With work well underway at 10 Castlegate we've been getting prepared by discovering our new neighbourhood. Turns out that much like Blake Street and Micklegate, Castlegate was a road of significant distinction in York! Not only was it the main route to the Castle, the road had a number of quite distinguished neighbours which was maybe a little incongruous to the Water Lanes that ran off Castlegate down to the River Ouse.
As I have discovered the York Water Lanes contained some beautiful architectural features not much unlike what we see on the Shambles today, one of the most pictured streets in the world. However the lanes, which were slightly less imaginatively named Near Water Lane, Middle Water Lane and Far Water Lane, can still be seen today with Far Water Lane now known as Friargate, Near Water Lane has been widened to become an extension of Coppergate, while Middle Water Lane is now the perfect home for the bin store between the Italian on the corner and us at number 10. Sadly these unique elements of York's landscape were lost in the mid 1800's when the Victorian's decided the quite dingy and unsavoury environment of the lanes were best demolished and Clifford Street created, ploughing right through the medieval remains.
I only go on about this, because knowing our geography of the city has also helped me to unearth more about our history.
For many years I have known of Mary Tuke, the plucky pioneering Quaker woman who started the business that would go on to become Rowntrees of York. Little else has been traced about Mary Tuke except that she had a long legal battle with the Merchant Adventurers of York who tried to have her closed down for rejecting their authority. Mary started her business on Walmgate in 1725, just next to the medieval church of St Margarets - now the Early Music Centre in York. At that time the Merchant Adventurers, whose charter to govern the landing and trading activity in the city had been granted by Queen Elizabeth I herself, were starting to lose their power in the city. Due to York's mercantile heritage anyone wanting to trade in York had to belong to a guild of their trade, to gain entry to the guild one would have to serve an apprenticeship usually of 7 years before becoming a Freeman of the city, they must then join the guild of their craft before opening their business. The guilds would run the city by creating their own council of Alderman and nominated guild members who would sit in the Guildhall. By 1725 the authority of the guilds were starting to dwindle, maybe that's why they persevered for 8 years to ensure that Mary didn't trade without becoming a member and adhering to their governing rules. In the end I believe they just gave her membership in order to not upset their authority too much.
Either way, in 1733 Mary married Henry and became Mary Frankland, she was eventually joined in business by her nephew who would take it on after her death. I can only assume Mary must have been quite successful in her grocery shop on Walmgate and felt the need to expand, for she bought a number of pockets of land and premises on the exclusive Castlegate in 1750. One piece of land is an area where you would now find the Hilton Hotel, once known as Postern Castle at the corner of Castlegate, this would become one of the first girl schools in York, another was the premises at the corner of Castlegate and Coppergate where you will now find the Nook, the other was the piece of land on the south side of Castlegate and to the west of the Far Water Lane - a little spot where Little House Cottage was located - the exact spot where our York Cocoa Works will be.
Mary died in 1752, passing the business and the properties she had acquired to her nephew William Tuke who would go on to run this business with his son Henry while making great contributions to mental health reform.
In 1784 - the Tuke business became one of only 5 businesses in England licensed to roast coffee by the crown, by the following year the Tuke's had turned their acquired coffee roasting skills and facilities to "Chocolate of their own manufacture from the best Cayenne and Caracca nuts".
A little more research and I've uncovered that Caracca nuts were considered the best of the cacaos sourced from the traders of Caraccas.
It's there in that little shop, and the roasting area at the back of the yard now occupied by the Blue Boar, where Henry Isaac Rowntree found his first job outside of the family business, training and eventually taking over the cocoa, chocolate and chicory department before buying it when the family decided to sell up in 1862, over 100 years after Mary first bought the premises.
