Food, Food Artisans

Ari’s Holiday Gift Suggestions pt. 7


Stay tuned as we post selections from Ari’s list in the coming weeks!

Askinosie Dark Chocolate from Tanzania

I love everything about this chocolate. The flavor is fantastic. It’s a bit on the softer end of the flavor spectrum than most dark chocolates, yet still intensely chocolatey because of its high cocoa content. It’s definitely more cocoa-y than most of our other dark chocolate bars, with a slight hint of cinnamon. Shawn himself says it has “hints of tobacco.” The main thing is it’s complex and well balanced, with a nice finish and it really doesn’t taste like any other chocolate that I’ve had. All of which makes it well worth checking out. Mouth watering. Clean finish. Makes me want to eat more every time I taste it.

askinosie_logo_rough_brownThen there’s the story. Shawn Askinosie, after two decades as a very successful trial lawyer in his hometown of Springfield, Missouri, decided he wanted to spend the second half of his work life doing something he was passionate about, some- thing that also made a difference for people in need. He chose chocolate, which he’d loved for his whole life. He succeeded on all counts. Askinosie chocolate is some of THE best I’ve had anywhere in the world. Every one of his bars is fantastic—whether it’s the Honduras, the Davao from the Philippines, or the bar made from Ecuadorian beans, each has its own unique flavor, and all are delicious. I’m very high on the El Rustico bar that he’s been doing for us, to our recipe, for many years now—dark chocolate, more coarsely ground than usual (more in the old style of the Aztecs), studded with snippets of Mexican vanilla bean. In each case he works very closely with the growers, getting to know them, teaching them about quality, paying bonuses to them based on the overall financial performance of the Askinosie Chocolate Company. He does an exceptional job of spec’ing super high quality cacao, which contributes enormously to the quality of the finished bar.

At the top of my list right now is this Tenende chocolate bar from
 Tanzania. On this project, Shawn really outdid himself by stacking up so many good deeds it’s even more inspiring than his other
already inspiring activity. The work to make this bar started with a
project Shawn initiated with the inner city high school that’s located
not far from his plant. “It was literally a bunch of high school kids
that we assigned a project to figure out what country of origin we
should use for our next bar. The class was actually also sponsored
by Drury University and the college students were mentoring the
high school students. The students met once a week for a year to
work on it, and at the end of the project they picked Tanzania as the
country we should source beans from. Then we worked together to raise money to send the high school students there. I told them from the beginning that we weren’t just going to go there to travel, but that we were going to do something good for the people there. We raised about $70,000 to pay for the travel and to dig a deep water well for the village.”

This summer, Shawn went back to Tanzania for his annual trip to meet with the growers. Among other activities, he decided to put the visioning process that he’d learned here at Zingerman’s to work with the growers. I’m pretty sure it’s the first time anyone in the world has done visioning work of that sort with a group or rural cacao farmers. Here’s what he wrote after the session:

We had an afternoon session on a 10-year vision plan for the Mababu Cocoa Farmer Cooperative. I spent the morning touring farms with them on bicycle, then taught them how to make hot cocoa on open fire. By this point I knew them pretty well. I posed the following question to them: When I come back here 10 years from now, what will I see? They started with an enthusiastic discussion right away. After much discussion they listed the following areas of visioned improvement: electricity, housing, trucks to help transport beans, learning about the world thru TV and media. Interestingly, it is not their goal to grow in size but they would like to diversify into other businesses. I asked them to write me a letter in Swahili by the time they ship our beans in October and that they all sign it. They will write it in present tense as if it is 2013 the way Zingerman’s does it. When the group was finished, Mr. Livingston, one of the growers, spoke aloud to the group: ‘I’m an old man but this discussion makes me feel young again.’”

For more on the visioning process that inspired Shawn and Mr. Livingston, see Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 1; A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business. Or better still, come to ZingTrain’s 2-day Creating a Vision of Greatness seminar on March 20-21, 2014 or June 9-10, 2014. I’ll be leading and we’ll be providing plenty of Tanzanian chocolate to everyone there to stimulate your creative energies!