the lamb out of the oven, cover loosely with a sheet of foil and leave to rest for about 20 minutes. (We crank up the heat on the roast potatoes for those last 20 minutes).

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  • Cook your veg, make your gravy and serve.

Tip: Keep the sweet, sweet roasted garlic from the foil-wrapped garlic heads aside to enjoy smeared over toast the next day, stir the roasted garlic into your gravy, or just serve a head per guest and let them squeeze it out and enjoy it with the lamb.

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A classic roast dinner that is hard to beat!

Coming up soon, a great recipe for leftover lamb…

 

Discount Code

Try Graig Farm organic Welsh lamb (or any other meat such as beef and pork) yourself with a special discount code for Kavey Eats readers:

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The code gives you 20% off orders over £50 and also includes free delivery. It’s valid until June 30th 2013 and can be used three times per household. Of course, you can pass the code on to friends and family, if they’d like to place an order for themselves.

 

Kavey Eats received a sample box of organic lamb from Graig Farm.

 

It’s no secret that I love great tea and I’ve shared many fantastic tea suppliers here on Kavey Eats over the years.

A recent find from the BBC Good Food Show was Momo Cha – their High Mountain Oolong tea absolutely blew me away when I first tasted it and every single time I brewed a cup thereafter. As I said in my original review, it’s the best oolong I’ve ever tasted.

More recently, I’ve also tried and enjoyed some of their amazing Korean teas. Also fabulous.

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In the current economic climate, I take my hat off to people like Niels and Mojca, brave enough to create a new business. It must surely be an on-going challenge to bring their products to a wider audience, to get noticed amongst all the others in their niche. But by offering a truly exceptional product, they are building a base of repeat customers who appreciate their quality teas as much as I do.

How did the couple come to launch their tea business? The pair had always dreamed of running a tea house and sharing good quality tea with their customers. During a holiday to Japan, they researched tea production there, and hooked up with a gentleman who’d been trading tea for decades. He helped them plan a specialist trip around Japan, to meet the best producers and farmers. After that, they started selling Japanese teas at Brick Lane, to gauge customer interest; that was two years ago. They also travelled to Taiwan and Korea to find more producers and more top teas. And just over a year ago, they developed their packaging and opened the web shop.

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Several of their teas won one, two or even three star Gold Awards in last year’s Great Taste Awards, great recognition for such a young and small company. I am sure they will be recognised once again in this year’s awards.

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If you’d like to try Momo Cha teas for yourself, do so now using this special Kavey Eats discount code, valid throughout March 2013. The code is “KaveyEats10%” and knocks 10% off your order (excluding postage).

(This isn’t a referral code, I don’t get commission on the orders you place. I simply want to play a tiny part in helping fellow tea lovers discover Momo Cha’s fantastic teas).

 

Recently, Pete and I trialled a home ingredients and recipe delivery service called Gousto.

We really liked it so I am happy to share a discount code especially for Kavey Eats readers, giving you the chance to trial a box for half price.

  • Visit Gousto‘s website to place your order.
  • Discount code: kaveyeats
  • Expiry date: 30 September 2012
  • Limit: 1 discounted order per household, applies to the first box only.

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I love meat! I love the tender meat fibres, the bloody juice, the marbling of fat …

… whether it’s a juicy steak with Béarnaise sauce, a huge roast joint with oven-crisped fat, a hearty stew with a generous slosh of red wine or any of a hundred other mouth-watering dishes, I’m all about the meat.

Last year, I started thinking more about where I sourced my meat and the best way to buy top quality British beef, lamb and pork at good prices.

I came across Paganum through Niamh from EatLikeAGirl when she sourced some fabulous pork shoulder for her market stall last year.

And just as I was about to place my order, in a rather fortuitous moment of good timing, Chris Wildman got in touch with me first to ask whether I’d like to try some Paganum products. And I certainly did!

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The Yorkshire climate does wonders for cows, sheep and pigs and the resulting meat is really excellent.

Since then, I’ve placed a number of repeat orders, most notably for Paganum rib eye steaks, which I think are fantastic and very good value indeed.

See below for a discount code if you’d like to follow suit and try some Paganum meat for yourself.

Fast forward to July, the day before Pete and I set off for a week’s holiday in the Lake District. Looking at some photographs of meat (as you do) I had a sudden thought and asked Pete how close our route to Windermere would pass by Chris’ farm. Not that I even knew where the farm was at that point, other than “Yorkshire”. So Pete looked it up.

“Oh noooo”, he said, shaking his head gravely, with am exaggerated frown on his face. “The nearest we’ll pass to Paganum is a whopping four miles.”

Four miles? That’s practically by the front door!

I immediately phoned Chris and asked whether it might be possible for us to drop in and meet him in person the next day, as we made our way through North Yorkshire and despite the short notice, and it being the boys’ last day at school, he insisted we do.

It’s a bloody long way from London to North Yorkshire. By the time we reached Kirkby Malham I was sick of being cooped up in the car, sick of stop-start traffic, sick of being on the move.

So it was an absolute delight to break up the journey with a relaxing farm visit.

We were very warmly welcomed in by Chris and his wife Jennifer and it wasn’t long before the kettle was on for tea plus Chris was digging out his home-made elderflower cordial for a refreshing summer thirst-quencher.

Church End Farm is presumably so called because it’s located at the church end of the village. As we stood in the kitchen looking out over the pretty church, Chris explained that Jennifer had grown up on this farm (her parents live in the house next door) and that he and Jennifer were married in that very church. (Chris grew up nearby, the son of several generation of Bentham butchers).

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What a romantic kitchen sink view – the church in which you were married! That’s got to make the washing up less of a chore, right?

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Glasses and mugs in hand, Chris lead us outside to meet some of his beautiful sheep. He farms Swaledales (with black faces and curved horns), Blue Faced Leicesters (with strangely hump-shaped faces) and Mules, a cross between the two other species. The ones near the house are those in need of a little extra TLC – orphans or late births or those a little under the weather.

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After purchasing some farm fresh eggs from younger son Oliver and having some of Chris’ home-made wild mushroom soup, a chorizo sausage and some local cheese pressed upon us, we hopped back into vehicles for a visit to the main farm area.

The views really are stunning. Chris pointed out a far-away hilltop where some of his beef cattle roam and we admired the bucolic Yorkshire Dales countryside.

Older son William is very keen to join Chris working the family farm and is already an authority on the Swaledale and Blue Faced Leicester species. He gave me a quick introduction to the sheep inside one of the huge barns.

We also met the chickens, admired the strange menagerie of animal models, got a tour of Chris’ bacon makin’ unit and had a snorty chat to Gertrude the (pedigree) pig.

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sheep; scenery; Kavey & Chris

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Lessons on sheep from William

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Pete meets sheep

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Chickens

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Chris with pig tail

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Making bacon

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Gertrude the pig (ssssh, that’s Gertrude’s brother Alexander in the previous shots)

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Surreal animal models; Pete & rhino friend

I don’t like to share my steak (hands off, all mine).

But I am happy to be able to share a special discount code giving Kavey Eats readers 10% off Paganum orders. Just enter MK+KE into the voucher code field during the check out process.

On top of that is an October 2010 special offer for Kavey Eats readers: Use the MK+KE code above and Chris will send a free Yorkshire Chorizo Original or Piccante (Spicy) with every order over £50.

If you are looking for a specific cut (or maybe some marrow bones, like those I curried, above) just call Chris directly to discuss.

Chris has also posted a few words and some photos from our visit on his blog, here.

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