Have you checked out The Slow Melt podcast yet? It's a great place to learn more about the craft chocolate industry and about cacao from all around the world.
Episode 7 of The Slow Melt is about how the craft/bean-to-bar/small batch chocolate industry is so new that it’s still defining itself. This is something that we think about a lot. We try to clearly communicate with our customers exactly what we look for in chocolate and what we consider to be the highest quality, but there is a lot of different information out there and some often ill-informed media representation.
We used to focus heavily on the term ‘bean-to-bar’ but recently we’ve tried to use the term ‘craft’ more. Although we only stock bean-to-bar producers, a lot of the large scale industrial producers also make chocolate from scratch (from the bean) and some of them are starting to cash in on the term, now that it is becoming suggestive of higher quality. Having said that, it is only a matter of time until large-scale producers start to put ‘craft’ on their wrappers, seeing as there’s no legal requirements or regulation on the term.
To break it down, we thought we’d highlight these five key areas that we look for when deciding which chocolate to stock...
1. Is it made from high quality, rare and fine flavour cacao?
This is the area that we most often see misunderstood or misrepresented in the media - they often talk about cacao origins and chocolate making techniques, but there doesn’t seem to be a huge understanding of the difference between high-end specialist cacao varieties and the kind of mainstream, mass produced cacao that goes into most of the world’s chocolate. This is probably the biggest difference between what we stock and what is commonly available.
2. Is it bean-to-bar?
As most of you probably know by now, this means that the chocolate makers receive the fermented and dried beans from the farmers. From here they control everything, including the sorting, the cracking and winnowing, the roasting, the grinding and conching, the ageing, the tempering and the moulding. This is the art form we are interested in.
3. Is it handcrafted in small batches?
In general we like to support the craft producers because they are able to achieve things that are not possible on an industrial scale. We like the feel and taste of handcrafted products that have been painstakingly cared for by passionate artisans.
4. Has the cacao been ethically traded?
We only stock bars made with ethically traded cacao. There are many ways that cacao can be ethically sourced - some of the chocolate we sell uses cacao that comes through Fair Trade, whilst some comes through organisations such as Uncommmon Cacao or Kokoa Kamili. There is also the option of chocolate makers working directly with the farmers, which can be hard to setup but has the potential to reap great rewards for everybody involved. Read our article on fair trade vs direct trade if you’d like to know more.
5. Is high quality and deliciousness the primary goal of the chocolate?
All the producers that we stock strive to make the best chocolate possible, using the highest quality ingredients possible. No corners are cut in order to save time or money.
So there you have five key factors that we consider when looking at which products to stock at The Chocolate Bar. Obviously the taste and texture of the chocolate is vital as well, but we won’t even get to the point of tasting new things if the above criteria are not met.
Hopefully this post makes the new wave of craft chocolate a little easier to understand. It can be confusing at times as there is so much happening in the chocolate world right now, but it’s a very exciting time to be involved and we can’t wait to see what will develop over the next five to ten years.