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Mrs Dalloway and Empire in craft chocolate

Mrs Dalloway and Empire in craft chocolate

Mrs Dalloway Chocolate Pairings

Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway was the chosen read for our May chocolate book club. Not an easy read, but well worth the effort!

No Spoilers

Set in post-World War I London, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway describes one day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway. A day spent preparing for one of her renowned and glittering Westminster parties. As the day progresses, we are introduced to the lives, loves and regrets of a series of characters. The relationships between some are explicit and others seem strangely unconnected, but they all make an appearance, in some form, at the climax of the novel: Mrs Dalloway’s party.

From the opening sentence “Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself”, the symbolism of flowers filled my thoughts as I considered my chocolate pairings and the allure of floral profiles in chocolate.  Flowers represented love and femininity and the status of each in the characters. With the exception of Septimus, the male characters were nothing like as impressive or complex as the women.

Then, as the party played out, I read the line describing Clarissa’s aunt Helena:

we would appreciate the natural beauty, aromas and complexity of the chocolate…but also find the people behind it

“For at the mention of India or even Ceylon, her eyes (only one was glass) slowly deepened, became blue, beheld, not human beings – she had no tender memories, no proud illusions about Viceroys, Generals, Mutinies – it was the orchids she saw.” (Woolf, 2020)

Despite her time in India, this ‘indomitable Englishwoman’ remains unmoved by either its people or its struggles. I was determined not to do the same with the chocolate; we would appreciate the natural beauty, aromas and complexity of the chocolate, its floral notes, if it had any, but also find the people behind it and understand, where we could, their struggles.

In June 1923, as Clarissa was planning her London party, India was still under colonial rule. The independence movement was making progress; Mahatma Ghandi was in prison, but cracks were beginning to show between the Hindu and Muslim players in his own political base. A turbulent time, to say the least!  Despite Criollo varieties being introduced by the British in the late 18th century, India wasn’t a significant producer of cacao until after its independence from the British Empire. Cacao was reintroduced by Cadbury’s on estates in Southern India, and with the release of a new high yielding CCRP clonal series (CCRP standing for Cadbury Cocoa Research Project) cacao became a commercial crop, helping maintain sustainable cacao sources for Cadbury. 

All the bars for this tasting were sourced from online retailers Cocoa Runners and Chocolate Seekers.

Soklet 55% Milk Chocolate

Opening this dark milk bar, with its added ghee, transported us to the Regal Plantation in the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, home to India’s first tree to bar makers, Karthikeyan Palaniswamy and Harish Manoj Kumar, and to the tigers and elephants who are said to weave through the coconut groves and intercropped cacao trees.

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As we tasted…we met Harish, explaining his passion for organic agricultural practices

As we tasted, through the Soklet Facebook page we met Harish explaining his passion for organic agricultural practices and looked beyond the images of plantations, cocoa pods and blossoms, to the men and women who grow the cacao and craft the chocolate.  The chocolate, unfortunately, seemed to have experienced some heat damage on the way over: one of the challenges of chocolate making and transportation given the summer temperatures. The buttery, malty aroma delivered cocoa and a more pleasing chocolate brownie aftertaste but left us disappointed at not being able to fully experience the results of their labour.  

Soklet are one of a handful of chocolate revolutionaries in India. Naviluna, followed by Mason & Co , Paul And Mike, All Things , La Folie and Soklet have been breaking down the perception of fine chocolate being something “foreign” and paving the way for it being grown, crafted and enjoyed in India, working towards sustainable incomes at home rather than sustainable supplies for the chocolate giants.   

Fjak – India 68% & Standout Idukki India 70%

This bar was crafted in Norway, with cacao sourced from the green hills of the Idukki region from the GoGround Beans and Spice Pvt.

The combined craftsmanship of the growers, the team at GoGround and Agur and Siv at Fjak produced a gentle sweet chocolate aroma; an exemplary melt and mouthfeel that gave way to central chocolate flavours, accompanied by strawberries and sprinkled with sweet raisins and a drizzle of treacle or floral honey; and a gentle but beautifully satisfying long, chocolatey aftertaste. Great work!

Simply wow.

Another chance to meet the people on the ground. On Instagram @goground.india we meet Ellen and Luca, a husband-and-wife team who built a dedicated fermentation and drying centre in Udumbannoor to give small farmers access to the quality rather than the confectionery market, along with the farmers pictured with their families on their smallholdings.

The same people are behind the beans for the next bar. The treatment of Swedish maker Friedrik Martinsson, in his factory in Kallared, helps us get to know them better. The raisins came through clearly in the aroma this time and carried through to the taste. The juicy acidity of plums expertly balanced with sweet raisin notes, building into a sweet high at the finish then settling back down into a nutty gianduja gorgeousness in the aftertaste.

Simply wow.

Storm & Bille Indien 70%

Our final encounter with the GoGround beans, crafted this time in Gothenburg by Johan Storm and Krispin Bille. We were beginning to recognise the sweet raisins greeting us in the aroma, this time accompanied by dried apricots. The melt, a little less even maybe but nevertheless revealing a kaleidoscope of flavours: fresh figs and sweet dried apricots like layers of a mixed fruit crumble, topped with a comforting butter, sugar and flour topping, caramelised at the edged.

I hoped Virginia Woolf would have approved of our discussions of neo-colonialism.

In Mrs Dalloway, Woolf shows us that to truly travel and know a place, seeing the exotic orchids is not enough; we need to meet the people who grow them and share the same soil. I hoped Virginia Woolf would have approved of my endeavours to achieve this and how the chocolate pairings have taken us from discussing the characters at Clarissa’s party, and how they bemoaned the decline of the Empire, to neo-colonialism through trade and the craft chocolate revolution. 

Sources and further reading:

Naviluna, followed by Mason & Co. and Pascati Artisan Chocolate. Soklet, Paul And Mike, Uns, All Things and La Folie

C-Spot, n.d. Chocolate Sources – Oceania – India. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed May 2021].

Hamilton, J., 2005. And There They Were. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed May 2021].

Janardhan, A., 2021. Inside the World of Indian Craft Chocolate. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed May 2021].

Stoker, A., 2011. Postcolonialism and Mrs. Dalloway. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 5 2021].

Woolf, V., 2020. Mrs Dalloway. Penguin Classics ed. s.l.:Penguin Random House.

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