Hello I'm Naoko, the founder of nicao - Niseko's first bean-to-bar chocolate maker.
I'm originally from Nagoya and moved from England to Niseko, Hokkaido back in 2009 with my English husband and our one-year-old son (son number two arrived in 2010).
We've been here ever since.
So, why chocolate?
Back in 2015, I came across a website that was to change my life (although I didn't realize it at the time).
It was about a guy who turned his passion of making bean-to-bar chocolate from a hobby into a full-time business.
I was fascinated.
I bought a small grinder (capable of making only enough chocolate for 20 bars maximum) and learned by doing.
It was a real journey of discovery.
I learned so many interesting things from great teachers like John Nanci over at Chocolate Alchemy.
But I also learned that the vast majority of the world’s chocolate is made from cacao beans from Ghana and the Ivory Coast, where child labour and slavery exists.
(Cheap chocolate comes at a price)
And rather than just make the best chocolate I could, I felt compelled to do something to help.
That’s why nicao is a member of 1% for the Planet, an international organisation co-founded by Patagonia owner/founder, Yvon Chouinard.
We’re proud to be joining brands such as Patagonia and Klean Kanteen by donating at least 1% of our annual sales to environmental causes.
And it's why all the cacao beans we use come from a small, family-owned, family-run cacao plantation in Guatemala.
This is run with an incredibly strong ethic towards employment and the environment.
I import these cacao beans directly from the farm to our workshop here in Hokkaido - so there are no unknowns in the supply chain
These cacao beans make simply the best chocolate I’ve ever tasted and they are the beans that I use in all of the chocolate we make.
All of the bars and all of the barks.
That's a different approach to other bean-to-bar chocolate makers, as they typically use different varieties of beans from a number of countries.
(Something that I understand and respect)
But I want the chocolate we make to showcase this award-winning cacao with ingredients from our home of Hokkaido.
That’s why every flavour contains something from Hokkaido: whether it’s beet sugar, whole milk, umeshu (plum wine) or chili pepper.
Unfortunately, it gets a tad cold here for cacao trees...