Last April, in the episode “The Craft of Chocolate” of the "The Slow Melt" podcast, Clay Gordon, author of Discover Chocolate and creator and moderator of TheChocolateLife.com, said:
“For $20, I can taste from among the world’s best chocolates. I mean, I have my choice of many of them. And you can’t do that with many other gourmet foods. If you want to test the world’s best wine or taste the world’s best wines, you’re talking about spending tens of thousands of dollars on a bottle or more. And you know the Queen of England—the Queen of England—with all of her millions or however much she has, can’t buy better chocolate than I can. And that’s really, really cool.”
With an average price of £8-10, enthusiastic chocolate lovers can get one of the world-class single-origin dark chocolate tablets available on the market.
Those who complain about such a price range and find it unfair compared to the average 1-pound tag proposed by bulk “premium” chocolate makers do not understand the effort along the chain to produce a craft chocolate tablet that delights consumers’ senses and sustains cacao growers’ livelihoods.
Analysing the value chain from cacao farm to chocolate bar
Large premium chocolate manufacturers buy bulk cacao beans from West Africa (Côte
d'Ivoire and Ghana), whereas specialty craft chocolate makers buy prized cacao beans from Latin American, Asian, and African countries recognized for their fine flavour.
Farmers from West Africa are often not paid fair prices, and so they are not motivated to adopt impeccable farming practices to deliver high-quality cacao beans: cacao is just considered a cash crop like rubber or palm oil. On the opposite, farmers from non-West-African cacao producing countries usually pay closer attention to harvesting and post-harvesting practices (fermentation and drying) that are integral to flavour development. In fact, they are not only paid fairly (even 5 times more for a pound of cacao), directly by chocolate makers or reliable intermediaries, but supported and trained to reach the most sustainable agricultural practices.
Cacao beans from big chocolate manufacturers are usually over-roasted to get rid of any bogus flavour formed during a fast post-harvesting process and then mixed with other ingredients, like refined sugar, vegetable fats, artificial vanillin, which cover hidden flaws in fermentation and mask any unpleasant astringency. Cacao beans from fine origins, instead, are treated with great respect and patience through a gentle and slow process. Craft chocolate makers test the optimum combination of time and temperature during cacao roasting to preserve even the most subtle flavours developed during careful fermentation and drying. Also, chocolate produced from fine cacao origins contain considerably higher percentages of cacao mass: at least 65%, up to 100% pure chocolate liquor. Sometimes, other ingredients like cocoa butter are added to chocolate to make it creamier, but many prefer to stick to a two-ingredient chocolate, sweetened with the finest cane sugar. Hardcore chocolate artisans go a step further by refurbishing vintage equipment to conch chocolate in a traditional way.
The finished gourmet chocolate bars sent to specialty stores do not cost more for their fancy designs and sophisticated packaging, but for the retailer to be able to guide and educate the consumer on the behind-the-scenes of each bar of chocolate.
Dialogue, understanding, and trust with the cacao origin person is the foundation of the chocolate maker's craft. Relationships are more important than certifications. Makers visit the farm so that they can get the best beans as well as make sure they’re processed the best way possible. Even if not all cacao plantations are certified organic, the agricultural practices are so. Simply, most small farmers cannot afford the annual fee for the renewal of a costly certification process.
In the fascinating world of specialty chocolate, cacao farmers and chocolate makers are real partners, and in a two-pronged sense.
Craft chocolate makers are often proud to publish on their packaging not only a specific cacao origin, but also the name—sometimes even the face—of the farmer who drafted the signature of excellence in their chocolate.
Care in harvesting and post-harvesting cacao at the origin, study in interpreting with a customized chocolate making process the full potential of each cacao origin, and transparency in the relationships between chocolate makers and cacao farmers make the best chocolate bar on the shelf, gourmet’s most affordable luxury.
Enter your details to get updates and offers straight to your inbox!