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How local chocolate tastings promote healthy trade practices

Origins Chocolate Bar's events are a way to experiment with chocolate from all over the world

Origins Chocolate Bar had its grand opening at its new location at 6th and Victoria streets in July 2023. Cocoaro also operates out of the same space. Katey Wright is second from the left; Peter Jorgensen is on the far right. Ria Renouf.

It’s another way to explore the world without having to leave the comforts of New Westminster.

After Origins Chocolate Bar had its grand re-opening at its new location—in Downtown New West—its popular chocolate tastings have returned. The sweet—or slightly bitter spot, depending on how you like your chocolate—is owned by Katey Wright and Peter Jorgensen, who actually had no intentions of opening up the shop five years ago. Their love of artisan chocolate began after attending a couple of tastings: the theatre is also one of their biggest loves.

Speaking to the pair, their love of chocolate is most certainly no act.

“We’ve been waiting to get back to this, and really jumping [in] with both feet for so long. The COVID-19 pandemic, of course, shut down tastings entirely,” Wright tells The Anchor.

Origins was previously operating out of the River Market at the Quay, but later made its way over to Victoria St., not far from 6th. The new space is conducive to tastings: at the centre of the room—where we’re seated for this interview—is a beautiful golden-coloured wood table. As we discuss the importance of not only bringing people together through chocolate—and chocolate tastings—you can tell they care a lot about how they educate people about the need to support traceable products.

“People don’t really know [that chocolate farming] is not what you think it is,” explains Wright, adding they were first exposed to a chocolate tasting put on by David Mincey, the man behind The Chocolate Project in Victoria. 

They took home one bar and noted how relatively expensive it was, when comparing to mass-produced chocolate—but after attending more events (Jorgensen says it was probably the “eighth or ninth one”) the reality of the industry began to set in.

“When it came to starting [Origins], that was really one of the things, because we knew it had to be more than just chocolate,” says Jorgensen, adding that they’re proud of the fact each of the bars they carry can be traced back to farmers: practices must be ethical and celebrate the hard work done by farmers.

Jorgensen adds it’s common in mass chocolate production practices for vulnerable populations—including women and children of colour—to get swept up in unjust labour and wage practices.

Another side effect the duo reminisce over is how many smiles they’ve been able to help put on the faces of people in—and beyond—New West. Wright remembers mentions an order that they put together at the height of the pandemic. Much of their practice in their business amplifies what The Chocolate Project has been all about: championing small-batch chocolate and chocolate makers,

“There was a woman who couldn’t see her daughter on her [30th] birthday. We went over there with this whole big thing [of chocolate],” explains Wright.

“There have been so many gifts like that,” underscores Jorgensen.

“It’s one step beyond fair trade. It’s direct trade,” says Wright. “These chocolate bars are all made by makers who purchased those beans directly from farmers or farm collectives.” While there is sometimes an intermediary who connects the farmers with buyers—or in some cases, farmers with the chocolate makers—being able to trace where the bar came from is imperative for this pair.

“If we start educating people, and start letting them know that actually, chocolate is an indulgence that we need to savour the same way we would a great bottle of wine, that’s the way it’s supposed to be,” Jorgensen elaborates.

Origins will be hosting the events out of the space it shares with Cocoaro Craft Chocolate at 538 Victoria St. During the tastings, participants will learn how best to consume the chocolate to maximize the experience of notes and flavour profiles.

The upcoming gin and chocolate tasting is a bit of an experiment according to the couple, but this is an opportunity for people to try something new.

“We did a chocolate tasting in this space a week ago Saturday,” Jorgensen recalls, “[it was] the first one in this space, and it was, it felt so good. It was lovely.”

“People start talking and chatting to each other, things loosen up a lot, and they laugh and go, ‘oh, I didn’t like this one!’ And somebody wants to spit something out. That’s completely fine. Everybody’s just trying stuff,” says Wright.

Jorgensen nods in agreement, “it’s a fun night.”

As of publication there are four tastings scheduled over the next three months. These include:

  • A chocolate and gin tasting. This tasting will highlight Granville Island’s Liberty Distillery ORIGINS gin. There will be five pairings to go with the award-winning gin. Happening Thursday, Sept. 29.

  • A chocolate 101 tasting. Whether you need to brush up on your chocolate tasting skills, or want to learn how best to experience the bean-turned-bar, you’ll learn the best techniques for tasting chocolate, what the percentages in each bar mean, and what the difference is between cocoa and cacao. Happening Saturday, Oct. 14.

  • Drinking chocolate 101. Yep, there are even certain kinds of chocolate best used for beverages—and it goes beyond hot chocolate. Happening Thursday, Nov. 9

  • Chocolate 101 with Fresco. This is a chocolate 101 tasting with a twist: Fresco Chocolate’s owners will join Wright and Jorgensen for the event. Fresco is an award-winning chocolate maker and shop based in Lynden, WA—and they were actually supposed to visit in 2020, until the height of the pandemic took place. Happening Saturday, Nov. 18.

If you would like to book tickets, be sure to do so through Origins’ website. You can also find the shop on Instagram.

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