A few years ago, I started my own chocolate company in England, working with a small selection of artisan European chocolatiers. We began small, selling assorted boxes of chocolates by mail order. Sales grew so I knew we were doing things right. But I never really knew exactly which chocolates my customers truly liked the best and which ones they might prefer less of – until the arrival of The Chocolate Tasting Club.
We created the Tasting Club in 1997 with the aim of giving members a different selection of chocolates every four weeks to taste and, crucially, to score and send me their results. In this way I could develop more new recipes of the types people liked and, of course, ensure the top scoring chocolates were represented in all of our boxes.
In 2005 we built our own kitchens near Cambridge, England. Today we make over half of the chocolates in each monthly selection, with the rest being made by those European chocolatier partners, who still share my passion and zeal for exciting, new creations.
It was one of our Tasting Club members who set us off on our next adventure – she sent me a book about cocoa growing in the Caribbean in the 1920s. I was just about to visit my father, who lives in Barbados, and I read it from cover to cover before I even got there! What amazed me was that the islands of the West Indies had been thriving centers of cocoa production, but they had long since declined. Virtually no chocolate maker of any size owns a cocoa plantation these days, yet in the 1920s it was fairly common. I wanted to restore that link and before long we had found the perfect plantation to do it on Saint Lucia.
Over the last six years we have restored the plantation and we've even managed to make some award winning chocolate with our rare cocoa! And of course, our Tasting Club members were among the first to taste it.