Cartografie: Love, Chocolate and Ethics for Valentine’s Day

Catrografie's Valentine Box

Photo provided

Catrografie's Valentine Box

Catrografie's Valentine Box

Photo provided

Is chocolate the perfect token of love to keep romance sparky? As a self-avowed chocolate connoisseur/snob I certainly think so. Neither am I alone: an impressive 38% of the UK population bought chocolates for last Valentine’s Day according to a major credit card company’s research. Millennials apparently spend the most on Valentine’s. However, it has to be the right chocolate to hit the spot. What I am after is a blend of terroir, taste, ethical and sustainable criteria and design too – after all, we do eat with our eyes, especially when it comes to indulgent treats.

Meet Kae Shibata

This is only the second Valentine’s Day for Kae Shibata, who opened Cartografie Chocolate at the beginning of last year. She fervently believes and delivers on all these values – provenance, taste, ethics and sustainability. Her preparations for selling chocolate with love started well before the New Year with planning and ordering ingredients; production started in earnest in mid-January.

Haute couture & haute cuisine

Working well ahead of the season is second nature to Shibata. She started her career in fashion, working as a couture assistant for Vivienne Westwood after a degree in women’s wear design. Her training as a high-end seamstress/designer means impeccable attention to detail, her next career step means that ultra-clean workspaces are paramount.

Despite having no chef’s training beyond an obsessive passion for food, Shibata was taken on as a stagiaire at London’s The Ritz hotel, no less. Her cutting skills were immediately apparent to executive chef John Williams who won the hotel restaurant’s first Michelin star. Within a week of her trial, she was offered a proper commis chef role. “John Williams, absolutely changed my life,” she says. “He told me that my steady and meticulous hand when cutting the pâtes de fruits for petits fours made a deep impression on him. He kindly took me under his wing and gave me so much support and encouragement.”

Tea at The Ritz

She found herself a sous chef running probably the most iconic 5-star-hotel afternoon tea service in the world at The Ritz, serving on average 420 teas a day. She also became the kitchen’s chocolate specialist. Shibata explains: “I have the patience to fully understand how temperamental and temperature-sensitive chocolate can be. It must be the Japanese in me [her mother is Japanese]. I like to work in a neat and clean way that suits chocolate. I discovered both how complex the world of chocolate is and how unethical much of the supply chain remains and resolved to do what I can to change that.”

Going it alone

Shibata decided it was time to go solo after the birth of her first son, Rex, with her partner, chef-proprietor of Oxeye Sven-Hanson Britt. They met while they both worked in the kitchens of The Ritz.

Cartografie was born out of the pandemic. Pragmatically, Shibata wanted to create a business that would work via e-commerce whilst pursuing her love of fine craft, especially chocolate. Cartografie’s Valentine’s Day collection exemplifies her desire to share her philosophy of responsibility and sustainability without compromising on taste and style.

All the chocolate currently used at Cartografie is sourced from Original Beans, the first climate-positive chocolate company who were already committed to regenerative agriculture long before it became common parlance. Shibata buys direct once a year to save on shipping. Original Beans sources single-varietal cocoa from remote rainforests identified by owner and committed conservationist, German-born Philipp Kauffmann, whose mantra is to “dare to make a larger impact”.

The Flavours

Working with chocolate that truly tastes of its provenance with distinctive, profound, fruit-forward complexity, there is no need for over-elaboration in the chocolates. Shibata’s Japanese aesthetic runs deep, she prefers purity especially in chocolate. Visitors to their ultra-stylish marble and black atelier on London Island near Canning Town, designed by Studio Minerva, her investment and design partners, can see the chocolate making progress. Every stage from conching to tempering to filling heart shaped moulds is done by hand by Shibata and her French-trained assistant chocolatier.

Customers can request a name to be handwritten on the chocolate hearts which adds to their charm. The Morello cherry and black tea nuances of the earthy Cru Virunga chocolate heart are elegantly matched by Shibata’s own-recipe Piedmontese hazelnut praline – she insists on roasting the nuts herself until golden.

The Valentine’s chocolate box, an exquisite origami-esque creation by Studio Minerva with cut-out pop-up hearts, is a selection of both the Original Beans Cru Virunga and beurre noisette and an exceptional Original Beans Dominican Republic-sourced Yuna single-varietal white chocolate with a creamy, sophisticated, subtle banana-milk flavour and velvety mouthfeel filled with raspberry caramel.

This surely is the delicious future of fine chocolate: melt your heart and cool the climate [we stole that line from Original Beans].

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