Interview: Sharon Terenzi, The Chocolate Journalist

Most people eat their chocolate, and that's enough. Satisfaction achieved. Writing about it, is something else entirely.

The past few nights I have had nightmares about deadlines. In the most vivid, a friend sent me a cold email with nothing but mean things copied and pasted in the body. There is a fine art to a cold email, that I do appreciate. But to completely build one from other people's work? This translates to a blood curdling "F YOU," cozied up with the silent treatment in written form. I haven't received any cold emails, but the thought hasn't gone away.

"Next time you're afraid to share ideas, remember someone once said in a meeting, let's make a film with a tornado full of sharks." -viral meme found on Reddit, original source unknown

Researching and writing about fine chocolate can be a vulnerable indulgence. As Mark Xian, creator of C-Spot, once told me, "It's a vortex." Just when you think you have it all figured out, that you've reached your conclusion,  something else pops up, and before you know it, you're in deeper.

When I first started, I wasn't posting online (I am exclusively reserving material for a book) and it felt like a non-stop journey that wrote itself.  Now, the further I research cacao and the cocoa industry, the further away many answers seem to be. It's a complex subject we are continuously learning about.

As far as writing goes in general, most of the time I am not satisfied with my own words. That's the hardest part.  I refuse to regurgitate widely covered information just to generate content. I'm not here for SEO rankings or seedy networking.  (Those are the real sharks I will take B grade horror over any day)

When I encounter someone else writing about chocolate, I do not jump on their bandwagon easily. Like any relationship, a level of respect and intrigue must be built and maintained over time.

On a lighter note, in the process of getting to know others in the industry, I enjoy finding out what we have in common. One habit is saving the chocolate packaging from the bars we have tasted. Do not be alarmed if this is something you discover in someone's home, though the way you find it may need some intervention.

Part sentiment, part research, holding onto several years worth of chocolate boxes and wrappers like baseball cards has become popular among fine chocolate fans. If you're really into chocolate, you get it. And, you may also need to get organized if you have trunks of the stuff like I do.

One solution to this issue, comes from an Italian chocolate blogger I enjoy following, known as The Chocolate Journalist. I'm excited to announce this month marks the debut of her very first E-book. In How to Properly Collect Fine Chocolate Bars, Sharon Terenzi shows us how to sort things out. Trust me, she knows what she is doing. Get to know more about her here, in the exclusive interview below!

Sharon's first E-book, How to Properly Collect FIne Chocolate Bars, photo by Sharon Terenzi

The Chocolate Journalist enjoying fine chocolate, photo by Sharon Terenzi

What initially inspired you to write about chocolate?

I got curious about fine chocolate thanks to my previous job. I used to work for an Italian food importer in NYC and the only product that I was genuinely interested in was chocolate. I was always gravitating around the chocolate aisle looking at brands, labels and ingredients list, but I wanted to know more. Instead of writing everything on a notebook, I decided to start a blog to collect all the info and keep track of everything I learned along the way. At the same time, I wanted a change of career, becoming my own boss and traveling around the world. A blog about chocolate fit every need I had.

Describe a typical day in the life of "The Chocolate Journalist" (is there such a thing?):

In the morning, it is all about researching what's new in the chocolate world. I read articles, check out companies on social media, follow chocolate events and press releases. Then I schedule the content for the day for my Facebook page and Twitter account. After that come emails and answering to comments and private messages. The afternoon varies depending on what I have to get done. Write my next article, consult clients, plan a trip for a chocolate festival, take pictures for Instagram. No matter what, I get everything done by 6:30pm. Then I have a 45min workout. After that I take the evening easy and get mentally ready for bedtime, usually reading a chocolate-related book before falling asleep. You know, I am a Capricorn. I would schedule my breaks to use the bathroom if I could.

 What chocolates do you currently have at home?

I am currently sitting on my bed. If I turn right and look at the box where I keep all the chocolate bars, I see: Akesson's, Amano, Rococo Chocolates, Mirzam, Solstice, Lucocoa, Madecasse, Artisan du Chocolat, Chocolat Madagascar.

Most of them are from my last trip to London for the Speciality Chocolate Fair that took place at the beginning of September. Some others I got sent.

If not chocolate, what would you write about? Would you still write?

I don't think I would write so enthusiastically about anything other than chocolate. I would have never become a blogger if it wasn't for chocolate. If I had to pick another topic, I would probably write about fruits. I would pick a fruit and research everything about it, from place of origin to best storing practices to data on its consumption. I just adore fruits.

 Do you have any favorite pairings?

