Sally Meikle and the team at Colestown Chocolates have Easter all wrapped up. Their shelves are lined with a gorgeous array of bunnies, chickens and eggs, all brightly coloured - naturally of course - and all looking good enough to, well, eat!
Has chocolate always been your thing?
I orginally trained as a chef, but after working for a private caterer in London where I was introduced to the luxury of Belgian couverture, I decided then and there that I would one day have a chocolate business of my own.
And for the uninitiated, couverture is?
It's a very high quality chocolate, with a high gloss. Made with a higher percentage of cocoa butter than usual - no other fat or oil - and is generally used for dipping, coating, moulding and garnishing.
How long have you been in the artisan chocolate industry now?
My husband Tim and I started Colestown Chocolates back in 2006. Before that I worked for Lizzie's Cuisine in Christchurch, before moving to Wellington to start my own catering business. Then we moved to Auckland and whilst raising our three daughters I kept my hand in the food game working part-time at the Epicurean Workshop in Newmarket.
Was there training involved to become a chocolatier?
Yes, even though I had done my chef training (in London) I undertook more specific chocolate training at the Savour School in Melbourne. And from there it was just practice, practice, practice!
Is the whole family involved in the business?
Absolutely. I started out from home when our daughters, Millie, Issy and Sophia, were all pre-school, practicing the art of tempering and experimenting with flavour combinations. Now that the girls are teenagers they all get involved when we get busy! We also have a wonderful team of uni students in the shop - I fill in the gaps in the shop roster when they have lectures to attend, but the rest of the time I'm in the chocolate kitchen in Mt Albert, creating and dipping! Tim works full-time outside of the business but helps at weekend with paperwork etc.
Is being a chocolatier as glamorous as it sounds?
No! It involves long hours on your feet with the highest level of concentration and attention to detail. But I love what I do and I get enormous satisfaction from seeing the pleasure our chocolates give to people.
How do you come up with new flavours?
I read a lot, we have seasonal flavours and I also experiment. I'm always looking for inspiration for flavour combinations! Customer suggestions are helpful, too. And I have a ready-made test panel in my daughters - they've grown up eating Colestown chocolates and have very strong views and favourites.
What's the most popular chocolate you make?
Still, after all these years, it's our salted caramel. For Easter it would be our large Easter bunny - he is a gorgeous chocolate bunny wearing overalls and filled with two little Easter treats.
And what's the most unusual?
Mexicana, definitely. It's a dark chocolate and chilli base, layered with a mango and white chocolate ganache, enrobed in dark chocolate and finished with a sprinkle of chilli lime salt. It is intriguing!
And are there other 'special events' where chocolates are popular?
Yes, absolutely. Mother's Day is the big one following on from Easter, and we change these chocolates annually. We discuss and choose flavours that reflect the mothers in our lives. Then there is Father's Day in September, Halloween in October and of course Christmas - which is a very busy time in the shop as well as our corporate clients. For each of these occasions we introduce a range of chocolates specific to the event - for example a whisky ganache for Father's Day and our marzipan bars and gingerbread range for the festive season.
How long does it take to make each chocolate?
It varies between chocolate flavours, but at least 24 hours, and up to three days. We make a ganache and pour it into frames to set. We then pre-coat and cut each slab into small squares, and then each individual piece is dipped by hand with a dipping fork - the true meaning of artisan chocolate!
How do Colestown chocolates differ from big brand chocolates like Cadburys?
Whilst both of us start with chocolate the end product is completely different. We are small batch, artisan chocolates as opposed to mass production. We don't use any preservatives, enhancers or artificial flavourings, and our coloured chocolates are all done with cocoa butter and natural colouring. Wherever possible we use NZ produce like honey, butter, cream and nuts.
Is it hard being surrounded by fabulous chocolates all day?
Ha, I don't find it too hard. I eat chocolate every day - tasting every batch we make to ensure it tastes great - and I never tire of it!
You were previously in Newmarket. Why did you come to Remuera?
Having been in a mall for four years I was looking for a change, and to become part of a community. I was driving down Remuera Road one day and spotted the For Lease sign in the window of our shop... which is a perfectly quirky shape for a chocolate shop.
What do you like most about having your shop here?
The community. Seeing familiar faces every day as well as other business owners. The village has a wonderful community feel to it and I love being part of that.
Are your customers mainly locals?
It's a combination of both locals, and those who travel to our shop. It's a hugely diverse customer base, but they all have a common passion for fine chocolate.
Do you have any future plans for the shop?
Our plan is to be in Remuera long-term, and over time we will continue to innovate and introduce new products and flavours. Business is steadily building - word of mouth has been invaluable! - and our Easter products are proving very popular.
And finally, where did the name Colestown come from?
It's the name of the street we lived on in London, where I first discovered my real passion for good chocolate. We lived in Battersea SW11, 18 Colestown Street. So it's personal to me and my dream, nothing whatsoever to do with chocolate! Behind the till in the shop we have a framed picture of the street sign.
Photos by Vanita Andrews and words by Fiona Wilson. This article first appeared in the April 2017 issue of The Hobson.