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News / fine flavour

  • 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...

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

    Thanks,

    The Chocolate Bar NZ 🍫

  • Greenwashing in the Chocolate Industry

    cacao

    As I’m sure you’re already aware, the mainstream cacao industry is rife with ethical issues, such as slavery, enforced child labour and the general mistreatment of farmers, who often earn barely enough to survive. As people become more and more aware of these issues, we see more and more chocolate companies ‘greenwashing’ - making dubious claims about the ethics behind their products, and often using made-up symbols and fake certifications on their packaging.  

    Even the official certifications are failing to achieve most of what they promise to. I’m not an expert on this topic but we talk with many people who are, and there’s an almost unanimous consensus that, whilst filled with good intentions, well known certifications like Fair-trade and Rainforest Alliance are not even close to achieving what they set out to achieve, particularly in West Africa, where about 60% of the world’s cacao is grown. That’s not necessarily entirely the fault of these ambitious certification schemes, but the result of trying to fix a system that is so heavily broken. The system needs a complete overhaul.

    The fine cacao and craft chocolate industry are showing how things can be done differently, and with as much transparency as possible. The chocolate makers we work with are paying around two or three times the market rate for their beans, as opposed to the tiny premium offered by certification schemes (usually around 10% more than the market rate). They are working with farms where slavery is absolutely not an issue. One of the key things that is different about the fine/craft system is that it values quality over quantity. The much higher rates paid to farmers are based on the quality and flavour profile of the beans - it’s about doing the right thing, but it’s also about creating mutually beneficial business relationships that are sustainable and built to last. Likewise, that is why the chocolate we sell is more expensive than most supermarket brands - you’re paying for something that’s truly ethical, as well as something that is much higher quality and offers a completely different flavour experience.

    These issues around ethics and sustainability in chocolate are unbelievably complex, and made all-the-more confusing by the greenwashing we see everywhere, not to mention the big money marketing campaigns that are so much more prevalent than the voices of people and companies who are actually doing great things. Fine cacao and craft chocolate is just a drop in the ocean of this huge industry, but we hope that one day the example we’re all setting will be much more widespread, and that the world can embrace ethical trade and a quality over quantity approach to chocolate. 

     

    Photo courtesy of Luisa Abram. Views expressed are my own.

  • Defining the Industry

    Defining the Industry

    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?

    This is predominantly what we focus on, although we do stock a couple of exceptional larger scale producers such as Original Beans and Zotter.

    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.

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    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.