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“It was one of those funny cold Melbourne mornings that crop up in between 35 degree days,” explains Leo Kats, justifying what she's about to say.

“So we soaked chai spices overnight in coconut milk, strained the milk this morning, added a pinch of salt and made white quinoa porridge.”

Such a breakfast is to be expected from gourmet chocolatiers Leo Kats and Nikki Hillier – the Melbourne-based couple making exotic and completely decadent small batch chocolate under the name Liefje.

That the porridge was sprinkled with the maple chill-salt roasted hazelnuts that they always have on hand, some local strawberries and a drizzle of organic maple syrup is hardly a surprise, either.

The Dutch-born furniture maker and the British fashion creative are the founders of Liefje and spend their days and nights combining dark Peruvian cacao with natural ingredients and hand-ground spices to create their completely original chocolate.

Leo grew up in Amsterdam ('liefje' is Dutch for sweetheart) and spent her early twenties in professional kitchens experimenting with flavours and combining the traditional with the whack. Think caramelised almond, whiskey and walnut, and apple pie ice creams.

Now a furniture maker based in Prahran, her more recent foray into chocolate began when Nikki was instructed to give up sugar, dairy and gluten two years ago.

The result has become Liefje's signature chocolate.  It's made from fairly-traded organic raw Peruvian cacao, sweetened with Canadian maple syrup, and flavoured with cinnamon and salt before being tempered on a traditional stonetop for a glossy finish and firm snap.

Liefje's Hazelnut Crunch is a classic example of Leo's penchant for offbeat flavour combinations: an almost-black chocolate flavoured with maple-roasted hazelnuts and sprinkled with chilli salt.

“Amsterdamers know how to make impossibly delicious salty-sweet stuff to munch,” says Nikki, like that explains the genius.

Liefje's Smoked Salt chocolate is dark and velvety, intensified with shards of bitter cacao nibs and sprinkled with hand smoked Murray-Darling salt, while the Spice Trail is subtly flavoured with cloves, cardomom, and punchy ancho chilli.

“It fills every nook and cranny of our house with the dangerously irresistible aroma of chocolate,” says Nikki. “We are big consumers of our own product.”

Liefje collaborated with British artist Kate Arnold to create their luxurious packaging. Her work ranges from carved totem sculptures, Italian frescos, wood block prints and delicate pen and ink drawings.

“I felt only Kate would be able to create the botanical drawings with the raw, almost Egon Schiele edge I had in my mind's eye,” says Nikki. “So I begged.”

Silky and rich without being overpowering, Liefje is some of the finest dark chocolate we've ever eaten. Because it's sugar, dairy and gluten free, Nikki and Leo describe it as a 'virtuous luxury.' We just call it straight up awesome.


Liefje chocolate is available here.

Photography: Alicia Taylor
Styling: Elodie Darwish
Art direction: Unit1 Creative