About Time You Met: Willie’s CacaoBy Alicia Grimshaw
You might have seen the bright packaging of Willie’s Cacao in the world’s best chocolate shops – and for good reason. Willie Harcourt-Cooze, who discovered cacao on his travels in Venezuela in 1993, is the man behind Willie’s Cacao. It was his first taste of hot chocolate made with 100% cacao which compelled him to begin his quest to make the world’s best single estate chocolate from bean to bar. We meet the man behind some of the best cacao bars on the market:
How and why did you decide to set up a chocolate business?
It was my first miraculous, mind blowing taste of hot chocolate made from my El Tesoro beans. This was in 1993. It was simply the cacao liquor, heated with water and a touch of honey. I had never tasted anything like it, such delicious and distinct flavours, quite unlike any chocolate I had known up to that point. I was also struck by an extraordinary physical feeling of energy and wellbeing. It was unbelievable. From that moment, I was determined to discover more about cacao. This was the moment that has brought me to where I am now, travelling the world introducing people to real chocolate.
What’s the secret to creating a tasty cacao bar?
It is down to the quality and charisma of the cacao and the talent of the chocolate maker. My chocolate is simply cacao, raw cane sugar and a little natural cocoa butter. That is it. The cacaos are all from single estates, and like fine wines each has its own character and amazing depth of flavour. I spend weeks each year in far flung places searching for exciting new beans.
You can tell a lot from looking at an ingredients list. For me vanilla is the devil! In fact it is a good test of if a chocolate is using interesting beans, because if it is it wouldn’t be using vanilla as this just covers up the more subtle flavour notes. I don’t even use soya lecithin, which is generally used to allow the chocolate to flow better through big factories and to create a good temper – but you can taste it so I would rather stop and clean the pipes more often.
What makes Willie’s Cacao different to other brands on the market?
The difference is the fact that we make all our chocolate from the bean. My aim as the chocolate maker is to simply help each bean develop and show its unique flavour as completely as possible. You could say it’s a celebration of cacao.
Many chocolates that look very special don’t in fact make their own chocolate at all. Apart from the global companies like Cadbury or Lindt, most buy in mass produced liquid chocolate from one of the big two Belgian chocolate makers, Barry Callebaut and Belkolade, and remould it into their own shapes.
These big industrial makers will typically be using a blend of cheaper beans, and adding vanilla to create a constant back note to hide this fact. They are also using continuous production processes which are all about minimizing cost not maximizing flavour. In one of these factories a bean would find itself in a bar within a few hours – whereas our batch production takes up to 16 days!
What’s your favourite bar from your range?
My cacaos are like my children, I love them all. I have my moods and moments for each one.
What’s your advice to young people who want to break into the food business?
Do something that you are really passionate about and that no one else does.
Why do you think people are willing to spend more money on good quality chocolate/cacao?
It has to be about the taste! Dancing flavours, something that doesn’t just taste brown and sweet!
Everyone is now used to looking for wines from their favourite vineyards, and they are willing to pay more for something interesting than for “French table wine”. The same is becoming more established in coffee and olive oil, and chocolate is coming along behind.
What’s your favourite dish to make with your cacao?
It has to be my breakfast. Every day I have toast, sliced avocado, two duck eggs, hot sauce and a heavy grating of cacao.
How do you flavour the cacao without it being overpowering and detracting from the chocolate?
It is all about making the perfect pairing between the cacaos and the flavours you put with them. For example to make my orange chocolate I use a beautiful bean from Baracoa in Cuba that tastes naturally of honey as the honey goes with the orange.
What can people expect from Willie’s Cacao?
Journeys of discovery. Dancing flavours. Sweet dreams of adventure. Not to forget the wonderful feel good surge of energy that comes when the theobromine in the cacao makes your body produce endorphins.
What is your first memory of chocolate?
The family treat of Black Magic! But actually chocolate used to make me feel sick as it was always too sweet.
What was behind the partnership with Brown’s Hotel?
It was the idea of creating a really exciting menu of hot chocolates, using different chocolates paired imaginatively with interesting ingredients. Brown’s Hotel has one of the most celebrated tea rooms in London – steeped in history and tradition – so it felt like a wonderful environment for people to enjoy these new flavours.
What made you choose hot chocolate as a way of celebrating the partnership?
Hot chocolate was the birthplace of cacao. It was a drink for thousands of years before anyone thought of eating it. The Maya and the Aztecs turned it into an art form, drinking it on all important ceremonial and religious occasions. This was how it came to be known and The Food of the Gods.
And I never go anywhere without my hot chocolate that I have around 11 o’clock each morning. Made from 100% cacao, water and a little sugar it simply makes you feel dynamic! What better partnership could there be?