Chocolate Tree Founders and Farmer

Chocolate Tree: Crafting Authentic and Sustainable Chocolate

Welcome to the Love Your Local Larder podcast! A podcast that celebrates local produce with the people who cook and grow it.

Blog written by Louise McKie.

In this episode, Suzie meets Alastair and Freddy of Edinburgh’s Chocolate Tree. A brand that our listeners may well know if they hail from the capital or surrounding areas, as Chocolate Tree has been established there for some time. Suzie met them in a cabin beside the Chocolate Tree Factory in Dunbar to hear more about how it all began and the positive impact this company are having on both, the food industry and the planet.

Chocolate Tree's Ali and Freddy
Photos by Emma Martin Photography.

Alastair and Friederike met whilst Freddy was here studying mathematics at university - something she now applies to the analysis and ‘technical art’ of making chocolate these days. The seed of an idea to make chocolate actually began at a small music festival in Dumfries back in 2005, where they first explored using a travelling café to help them get free entry into more festivals! Freddy designed the café’s geodesic tent that met the goal and, by the time she had completed her degree, Chocolate Tree was growing enough to warrant expansion. They opened the much-loved Bruntsfield café in the late 2000s, but with the arrival of their first child, decided to get out of the city into East Lothian where Chocolate Tree now blooms.

Throughout this conversation, Alastair and Freddy's passion for chocolate pulsates. They speak warmly of the early days of discovering more about how to make chocolate and how they quickly made the decision that this was a life they wanted; one in which they could change the consumption of this well-loved food and make a positive impact on communities, here and abroad, in the process. Oh, and enjoy some delicious chocolate along the way!

Listen to the podcast here...

In 2011, they made a trip to South America to visit cacao farmers and it was their first experience of seeing ‘messy’, organic farming. Alastair was intrigued by the mix of crops planted on the same land, which ultimately produces a richer crop in a more sustainable method. This contrasts with the large-scale farming of larger chocolate manufacturers, which may be less labour-intensive, but is actually less productive in terms of harvest.

Chocolate Tree's Founders and Cocoa Farmer

Suzie learns about the history of chocolate and its sacred place in the Mesoamerican culture. This is being seen more in other parts of the world now, with chocolate ceremonies popping up around the UK. In its truest sense, chocolate was seen as food for the heart. We can now see scientific evidence to support this: of the more than 500 compounds in chocolate, many are beneficial for health, including antioxidants, phenoflavins, serotonin, and the blissful anandamide (literally, Sanskrit for bliss!)

Chocolate Tree's Freddy and Cocoa Bean

Contrasting with this gorgeously positive discussion, Suzie and the couple chat about the impact of climate change and under-investment in cacao farming. The impact on crop quality, availability and price are significant due to the damage done to soils from factory farming and the impact of extreme weather events which further damage the crops and soil. At Chocolate Tree they are very mindful of this and passionate about reducing their carbon footprint. All of their cacao is shipped rather than flown; the stability of the crop means that there is no rush to deliver it after harvest. They work closely with suppliers and make sure that the farmers they work with are paid a fair price that allows them to live well.

Suzie reflects on the balance of cost and quality in a time where there is a cost-of-living crisis in the UK. Both agree that, while this is certainly to be considered, the need to change the food industry to one that values regenerative agriculture, organic produce and ‘slow’ food is necessary. The health and environmental benefits of this are significant enough to motivate Chocolate Tree to be an example of how this can be viable.

Chocolate Tree's Chocolate Bars

In the tasting segment, Suzie was excited to try one of Chocolate Tree's hot chocolate range: the Aztec blend. This includes cacao, almond, cinnamon and chilli which Suzie is surprised by in the gentle heat the latter adds. Alastair aims to keep the process of making hot chocolate as close to the original as possible - grinding the cacao into a paste using a matate then adding it to hot water with some additional spices. The smell is one of the first things Suzie remarks upon as it is distinctively cacao. Freddy explains that the flavour can really change with the environment the plant is grown in as there is a mild fermentation process that occurs too - similar to what we see in sourdough.

The hot chocolate begins with good quality milk - in Suzie’s, organic whole milk - for a good viscosity and so that it can hold the flavour of the chocolate. Freddy recommends a ratio of one cup of milk to two tablespoons of chocolate for the perfect cup. Which is exactly what Suzie experiences! She enthuses about the flavours and the aroma of the hot chocolate before visiting the chocolate factory to see the whole process from bean to bar.

Chocolate Tree's Best Sellers

All Chocolate Tree products are 100% organic and high in cacao content with a minimum of 50% cocoa in their milk chocolate. This is what creates that superior flavour that Suzie raves about. You can read about their range online here and in real life at the Chocolate Tree Farm in Dunbar.

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