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  • What Is Craft Chocolate?

    What Is Craft Chocolate?

    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 bean to bar nz

    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.

    bean to bar chocolate cacao new zealand

    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.

    bean to bar craft chocolate nz

    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 🍫

  • Diversity in Chocolate

    Diversity in Chocolate
    The lack of diversity in the chocolate industry can be quite astonishing. A huge amount of the world’s chocolate is made by just a handful of multinational companies, all using the same types of cacao from the same areas - mostly West Africa and Indonesia - to create chocolate with a standard ‘chocolatey’ flavour. Most small-to-medium sized chocolate companies are chocolatiers who buy pre-made chocolate from these bigger companies - the most common of which is Barry Callebaut in New Zealand. These chocolatiers can do all sorts of unique and creative things with the chocolate, but the chocolate itself is the same as what thousands of other companies are using.
    Imagine if the wine industry was like this. Imagine if most of the wine you saw on the shelf was made by the same company, just with different added flavours and different branding, and all offering the same kind of ‘wine’ flavour notes. And what if almost all the wine was just made with Sauvignon grapes, rather than the huge array or grape varietals that we have access to today. It would be a crying shame! And yet this is exactly how the chocolate industry is, and we’ve all grown up thinking that this is a normal situation.
    Bean-to-bar craft chocolate makers are bringing diversity to chocolate and offering us a whole new world of experiences. It’s currently a small segment of the chocolate industry but within it you’ll find a vast array of options that you’ve never seen before. Different flavour notes in the chocolate, specialist varietals of cacao, unique small-batch chocolate making techniques, different farming and fermentation methods - it’s all the exciting diversity that we’re used to with wine or beer or cheese, but in chocolate it’s a relatively new thing. This is one of the main reasons for the work we do at The Chocolate Bar, and why we choose to only stock bean-to-bar craft chocolate. If you haven’t yet experienced this kind of chocolate, you’ve got some very exciting and delicious discoveries in front of you!
    craft bean-to-bar chocolate
  • Interview 006: Simran Sethi

    Interview 006: Simran Sethi

    For The Chocolate Bar's sixth interview we talked with Simran Sethi, author of Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love, which has been published internationally and received worldwide critical acclaim. More recently Simran has created and presented The Slow Melt: A Podcast About Chocolate - an essential listen for anyone with an interest in chocolate and the most comprehensive documentation of the current state of the chocolate industry. 

    simran sethi interview 

    Here in New Zealand people regularly reference or discuss ‘Bread, Wine, Chocolate’ and most serious foodies have an awareness of it. When you were working on the book did you expect it to be so far reaching?

    I did not – and I am so happy to hear that people know of the book and it resonates! Of course, an author dreams of a big reach but one can never know. I am happy to report the book has been published in North America, as well as Australia and New Zealand, the U.K. and India—and has been translated into Italian and Korean.

    Your book contains some worrying but also inspiring information about the need to protect rare and diverse varietals of cacao (amongst other things). In the two years since it was published, have you seen any development with that situation?

    There have been ongoing discussions in the conservation community about recognizing quality (what we call flavour) within the strategy on preserving cacao. Backup collections typically store varieties that have disease resistance and can offer higher yields. This approach asks that the aroma and taste of cacao also be recognized as valuable and worthy of preservation. There has also been an increased focus on rewarding diversity in cacao through the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund and on celebrating the efforts of producers through the Cocoa of Excellence Programme.

    On the maker side, the growing focus on highlighting origin and farmers is heartening to me. Some makers have been doing this since their inception, of course, but I think growing consumer consciousness around terroir is helping feed this expansion.

    What inspired you to create The Slow Melt?

    I spent five years on six continents doing research for my book where I explored agricultural biodiversity through the lens of flavour and stories of bread, wine, coffee, chocolate and beer, but my greatest love was and is chocolate. The first draft of the chocolate chapter of the book was about 150 pages long. Obviously a lot of that information was edited down but my drive to share it never waned. I wanted others to experience what I had learned from extraordinary people like Darin Sukha and his colleagues at the Cocoa Research Centre (who taught me about sensory analysis and chocolate making); farmers in places like Ecuador, Trinidad and Papua New Guinea; and chocolate purveyors including Aubrey Lindley from Cacao Portland.