The wonderful thing about being in York is we're surrounded by so much that has gone before. There is no limit to the inspiration that can be found, remembering that no challenge in business has not been faced by someone in the city at some point. Still the city continues and absorbs the stories of the people that become its custodians for a brief moment in time. I can so easily get lost in these stories, but to imagine that the argumentative and clearly fiercely independent Mary Frankland/Tuke would have seen a view not so different to the one we'll see, be it nearly 300 years later, is in someways quite comforting and as we face the next stage of preparing to put the finishing touches in place is most inspiring. But to know that when it first came to making chocolate in York, and in fact in England, it all started with the finest cacao available just 5 meters from where we will be revisiting the manufacturing process is something really exciting!
We'll certainly be sharing more of our research, recipes and discoveries about York's chocolate making traditions as we have the opportunity to. For now though we're looking forward to welcoming friends and supporters for a very sneak pre-view of our chocolate making facility - remember it's still a building site, we're sharing an opportunity to have an insight into our plans, what's in store and of course a taster of our chocolates so far!
We'd be delighted if you could join us Saturday 27th or Sunday 28th January at Castlegate followed by a special chocolate tasting at Blake Street of our recipes so far.
Book your place online at the link below:
The first glimpses of my life in chocolate are always remembered at this time of year. Cold wintery Sundays like today would see me trawling through recipe books and magazines, looking for that seasonal inspiration of what I could make to give loved ones. How I could add that personal touch, making recipes that captured the family favourites and flavours that the season represents. There were a lot of disasters, I learned a lot from practicing, sometimes getting it wrong and trialling new, interesting combinations. Thankfully the learning paid off and I was able to continually refine my skills to the recipes that we have today that are now expertly crafted by our team of chocolatiers. However, nothing beats the genuine time and care that goes into crafting something for yourself.
This week we're launching our chocolate making kits so you can craft your own chocolate truffles, bars, chocolate models and lollipops and share the gift of personal chocolate craftsmanship with your loved ones.
I thought I would share with you our chocolate truffle recipes so you can create your own chocolates this Christmas, beautifully boxed or just set out to share and enjoy.
If you would like to learn a bit more about chocolate making, crafting chocolate truffles, tempering chocolate and a whole range of other chocolate skills you can join us on our chocolate workshops. Our Chocolate Truffle Workshop takes place at the York Cocoa House every Wednesday at 4pm and Sunday at 1.30pm. The workshop lasts 1 hour and is a great introduction to the basic chocolate making concepts. Alternatively join our Chocolate Masterclass program with dates on Saturdays and Thursdays throughout the year covering subjects across the range of chocolate applications. Workshop places can be booked online in advance via our Chocolate Workshop pages or give the gift of a workshop voucher that can be used throughout the year.
Every so often I come across a memento of one of our old products, a newspaper clipping, at one point even doing my VAT return or the end of year accounts would bring back a pang of nostalgia to the heady, chocolate fuelled days when we first started. My team know all too well just how emotional and quite sentimental I get, they started taking bets each Christmas about how long it will take me to well up! I'm definitely a hoarder, I don't throw anything out unless I really have to, nearly everything has the potential to be recycled into something new, you never know when we might really need it. So parting with something that has been with us for so long, which has been a fundamental image and foundation of our identity has been a very challenging experience.
This week sees us changing our York Cocoa House logo, and I will be the first to admit it's not been an easy experience! It was mid October 2011, I'd met with 2 designers who were keen to develop their branding careers, I'd agreed to the lease on 3 Blake Street and was anxiously waiting for the legal work to come together to open before Christmas, it seemed to stall and take forever, and I wasn't entirely convinced it was really going to happen so was trying not to commit much money to it unless I had the firm go ahead. I had been looking for somewhere for so long, I was certain this place would fall through as well, or something wouldn't be right enough, but it started to emerge that it really was going to happen and I needed a logo at the very least. I had a really clear idea about what I wanted, I just had no idea how to communicate it. Having just found a collection of those original designs its fascinating to see the evolution of our ideas and vision as it was back then. It had to be elegant, a reflection of the historic significance of York and its Chocolate industry, be reflective and respectful of an era when York's manufacturing was a scene of splendour. The first few designs were not going in the right direction, my instructions went back - more cursive, more elegant, more alive, less dense, bigger roses.
