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Life by Chocolate
The Chocolate Tree creates delicious handcrafted organic chocolates from bean to bar
For The Chocolate Tree, it all started with a tent. A massive handmade, solar-powered dome tent to be precise, transformed by Alastair and Friederike Gower into a travelling chocolaterie touring music festivals. By 2007 their exquisite artisan chocolates, still made at home, were also appearing in local farmers' markets.
In the five years since, the Gowers have expanded all aspects of their business, from the range of products made to the number of hand-picked, independent retailers who stock them. They have opened a chocolaterie, shop and cafe in Edinburgh and developed a chocolate factory in nearby Haddington. This growth has been carefully managed throughout. "Our priority has always been to get better not bigger, focusing on quality not quantity," says Alastair. "We want to have a positive effect across every element of our business."
"The temptation for an ethical consumer could be to avoid chocolate all together, but this is not going to help cacao farmers or the eco-systems in their countries."
Alastair Gower, The Chocolate Tree
The Chocolate Tree source cacao, chocolate's essential raw ingredient, from small organic plantations in Equador and Peru, through a UK buyer. Now they are also speaking directly with small cacao farmers in Peru, Madagascar and Trinidad. "Getting close to cacao farmers and understanding the communities involved in its production is extremely important to us, particularly as chocolate has gained a dark reputation associated with poor working conditions and even child slavery," explains Alastair. "The temptation for an ethical consumer could be to avoid chocolate all together, but this is not going to help cacao farmers or the eco-systems in their countries."
Bean to bar
The Chocolate Tree has banked with Triodos since 2008, so when the opportunity arose to buy a building near Haddington town centre in 2012 for conversion into their own chocolate factory, Alastair and Freiderike turned to the bank for loan finance.
Alastair says, "the location was important to us so that our team would be able to live, work and be a part of the local community. After working extensively on our business plan we found that every detail was carefully and patiently examined by Triodos, no stones were left unturned. This forced us to think through our decisions carefully and make them based on research and planning rather than just instinct. It is great to see a bank behaving in this way."
The final piece in the puzzle was the arrival of two spice mills from India. They have been specially converted to conch cacao, the part of the process that makes chocolate silky smooth. The equipment means they can now make chocolate from bean to bar here in the UK, offering complete transparency of their supply chain and a direct link with the cacao farmers on the other side of the world.
Ethics, science, art and fun come together in The Chocolate Tree's business. Their chocolaterie in Edinburgh is a mouthwatering showcase for their products - from single origin chocolate bars and handcrafted chocolates presented in origami boxes, to macarons and gelato. Imaginative and ingenious seasonal collections celebrate special occasions such as Christmas and Valentines Day - they even created haggis and whisky chocolates for Burns' Night this year. In many ways these are a metaphor for the Gowers' own story - proving that, with enough passion and the right ingredients, anything is possible.
photography ALLAN SHEDLOCK words KAREN BIGGAR