    Learning more about the substance I have loved for my whole life has made me appreciate it all the more. Chocolate is stable at room temperature but melts when we touch and taste it. That, to me, implies relationship. That’s what I want to convey and forge—a deeper relationship with chocolate. So, about one year ago, I started to visualize what the podcast could be. We started in earnest last December, launched in late January and are now in the middle of our second season, which we call the Makers Series. It’s a nine-episode series where we speak directly with chocolate makers, learn their stories, and taste one of their signature bars directly with them.

    I am so grateful to those who have come on the show to share their insights. We have heard directly from farmers, NGOs, industry advocates, economists, scientists, bean brokers, chocolate makers and purveyors from six continents on subjects ranging from “the high price of cheap chocolate” to the impacts of sound and our other senses on the flavor of chocolate to a deep dive on actually trying to understand what craft chocolate is (there is NO clear definition which I also write about here).

    The show reaches over 75,000 listeners in 82 countries and has been recommended by National Public Radio and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. My goals are to help people understand that chocolate comes from the seeds of a fruit and should not only be thought of as an industrial product with a uniform taste, and to highlight the many people behind the bar—especially farmers.

    The $100 billion chocolate and confectionary industry is built on the labor of 6 million smallholder farmers who reside in a thin Equatorial belt encompassing Africa, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Asia and depend on cocoa as a cash crop. They are part of the roughly 50 million people who rely on cocoa for their livelihoods and have been dramatically impacted by price volatility and oversupply in the commodity cocoa market. Prices have plummeted by 30 percent in the last year alone, reaching historic lows and severely compromising producers who cultivate the crop. I want chocolate lovers to understand these challenges so we can be part of solving them.

    You obviously have a love of all foods but it seems chocolate has become your main focus right now. What is it about chocolate that particularly interests you?

    As I write in the book and explain on the podcast (in the “Be Still My Heart” episode), chocolate has been my constant companion. It has been my every birthday cake, it was my wedding cake—and it helped me get through my divorce. I was absolutely stunned the first time I entered into a forest where cacao was grown. I couldn’t recognize it. The transformation the seed undergoes to become cocoa and chocolate is so extraordinary, it still enchants me. And knowing more about the people who are growing and harvesting the crop… most are not rich people. In fact, they are quite poor. To paraphrase a coffee expert I interviewed for the book, I do not want my joy to come at someone else’s expense. As a journalist, I feel it’s my responsibility to not only celebrate chocolate but shed light on the processes and challenges behind this food I consume every day.

    simran sethi the slow melt bread wine chocolate

    The new Makers Series of The Slow Melt has been fantastic. How did you decide which chocolate makers to include in the series?

    Thank you! I first want to thank my colleague Katie Ranke who not only edits the Makers Series but came up with the terrific idea to taste chocolate with the makers. She is brilliant.

    I chose makers by, first, compiling my own list. Then, I reached out to three women in chocolate whom I know and admire—Jessica Ferraro from Bar Cacao, Lauren Adler from Chocolopolis, and Valerie Beck from Chocolate Uplift and asked for their lists. And then, I merged and winnowed and came up with the final nine. At the end of the day, I wanted to choose makers who were large(r) and small, who came from all over the world, and who represented the continuum of makers from seasoned to new. And I knew, as the creator and host of the show, I had to be able to stand behind all of them. These are bars I truly appreciate.

    Chocolopolis in the U.S. and Bean Bar You in Australia are stocking every chocolate in the series as part of a Slow Melt subscription box so listeners can taste alongside the makers and me. I am very happy I was able to introduce Lauren to Cailo (from Australia) and Cacao Hunters (from Colombia).

    How has working on The Slow Melt affected your appreciation of chocolate?

    I not only host and content produce the podcast but I write and present about chocolate so it’s always at the forefront of my mind. (This story on chocolate made at origin is one of my favourites.) I have chocolate that I consume with focused attention for work, and chocolate I taste kind of mindlessly. Sometimes they are the same chocolates that I just approach in different ways.

    I think The Slow Melt has forced me to double-down and check my motives. The programme takes a lot more time and resources than I anticipated. I have depleted my savings to do it and constantly have to ask myself if this is the best use of my time and energy. The answer is still “yes” but I truly hope we’ll get more support for this venture.

    What are some of your favourite chocolates that you’ve recently tasted?