Our final design served us well over the last 6 years. We never used the 2 tones of the brown and green, mostly because I ended up creating design material myself when resources got tight and we had to put up with my limited design skills to see us through.
Back then our values where very much intertwined with my own identity and the story I wanted to be able to tell, York is a city of immense chocolate heritage with thousands of stories to tell. Those values still ring true today, and continue to be at the heart of our passion and business, however we now must look to the future. There are now many exciting chocolate offerings around the city that can tell you the story and celebrate York's chocolate heritage, with that story now in safe hands, we want to be able to look to the future of the industry that has inspired us and ensure that York can be part of shaping that future.
The team at Lazenby Brown have been supporting us with our design work for the last 4 years, it was clear my limited design skills would not get us very far, so needed to put the brand and vision into the safe hands of a very talented design team I had the pleasure of working with on a number of occasions. Mat and Gary are more than just a design team, they have the ability to visualise, articulate and create the very essence of an identity. I asked them for their help and they asked me to trust them. With their help and support they took us on a journey, identifying what was really at the heart of our chocolate making vision and ambition.
It's been a very existential process that has enabled us to become stronger as a team because of it. It's taken my little idea of creating a chocolate factory into a real, tangible story that we can share with our customers. It's been interesting, fascinating, reflective and inspiring. It's liberated us from a brand logo that appeared on products, on our windows and our walls and helping us transform into something that can now explore all the avenues and directions that chocolate and cocoa can take us.
I still adore our original design and will look at it so fondly for it created our identity and told our story, but now it is time to move forward onto our next chocolate making adventure and prepare for our story to be able to be told across more locations, products and experiences.
I love what Lazenby Brown have created, and even more so for the journey it has taken us through, it puts the 2 most important essences of our brand - York and Cocoa, symbolised by the pod and the Yorkshire Rose at the heart of our identity. This week it will start to adorn our windows, our products, our website, your gifts this Christmas and our new York Cocoa Works site at 10 Castlegate.
Our new chapter is coming, we hope you will join us as York Cocoa House & York Cocoa Works bring real, fine chocolate making back to York.
Our Christmas Chocolate Collection is coming back and are available to order online for dispatch from Friday 24th November for Christmas dates.
This year we're delighted to be sharing with you a selection of chocolates that are hand crafted all from our own chocolate, made from cacao from Tumaco, Meta, Huila & Arauquita regions of Colombia.
Over the past few months we've been exploring the flavours of the cacao and the chocolate we've been crafting and sharing those with customers and visitors throughout the summer. With a rich, red berry fruit flavour we knew the Tumaco would make the perfect combination for our Sloe Port Chocolate Truffles, while the baked spice flavour of the Meta makes the ideal combination with our traditional Gingerbread recipe.
So this year we'll still be offering our traditional Christmas flavours, however we're really proud to now be making unique and distinctive chocolate from cacao we're pleased to be able to share with you.
Discover more and order your own Christmas Chocolate Collection online now - https://www.yorkcocoahouse.co.uk/collections/christmas-chocolate-gifts/products/christmas-chocolate-collection
We can hardly believe it! We're coming up for our 6th birthday!
How can it seem such a long time yet so quick? I think actually we say the same every year! Well 6 years ago our lovely landlord took a gamble on a very enthusiastic chocolate lover, entrusting us with a beautiful building that we have treasured ever since. Those who have been part of our journey from the beginning might know the story already. We were given 24 hours to decide before it was to be offered to everyone else, so with a very deep breath I begged Michelle to give up her job at a very prominent tea room in the city and come on this crazy roller coaster of a journey with me.
So with a set of keys, a ridiculously small business loan, a lot of naivety and boundless enthusiasm we set about opening York Cocoa House. We had 3 weeks to open for Christmas and try and make enough money to keep going. It's probably just as well we were as naive as we were, had we known what would be in store we would never have done it, on reflection though, if I could have told my younger self the people we would have met, the opportunities we would have ahead or that now, 6 years later we're on course to open a real chocolate factory I would never have believed myself!
