Sources and Methods #25: Marou Chocolate

Marou Chocolate 101:

Marou Chocolate

Marou Chocolate on Twitter


Show Notes:

5:27 - Vietnam is a very marginal producer of cacao, it’s less than 0.1% of world production. So that’s why it remains a fairly obscure origin for cacao. As to why we decided to make chocolate in Vietnam it was precisely because there was cacao, but not enough to get the big players interested. So we thought there was an opportunity. The question we didn’t have the answer to when we got started was whether the cacao was going to be any good, or the chocolate we were going to make was any good. Neither of us (his co-founder) had any background in chocolate.

8:01 - Chocolate, like the beer industry, is immensely concentrated. Three or four huge companies that people don’t know the names of that make probably 80% of the chocolate consumed world wide. You have Hersheys, Mondalays, and others… that operate on enormous scale and produce most of the world’s chocolate.

10:59 - A century ago if you were a chocolatier, you would buy beans and make your own chocolate. But nowadays, out of 5,000 chocolatiers in France, you have less than 50 that buy their own beans.

The difference with bean-to-bar is you start with the raw material, you start with cocoa beans and we think it’s a much more exciting approach. Through the processing of the chocolate, every step of the way, and most importantly the selection of the cacao, you select your flavor profile… and it won’t taste like your standardized industrial chocolate.

14:02 - I think wine is kind of the model, they’ve had centuries to refine that model, and if you get into it it’s kind of exasperating because there’s so much snobbery but at the same time it’s really exciting. Chocolate is nowhere near that stage.

15:45 - If you’re looking at the factors that are going to make beans taste different from one place to another, you’ve got basically three big variables. First is the variety. The second is a mixture of climate and soil. The last factor is probably the most important, and it’s the fermentation of the cacao. Cacao is a fruit that grows on a tree, but to transform this to beans that you can make chocolate out of, there’s a step called fermentation and drying, and it’s a key step.

20:24 - To generalize Vietnamese chocolate quite a bit [the biggest difference with chocolate from here] it’s fruitiness. We see a lot of similarities with chocolate from Madagascar, for example. Bright fruit notes, sometimes more citrus-y. A lack of bitterness.

40:56 - I think the fairtrade model has flaws, and they are widely recognized even by people who are a part of the FairTrade ecosystem, but for us in Vietnam, there’s one major problem. It’s that some of the rules that have been built into the FairTrade system - for instance… It cannot be fairtrade if you do not buy from a co-op. You can see where that comes from - the idea that the buyer has the power to divide the farmers, so the farmers are more powerful if they’re united in a co-op, in theory it’s fine - but it assumes that the buyer is a bad guy and the seller is a poor peasant who cannot fend for himself. In Vietnam, it feels irrelevant.

Mast Brother’s Official Page

How the Mast Brothers Fooled the World Into Buying Crappy Hipster Chocolate

The original blogposts that provoked that article

(The effect of the article): 45:11 - For insiders I think it was fascinating and fairly horrifying to watch the whole thing. Parts of me think the original expose about how the Mast Brothers may have cheated about bean-to-bar was well-argued. They weren’t exactly what they were pretending to be. At the same time, it’s something that happened years ago. The real problem, the reason why you could take them on such a small issue and blow it into something huge was because of something the Mast Brothers had come to symbolize - being this sort of hipster, food company, poster-child for your Brooklyn-based hipster company.



Samuel’s book:

Chocolate Wars - Deborah Cadbury


Matt’s pick:

A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit


Alex’s pick:

Japanese Kanji | Remembering The Kanji


Samuel’s movie:

Mad Max, because it depicts 'a bleak future without chocolate'


Sources and Methods #8: Azmat Khan

Photo  credit: Sam Bailey

Photo credit: Sam Bailey


Azmat Khan 101:

TwitterFacebookInstagramGoogle +

-- Tumblr/Blog

-- "The Brothers" (PBS Frontline in Cairo)

-- "The Bombing of al-Bara" (PBS Frontline):

Azmat @ Al-Jazeera America

Azmat @ PBS Frontline

Show Notes:

5:58 - Defining ‘success’ in the digital media age:

It depends on the institution. Some friends of mine have been given quotas to hit. I’ve been lucky not to have to do that. I value response and resonance as an indicator - people writing about it, talking about it online, questions, even critiques, things like that I really value in terms of success. The ideal success of course is when there’s a problem or injustice is to see that result in a conversation that hopefully elicits change.