    I am so excited for listeners to hear from Bryan Graham of Fruition Chocolate on our upcoming show. The bar he created to support education and art enrichment program for impoverished youth in Saylla, Peru is one of the very best inclusion bars I have ever tasted. It has these peaks of taste, texture, and aroma that I find really compelling. I am also excited about some of the makers I have met in Italy. (I came here for my book tour and stayed.) Guido Castagna’s commitment to cocoa and the exploration of flavour is wonderful. And, both these men are great people. Shawn Askinosie talks about this in our episode on Askinosie (one of my favourite interviews in the Makers Series): intention matters. I, like Shawn, believe kindness and compassion are an integral part of both sustainability and deliciousness.

    What can we expect for the future of The Slow Melt?

    I hope a lot more shows! We’re currently seeking sponsors and are always grateful for donations. I have actually already mapped out the next three seasons of the show because I am that enthusiastic and hopeful.

    What would also be great is if people would take a minute (actually, it takes less than a minute) to vote for us in the Saveur magazine competition. We are in the running for Best Food Podcast and that nod would go a long way in terms of attention and support. All you have to do is scroll down, find “Best Food Podcast” and click on “The Slow Melt.”


    Thank you so much to Simran Sethi for taking the time for this interview. If you're in New Zealand you can buy 'Bread, Wine, Chocolate' from Unity Books and if you haven't already, be sure to have a listen to The Slow Melt

  • Flavoured Bars

    Flavoured Bars

    bean-to-bar craft chocolate

    Last week Hogarth Craft Chocolate released their new Rose & Vanilla Tea bar and it's an absolute beauty. They've used their Madagascan single origin chocolate for this bar and the bright raspberries notes of the cacao intermingle perfectly with rose and vanilla.

    This reminded us of how much we love it when chocolate makers use added flavours or inclusions that work in harmony with the notes of the cacao. Here's a few other bars that do this very well...

    Dick Taylor - Black Fig

    This bar is made with the same Madagascan cacao as the Hogarth bar (Akesson Estate) but Dick Taylor bring out slightly deeper notes of raisin and prune with a touch of citrus. As you can imagine, the organic dried fig sprinkled on top mingles perfectly with these flavours.

    Marou - Ben Tre Coconut Milk

    Unlike a lot of other bars made with coconut milk, this bar tastes of so much more than coconut. The cacao from the Ben Tre region of Vietnam has incredible tropical fruit notes and the coconut milk seems to intensify these flavours. At first you taste coconut but then you're taken on an adventure into a land of mangoes, papaya, guava and more.

    Chocolate Tree - Whisky Nibs

    It's not surprising that our favourite whisky chocolate is made by a Scottish chocolate maker. This bar uses single origin Peruvian chocolate with a deeply nutty and oaky taste. Added to this chocolate are cacao nibs that have been soaked in Laphroaig single malt whisky, giving it a beautiful peaty aftertaste.

  • Interview 005: Luke Spencer

    Interview 005: Luke Spencer

    Interview number 5 is with Luke Spencer, owner and chocolate maker at Spencer Cocoa in Mudgee, Australia.

    Luke is the absolute embodiment of craft chocolate. From his homemade chocolate making machinery to his close relationships with the farmers and involvement in every step of the cacao growing and chocolate making process, he's the classic D.I.Y man whose commitment to quality and flavour is evident in every bite of his bars. We caught up with Luke to find out a little more about his work and passion.

    luke spencer cocoa interview


    1. I gather you spent some time living and working on cacao plantations in Vanuatu? How did that come about, and how did it lead into chocolate making?

    I managed a large cocoa plantation for a couple of years and through this was able to meet some great local growers. The job came about as the company I worked for were looking for someone with experience in the Pacific, as well as agriculture. I had worked in the Solomon Islands so my pigeon (local language) was OK, and I guess a realistic expectation of the working conditions and remoteness that comes with being on a remote island in the Pacific. After returning home I kept in touch with the growers and thought that if a large grinder - Barry Callebaut in Malaysia - were taking the cocoa beans from Vanuatu, surely the quality was there to make good chocolate.  


    2. Has your background in viticulture helped you with what you’re doing now? Do you see many parallels between the wine industry and the craft chocolate industry?

