Updated: Apr 29, 2020

Today I want to talk about Pepi Di Giacomo, an Italian businesswoman with a strong passion for bean to bar chocolate.

The very first craft chocolate maker who inspired her to start a business in the craft chocolate market was Amedei. Indeed she owned the first Amedei store in the US, back in the day.

I asked her some questions about her life as an overseas entrepreneur of the Cocoa Store which is still active as an online shop with a curated selection of bars.

Why did you decide to create the "Cocoa Store" in another country? 

I was already living in NYC and it was in the restaurant business where I started to have little chocolate corners for our customers. In 2013 I started negotiations to sell my restaurants and decided to focus on my passion for chocolate. I reached out to Amedei and asked them if they would be interested in creating an Amedei store (still completely owned by me) and so I opened the first Amedei store in the world. After a little more than a year, due to the lack of cooperation with Amedei in promoting the store and brand, and also my growing passion to represent other chocolate companies, I decided to change the name of my store to Cocoa Store.

How did the COVID-19 affect your business?

Of course, we had to close the store because considered non-essential but also because all the girls working in our shop had Covid-19 symptoms. Because of the virus, we have decided to close the shop indefinitely and we might reconsider opening in the future in a bigger location so we can showcase more chocolate companies and other ideas that we have to promote the excellence of cacao. So, for now, we focus more on our online shop.

What is your current chocolate selection? 

Because of how tiny our store was, we always had to limit our selection and we normally rotate companies in order to allow our clients to taste something new but we have some staples chocolate companies. Right now we are dwindling down on Amedei and Domori and have introduced Cacao Crudo (amazing Italian raw chocolate company), Vestri, a tree to bar company, and Ruket, a fantastic artisanal maker from the province of Ferrara. We also work with some wonderful American makers, Castronovo, Dick Taylor, Fruition, and for more fun chocolate application, we work with Christopher Elbow and have private pastry chefs create limited edition collection for our shop like Justine McNeil, ex-executive pastry chef of Del Posto and now the owner of her restaurant in Philadelphia called Fiore. Lastly, we work with Claudio Corallo which we are not allowed to sell online.

Any new artisan chocolate makers on the horizon? 

There are several that are on a waiting list that we admire but it all depends on what the future will bring. We really like Ritual, Aruntam, and many others...

Would you like to share with us the names of (maybe) unpopular (but) yet talented young artists to be taken into account when choosing new bars to taste? 

I would love to try the new bars by Jordi Roca!

What do you think about the latest chocolate trends as inclusions, dark milk (sweetened or unsweetened), white, and the very popular "limited edition" slogan which appears to be enhanced by the growth of the craft chocolate market?

I think they are all valid, not sure of why there are limited editions of bars from cacao coming from countries like Colombia. I would understand if it was Bolivia where is difficult to harvest cacao. Having said that, I'm usually very skeptical of people trying to reinvent the wheel, most of the time is about marketing. Also, packaging has to be appealing but it has become the focus in many cases more than the product.  It makes me sad to see people praise some chocolate bars when in reality they are not very good just because they have a gorgeous package. I personally like the simplicity of a great pure chocolate bar. I'm not opposed to inclusions when done in a delicate manner. Sometimes I see some terrible inclusions that just sound exotic.

When do you consider tolerable the use of lecithin in chocolate? 

I think that when you start creating inclusions, it is almost impossible not to use it. We do not allow any dark chocolate in our store to have lecithin, only in the inclusion bars. We want the list of ingredients to be as short as possible, in dark chocolate bars, we allow the addition of cocoa butter on top of cocoa of course and sugar. We do understand that some people love a softer taste in their chocolate bar though.

In terms of flavor profile, is more important the cacao variety or the cacao origin? 

I think both elements are important in addition to how the cacao is fermented and the rest.

Which is the project you would like to realize in the future?

I have this idea of opening a store that would help to promote the excellence of great chocolate in its various expressions, a very ambitious project so I'm not sure I will be able to succeed with it. Non-commercial chocolate stores traditionally go out of business because they luck the volumes necessary to pay the bills.

What is your chocolate message to the world? 

We all grow up eating certain food and beverages and when we try something that is better, we notice the stark contrast and we can't possibly go back to it. We often discover that what we were eating and drinking was not necessarily the best for us or produced or processes in a sustainable way. 

Mine is not too much a message but more of a hope that people will keep nourishing their curiosity about chocolate and understand how it is produced so they can understand the difference between a supermarket product and excellent chocolate. Chocolate can assume many different forms, it is unbelievable how many things come out of this amazing pod, no wonder it is the food of the gods!  I'm very proud of doing my small part in the fascinating world of chocolate.

Ultimately, I wish to remark the amazing samples she sent to me of two interesting Italian bean to bar chocolate maker which are:

  1. Cacao Crudo Raspberry and "Siracusa Lemon PGI" Zests;

  2. Ruket stone ground white chocolate.

Ps: Unlike Ruket, Cacao Crudo is not new for me.