With Easter looming, our minds and taste-buds turn to all things chocolate. And with that in mind, London Chocolate, the visionary chocolatier in Connaught Village, generously agreed to host HyPER’s March popup party. It’s a glorious combination of quality, taste and integrity, a chocolate shop for our age, as HyPER Spokesman found out, when he talked with Alex Heeley, London Chocolate Manager and Founder.
Chris: Give us the background to the shop. When, where and why did it start?
Alex: The shop is something we have been really building towards over the last few years and there is really nothing else like it in the UK. In many ways, it’s not a shop, it’s a chocolate factory where you can buy the bars on site. In some ways, the pandemic, for all its negatives, was an opportunity for us to use this extra time and we expanded our range of origins so that we now have the rarest collection of beans in Europe.
Chris: What drew you to the Hyde Park Estate?
Alex: It’s a great location for customers finishing a day of retail therapy and with our factory tours in the evening, we felt this would be a great addition to the West End. But what we really liked about Connaught Village was the community feel – and the local area and groups have been extremely welcoming ever since. In the spring and summer months we are looking forward to opening up our garden and having tasting classes, wine pairings (that is pairing chocolate with its most appropriate wine), children’s days and lots of other events – we aim to have a positive impact on the area and be a place people come to relax and enjoy some time.
Chris: Tell us about your philosophy, your business model and what makes you unique?
Alex: The chocolate comes first, and we have spent 4-5 years getting to this point where we know, without doubt, we have the best sources of beans anywhere – our site is a working museum of cacao genetics – and we have travelled to meet many other bean-to-bar makers in the US to perfect our method and, of course, our farmers. The great thing about making chocolate this way however, is that it’s much more sustainably farmed and we pay far beyond fair trade prices. Finally, because we have spent so long sourcing the world’s best beans, we don’t add cocoa butter and all our chocolate is made with just two ingredients: cacao and cane sugar. This means its far more difficult to make, but the taste is much purer and will linger in the mouth long after you finish. There are just a handful of us in the world making chocolate this way.
Chris: What is special about chocolate, not just among categories of food but among sweets?
Alex: Chocolate is an incredible natural product in the depth and range of flavours it can produce when you work with rare genetics and specialist farmers. With our bars you can get a range of nuances in the same way you experience with wine.
Chris: What is unique and inspiring about your chocolates?
Alex: Let me make several quick points. Every bar has its own manufacturing recipe involving roast temperatures, conch times (the mixing by large heavy rollers), tempering ranges. We test everything to get a perfect balance of flavours. In addition, what we do is truly ethical – sustainable, organic, vegan and most importantly we pay our farmers many times the commercial price for the beans. It means that they have the money to take care of the cacaos properly but more significantly, it allows them to have a much better standard of living, and send their kids to school which has been transformative in many parts of the world. It’s under reported but the commercial chocolate you buy will not be benefiting any of the people that make the beans – chocolate on the whole is sold far too cheap.
Moreover, every bar is rare – my day job was in science and it’s been an obsession of mine to find the very best beans anywhere from Venezuela and Colombia to India and Madagascar.
In conclusion, we hope to transform the way you eat and appreciate chocolate. It is our ultimate objective to make fine chocolate revered in exactly the same way that fine cognac and vintage wine is.