    For sure, the best way to describe it is with a saying that a senior winemaker in the company I worked for said: “you can't make good wine with shit grapes.” The same principal applies for chocolate; you just can't make good chocolate with poor quality beans. We have worked hard with the growers in Vanuatu to improve quality. It’s been an awesome experience!

    Then I see the transition from mass produced chocolate to better quality, smaller batch chocolate. The wine game was dominated by the big guys and then people started realising that small wineries had some fantastic wines out there, and that it wasn't just Chardonnay and Shiraz that existed. There was so much more to wine... and so the same applies for chocolate!  


    3. It says on your website that you self engineered a lot of your chocolate making equipment? How is that working out, and are there challenges with growth and expansion?

    Definitely, being a small producer it’s challenging to find small scale equipment. Most equipment is geared towards mass production, measured in the tonnes per hour... we do kgs per day! Engineering our own machinery has been great and we are always improving. It’s probably the one area of the business that keeps my mind ticking over, always looking at new ways to improve a process... basically make my day easier! 

    4. You visit the cacao farms in Vanuatu at least twice a year. How would you describe your relationship with the farmers?

    I would hope its a strong one. I think we have all built a level of respect for each other’s importance in the process of making a bar of chocolate. I respect the hard work that goes into growing cocoa, and I think the growers now appreciate the work that goes into making chocolate. The growers really enjoy their chocolate (and think its the absolute best!) I am pretty strict on quality and find it difficult to reject beans, basically you have to be very tactful yet firm, otherwise the importance of quality is lost.


    5. Are you involved with helping to develop fermentation and drying techniques with the farmers? If so, how does this affect your finished product?

    We work closely with growers to improve both fermentation and drying. I think the fermentation techniques in Vanuatu are pretty good - we use a wooden box with removable slats, turning daily for five to seven days. This ensures good air contact (oxygen for fermentation) and even fermentation (no hot centres and cold outer edges of the fermentation box.)

    Drying is where we have invested mostly. We prefer sun dried beans where possible, but appreciate that climate doesn't always allow for sun drying. Forced air drying is common in Vanuatu and the Pacific, particularly in the wet season (Jan - April) The big issue of smoke taint is generally due to poor maintenance of the hot air pipe; in most cases old 44 gallon drums are used. So far we have invested through a direct micro enterprise loan to growers for 2 hot air dyers.

    Luke Spencer Cocoa The Chocolate Bar craft chocolate

    6. How do you find the craft chocolate industry in Australia right now? 

    It seems to be growing steadily. Initially I thought there would be a huge influx of producers but there seems to be only a few more in the last 2 years. Access to good quality cocoa beans is a limiting factor, and going directly to growers is a long, challenging road, in our experience.  


    7. What are your plans for Spencer Cocoa in the future? Any new products you’re developing?

    We hope to grow a little more, certainly scale helps bring a few of the fixed costs down. We'd like to start working with some growers in Bougainville (just talking at the moment) as showcasing the great work of the grower is my passion. We also have a white chocolate recipe almost ready - feedback so far has been really positive so I just need to spend time on a good wrapper design - you think that would be the easy part! Easter Eggs...maybe next year.


    8. What’s your favourite thing to drink alongside a piece of your chocolate?

    Good porter or stout, and when its really cold (yes it does get cold in Australia) a whisky!


    9. Are there any other chocolate makers who particularly inspire you?

    Heaps, too many to name. Basically anyone giving it a go. Have signed up with Bean Bar You in Sydney and really enjoyed my first subscription pack, which had a Madre 70% that was all fruit and berry, just awesome!


    Thanks so much to Luke for taking the time for this interview. If you'd like to have a taste of his chocolate, you can find it here.

  • Welcoming Soul Chocolate

    Welcoming Soul Chocolate
    soul chocolate buy craft chocolate online
    This week we welcomed Soul Chocolate from Ontario, Canada to our craft chocolate family. This chocolate is produced by Katie Bartlett and Kyle Wilson, who discovered their love for fine chocolate whilst visiting New Zealand a few years ago, so it's nice to welcome their chocolate back to the place that inspired it. Katie and Kyle visit many of the farms where their cacao comes from and are working towards having 100% direct trade relationships with the farmers.

    We have two single origin bars available - a Madagascar 70% and a Tanzania 80%. These little bars pack a mightily flavourful punch!