Josefin Zernell has spent much of her life making chocolate. Her fingers have sculpted delicate pralines and crafted decadent dark chocolates for years. She has spent hours folding, melting and tempering chocolate in her home country of Sweden. But when Josefin first moved to Melbourne with her partner Kiril Shaginov five years ago, they noticed something was missing on café menus. There was no real, grown-up drinking chocolate – nothing thick and dark the way they like it. So the couple created Mörk, a range of rich, decadent drinking chocolates made from pure cacao liquor and sweetened with coconut blossom sugar.
I sat down with the masters behind Mörk recently to talk all things chocolate. You can hear the excitement in Josefin and Kiril’s voices when they describe their product. Making chocolate is a creative process for them. The couple use cacao liquor, a 100% unsweetened chocolate (not at all alcoholic like it sounds), giving them full control over the sweetening of their blends. The result is a strong, supremely smooth and beautifully full bodied dark drinking chocolate where the intense chocolate flavour is the focus. Mörk has been welcomed with incredible enthusiasm by the Melbourne café scene. Their cardboard canisters can be seen stacked in coffee shops all around the city. It is truly a reflection of the quality of the product and the incredible passion behind it all – not to mention how absolutely delicious the chocolate is! I hope you enjoy the interview.
Can you start by telling us a little bit about Mörk and how it got started?
Josefin – Mörk actually means dark in Swedish and that’s really what we are all about – we make dark drinking chocolate. We started out two years ago wanting not to change but to add to the culture of drinking chocolate in Australia. We realised it was lacking a little bit in quality and in those intense chocolate flavours. We started out with a 70% drinking chocolate and it has expanded from there. Now we have a range of four different drinking chocolates.
Kiril – The reason we created Mörk was to introduce an incredible product to a market that was lacking a good quality drinking chocolate. That’s how it all came about. I come from a specialty coffee background and Josefin was a chocolatier of 12 years back home in Sweden. When we moved to Melbourne we worked a little bit for other people and then saw the opportunity for a dark drinking chocolate. We started small and have slowly grown bigger and that’s really how it happened.
Why did you decide to make drinking chocolate instead of other forms of chocolate?
Josefin – We started experiencing the specialty coffee scene in Melbourne when we first moved here and realised that the quality of the coffee is fantastic. It really is world class, it is what the world looks to when it looks at Melbourne. But we realised that drinking chocolate just wasn’t being considered at all. A lot of cafés were just using the drinking chocolate that their coffee supplier was bringing them, and considering it to be mainly a drink for kids. We wanted to change that and make drinking chocolate something that everyone can enjoy, something that customers would choose to have because of the delicious flavour and the quality of the ingredients. So that’s why we started making drinking chocolate. I have been doing pralines and chocolate bars for a long time but we really just saw a hole in the market and wanted to do something different.
What is the process you go through to create your hot chocolate blends?
Josefin – We have sourced the very best, very finest cocoa powder you can possibly get. We have also imported ourselves coconut blossom sugar from West Java, and we have got blocks of 100% cacao liquor which is literally unsweetened chocolate of the very best quality which we grate into a fine powder. We then blend all these three ingredients to create our blends. They come in different formulas but they all contain the sugar and the cocoa powder. Most of them contain that grade of cacao liquor as well which gives the chocolate a lot of body – it gives the drinking chocolate a richness and a lot of life.
Kiril – Two years ago we created a 70% original dark blend which has been our flagship blend. Soon after, being dark chocolate lovers, we created an 85% even darker chocolate which was interesting because a lot of people have preferred the darker chocolate over the 70%. Just recently we have released a 50% which is a little bit sweeter but again it is chocolate that we are really proud of because we haven’t compromised on quality at all. What we have done instead is make it a little bit sweeter, a little bit more approachable. We like to call it the introduction into dark chocolate, and it’s titled junior so it’s junior to our senior blends so that’s pretty cool.
How do you source your ingredients?
