Full of beans
Suffolk’s Pump Street Chocolate has taken confectionery and bread to harmonious new heights – and now they’ve treats for homebaking, too.
Sweet treats from Pump Street Chocolate
AT PUMP STREET Chocolate’s Suffolk HQ, the air is so heady with the scent of cocoa it’s enough to make one delirious. Augustus Gloop would be all over the vats of glossy molten chocolate, and who could blame him? Pump Street makes some of the country’s most beguiling bars. Creamy Madagascan milk; dark with notes of berries from Grenada; smooth Jamaican with hints of honey and rum. It’s one of Britain’s leading bean-to-bar makers, and a far cry from the mass-producing monoliths of sugary confectionery.
But Pump Street’s founder, Chris Brennan, didn’t set out to make chocolate. In 2008, having retired from IBM 10 years earlier aged 53, and frustrated he couldn’t buy good bread locally, he taught himself how to make sourdough loaves. He sold them at a farmer’s market
home and they were an instant hit. In the picturesque Suffolk village of Orford, he found a Grade-ii-listed building ideal for selling his pastries, Eccles cakes and naturally leavened bread, and a bakehouse half a mile away where he could make them. Chris and his daughter Joanna launched Pump Street Bakery in 2010 to great acclaim. The café oozes rustic charm: timber shelves lined with loaves, whitewashed walls, pine tables and a wood-fired stove for customers to gather around with hot drinks and freshly baked pastries.
A few years in, Chris began to consider chocolate-making, after discovering similarities in the process of making sourdough. ‘The yeast and bacteria that ferment cocoa beans are the same ones I use in the bakery to make starter,’ he explains, ‘so the two things share the same heritage.’
He got off to a rocky start. Chris paid £600 for his first bag of cacao, but the chocolate he made ‘tasted like fungus’, so he threw the beans away. Undeterred, he took the advice of a friend who told him about Swiss-born producer Samuel von Rutte, who grows superb cacao beans in Ecuador. Although more expensive, Chris ordered a few bags and quickly realised that the highest-quality beans make the very best chocolate.
Now, Chris and Joanna buy cacao direct from farmers and cooperatives in Ecuador, Grenada, Jamaica, Honduras, Madagascar and the Solomon Islands. They pay up to four times as much as big companies that tend to use west African beans in cheap, mass-produced bars. ‘We develop relationships with excellent farmers around the world and pay them far above the market rate, so they can have economically sustainable businesses, investing in their growing and processing capacities for the future,’ says Joanna. They avoid cheap the beans from west Africa, where children are often forced to work on the farms.
Chris uses different roast times and temperatures to coax the best flavours out of the ‘origins’, the term used for beans from specific areas – sometimes from farms as small as seven acres – which have their own taste profile. ‘We’re a bakery by heritage, so we know the importance of roasting,’ he says. ‘I think a good percentage of what we’ve achieved comes from the unique way we do it.’ This involves roasting the beans twice: once at a very high temperature in a steam oven, and again at a lower temperature. ‘The moisture from the steam and heat creates flavour,’ Chris says.
The roasted beans are ground into a paste and stirred (a process called conching) for up to five days in small batches in grinders to release and develop the flavours. Beans from von Rutte’s farm in Ecuador, for example, have a rich nutty character, while those from Bachelor’s Hall Estate in Jamaica have hints of juicy berries. Then, like fine wine, the choconear
Chris paid £600 for his first bag of cacao, but the chocolate he made ‘tasted like fungus’
late is laid down for a month or more to mature; poured into containers that allow the good flavours to meld together and the less delicious, acidic aromas to evaporate. The chocolate is then tempered – melted and reset in a controlled way to make shiny bars that break with a clean snap. Chris is constantly tweaking the process to improve the results. ‘I’m a geek, absolutely,’ he admits.
Having perfected their bars, it made sense for father and daughter to join up the two specialisms, using chocolate in bread products, and the bakes – chunks of Eccles cakes or crumbs of sourdough – in their bars. ‘We thought, “If sourdough and chocolate have the same genesis, why don’t we put bread back into chocolate? Everyone puts chocolate in bread, why not go the other way?”’ Adding toasted sourdough and a touch of sea salt to Ecuadorian chocolate makes for a crunchy, slightly malty result that is Pump Street’s most popular bar. There’s toffee-scented white chocolate studded with chunky brownbread pieces, and dark chocolate filled with fruity, spicy bits of Eccles cake.
The Brennans’ chocolate is still made in small batches and much is done by hand: sorting the beans, sifting the nibs, and packaging and labelling the finished chocolate. To cope with demand they recently expanded into a new and larger factory a few miles from the café and bakery. At this time of year, Christmas orders flood the schedule – new festive products include sourdough panettone, as well as sublime darkchocolate bars made with the sweet Italian bread, and others filled with gingerbread biscuit crumbs. And there’s also a new range of chocolate ingredients for home bakers: tins of button-like ‘pastilles’, cocoa nibs (crushed skinless cocoa beans), and natural cocoa powder. ‘Pump Street’s always been about special baking, so a range of chocolate ingredients for baking makes sense,’ Joanna says. ‘The chocolate we use for baking is exactly the same chocolate that we sell for eating – we don’t think you should start with something that isn’t pleasant to eat on its own. But it’s in a more convenient format.’
Father and daughter continue to play hands-on roles in the business: Chris in new product development, and Joanna in recipes, the café and events. Are there any plans for Chris to actually stop? ‘We talk about him retiring in jest,’ Joanna says, but it’s clear the answer is not just yet. Long may this delicious collaboration continue. Baking tins of pastilles and powders from £10, pumpstreetchocolate.com
Clockwise from below The raw beans; chocolate gingerbread loaf; mince pies; mincemeat in process; the Orford café, quiet pre-opening, then bustling with customers; the conching lasts up to five days