Interview with Rochelle Harrison of The Wellington Chocolate Factory

17 January 2018

Wellington's Own Artisan Chocolatier

New Zealand's first bean-to-bar chocolatier using 100% organic and fair trade ingredients works right here in Wellington, and we were lucky enough to visit her.  Rochelle Harrison started and single-handedly runs The Cocoa Press [Feb 2014 update: now "The Wellington Chocolate Factory"], and her passion to create gourmet chocolate from scratch is what makes it taste so exceptional.  When you pick up one of her bars you're holding two days of her work and a whole pod of organic cocoa beans (pictured below with her original wrapping). 


Learning to Make Chocolate

Rochelle worked as a pastry chef straight out of school creating sweet delights and delicate baked goods for guests at premium Wellington venues including The White House and Te Papa.  In 2010 she started a business using another company's chocolate to create edible art such as intricate Russian dolls and eventually became intrigued at the possibility of making her own chocolate.  Amazingly, she taught herself how.  Her main resources were websites and forums filled with passionate artisans whom she now joins to both help newcomers and continue broadening her own work. 

Once she had the theory then good old Kiwi ingenuity came into play: she found a suitable grinder (technically for Indian spices) on TradeMe and jumped into chocolate making.  "There were a lot of late nights, reading, stress and tears".  Since then she's ground thousands of beans by hand; built a custom husk sifter with her dad; customized her machines, and tested and retested temperatures and times in a "trial and error process to first of all just make it work, and then to get the best flavour". 

The beans of six different countries were sampled before Rochelle settled on her source.  "I tried Fiji, Samoa, Peru, Cuba, Ghana, Venezuela.  I decided on the Dominican Republic because the beans are so fruity, they have so much flavour on their own".  Now that the Cocoa Press is up and running she is one of only two artisan bean-to-bar chocolatiers in New Zealand.

Rochelle at work 

The Cocoa Press' Original Bar

"A friend tried the 64% cocoa bars [her first bar before her range expanded with the Chocolate Factory rebrand] and said they seemed like 80% and he's right".  Rochelle's bars are a mature taste experience more similar to fine wine than kids' candy, and she describes them fittingly: "there are citrus notes in there, blueberries, oak, red wine..."  You can savour each for minutes afterwards as with famed Scharffen Berger or single origin Michel Cluizel chocolates.  This depth comes from her quality ingredients: organic cocoa beans and sugar.  That's right, only two ingredients.  Most other producers use vanilla, emulsifiers, extra cocoa butter, and all manner of other additives to change the taste and texture of their product but Rochelle achieves her robust flavours thanks simply to her choice of bean and her hands-on work. 

Choosing Organic and Fair Trade Chocolate

Rochelle is the first chocolatier in New Zealand to choose 100% certified organic and fair trade ingredients.  Her organic beans and sugar allow her to make a product which is safe and naturally flavoursome, and their fair trade origins are aligned with her principles as a person and as a producer.  "Fair trade is a win-win for producers and consumers.  It gives consumers an opportunity to purchase with their values".  She is proud to support the work done with the farmers of her Trade Aid-imported beans and loves to see the results of Trade Aid's partnership with the growers, including the building of new water systems, churches and schools.    

Expanding the Range of Gourmet New Zealand Chocolate

"I've had to take some big risks" says Rochelle of establishing her own business.  She's spent years investing in equipment, trialling recipes, designing packaging, marketing, getting her business up and running, and still making further plans.  "I want bigger equipment!  And staff - to give some people work opportunities and be able to import more beans and make more product.  My grinders are 100% dairy free but I want to make milk chocolate in a separate machine.  I'm searching for certified organic and fairly traded milk at the moment.  I'd also love to do more decorative work too". 

Now that a premium product has been achieved Rochelle can look towards the future of her enterprise, and we can look forward to what she creates.

You can buy Rochelle's organic, fair trade chocolates online and from our shops.

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