Ethical Easter eggs, not at any price

It’s curious how people find themselves in Cornwall. For Mike Longman, Director of Chocolarder, it was a simple flip of the coin after a draining week at work: here, or New Zealand?  An Economics graduate, high-end chef, free-diver and anti-slavery crusader with a mighty passion for fine chocolate, his is a fascinating story to tell.

“My wife and I needed to live in a place where we could breathe,” Mike recalls on their decision to move to Falmouth some 16 years ago. “We’d both had one heck of a week at work, doing really long hours but living in middle England without the space to recover. Professionally, I was where I wanted to be, in the kitchen of a Michelin-star fine dining restaurant, but the lifestyle was taking its toll. I was secretly very pleased the coin chose Cornwall that evening. My sister had been to Falmouth Uni and I’d always loved visiting. And of course, it was a lot easier moving 300 miles a mere few weeks later, than several thousand miles to the other side of the world!”

Mike grew up in rural Bedfordshire, before heading off to Loughborough University to study Economics. To earn some money whilst there, he worked as a chef and then, after graduating he moved to London to work. “I didn’t last long in an office environment,” he says. “Nothing stirred my passion as much as being a chef. The not-so-secret scientist in me loved to deconstruct food to truly understand flavour combinations.”

Once down in Cornwall, Mike worked for several years at the New Yard Restaurant on the Trelowarren Estate. “I loved its whole ethos – all local produce, noble ingredients and technically excellent dishes. I’d also developed a passion for all things chocolate so, at home, I began playing at how to make really delicious chocolate from scratch.

Once experiments had reached a level worthy of an outing, and keen the test the market, he got a stall at the Porthleven Christmas Fair. “That weekend could not have gone better,” Mike remembers. “I discovered that people will buy good quality, labour intensive, chocolate, even at a higher price. I think I got about 2 hours sleep that entire weekend – as fast as I could make the bars, they sold out!”

This was the end of 2011 and, by the turn of the new year, Mike had waved a fond farewell to his New Yard colleagues and established The Chocolarder. From the outset, he used his considerable food and business knowledge to bring the brand alive. “A lot of skills came together –  business, economics, quality ingredients and food processes etc – which allowed me to get going very quickly,” he explains.

“Importantly, sustainability and ethics were top of my agenda from the very start. We’re 100% plastic free – not just our own packaging but right down to the how the raw ingredients arrive with us, and how ‘compostable’ some of the claimed compostable items actually are. We’re super geeky about it. We spent months sourcing packaging makers and found only one solution that supplies materials with no polymer chain. Our packaging is not only non-plastic, it’s biodegradable in weeks.

“We apply the same principle to our bean-to-bar philosophy,” he continues. “Our production and manufacturing processes are 100% slavery free, and 100% carbon neutral. To my mind, this is how modern business should be.”

Pushed on the point of slavery, it is shocking to hear stories of child kidnapping, forced labour and corruption that still occurs within the industry on a global scale. “Sadly, it’s entrenched, which makes it really hard to get away from,” he comments. “The true horrors are difficult to digest, and it needs bold action for the cycle to be broken. Education amongst consumers is essential, alongside government lobbying. It’s a long road ahead, but my mantra for Chocolarder chocolate from the very start has been ‘no compromise’.”

And there is none.

The cocoa farmers who supply Mike earn 50% more for their beans than the set fair trade price. Instead of flying to meet these farmers – he won’t justify the carbon footprint – Mike works very closely with Cool Earth and the RSPB and a couple of other charities on the ground in Nicaragua, Peru, Ecuador, Sierra Leone and Madagascar. They source ethical family farmers and organisations keen to work with Mike. “We Skype regularly and have built very good relationships with them this way,” says Mike. “In Indonesia, we also support local schools to help raise households out of poverty and provide mothers the opportunity to work. And back in here in Cornwall, we’re looking to save and use the papery cocoa shells which are removed as part of the cocoa bean roasting process. The idea is that they can be made into solid fuel briquettes which can then be donated to those in fuel poverty.”

More than 20% of Chocolarder’s cocoa beans arrive in Falmouth under sail, courtesy of New Dawn Traders, with the percentage rising as the business grows. “I’m currently searching for a new humidity-controlled warehouse and once that’s in place, we’ll be able to bring the beans under sail in far greater numbers,” says Mike. “And it’s great – shipped sailed chocolate has a great following amongst our customers.”

Making Chocolarder chocolate is acutely labour intensive – starting with sifting and sorting the beans by hand when they arrive in Falmouth to remove bits of rope, sticks and stones. This is followed by the roasting process – which varies bean to bean according to their country of origin and roasting profiles.

The roasted beans are then winnowed and stone ground into a chocolate paste which is left to mature for 30 days. “This is when the tannins are removed and the flavours oxidised to get the mellow, earthy flavours,” Mike explains. “After a month, the chocolate is melted again and combined with evaporated cane juice. We get our raw cane from a brilliant farm in Brazil which is also nurturing 28 endangered species.”

The chocolate is then tempered to give it its smooth velvety texture before any additional natural flavours are added, such as wild Cornish gorse, heather honeycomb and, most recently, oat milk. Then the batches are poured into chocolate bars and wrapped in Chocolarder’s signature plastic-free packaging.

Mike wouldn’t have it any other way. “Luckily, I have a brilliant team on board as I’m obsessed by attention to detail and all the intimate processes that go into making Chocolarder bars, boxes and, at this time of year, Easter eggs.”

He has an impressive customer base too: as far afield as Japan and the USA, Australia and New Zealand, as well closer to home in the UK. “We’re so humbled, even now nearly 10 years on, that people advocate our stance on chocolate and the cocoa bean trade. Sometimes I still feel like an industry imposter,” says Mike. “We hope the message is getting out there: to eat good quality, ethically sound chocolate, less often. Yes, is it more expensive, but much like the eat-less-meat movement, the more we all buy into sustainability, the better support there is for local farmers.”

And despite his all-consuming mission to make the best fairly-traded chocolate, Mike always finds time to hang out at the beach (or under the water) in Falmouth. “My other passion,” he confides, “is free-diving. It’s like meditation under water. If ever I need to think things through, it’s my go-to place. I only took up the hobby when we moved down here, but five or six metres down is an incredible place to be – the clarity of the water gives me clarity of thought. Other than that, I just love being in Cornwall with my family… it’s the lifestyle we dreamt of all those years ago, sat on the sofa about to flip that coin.”

We have our widest ever range of Chocolarder bars and Easter eggs in stock. Bars from £5.50; Easter eggs £22.  You can also buy online at chocolarder.com.

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