I’ve been a huge fan of Paul A Young since he opened his first shop in London in 2006. The flavours of his chocolates always create a sense of intrigue and live up to their descriptions.
My favourite is still the Margarita which I had at his Wardour Street store about two years ago. Every taste you would expect to taste from a margarita. I don’t know how he does it but he does and it’s always with a cheery smile and a friendly chat. I’ve met him many a time now and I’m always blown away by his sense of ‘normal’. He really is a down to earth, normal bloke with an amazing sense of entrepreneurship and innovation. This I find incredibly inspiring.
“You become a retailer to make people happy”
There are many, many cafes in London. Paul’s is nestled at the entrance to Heals on Tottenham Court Road. What makes this one different that you can sit and savour your favourite chocolates with a cup of piping hot chocolate – properly hot dark chocolate with no hint of powders or pastes. It’s incredibly intense. Too much and I get a headrush. Sipping hot chocolate here takes me back to my university days in Aix-en-Provence with a smile for the memories. Paul once said to me that “you don’t become a retailer to make money. You become a retailer to make people happy”. If this is one of his driving forces then it’s not difficult to see why he’s doing so well.
The world’s first whole bean-to-bar chocolate
There has been much change in the world of chocolate in the last couple of years. Chocolatiers are growing in profile. Startups such as Cocoa Runners and festivals such as The Chocolate Festival and Salon Du Chocolat are opening us up to worldwide chocolate masters and challenging our perceptions of what chocolate is and should be.
Paul is firmly up there with those masters and ahead of his peers has launched a bar which uses the whole cocoa bean. Nothing is shelled. Nothing is wasted. The entire bean is granite ground with organic sugar to produce a 73% bar and 64% bar using a blend of Criollo, Trinitario and Forestero beans from Menakao in Madagascar.
“The cocoa bean is so precious and special that I didn’t want to waste any part of it. I wanted to showcase the bean in a different way and leaving the skin doesn’t get rid of the fruity flavour. There’s a nice balance to it.”
The process is not as complicated as you’d think
I always thought making chocolate was complicated. Perhaps it’s the magic of the stages so elaborately described in Roald Dhal’s classic Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. But as Paul went through the different stages, it was really clear that with a bit of muscle you can make this in a small space with little complex machinery. “You used to need to spend thousands on getting set up to produce chocolate but as the industry is evolving, the machines are becoming smaller and more affordable. You don’t need lots of kit”
When the beans arrive from Madacasgar, they need to be checked to get rid of any that have been damaged in transit or are mouldy. This is done by hand. They don’t smell too good at this point. Think cheese vs chocolate. The taste is as you’d expect. Bitter. Not unpleasant but there is no sweetness at this point.
They are then roasted in their skins at a low heat to avoid scorching. Now the smell was more familiar. Paul used a KitchenAid blender to blend them down to a coarse powder. This tasted better but I think that’s my sense of smell compensating the sense of taste.
And then they were ground further and blended with sugar. A piece of specialist equipment with granite rollers but I love the use of an everyday paint stripper to keep them warm during this process.
Halfway through grinding the taste was magnificent. I could have eaten this on its own or poured over some vanilla ice cream or toast. “You can get it to this stage at home with a bit of elbow grease”
Once it gets to the right consistency it’s tempered and set in moulds. I liked the 64% bar. It was earthy, grainy and there was a lot of fruitiness at the tip of my tongue. “This is a great way to retain the fruity flavour of the Madagascan bean”
I’ve been nibbling a piece a day with a glass of red wine. A perfect stress reliever. But these truffles were simply delicious. The ganache is a water based ganache to keep even more of the flavour undiluted via any cream.
Is it for everyday or every other day?
A 50g bar retails at £6.95 so you could indulge in a bar over an evening in front of the fire or use it sparingly like I’ve done over my morning porridge.
It’s rather lovely in melted form too. I drizzled it over some Frangipane Tarts just to experiment with the flavour. To be honest it seemed too good for this. Unless is was a chocolate tart I would stick to the bar or truffle form.
Congratulations Paul and the team behind Paul A Young on your retail and innovation success.