Josefin – Some of them I have found through my life as a chocolatier. I had some brands in mind when we started and I also had contacts that I have managed to keep throughout the years. When we started sourcing ingredients for Mörk we got ingredients from all over the world and just started tasting. I think in those three or four months we drank more chocolate than people will drink in a lifetime. We just started tasting anything and everything and narrowed it down step by step to get to the ingredients we are using today.
I saw that you use coconut blossom sugar as the sweetener in your blends – can you explain what that is and why you use it?
Josefin – Coconut blossom sugar is quite a new sweetener to this part of the world. In Java in Indonesia it is definitely something everyone grew up with as a kid. They have it for breakfast on toast, kind of like we have Nutella here in Australia. The sweetener comes from the coconut palm tree. You harvest the sap from the trees. In a lot of these countries it is bought as a block rather than in a crystallised form so that they can grate it into their cooking, baking and such.
We decided to use coconut blossom sugar in our drinking chocolate because of the flavour. I think we just stumbled across a sample of it at some point and realised that it tasted like burnt toffee with coconut flavours – it was delicious! Later on when we started reading up about coconut blossom sugar we realised it is a really healthy sugar as well. It is diabetic friendly, it is low GI and it’s completely sustainable because the trees just continue producing the sap and the liquid. It’s just so positive in so many ways . We have been very happy with our choice and haven’t looked back.
How do you think your product differs to the other premium drinking chocolates on the market?
Josefin- First and foremost it’s the actual percentages in the products. We dared to make our drinking chocolates a lot darker than other producers out there. They all stopped at around 30% to 40% of cocoa solids. We decided that that’s just not good enough – you are still tasting predominately sugar. We wanted to go a lot higher in cacao so that you are tasting real, pure coco or cacao flavours. We also have looked a lot closer at the flavour of the ingredients and we have worked really hard on sourcing the ingredients – so going outside of what’s available in Australia and importing ingredients ourselves.
What’s your favourite Mörk blend?
Kiril – The 85% is my favourite to drink because it’s just full of delicious dark chocolate.
Josefin – The 85% has a lot of the original flavours of the cacao liquor because it has the most cacao liquor of all the blends. The liquor has that really interesting flavour that only cacao from Venezuela has. It’s really fruity with stone fruit and floral flavours. It is the most interesting of all the blends because it has the most unexpected chocolate taste. While a lot of the other blends have really round, balanced flavours this one is a little bit more daring on the taste buds.
What are your plans for the future of Mörk?
Josefin – We have a lot of plans actually. We want to go more into sourcing the raw cacao and start working on a bean to bar chocolate. It has been our dream from the very start. Bean to bar chocolate is where you source the cacao beans and you process them so that involves cleaning and roasting and finally refining it all into dark chocolate. There are a lot of important steps to get it to that refined dark chocolate product but that’s what we want to do. We want to start having a lot more input into the roasting profiles and the cacao varieties we work with. That’s our dream and we are slowly, step by step building it up and gaining the knowledge that we need to make it happen.
Can you tell us a bit about your collaborations?
Kiril – One of the collaborations we have is with LuxBite. They make salted caramel for us and we put it together in a pack for the retail market so people can make their own salted caramel hot chocolate at home. Shaun Quade also makes a salted honeycomb for us and that’s a really interesting product. We have done a chocolate beer with Mountain Goat as well which has been a fun, interesting experience. If you follow our brand closely you will notice a lot of collaborations, especially with Melbourne based businesses and producers. They seem to like what we do and we like what they do as well.
Any final words?
Josefin – I think a lot of times when you drink chocolate in Australia they say this is a Belgian chocolate, this is an Italian chocolate, this is a Spanish chocolate and that’s great but we are trying to nail down the Australian drinking chocolate and the Australian chocolate culture. There has been so much influence from Europe and that’s great and we are bringing part of that ourselves from Scandinavia but I think it’s time to establish an Australian chocolate culture. There are a lot of producers doing that and doing an amazing job. We are just trying to do our part in that change. It is happening in a lot of industries, not just chocolate. It is happening in the food industry, in the wine industry, but I think it’s time to put Australia on the map for chocolate.
Styling, Photography and Direction: Stephanie Somebody (stephaniesomebody.com)
Photography: Sydney Low (sydlow.com)