Chocolate Noise: From Blog to Book

A preview of Bean-to-Bar Chocolate: America's Craft Chocolate Revolution

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I never wanted to start a blog about chocolate. That’s my biggest secret, so let’s just get that out of the way at the beginning.

When I came up with the idea of a site about bean-to-bar chocolate in 2015, I imagined it as a 12-part series of long-form stories about the people and craft behind the chocolate. A longtime food writer who was well-versed in the art of the listicle, I didn’t want to add to the noise but rather cut through it, to tell stories about the things that matter. That’s why I call Chocolate Noise an experience or website, not a blog (and get made fun of endlessly by my family for those lofty words).

Of course, I’m also a walking sweet tooth, a chocoholic in the truest sense of the word: I even wrote a poem about chocolate cake in the eighth grade. My mom loves to recount that family vacation where I refused to speak for a whole day but rather scowled and grimaced (I was a teenager, what can I say) — until we walked into a chocolate shop and I grinned and gushed about every truffle and bar, then hushed as I ate them all.

Michael Laiskonis' recipe for grown-up peanut butter and jelly truffles, using single-origin Madagascar, in my book. Photo by Jody Horton

Michael Laiskonis' recipe for grown-up peanut butter and jelly truffles, using single-origin Madagascar, in my book. Photo by Jody Horton

After I took my first bite of single-origin Madagascar and realized how fruity and bright chocolate can be, it wasn’t enough for me to privately research origins and learn the landscape of cacao’s terroir: I wanted to write about it, to help all of us understand chocolate a little more.

Take this map, which appeared in the first stories on my site, back in 2015:

Illustration by Fernanda Frick

Illustration by Fernanda Frick

And how it’s been translated into my book:

Illustration by Amber Day from my book

Illustration by Amber Day from my book

Speaking of books, the original idea for Chocolate Noise was a book. Over coffee with my friend and photographer Jody Horton back in 2014, he asked me if I’d ever thought about writing one. “Dreamed of it,” I’d said. Way before the website, it made sense that my book would be about my true passion in life, chocolate, and in particular this crazy new movement called bean to bar. We started scheming.

It turns out writing a book is hard. And I don’t mean the act of writing, which has always come naturally to me. I mean the agents, the book publishers, the proposals, the self-promotion. After hours and weeks and months of headache and heartache, I was sick of traditional publishing. "Put it online," said my husband, who comes from the startup tech world. My agent and I decided he was right and transformed my idea for a book into the 12-part online series that became Chocolate Noise, because I wanted to share these stories with the world in a new, 21st-century way.

I’m not alone in this model. Take two of my heroes, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobsen of Broad City. In the book In the Company of Women, a collection of inspiration and advice from badass women of all sorts, Abbi writes,

A big part of the beginnings of the web series Broad City was Ilana [Glazer] and me not getting on house teams at the theater where we were training. I’d auditioned three years in a row, and gotten called back, and I just felt so close. I had such tunnel vision, and getting on those teams felt like the whole world and the only way I was going to advance my career as a performer. So after three years we were bummed. We decided to make something ourselves. We thought we were geniuses; why were we waiting for other people to ‘let’ us do comedy? So we made Broad City. Making that series taught me so much and gave me so much confidence, it’s unbelievable. It’s the old saying, ‘When one door closes, another door opens’ — except you have to build the other door and pry it open yourself. When you do it that way, you’re walking into a place of your own design.

In other words, the internet presents an amazing opportunity to communicate your calling and to find your tribe. That’s what happened for me. I started publishing stories, and you found me. I formed the Underground Chocolate Salon in New York City to meet you in person, and you came and hung out and tasted chocolate.

Can you identify all the craft makers in this photo?

Among other things, I also profiled two of the most elusive and coveted names in craft chocolate (Rogue and Patric), talked with a Tanzanian farmer through a translator to tell his story for the first time, went behind the scenes to discover how to make beautiful packaging, told the stories of two of the best makers who happen to be women, catalogued all of the women in chocolate, explained cacao genetics through Justin Timberlake’s glorious career, convinced everyone that my April Fool’s Day jokes were real, and learned that an antique longitudinal conche weighs 15,000 pounds and takes a crane to move.

My followers were so enthusiastic that I started writing shorter, more informal posts and even ran a second season of longer chocolate maker profiles. This is the last one in season 2, and even though I’m not a chocolate maker, it feels fitting. Because:

A few months after I originally started publishing stories on my site, an editor at a book publisher reached out to me. “Chocolate Noise and a book idea” the email subject read. “I love the profiles you’ve done and your writing style, so I’m wondering if you’d be interested in talking about this idea sometime. I’m imagining something that’s fun and hip and colorful (not snobby) and really captures the spirit of the craft chocolate movement right now.”

Illustration by Amber Day from my book

Illustration by Amber Day from my book

My one-year project had become something much bigger: a community, and a lens through which to see the world. Now, two years later, my book, Bean-to-Bar Chocolate: America’s Craft Chocolate Revolution, is being published (on September 19). It tells so many makers’ stories as well as the larger story of American bean-to-bar chocolate, with quirky illustrations and gorgeous photos as well as recipes from makers, pastry chefs, and chocolatiers, plus that accessible writing style you have come to rely on. I think of it as a love letter to the chocolate world. That might sound cheesy, but it’s true.

Now I’m on another part of the journey, which I’ll be chronicling here: I’m traveling across the country on my book tour to hang out with you, taste chocolate, and celebrate this delicious moment. See you soon.