Introducing you to SAID, the Italian chocolate shop that is guaranteed to make your mouth water.
Speaking to SAID owner Andrea, we learn about the processes and passion behind chocolate making.
A Lot of the other names are big, they’re huge but they’re not artisan anymore. Let’s say that we have a different way of offering high level chocolate, in a very easy way. Everything is here, people get their chocolate, and they smell it and they live for it. All of this is based on the experience- the client experience. The way we evaluate our work is by the level of customer satisfaction, when they go out it should be like ‘Oh I want to be back’.
This is a simple room, in Rome its 10002m full of rooms, it’s amazing it’s very very special, and you get into something like a movie because you see a family business in a chocolate factory which just really smells of chocolate. When we moved to London we didn’t know whether we would have been successful because we had to squeeze this entire concept into one room.
We have a kitchen downstairs and a pastry chef every day, we have our recipes and we sell lots of cakes. When the people start saying “oh I love your chocolate, I love your music, I love your place and I want to be back” it means that we are doing our job properly. We Italians are quite the experts in hospitality, we have a very friendly way and we are physical in a sense. There is nothing here which isn’t tempting.
There is a machine in the corner which has been used for at least forty to fifty years to produce the chocolate, and it comes from the factory. Inside the factory we have a lot of machines and everything is really authentic- that’s us, it’s not what we want to be, it’s just what we have been for many years and what we are trying to do here.
Of course we are very successful and people and a lot of our friends are running after us, they’re chasing us and asking us ‘Why don’t you sell shares?’ But we’re not, were not doing that- we are not interested- we’re interested to remain independent and to keep growing. We are looking for our second location nearby, we want to try and find a place which is special like this one. What is missing here is a proper small space for a chocolate shop- a proper shop. In Rome we have a proper shop which you step into and you know you’re in a shop, in here it’s more like a cafe. The shop is in the corner but it’s not giving you the idea that it’s a shop.
We also have a small selection of savoury food- we have a small menu for lunch, for dinner and breakfast. We do a small range of food but it is very well done. We also have some wines, spirits and champagne.
We actually work with a very very good champagne brand and it is called Billecart salmon which is the name of the family; it is very exclusive and very very exquisite. They are very similar to us; they’re bigger because they have a bigger company but we are married in our philosophies.
They are not on shelves and they select their clients. The main reason we work together and we do events together is because we are very low in sugar and they are also low in sugar so when champagne and chocolate combine- they don’t go, one or the other is overpowering. What happened is- and this is something really exceptional- the owner of Billecart Salmon came here from Paris to taste our chocolate and he said “I can’t believe that, I have been looking over France for chocolate” but in France they use lots of sugar, we are very low in sugar using only the minimum. We like the spices of the cocoa beans being there, not sugar so with champagne it’s an incredible combination and we have done quite a number of events with them.
What Kind of events do you do?
We work with Boodles Jewellery, we also work for art Galleries such as Repetto, Partners and Mucciaccia, Ronchini Gallery. We also do events for the Twitter main office in Piccadilly, Alpha Romeo / Fiat car shop which do events, they are just at the back of Selfridges and they have a huge space for doing special events- either for members of for art. We go there- we bring our chocolate, strawberries and champagne. We also work for the Italian embassy.
We are very selective, we either do nothing or we do something that will be special. Otherwise there is no reason for us to exist. We’re not interested in doing these events for money- of course we don’t do it for free but we are much more interested in the direction we are going and what advertising and brands we associate with.
This format which is very successful, as long as we are inside here we feel safe because we are doing our job. When we go outside it is always tricky. We don’t like to go to chocolate fairs and exhibitions because they are always messy and it is difficult to create an atmosphere; you need a box, you need something in which you are inside to say ‘We are this’.
In the summer we know that chocolate brings happiness so our events are always very positive, even in the worst scenarios of where something goes wrong- we have always been able to make an events special because we know how to play with chocolate. We play with the chocolate, we melt it and we mix it with coffee. We call it Mocha but there are cups that we cover in chocolate and there’s chocolate melted all on the outside of it so you’ve got people licking the melted chocolate off of the mugs. Also the small cup, we cover it in chocolate and people are licking the cup and playing with chocolate going all over their face, it’s like a Margherita where you have the salt and you are forced to get the salt around your lips- you cannot avoid the salt and it’s the same with chocolate.
We organised and evening with cocktails and we dipped the martini cup into the chocolate and so you get the strong cocktail but before you get it you taste the chocolate first. The mix was amazing, people were so happy and there were 80 people in Heaven. Somehow it is easy because we have very good chocolate and with chocolate it’s easy because our customers get surprised with getting something so good.