7:50 - Al Bara Film

10:20 - Is Google News driving all of our news consumption?

Not necessarily - I’d say it’s more social. Facebook in particular, not as much Twitter, is one of the biggest sources of traffic, and it’s not a bad thing for a good thing to be shared a lot. And for people to study data to figure out ways to make it reach as many people as possible. In that way, it can be a very good thing. And there’s the opposite of that - when stories are told in a way just to elicit pageviews of clicks.

11:36 - A follow up point on success in journalism:

That it endures, and can be a reference point for something later… that can be a definitive portrait of something at a particular time.

16:00 - Staying up on social media:

I dip in an out of that depending on how busy I am with other things… But I spent a lot of time in the past curating lists of people to follow on Twitter. This can include newsletters. I use Digg’s website and wakeup with a morning email. I use Reddit Edit.
At the same time, I think there are lots of non-traditional ways I gather information from areas that are less talked about.
Facebook Groups. If there’s an issue that sparks my interest or I want to learn more about or report on, one of the first things I’ll do is see if anyone has coalesced around that issue in a Facebook Group. It’s more useful than Message Boards, so you can message them directly, and it’s super easy to get in touch immediately and quickly. And people get intimate on a place like Facebook. That’s one of the most under-reported tools to use when trying to figure something out. It’s not representative of an issue, but it is individuals, and you can learn so much. It’s an incredible starting place that people don’t think about when they want story ideas.

20:58 - for the kinds of stories I’m doing now, I rely more on individuals than people talking about public issues on Twitter.

24:00 - Right now, one of the most fascinating things you can see online are people who’ve supposedly run off to join ISIS. They have blogs, and social media accounts. They are so interesting. But verification is very hard when it comes to these things. The best reporters have done a good job corroborating the facts… but I do wonder, what does this platform or accessibility do in terms of small errors or embellishment of the truth.

26:00 - Norwegian filmmaker and a fake short on Syria

28:02 - Fake blog taken for real news here. Proof here.

32:33 - I think books are increasingly underutilized. The people who turn to information that isn’t publicly accessible when they’re writing about whatever issue it is online.

33:48 - It’s great because much of the material is not publicly accessible, the information is not at fingertips. There should be more of that, we may be losing a lot of that.

34:31 - I think the internet echo chamber is one of the dangers of how we receive our information. You would think the internet would afford more perspectives and differing ones than what you encounter in real life, walking around, but it actually in so many ways provides the opportunity for people to singularly identify - by hashtag, website, by following people - to actually narrow that down further.

38:10 - Standard research tools for Azmat:

  • Know how to write a Freedom of Information Request

  • is an invaluable resource

  • Look at the courts

  • Ask for feedback

FOIA Letter Generator here

42:31 - Language classes are a game changer. (Matt and Alex feel quite strongly about this - you should take them. Need inspiration? Read Alex’s great post on why you should learn languages. And then pair with his second post on how you should learn that language.)

46:18 - Being fluent in a language puts you ahead in so many ways, it’s incredible. I can’t even explain it.

49:45 - If it’s Thursday, I’m listening to Serial. Any other day, I’m listening to NPR’s five minute newscast.

50:35 - I’m also obsessed with audiobooks, and prefer fiction.

54:00 - Azmat’s Instagram account.

56:30 - Azmat on Twitter.  

How did she grow her account to some 48,000 people?

It’s about providing a service, or context, or things that people find useful and interesting. Don’t necessarily push a narrative or an opinion - people really liked that.

1:00:01 - Azmat’s Tumblr.

1:04:00 - Azmat’s moving over to Buzzfeed.

Azmat’s Book: Never Let me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Matt’s Book: Zero to One by Peter Thiel

Matt’s Story: Why Our Memory Fails Us by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simmons, creators of the famous Invisible Gorilla test (a Selective Attention test)

Azmat's Music pick:

Alex’s Book: Seasons of Trouble: Life Amid the Ruins of Sri Lanka's Civil War by Rohini Mohan

Azmat’s Film: It’s A Disaster

Azmat’s food she would eat if she were on death row: buttery lobster.

Matt’s Book: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande