It’s Chocolate Season

by D. Prinz on November 30, 2014

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Chocolate season started on November 1 for Joanne and Jerry Kryszek’s company, Chocosphere. This is the busiest time in their on-line chocolate wholesale and retail company which operates from a warehouse in a Portland suburb. I have known about the company for years and finally had the opportunity to meet the Kryszek’s and see their operation a couple of weeks ago.

Chocolate is a second career for both and a full time passion. Jerry had always liked chocolate. Joanne never liked chocolate as a child. As an adult, she became hooked on the Belgian Cote d’Or milk chocolate that Jerry’s best friend brought back from his business trips abroad. She loved it. She depended on those imports and was stuck when he lost his travel budget. In the late 90’s Joanne’s job at the IRS was reinvented. Mourning her lost supply of chocolate, she proposed to Jerry that they start a chocolate internet business arguing, “it will be easy and we will make money.” He reminded her, based on his experience in the clothing business, that she would sleep it, eat it, and live it, 24/7. Soon they were planning a trip to Sweden to pick up a car for chocolate shopping and meeting suppliers in Europe.

To keep overhead low Chocosphere started out of their home. They opened by retailing only 6 brands in the fall of 1998. Now shipments arrive from their major sources every week and as chocolate season warms up, trucks deliver every day. Today they sell over 50 brands and more than 50% of the business is wholesale. I had to force my hands together to keep from reaching out to sample from the neatly organized piles of bars, minis, truffles, nibs and spreads.

Though still driving that same Volvo, Joanne’s chocolate tastes have evolved to preferring very high cocoa content, even 100% Damori. She now appreciates more about the nuances of beans and the complexities that produce quality chocolate. Their customer profile includes women and men. They have also seen customer expectations change, with people generally looking for higher cocoa content and European more than American. Men are discerning and enjoy broad tastes. Women seem more committed to one item, such as the customer who orders her weekly 3 kilo bag of Valhrona Noir. In the Northwest, women chocolate makers outnumber men.

At the very least, Jerry and Joanne have a constant supply of the best chocolate from around the world for themselves. And, even better, we have access to their curated selections.

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Chocolate Signals

by D. Prinz on September 12, 2014

trappistineThe Trappistine nun appeared to levitate as she welcomed us at the factory door with urgent questions about how to market chocolate for Father’s Day, about aspects of kosher certification and about increasing their Chanukah sales. Sister Christa-Maria, in her Bavarian tinged English, broke the Benedictine prohibition against speaking to give us a tour of Trappistine Quality Candy at Mount St. Mary’s Abbey, sequestered deep in the woods of Wrentham, Mass. The candy business fits into a long tradition of the chocolate interests of earlier Cistercian (Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, more commonly known as Trappistine) monks in Spain, which included their chocolate room at the Monastery at Poblet, Spain.

Sister Christa-Maria explained how her group transitioned from being totally silent to using more verbal language in 2001. The silence had focused them on essentials of spiritual life; yet, they are not hermits, they live in community, there are relationships. It was extremely difficult to have healthy connections without discussing issues; how really resolve differences, since work issues carried over to prayer. Now they balance verbal language with communication through silent hand signals, which includes unique signs for chocolate.

Here is Sister Christa-Maria’s beautiful demonstration of the awesome, proprietary Benedictine sign language for chocolate related words.

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Can’t Live Without Chocolate?

August 22, 2014

  It seems a given that many of us depend on chocolate. Everywhere I speak about On the Chocolate Trail (Jewish Lights), people confess: “I can’t live without it.” And they want reassurance that the popular headlines about chocolate’s health advantages are true. Whether my body temperature slowly melts a mouthful, or, I am chomping […]

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Smiley Chocolate

June 13, 2014

We hit the mother lode. This chocolate factory came to us from Columbia, unlike the others we were fortunate to trek to in Belgium, England, France, Israel, Mexico, Spain, and Switzerland. To be precise to the David Zwirner gallery near the High Line in Chelsea. Oscar Murillo’s performance art installation, A Mercantile Novel, mashes up […]

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Saluting Military Chocolate

May 26, 2014

  Memorial Day recalls the tangible and serious sacrifices made by members of the US military. Chocolate has played a part in that here, as well as in Israel and Britain. When I came across these stories as I was researching On the Chocolate Trail, I was surprised at how important chocolate was for both […]

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Think Chocolate in Preparation for Passover’s Discussions and Eating

April 12, 2014

Several publications picked up my pieces about chocolate and Passover recently — Huffington Post, Jewish Journal and Jewish Telegraphic Agency — and I share them here, along with A Haggadah for a Chocolate Seder and related rabbinic texts from responsa literature: A Haggadah for a Chocolate Seder (free download!) This Haggadah provides an entry point […]

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Chocolate Love Lessons for Valentine’s Day

February 5, 2014

Love lessons pulsate through Denise Acabo’s chocolate shop, A l’Etoile d’Or, Montmartre, Paris. Baby-faced Denise, who may be in her 80’s, has tended to customers and chocolate for the last 40 years costumed in her braided hair and school-uniform kilt skirt. Against the backdrop of her carefully curated chocolate offerings, she preens for the camera: […]

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Chocolate Coated Mallomars Turns 100

November 13, 2013

Do you want to eat a 100 year old chocolate covered, cookie framed marshmallow? The iconic Mallomars turned 100 today. That calls to mind its sibling concoctions from other countries and times, such as the Krembo in Israel. Other similar classic chocolate-covered marshmallows recall the colonial empire roots of some European chocolate traditions. Chocolate makers […]

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From Prins to Prinz: The Mysteries of the Chocolate Trail

September 19, 2013

Little did I realize when writing On the Chocolate Trail, how eerie the connections between Jews and chocolate might become.  My choco-dar (internal radar for chocolate experiences) led me to a hauntingly personal story. In 2009, a very kind scholar, learning of my chocolate interests, mentioned a Dutch archival collection of a Jewish scholar who […]

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Jews Make Chocolate a Revolutionary Option: Happy July 4

July 4, 2013

Sephardi Jews contributed to the availability of drinking chocolate when that became a very popular substitute for politicized tea in North America around the time of the 1773 Boston Tea Party. The Gomez family members (NYC) and Aaron Lopez (Newport) were among the several North American Jews who engaged in the manufacture, retail, and consumption […]

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