Every day I would open my emails and I would have emails from the Middle East like Dubai but also from China and the United States like New York, Sanfranciso and LA. It is people that have tried our chocolate and they want it so we are happy to provide it. There are many reasons why we are successful, from one side there is the art of doing chocolate which is so difficult and it is something that comes from tradition and recipes. Our hot chocolate recipe is very old and also the main reason is that most of the hot chocolate you see around are not done with real chocolate, they are done with cocoa powder. Our main recipe is real grounded real chocolate which is a completely different world in terms of quality and cost because real chocolate is so expensive. A piece of real chocolate, you ground it with a special machine so it doesn’t get burned but once you have a powder of chocolate which is similar to cocoa powder but cocoa powder is a very cheap product in comparison to our chocolate. Then you mix with other natural products and mix it with milk, it becomes dense and it really is just real hot chocolate but in peoples culture it’s down to milk and cocoa powder including chemicals but our produce have zero chemicals which isn’t easy to do.
We sell the hot chocolate powder so that it can be done at home and there are the instructions but you have to be very careful, if you don’t stir it enough and are not careful the fire can burn it. Real chocolate has two enemies, fire and water. It’s because real chocolate doesn’t melt with water, if it has been treated with chemicals it could melt but real chocolate doesn’t.
The first chocolate was actually a kind of a tea, a chocolate tea. In history, I believe it was the Maya in South America and they discovered the cocoa beans and they were boiling them and making kind of a tea. From there they discovered how to do the chocolate after many years, and the process to do the chocolate is very complicated, it’s not easy at all. Once the cocoa beans are processed and become chocolate, it no longer melts with water but with milk.
We are very vertical, we have no other suppliers other than ourselves so we look at the external chocolate world for curiosity but we really know how to do our job and we are happy to remain being who we are. We want to grow a bit more in London and possibly eventually we will go to New York but we want to maintain as a small independent chain.
We don’t need to be on a high street, people look for us, they reach out to us and we like to be in a place which is like this one- it’s about the right location and connecting with the right people. We are small enough to remain small but our problem is that they always offer us these crazy projects, for us it’s too big and it’s just not for us. It is for big companies to open 20 shops in Italy tomorrow and they’ll say here’s the money. I mean it is very interesting but it is not us, as long as we are the owners it will be like that, but we will leave it our kids anyway.
Every morning I come here, I talk with the pastry chef and every morning we talk about recipes, about small changes and the things that people are asking for. When we do events we are considered to be the best to them, and we want to maintain our relationship and to build an incredible connection because whoever is invited there, they’re looking at us like ‘Wow, these guys are serious’ and that’s what we are.
The more we grow the more difficult it will be to follow each detail, we were talking about decorations for sandwiches and specials and this is something I can still do because I’m in one space; we want to grow slowly and keep up our standards. From the people that work here, most of them are Italians which is not the point as we also have Spanish, British and French here it’s not a problem to us, what is important is to use their passion, to be natural, polite, to do their best and also to be emotionally motivated in doing what they do. I want to have people that want to be in this industry, that are happy to grow eventually with the company or by themselves but in this industry.
The chocolate business is crazy, there are things that you don’t see but they are needed, it’s all of the financial aspects and the supplying of boxes and packaging. I am happy about chocolate; it’s a good drug- a love drug and it really puts people together. It doesn’t matter about their religion, race or anything it’s a tool of communication connecting people and a tool of peace.
It would be so good to find a way to use such a strong tool for spreading peace, everything is pushing people to war and to killing each other in a way- or giving the excuses to kill each other. While I believe that there are a few things in the world that can be interesting without pushing other beliefs -it’s chocolate. As long as it is fair and we are respecting the working people, it can be such a strong instrument to get people together. I can talk with anyone; eventually the queen could try my chocolate and we could talk about it. When you reach someone with such a treat, it creates peace but it’s a very delicate mission.
What I would love to do one day is to ideally get someone very influential and very outreaching- I don’t know who but someone that can really turn a small project like this into something big like putting one of these cafe’s in every city. It’s not for business but for being, I believe that we are influenced by what we tell ourselves, what we have been told and what we hear. If only more and more people could start being against war, war is a crime. There is no way that war is not a crime but this is the United Nations and other organisations, none of them say that war is a crime but it should be case of whichever country is in war- it is then committing crime. It’s a consequential thing, you are in war then you are committing a crime but it’s not like that. When you see the places where there is war, the UN is going and increasing the war but they are saying ‘we are protecting’, France, Italy and the UK, we are going and were participating in killing people. It’s a very impossible mission to be done, to revert all of this.
What are the specialities that you have?