Not a fan of pairing chocolate with other foods. Unfortunately, I don't like cheese and I am not a wine expert. I enjoy chocolate by itself, to explore the peculiar flavors of different cacao. Regarding chocolate inclusions, my favorites are definitely raspberry, coffee, sea salt, matcha tea and pistachios. I am not a fan of orange, lemon, mint and cocoa nibs in chocolate instead.

 "Am I the only one sprinkling turmeric EVERYWHERE lately?", Sharon asks about the turmeric and chocolate trend. Photo by Sharon Terenzi

Do you ever get chocolated-out, sick of chocolate?

Honestly, no. Never. Ever. Now I eat around two-three squares of dark chocolate a day just to savour new brands, so it's not a lot. But even when I used to eat up to two bars a day, I didn't grow tired of it either.

Are there any flavor combinations or pairings you find to be absolutely incompatible? (Bacon for example)

Incompatible combinations exist until you try them. Now a lot of chocolate brands (especially in Europe) are offering chocolate with vegetable inclusions. Broccoli, beetroots, onions, even garlic. You'd think these are crazy combinations that nobody would like, but the chocolate makers will tell you that these are best-selling products. At the end of the day it's all about your own taste-buds.

 If anyone, (chocolate related or not) who has influenced you most in life?

In the chocolate field, chocolate expert Clay Gordon has been my biggest inspiration. I started my blog after reading his book Discover Chocolate. When I met him in person at the Fine Chocolate Industry Association event in NYC back in 2015, it was like for a teenage girl meeting Justin Bieber. Moreover, he has always been my biggest kick in the butt. His criticism towards my articles has helped me a lot in becoming a true chocolate journalist. Even though he is known for his peculiar personality, I am forever grateful.

Outside the chocolate field, my idols are Gary Vaynerchuck and Robert Kiyosaki. Both entrepreneurs and investors, I find them inspiring on a super practical level. I religiously watch Gary's Youtube videos and listen to Robert's podcasts.

 What is most challenging for you, about writing about chocolate?

 There is always something to learn, and your opinion on things changes constantly.

You think you have everything figured out about bean-to-bar chocolate. You have your strong beliefs about the making process, the certifications, the types of cacao, the big distribution, and other chocolate-related matters. But it takes a brief conversation with somebody that knows more than you that all these beliefs fall in a moment. What was a “black or white” vision becomes a “it's not as bad/good as I thought” opinion. In my blog I want to give my readers very accurate info. At the same time, if I have to wait until I know everything about everybody, I will publish my next article on my death-bed. The best I can do is to write the most accurate articles that are true to my current knowledge of things.

Sharon's "personal definition of high return investments, yes the small bag too." Photo by Sharon Terenzi

Most rewarding?

The most rewarding moments are when people tell me that I made them learn a lot about chocolate, so now they make more conscious choices when shopping for chocolate. They inevitably drift away from big chocolate manufacturers and start exploring the world of craft chocolate where the money is more likely to go to a premium for the farmers and to very passionate makers. These are the kind of comments that make my day.

Where do you see chocolate, journalism, or both taking you next (either physically or figuratively)?

I see myself traveling a lot. I already scheduled my first trip to a cocoa plantation in Latin America next year. I am planning to attend a lot of chocolate festivals around the world to report the latest news and trends in the industry and have an international vision of the chocolate market. I'd also love to start writing for dessert and chocolate-related magazines. Basically all I see in my future now is a lot of traveling and writing. That would be enough to make me very happy.

 Do you have a favorite chocolate related memory?

My favorite memory doesn't involve craft chocolate, but it's still a memory very dear to me. When I was in kindergarten, my grandfather would come pick me up every afternoon. He would make me choose between his right and left hand, but no matter my answer, they were both filled with a Kinder Egg by Ferrero, the one with the surprise inside. Definitely my dearest chocolate-related memory.

If only one lesson, what would you like others to understand about chocolate?

That chocolate is not meant to take care of our health. Regular physical activity, enough sleep, good eating habits and hydration are. Chocolate is a treat, a surplus, and it should be considered as such. It always amazes me how people can eat cheesy pizza, fries and Coca-Cola every other day without a care in the world, but then spend 5 entire minutes to meticulously analyze the nutrition facts of a chocolate bar they buy once a week. If you want the healthiest chocolate possible, look for the one made out of only 2 ingredients: cacao and sugar. But don't rely on it to lower your blood pressure, lose weight or give you glowing skin. I don't consider chocolate an unhealthy food, but not even that miraculous elixir that can wipe out years of damages made by bad choices, like the media are trying to portrait these days. Treat chocolate like the luxurious, delicious, fun and special food that it is. Leave the health benefits to fruits and veggies.

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