• 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. Everything we stock at The Chocolate Bar is of the highest quality possible. In my opinion, it’s the only black and white element of the term craft chocolate, and yet the concept itself is so difficult to define. Every company claims their chocolate is the highest quality, and every person has their own interpretation of quality, based on what they’ve been exposed to. Every time we taste something that surpasses our previous experience of ‘the best’, our personal goalpost of deliciousness is moved. I remember when I was about ten years old and Stella Artois suddenly became a big thing in England, and people thought you were really posh if you bought it. That is laughable now, as I sit in this craft beer utopia that is Wellington, New Zealand. 

    I am confident that I’ve tasted a lot of the highest quality chocolate in the world, but I’m always open to the possibility that something even more mind-blowing could enter my life. I think that’s actually one of the driving forces that leads me to constantly discover new chocolate makers and taste new bars. This perpetual chocolate assessment keeps me on my toes and enables me to ensure our customers are always accessing the best chocolate in the world.

    chocolate tasting new zealand

    How do I assess quality? Well, that’s a really complex question that needs its own blog piece, but just to give a brief summary, I look for the following things in bars we stock...

    1. Depth of flavour and a flavour journey that develops over time, as the chocolate melts. There should be nuance and intricacies that wow your taste buds - something you can keep coming back to, like a great painting.

    2. Slow melt. I’m looking for a beautiful smooth mouthfeel with no roughness, but it shouldn’t melt too quickly. The slow melt and the flavour journey go hand-in-hand.

    3. Exceptional craftsmanship. I want to see a perfectly crafted bar with a great temper, shiny surface and smooth, consistent finish. 

    4. Beautiful packaging. Presentation matters and is part of the whole chocolate experience. When you’re paying over $10 for a bar of chocolate it should be an event, not just a sweet treat that’s over in a flash.

    5. A brand and story that I can truly connect with. Again this is part of the high quality experience - I want to feel an emotional connection to the project and the people behind it. It should make a lasting impression.

    beau cacao craft chocolate

    Ok, so there you have it. I tried to write a brief explanation of the term craft chocolate but it turned into thirteen hundred words. It’s a complex topic that needs an involved discussion, and I 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,

    Luke

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