Hot chocolate is a special recipe, it’s really the star of our shop as it is something that is very unique. We got famous thanks to the hot chocolate, that was the start and we play with chocolate, we know how to do truffles, pralines, fresh chocolate. Before moving to the UK we didn’t have any salted caramel truffles so we did it for here and it has now become successful. What I mean is that we can really play with any flavour but our policy is to treat chocolate like wine. To make chocolate from cocoa beans like you would make wine with grapes, we let the spices come out. This means that we don’t use any flavouring, we use natural products as we combine things with chocolate that allow you to recognise the different tastes. All of the nuts, the pistachios and things like this they don’t really mix with chocolate and so there are different ways to making chocolate.
We are like brewers, we like chocolate for what it is and to do this kind of chocolate you need to be very good at making chocolate. This is our philosophy, we are very much into dark chocolate and we believe that the best chocolate percentage is between 64% up to 72%, after this we believe you can’t get the same spices so to get the real spices of the cocoa bean it needs to be in that range. When you go over 72% you lose the spices in the way we do chocolate. For us, we jump from 72 and go to 100 and the 100% is the best seller. We have eight single regions bar meaning that we bought the beans specifically from one place, a single region. We buy all over Ecuador, Central America, central Africa and Asia. When we do a bar from a single region it means that the cocoa beans are from Cuba and you get the spices from Cuba- the spices from the beans selected from there. If you take your time in trying one at a time then you can really understand which one is the one you like the most. It doesn’t mean that it’s the best, there is not best, there is your taste. You can like the one form Africa, you can like the one from Asia but that’s the real chocolate culture, that’s where we go. We want people to have knowledge of chocolate, once you start to understand and recognise the beans from these places and they remain in your brain and you can recognise it with your eyes closed.
We like to let people understand the product and to increase their knowledge of the product which is very different from the big companies with huge names which want you to buy it for nothing- just a snack without you knowing what it is because it’s better not to read into it. We want people to understand what is chocolate, it is much better to have 10g of the good chocolate than a kilogram of bad chocolate. It’s not quantity, its quality and that’s what we do. At the same time we sell quality at a quite reasonable price because we are in line with others but we really believe we are selling the best chocolate you can get. Once you get the best beans, don’t use chemicals and be careful about the chocolate- not getting it too hot or cold, then you can’t really do more than that in terms of costs for material, processes and selling.
Another very successful product for us is the chocolate spread, it’s like Nutella- of course Nutella is famous everywhere but we have our own recipe- they’re similar but the difference is that we don’t use any chemicals so it is much better taste wise. Out spread only has 8 months of shelf life but Nutella has years, and we don’t ship to hot countries. It’s not good to compare it to Nutella, it is a star but we are much more expensive, and we do it in dark chocolate which is zero percent sugar, it is very good to use it to cook and to combine it with fish and for meat. It’s very interesting because zero sugar allows it go in any direction; you can mix it sweet or savoury. We also do one gianduja version, and several versions of dark chocolate with olive oil, pinch salt, coffee and cinnamon.
As I said, we play with chocolate and take many directions; we even cover the Pandoro Christmas cake with our chocolate. We are happy to stay purists about chocolate, once you get a good chocolate then that’s what you need- you don’t need much else. We don’t change a lot; we maybe do new pralines and truffles to play around more and do some of the things we are asked for. The pastry chef and I we play with the cakes, we have a salted caramel tart, which is very successful and only exists here because in Italy salted caramel isn’t a part of our recipe. We use chocolate in many ways; we also have a salad which is goat’s cheese, salad and dark chocolate shavings.
We don’t want to be a restaurant, we don’t want to become famous for pasta and chocolate or these kinds of things but we want to remain a chocolate, coffee patisserie. You can see in the menu there are pasta’s, soup and salad but they are not it- they don’t have chocolate inside.
These are the stars of the shop as well, people are coming into the shop for these chocolate moulds. They have been used in the factory for many years and it’s a kind of wallpaper- the chocolate mould wallpaper. Everyday someone wants to buy them, were not selling them because we have a few and this is a signature for us- this is us and it would be pity to get rid of them.
Would you consider doing any chocolate masters classes and/or evening tastings?
We have done chocolate master classes the House of Peroni, they have been extremely successful but after 2pmthis place becomes very crowded, and so in the beginning we started doing like events, tastings and chocolate tours. We had two companies that did chocolate tours and came with people who were looking for specific chocolate but our venue is so small we had to stop. In the chocolate master classes we showed them how to do a bar and pralines and they got mad. They were all going home with their bars and pralines done by them, guided by us showing them how to do it. When you do your bar, for the first 10 days the chocolate is different, it’s much better. If you buy a chocolate bar a simple one, you work it and you have your mould and you do your shape but for a certain reason the first seven to ten days the chocolate is just fantastic. There are crystals inside and you break the crystals which make it different to anything else that is produced.