Growing up in Sweden, Mörk Chocolate co-owner, Josefin Zernell, recalls intense memories of enjoying molten cacao from a burning hot cup warming her freezing hands after a cross-country skiing session during minus-20 degree winters that stretch across most of the year.
She first got into the business of making hot chocolate after studying music and despairing at the nosedive the record industry was experiencing. Casting around for a B-plan, a chance encounter introduced her to a chocolatier who was quitting his job. Zernell begged his boss to take her on as an apprentice.
Relocating to Melbourne with her Adelaide-born partner five years ago, Zernell is now used to considerably milder winters, but her life-long passion for hot chocolate hasn’t dimmed. ‘We realised what a rich cafe culture there is over here, but there was a lack of premium hot chocolate beverages,’ she says. ‘We saw a little bit of a need for that and started Mörk three years ago now.’
These days, Mörk Chocolate’s cardboard tubes of hot chocolate whipped up from the finest cacao powder and liquor sourced sustainably from Venezuela, Madagascar and West Africa are stocked all over town, including St Ali, Seven Seeds and Proud Mary. Up until now, they’ve been working out a teeny joint in West Melbourne, with most production occurring further out of the city.
All that’s set to change when the guys open the Mörk Chocolate Brew House and concept store in a former bakery warehouse in North Melbourne. There will be brew bar out front serving hot and cold chocolate beverages (yum!), with an industrious workshop out the back, mostly out of bounds, as making chocolate is a delicate process. Hot chocolate lovers Melbourne-wide will be able to taste test the full range, as well as the raw materials, and learn a little as they go along. ‘Mörk means “dark” in Swedish, and that’s what we’re all about; letting the sugar take a backseat from the chocolate flavour.’
After exhaustive research, scoffing chocolate from every corner of the globe in both cacao powder and liquor form, they favoured the Venezuelan single origin stuff for its dark notes of raisiny goodness, earthen spiciness and sweet almond finish, forming the backbone of both Mörk’s Original Dark and Even Darker product. Dark Milk and Salt, hailing from Madagascan produce, is maltier, with honey overtones, while the Junior Dark emphasises a sweeter, toffee-like flavour.
‘Tasting chocolate cakes without sugar takes a bit of practice,’ Zernell says. ‘It’s quite harsh on the tongue, but you get used to it quickly and get to know whether it has natural sweetness or bitterness. It’s all about the quality of the beans and the roasting profiles.’
And for the sweeter-toothed, you’ll be glad to know they use a healthier option. ‘We tried so many sweeteners side-by-side, from natural to refined, but coconut sugar came out on top,’ Zernell says. ‘It has a really complex flavour that highlights the cacao and a natural mineral content that adds an almost salty, caramel flavour. It’s also low GI and diabetic-friendly, which is good, and a sustainable way of producing sugar, so we’re not destroying the environment either.’
Zernell can’t wait to welcome Melburnians into Mörk Chocolate Brew House. ‘It’s going to be a sensory experience, rather than just having milk and chocolate in a cup or glass placed in front of you,’ Zernell says. ‘It’s about smelling it, tasting it, the look, even about how the vessel feels when you’re drinking chocolate from it. We’re playing with people’s imagination.’
Zernell says the Mörk Chocolate Brew House and concept store is all about the brew bar, which will be the first thing customers see when they walk through the door. The 18-seater space will create a vibrant hub of activity where chocolate beverages both hot and cold will be concocted. ‘We realise a big part of the year here isn’t cold and people will require something refreshing, so that’s going to be on the menu as well. There’s a lot of emphasis on different brewing methods and presentations.
‘It’s quite clean, light, and airy and has a Scandinavian feel—obviously that’s a big part of my identity; it's hard to take that out of you,’ Zernell admits, but assures that this will be a slice of Scandinavia Melbourne-style. ‘There are some things I've appreciated since I was a kid, so it has a little bit of that Swedish feel, but we’ve tried to create a Melbourne culture around drinking chocolate too. We want people to know that chocolate doesn't have to be a luxury item, it can be part of your everyday lifestyle.’
Mörk Chocolate Brew House opens late February
Image credit: Mörk Chocolate Facebook