Interview
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Askinosie Chocolate

From bean to handcrafted bar, Askinosie Chocolate is saving the world, one bite at a time. The delectable company maintains visionary concern and practices mindfulness in healthful, social, environmental, and business ethics. With just a few simple and clean ingredients to speak for the rich content pursed tenderly inside, Askinosie’s chocolate bar label is a rather light read.

They transcend whatever reservations skeptical consumers may have about label-certified, bumper-sticker businesses, making transparent their ethical all-around practice and detailed manufacturing process. Askinosie’s unrivaled concern for traceability is an integral part of their business, and evident from a start to finish in honest flavor you can actually taste.

What are some Askinosie favorites and bestsellers?

Our number one best seller is our 62% Dark Milk Chocolate + Fleur de Sel Bar. It’s won 2 Good Food Awards, which we’re really proud of. Both dark and milk chocolate fans love this bar; it’s silky-smooth with just a hint of salt, it’s accessible, and it pairs well with so many flavors. Around the factory, we love our Dark Milk Chocolate + Black Licorice CollaBARation™ Bar. It’s probably the most uniquely flavored bar we make. I love sharing it with people who say they hate black licorice, and watching their faces light up as try it. The balance of flavors is crazy enough that it just works. This bar also just won a 2017 Good Food Award, which we were ecstatic about considering it’s such a polarizing flavor combo.

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We were the first chocolate makers to work directly with a female-led farmer group in Tanzania (because we sought that out) and Mama Mpoki, the chairwoman (pictured on the front of our Tanzania bars), is an excellent cocoa farmer and an amazing female leader in her community.

My personal favorite is our 72% Mababu, Tanzania Dark Chocolate Bar. The bar itself is rich, deep, and layered with notes of berry and jam. We were the first chocolate makers to work directly with a female-led farmer group in Tanzania (because we sought that out) and Mama Mpoki, the chairwoman (pictured on the front of our Tanzania bars), is an excellent cocoa farmer and an amazing female leader in her community. She’s sets a great example women everywhere. I love visiting her and the entire farmer group; they inspire me with their dedication to quality, excellence, and community. And we think it shows in the chocolate.

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Can you tell us a little about how you make your own cocoa butter and how it affects the taste and quality of the chocolate?

Our cocoa butter, like our chocolate, is single origin, meaning we press the butter from the same beans that we use to make the liquor. It all comes together in a chocolate bar that contains just 2 ingredients: cocoa beans (butter and liquor) and organic cane sugar.

We are one of the few chocolate makers to press our own cocoa butter. You can only press your own butter if you’re making chocolate from the bean, because the cocoa butter is pressed from cocoa liquor, which results from refining cocoa beans. Our cocoa butter, like our chocolate, is single origin, meaning we press the butter from the same beans that we use to make the liquor.

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It all comes together in a chocolate bar that contains just 2 ingredients: cocoa beans (butter and liquor) and organic cane sugar. This allows us to really taste the region where the bean was grown and the hard work of the harvesting, fermenting, and drying by our farmer partners. We think this all makes for a better-tasting chocolate. We work hard to directly source some of the best cocoa beans in the world, so we want to showcase those beans as much as possible.

What does the Askinosie team have for planned for future projects?

Thanks for asking! One project we’re really excited about is our 1098 line. We make one micro-batch of just 1,098 bars; when those bars are sold out, they’re gone for good! The bar we just released is a “Dirty” White Chocolate + Vintage Cocoa Gravel Bar that was 2 years in the making.

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This year we also celebrate our 10-year anniversary, which we truly can’t believe! We’re planning a big bash in May, the month we sold our very first chocolate bar in 2007, at our factory in our hometown of Springfield, MO. Additionally, we will launch a brand new origin later this year! Be on the lookout for that chocolate bar, and our introduction to this new farmer partner group, to launch in early Fall.

What is special about the regions to which you travel and source your chocolate ingredients ?

We source cocoa beans directly from smallholder farmers across the globe: San Jose Del Tambo, Ecuador; Mababu, Tanzania; and Davao, Philippines.

My dad, our CEO and founder, travels yearly (and I sometimes travel with him) to each of these origins to meet with our farmer partners, work on post-harvest and fermentation techniques, inspect our next crop of cocoa beans, taste chocolate, and share profits.

We pay a premium for our cocoa beans, but on top of that we bring cash to distribute. We spend time in our farmer partner’s homes, on their small farms, and with their families. We share meals together. It’s about building relationships with our farmer partners, and connecting our farmer partners to our customers—by sharing their pictures, names, and stories on our packaging, social media, website, and more—to build kinship and mutuality.

Beyond purchasing cocoa beans and sharing profits, we’re deeply involved in our origin communities. In both Tanzania and the Philippines, we’ve created Sustainable Lunch Programs in partnership with the PTA’s at schools in our origin communities.

Because we practice Direct Trade, we’re able to have this influence over the quality and flavor of the bean that ultimately lends itself to a fantastic chocolate bar that tastes good and does good.

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Beyond purchasing cocoa beans and sharing profits, we’re deeply involved in our origin communities. In both Tanzania and the Philippines, we’ve created Sustainable Lunch Programs in partnership with the PTA’s at schools in our origin communities. These programs provide lunches to every student, every day, for the entire school year. In Tanzania, we fund an Empowered Girls club at two schools and a “brother” program called Enlightened Boys.

What is the perfect formula/ratio for quality chocolate?

Excellent cocoa beans + direct relationships with farmers + thoughtful/sustainable production and transparency make a premium quality chocolate bar.

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We think these things, the tenets of Direct Trade, make chocolate taste great. Flavor is paramount! If we didn’t make chocolate that tastes good that people like to buy, then we couldn’t do all of the community development work we do with our origin communities. Find quality chocolate flavors you adore; chocolate is meant to be enjoyed, savored, and shared, after all.

Advice you would give to young dreamers & entrepreneurs?

Put people first; prioritize relationships.

Whether you’re building a team that’ll be on your payroll or gathering a group of friends and mentors who can support and advise you as you embark on a new idea or venture, surround yourself with good people. And then let those people know you value them.

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A great culture or support system gets you just as far as a great action plan. I’m in a unique situation of working alongside my dad, which certainly has its own set of challenges, but it’s also really special. We’ve been lucky to build a small (there’s only 17 of us!) but mighty team of amazing individuals, without whom we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.

Where can we find your products?

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You can shop our chocolate bars, drinking chocolates, gift boxes and more at askinosie.com. We ship nationwide. You can find our chocolate on the shelves at specialty food shops, boutiques, and a few high-end grocery chains, plus you can find us on the menus at awesome coffee shops, ice cream shops, and restaurants. Visit our store locator on our site and type in your zip code to find us in a store near you.

Taylor Johnson

Taylor is a recent honors graduate of Rhode Island School of Design’s Painting and Art History Department. A dual-citizen in Belgium and the U.S. with frequent wanderlust, a passion for editorial, and an affinity for sketching, she is now exploring the connection between art and beauty.

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