So, let’s start at the very beginning… what are the origins of Pump Street?
Pump Street started with some memorable, delicious experiences. My father and I were devouring ficelles (a long thin bread with nuts and raisins in it) at a small bakery called Bread and Roses in Paris and wondering why we couldn’t get the same standard of bread easily in London at the time. This motivated Chris to learn to bake at home, which took years of self-directed study and practice. In the process he began to bake large volumes of bread and sell them at the local market in Orford, Suffolk, to benefit the primary school. The response was like a tidal wave of support and led us to open the bakery together in November 2010.
We incorporated chocolate making into our business in 2013 and are now proud to be both Bakers and Chocolate Makers.
What is your core philosophy and how does this set you apart?
Our core aim has always been to produce the best quality bread, pastry and chocolate possible. The key word is “best” – what is best for us is primarily in the eating, but under the surface that quality is built on relationships, provenance, expertise and knowledge, and a deep dedication to traditional processes.
Tell me about your stance on sustainability and circularity and how it effects the way that you run your business.
We want to be part of a positive change in the food system, away from an exploitative, industrial system that takes from both the earth and from people – workers and consumers – towards a system that is designed to take care of our precious resources, deliver nutritious, delicious food, and treat everyone fairly along the way.
We have built diligence in the application of our ethical standards into our core values. This means as a team we are continually assessing how we work with suppliers, the impact we have in our production, and how we package and deliver our products to consumers, so that we can provide a viable, true cost alternative for consumers wanting to buy thoughtfully.
You only produce ‘single farm’ chocolate, why is this?
Chocolate is not just one thing – just like red wine, it can be vastly different depending on the variety, terroir, climate, and post-harvest processes. We strive to bring the very best of the breadth of flavours that chocolate has to offer to our customers – and to us this means acknowledging and celebrating the origins that contribute so much of the flavour to the finished chocolate.
Furthermore, we feel this level of traceability holds us accountable to the farmers, for making the best chocolate we can with their beans, and to our customers, by giving them access to exactly where what they are buying comes from. We pay the farmers well above fair trade prices to ensure that they can pay their teams fairly and maintain the land and their infrastructure, so there is no need to obfuscate who they are.
What are the main issues facing the chocolate/cocoa industry that you feel are not highlighted enough to the consumer? Do you do anything to combat this?
Naming the farm and farmer on our packaging is a conscious, decisive way to highlight the inequalities in the cocoa industry. The industrial chocolate machine as a whole (there are few exceptions) is built on the exploitative trade of commodity cocoa between very small-scale growers, paid far below a living wage, and a complex hierarchy of middle men leading to large makers in Europe and America. Little of the value of the final chocolate is left behind in the country of origin, and there is no transparency or accountability expected from the four big cocoa companies. In fact, they have created plans and programmes that pay lip service to addressing the poverty and inequality that they perpetuate but refuse to do the simple thing; pay more for their cocoa.
We do exactly that. Pay what the farmers want and need and talk about and celebrate that relationship. By elevating the work of the farmer, we hope to create a groundswell of demand from consumers for more information, forcing the bigger players to clean up their acts.
What countries do you work in and why so? Is there a difference between cocoa farming across regions?
We don’t discriminate between growing regions; if the cocoa beans will make delicious chocolate and we can work directly with the farmer who is farming responsibly and looking after his or her team, we will do so. However, there are a lot of barriers to this, and geography is one. In Africa, a lot of farms are very small and ferment their beans using a heap fermentation method, which doesn’t yield the consistency of fermentation that we are after. But we have recently started working with a cooperative in Togo that gathers from their growers and ferments centrally with very good results; there are always exceptions to the rule.
Why is it so important to have a direct relationship with the cocoa farmers? If you were dealing instead with national cocoa boards, what impact would this have on the farmers?
We bought one of our first sacks of cocoa, before we even brought any bars to market, from a cocoa board. It made chocolate that had a very off, slightly mouldy flavour, which was devastating as we were so excited about it!
Cocoa boards are a vestige of colonial structures of control over trade; they dictate the price to farmers, and they tend to route cocoa into the commodity market. They amalgamate the yields from all the farms in a country into one product, removing the incentive to improve quality at the farm level, and leaving farmers dependent on their dictated farm gate price.
We’re really proud to work with Desmond Jadusingh who was the first farmer in Jamaica to develop his own post-harvest processing, and then lobbied the government to sell his own dried beans directly to international makers.
What is the process that goes into your bean to bar chocolate? Does it make a difference operating on a smaller scale?
The process that we use to make chocolate in some ways is very similar to larger scale chocolate making, but our smaller batch size allows us to maintain a closer attention to detail which is key to our finished chocolate being as delicious as possible.
We hand sort our beans on arrival at our factory, to ensure only the best quality beans are made into chocolate. We then tailor our roasting to bring the best out of each origin, roasting whole beans to ensure we maintain the nuances of flavour.
Our chocolate making team taste all the batches throughout the grinding and conching to ensure they are developing as we would expect.
You started life as an artisan bakery, how does this influence your chocolate-making process?
I think that as bakers, we learned that the balance of a scientific, process-driven approach with an understanding of nuances in flavour and texture is key to maintaining the best quality, and we applied this to making chocolate. While we have strict methods that we follow, we are constantly tasting, questioning and tweaking to make sure the chocolate is at its best when it reaches the customer.
Also, our bread and pastries have formed the basis of our bestselling Bakery Series Chocolate Bars. Taking our most renowned bakery products, with inclusions such as sourdough bread crumbs, rye crumbs and crumbled Eccles cakes and combining them with our single origin chocolate, resulting in some extremely unique bars.
Tell me about The Fermentation Project!
The Fermentation Project is a really exciting example of what we are able to do when we work directly with farmers. We worked with Roger Turner at Tulloch Estates in Jamaica to develop their post-harvest processing using a step involving boosting the fermentation of their beans with a wheat flour based sourdough starter. We found that compared to controls the beans ended up with much more fully developed flavour and evenness in the fermentation when the beans are cut in half. The resulting chocolate is smooth, and rich with notes of toasted hazelnuts and raisins.
Do you have a favourite single origin chocolate?
I don’t! I taste so much chocolate that my preferences change very much from day to day based on how I am feeling, what I have eaten, etc. There are certain chocolates we make that I am especially proud of, for different reasons. Recently we made a small batch of bars with very special Piura Blanco beans from Don Ramon’s farm in La Pareja, Peru and the flavour was exceptional – we felt very lucky to have access to those beans and I really enjoyed eating that bar.
Any parting words?
Eat more traceable chocolate! If I can encourage everyone to buy chocolate that names where it is from, and to explore the amazing world of flavour in single origin chocolate, my work is done, and the industry change that is so desperately needed will begin to happen.