What is Craft Chocolate?
There are a few different terms we use to describe the kind of chocolate we sell at The Chocolate Bar, but most commonly we use ‘craft chocolate’. If you’re a customer of ours and have been following what we do for a while, you’ve probably got a reasonably clear idea of what we mean when we use this term. But if you haven’t got a clue what craft chocolate means then don’t worry, you’re not the only one. Even within the industry, many chocolate professionals still debate what this term means, and there are no specific guidelines or rules around its use. Here are my thoughts on the matter...
Craft chocolate will never be a black and white term because the chocolate industry - and life in general - is too complex and nuanced to put everything into clearly defined boxes. What the term can do, when used with authenticity, is give a reasonably clear indication of the chocolate’s ingredients, the production technique, the ethics and the intentions of the chocolate maker. Here’s a rough guide to what is commonly meant by craft chocolate...
1. USUALLY craft chocolate has been made from scratch - from bean to bar. This is the case for about 99% of the chocolate we stock. An example of an exception would be Akesson’s, who grow their own cacao but outsource the chocolate making to legendary French chocolate maker Francois Pralus.
2. USUALLY craft chocolate aims to highlight the flavour of the cacao. Whereas mainstream industrial chocolate tends to mask the flavour of cacao with lots of added ingredients and heavy processing, craft chocolate makers aim to help cacao live its best life. They make cacao the star of the show and their whole process revolves around extracting the most delicious flavours the beans have to offer. Having said that, we definitely sell some amazing bars with added flavours where the flavour notes of the beans have taken a backseat. Even with these types of bars, there are always high quality beans at the base of what we sell.
3. USUALLY craft chocolate is made in relatively small batches. Just like craft beer, the term suggests making chocolate on a small scale with more human interaction and control than mass-produced chocolate. We work with a lot of very small-scale producers who are processing less than ten tonnes of cacao beans per year. At the higher end of the craft scale would be a company like Dandelion Chocolate in San Francisco, which processes around 120 tonnes of cacao per year, and that’s still very small compared to a company like Whittaker’s, which processes thousands of tonnes of cacao per year, or Cadbury, which is processing hundreds of thousands of tonnes per year. The largest chocolate company we currently work with is Zotter, which processes around 250 tonnes of cacao per year. Would we still call that craft? Well, we probably wouldn’t, but many would, and it’s definitely a lot closer to craft-scale than Whittaker’s or Cadbury.
4. USUALLY craft chocolate is made with fine flavour cacao, which accounts for around 5% of the world’s production (the other 95% being commodity or ‘bulk’ cacao). All of the bars we stock are made with high quality cacao, and that quality comes from both the genetics and the post-harvest processing. However, it is absolutely possible to make high quality, great tasting chocolate with ‘lower quality’ cacao, such as CCN51, which has been genetically engineered to favour disease resistance and yield over flavour. If you took some bog-standard CCN51 and meticulously fermented and dried it, then asked a master craft chocolate maker to turn it into chocolate, you would almost certainly end up with a great chocolate bar (though without many of the benefits of using fine flavour/heirloom cacao, which is a whole other topic).
5. USUALLY craft chocolate makers are paying between two and four times the commodity price (aka futures index) for cacao. As I’ve mentioned many times before, this increased price is based on quality, and aims to create a sustainable business model that benefits both the farmers and the chocolate makers. Currently the futures index price for cacao is around $3.20 (NZD) per kg, and the makers we work with are usually paying between $6 and $12 per kg.
6. USUALLY craft chocolate makers are very open about their business model and practices. Mainstream industrial chocolate is shrouded in smoke and mirrors that hide the truth behind the ethics and quality of the chocolate being produced. As an antidote to this, the craft chocolate industry has made openness a core part of its values, and most makers will be happy to show you exactly how their chocolate is made, where the ingredients come from, how much the farmers are paid and who is involved at every step of the process. There is nothing to hide and they are working to rebuild people’s trust in chocolate.
So there you have a collection of USUALLYs that give you an idea of what we mean when we say ‘craft chocolate’. There is one other thing that unites all of the chocolate we sell - something that is ALWAYS - and that is high quality.
Ok, so there you have it. It’s a complex topic that needs an involved discussion, and we hope this piece can help you get a feel for what it’s all about. If you ever want more information about the chocolate that we stock, please feel free to get in touch.
The Chocolate Bar NZ 🍫