Thank you for your ongoing support and custom, and particularly those who have joined us with your investment into our chocolate making vision! Here's to the next year for all of us! We can't wait to share 2018 with you!
The last few weeks have all been about the cacao. The raw little beans that magically transform into the chocolate that we love!
Our journey and adventure into chocolate making has been an interesting and long one, at times tedious and unnecessarily slow and at others overwhelming in choices, ideas and opportunities. My first ambition to make chocolate was inspired by a school girl in the US called Amy, at aged 9 she had assembled rudimentary domestic items in her own home to learn how to create chocolate from scratch. Amy experienced some of the same things I have heard along the way - that basically it's not possible without a large factory and expensive equipment. With a large factory on our door step and mentalities that have been doing it the same way for so long, like us, Amy experienced a lot of resistance to her idea, until she found encouraging friends to support her project, the product she created finally proved that it could be done. While it can be done, its not to necessarily say that its easy to do, and that's where my own determined journey started, reading, listening, learning, playing and finding a way to do it anyway.
One of the biggest challenges then and still today is connecting in with a supply chain that is so entrenched in the way its always been done it creates barriers to entry prohibitive to an aspiring chocolate maker just starting out and learning their craft. But what is exciting is that since Amy started out on her journey over 15 years ago, and I became inspired by her 9 years ago - is the rest of the world and an emerging sector of the chocolate industry has realised it's not such a stupid idea anymore.
So, as I said, the last few weeks have all been about the cacao. From working with samples at the London Chocolate Show, presenting the International Chocolate Awards, studying with the Fine Chocolate and Cacao Institute, celebrating with our farmers at the International Cocoa Awards in Paris and then confirming our cacao orders with our Colombian cacao partners. It's been a busy few weeks!
One particular highlight was to have the opportunity to learn from Chloe Doutre-Roussell, the former chocolate buyer at Fortnum & Mason, whose book - "The Connoisseurs Guide To Chocolate" can be blamed for introducing me to Amy's story and the very idea of a chocolate expert. Having received Chloe's book as a present for Christmas in 2008 I proclaimed in the New Year that my resolution would be to become a chocolate expert just like Chloe! Everyone thought it was a joke, a fantastical job that couldn't possibly exist. So, to have the opportunity to work with Chloe has been beyond exciting, it was a long ambition coming full circle.
Our key objective these last few weeks was to get a thorough understanding of cacao, what quality must look like, what volumes we need, what flavours we are looking for, what impact we want to make and who we want to work with.
Our vision remains as it was from the outset - we aspire to create shorter, more connected and valued supply chains. Our ambition is not to own cacao farms, it is to work more directly and with more impact with those that do, valuing their expertise and hard work in cultivating the essential material of our chocolate. It is important to recognise that there are some links in the chain that are valuable, part of our journey is to understand where value needs to be added and where a challenge or an opportunity presents itself and what we need to do to overcome these.
The reality is there are an increasing number of cacao farmers, traders and operators wanting to bring a product to market where the crop and their work is valued. When the current price of cacao at the farm gates is at a depressing low, who can blame them. It doesn't all have certificates or qualifications, it's not all of a "fine" standard, or originating from a country with "fine" designation. The truth and reality of cacao is that it's messy, it's temperamental, it's beautiful and it embodies so many elements of humanity in a process evolved and been developed by an innovative chain that transcends countries, continents, civilisations and communities.
Over the coming months we must start making our commitments to cacao. Which trader, which country, which region, which farmer, community, variety, harvest, volume, what impact and at what cost. I am very appreciative of the organisations that have been supporting us on our journey so far with knowledge, insights, cacao and the sharing of their network.
The one thing we do know from our learning the last few weeks is that it will continue to be a long learning process, I have now come to understand that it might always be so. Our best approach is to always keep an open mind with open discourse and an open approach to our stakeholders from across the spectrum. I would appreciate and welcome your thoughts, perspective and ideas as this week we learn and start making the necessary decisions.