Generally, buying craft chocolate is easy, but getting hold of a specific bar can be more of a challenge. Harvest dates, availability of cacao and batch sizes all affect the supply of fine chocolate. That said, your options are considerable and when your favorite bar is out of stock that is just the best opportunity to try something new!
These listings are not in any sense complete, but are intended to give you a starting point and are based on my own tasting and buying experience in the UK.
Living in a small market town in Lincolnshire, I have no access to retail shops selling a range of craft chocolate, so, with the exception of Duffy’s Chocolate — I am very aware how lucky I am to have a world-class maker based just down the road in Cleethorpes —all my buying is done either on line or on trips to trade shows and markets.
CHOCOLATE MARKETS & FAIRS
Prior to lockdown, chocolate fairs and festivals were one of the best places to shop for craft chocolate: a place to meet the makers, attend tastings, and stock up on new and favourite bars. After any chocolate show, social media is awash with images competing for the prize for the most extensive chocolate ‘haul’ or ‘stash’. I admit to making a few such posts myself. Annual festivals include: Brighten Chocolate Festival, (October) Shrewsbury Chocolate Festival (November) and a little closer to home York Chocolate Festival (April). The online retailers Cocoa Runners also organise take-over markets at the The Canopy Market in Kings Cross with some superb tasting sessions and international exhibitors.
For international shows throughout the year check out Salon du Chocolat or you can pop across to Amsterdam for Chocoa in February. If you do, my only advice would be to take a big bag for your own haul and tag me on Instagram when you do!
Let’s hope it’s not too long before these events are back on our calendars.
ONLINE CRAFT CHOCOLATE RETAILERS
Cocoa Runners: God bless Cocoa Runners and their extensive chocolate library! The Cocoa Runners team have introduced me to some amazing makers and origins, initially through their subscription service, then through the chocolate explorer’s dream that is their chocolate library with its hundreds of bars showcasing styles, origins and makers from all over the world. Postage starts at £1.95 in the UK, so not prohibitive if you are looking to buy just a couple of bars.
You sometimes have to wait for the bars to come into stock, but some things are worth waiting for! Cocoa Runners
Chocoladeverkopers: Paul and Emma at Chocoladaverkopers in Holland are also an invaluable source of bars and have a particularly good range of US and Canadian makers. You can view the site in English and postage is currently only €9.95, however many bars you buy. They stock brands like Amano from the US and Soma from Canada that are more difficult to source in the UK. Chocoladeverkopers
UK CRAFT CHOCOLATE RETAILERS
This is Kosak in Paris who I visited in 2019 and marvelled at the range of makers all under one roof. It made me a little sad to think we didn’t have the same offering in London but since then I am very glad to see Kokoa London has launched in Highgate, N6 5JX. Not with quite the same range yet but a business dedicated to craft chocolate none the less, where you will find knowledge and enthusiasm to help you choose.
You will also find fine chocolate in amongst other premium ranges in major retailers such as Selfridges, Harrods and Fortnum & Mason. If you know what you are looking for, that’s great but what they lack is that passion for craft chocolate, the ability to guide you through the different brands, makers and qualities of chocolate packing their shelves.
Try your local chocolatier or specialist tea and coffee houses too, as they are beginning to stock craft chocolate too.
DIRECT FROM THE UK MAKERS
Going directly to the maker is an excellent way to begin your chocolate journey. Some makers have retail outlets and stock bars from other makers too. If you find yourself in Orford in Suffolk, Pump Street Bakery opened a new retail outlet in 2019 and stock 12 different makers along with their own chocolate.
Your first step is to find out who your local maker is. Try their bars and then chocolate from as many different makers as you can. If you make a trip to York, visit the York Cocoa House; in Nottingham look out for Luisa’s Artisan Chocolates; if you go to Matlock give Cocoa Elora a call and if you find yourself in Sheffield seek out Bullion Chocolate.
In 2019, respected journalist and dedicated chocolate fan Andrew Baker, (a must-follow on Twitter @ccAndrewBaker) took a chocolate road trip to research A Chocolate Lovers Guide to the Britain. From Bean To Bar presents his findings, introducing us to some of the best artisan makers, while telling the story of Britain’s own chocolate journey from industrial pioneer to centre of bean-to-bar excellence. My book pairing exploits even get a mention! I took this as inspiration for my chocolate travels, with some remarkable results: A Lincolnshire Chocolate Road Trip
I have listed below the makers whose bars I use in my tastings to teach different aspects of flavour or craftsmanship, but there are many more exceptional people, making great chocolate, and I would urge you to seek them out.
- Akessons, London
- Bare Bones, Glasgow.
- Chocolate Tree, Edinburgh
- Dormouse, Manchester
- Duffy’s Chocolate, Lincolnshire
- Firetree, Peterborough
- Forever Cacao, Wales
- Land, London
- Lucocoa, London
- Pump Street Chocolate, Suffolk
- Solkiki, Devon
- Tosier, London