Dark Matters Tasters and Makers: What is Craft Chocolate? Part 2

Welcome to What is Craft Chocolate Part 2.  The Question asked in Part 1 last week was: The definition of craft chocolate varies so much person-to-person. How do you define craft chocolate and/or how do you think it should be defined?

Check out Part 1 here:

http://darkmatterschocolatereviews.com/2017/08/04/dark-matters-tasters-makers-series-craft-chocolate-part-1/

And now let’s find out how more tasters and makers answer:

Hazel Lee, Bean-to-bar Maker, The Chocolate Tasting Flavour Map 

Hazel Lee:  I find this question a difficult one because there are no legal standards that differentiate craft/bean-to-bar chocolate from standard, poor quality bulk chocolate and one could argue any chocolate to be “craft” or “bean-to-bar” because of the lack of legal definitions.  However, when I am asked “what is craft chocolate?”, I say that it has been processed with a focus to produce a high quality chocolate, working with the fine flavours naturally present in the quality cocoa beans that have been ethically sourced (rather than buying poor quality cacao, roasting at a high temperature and adding a high level of sugar and /or milk powder and/or vanilla flavour or other flavours). I usually compare craft/bean-to-bar chocolate with wine, in that different origins will hold different flavours with many other factors influencing the final flavour of the bar (maker style, terroir variety, etc.).  I also like to highlight that all of the hundreds of wonderful flavours that are found in wine/chocolate come from the grape/bean alone (unless flavoured or with inclusions including milk, of course).  So it’s something to be savoured and explored than eaten for a sugar fix.

As for how I think it should be officially defined, I honestly don’t know.  I think it would be a very difficult exercise to get alignment with all of the “craft” chocolate makers out there (and involve a lot of money!). 

Hazel Lee:  https://www.instagram.com/hazel_choc/?hl=en

Karen and Isobel Carse of Dormouse Chocolates

Isobel Carse:  I think that it is quite difficult to come up with a single definition of craft chocolate that will please every person in the industry.  I would love to see an industry-wide definition that made it clear to consumers the work that goes in to making craft chocolate, and what sets it apart.

In my opinion craft chocolate is an umbrella term that covers many aspects of chocolate making, from micro batch makers such as myself, to larger scale makers.  But I feel that the key term is chocolate making, meaning that the company has complete control over every aspect of the chocolate making process from selecting the raw beans through roasting, grinding and moulding the bars, having full ownership of every aspect of the process. 

I also think that the intention behind the chocolate is important.  A craft chocolate maker should want to get the best out of their beans and not be afraid to experiment.  Bean-to-bar shouldn’t be about throwing a few ingredients together with no thought behind where they have come from and what is happening once they mix.  At the same time – it’s chocolate! It should be a thing of joy, not chin-stroking seriousness!  I think the joy is evident when a group of makers get together, the passion behind what we do is so clear, and for me that is what defines craft chocolate.

Dormouse Chocolates:  https://www.instagram.com/dormousechocs/?hl=en

Sharon Terenzi, The Chocolate Journalist

Sharon Terenzi:  Although there is no commonly accepted definition for craft chocolate, I will tell you what craft chocolate means to me on a very practical level, romanticism left aside.

Firstly, craft chocolate is bean-to-bar.  Bean-to-bar doesn’t have to be craft chocolate, but craft chocolate has to be bean-to-bar.  Craft chocolate is when cocoa beans enter a factory and come out as chocolate.  Whatever starts with coverture, cocoa powder or cocoa nibs, that is not craft chocolate. 

Secondly, craft chocolate is where a head chocolate maker can be recognized. Either there be one or ten people making chocolate, they all have one person that they refer to that can be well-identified and that direct them all.  He/she has complete control on the bean-to-bar process and, even  without hands-on, is entirely responsible for the end-result. 

Lastly, craft chocolate is where fine cacao is used.  Expensive, rare, flavorful. Craft chocolate made with cheap cacao beans is not craft chocolate.

I believe that these are some of the very few objective criteria that can help us distinguish between craft chocolate and wanna-be craft chocolate. 

Sharon Terenzi, The Chocolate Journalist: https://www.instagram.com/thechocolatejournalist/?hl=en

Lori Romaine, Time to Eat Chocolate

Lori Romaine:  Since I don’t have hands on experience making chocolate (I’m a blogger and consumer, not a chocolate maker), I’m very curious to hear what chocolate makers think about this question.   Not only will I be answering using my personal observations, but I’m also keeping the general public in mind, meaning people who have never tasted craft chocolate or are new to it.

My understanding of what “craft” means is how we describe craft breweries. The general accepted terms used to define craft breweries are: small, independent, and traditional.  This is how I’ve seen these three words being applied to chocolate makers:

Small: Usually I see chocolate makers make small batches at a time.  Raaka, for example, only making so many of their Pine Needle bars during the holidays. Once it’s sold out, it was not coming back for the rest of the year.  Or Undone discontinuing a single origin bar because they ran out those specific beans (R.I.P. Bolivian Amazon). Others make the same bar(s) all year round, but still in multiple small batches.  Like Harper Macaw making their bourbon bar, though it’s reliant on their months long process of letting the beans first sit in bourbon barrels to soak in the natural bourbon flavor. 

Independent: Basically every chocolate maker I am familiar with is not a part of a larger company.  I would not consider Scharffen Berger as “craft” since they were bought by Hershey’s years ago. The only major news I’ve heard was Undone Chocolate was bought by Affinity Beverage, but otherwise all the rest of the craft chocolate makers I know of are their own entity. I still support Undone since I’m a fan of their products, I haven’t seen or experienced any changes in their chocolate at all and they are one of my local chocolate makers. 

Traditional: When chocolate makers mention on their websites how they try to harken back to how cocoa was traditionally consumed, it’s educational. Educational in that someone who always consumed grocery store chocolate before trying craft chocolate would not have thought about how chocolate used to be consumed years and years ago, and now they’ve been enlightened! I see drinking chocolate with spices in it being sold by multiple makers.  I didn’t know that the cocoa shells could be used as a tea until Undone started selling their cocoa shells for such use.  I like chocolate bars that are made with just cocoa and some sugar (with the exception of added addictive raspberries, green tea and coffee). Yeah cocoa was not originally consumed that way, but keeping out emulsifiers and other junk helps the consumer enjoy the product a bit closer to its roots than otherwise.

One other term I would like to add is “unique”. Though the process is generally the same for all chocolate makers in guiding the bean into bar form, all of them have their own method and their own twist to that process. This is honestly what first comes to my mind when I think of “craft” because from what I’ve read in the stories about chocolate makers and from speaking with some, everyone has certain skills and experience, there’s variation in the equipment/tools used and just the overall technique needed to make that delicious bar.  Now I’ll go on a tangent to explain why I think this is so exciting. Remember when you were little and had to make an arts and crafts project? Why was it called arts and crafts? You’re making something from scratch with your own personal touch. We could all glue popsicle sticks into the shape of a picture frame, but all of us will still have small differences in how we glued the sticks together, like how much glue and popsicle sticks we used and whether your frame is a square, rectangle or whatever shape. Though every chocolate maker could use the same exact beans to make a chocolate bar, there will still be small differences in the end product. 

That’s my understanding of what makes a craft chocolate maker a craft chocolate maker. 

Lori Romaine, Time to Eat Chocolate: https://www.instagram.com/timetoeatchocolate/?hl=en

Victoria Cooksey, Dark Matters Chocolate Reviews, craft chocolate review videos on YouTube.

Victoria Cooksey: Several years ago I actually stopped eating chocolate for several weeks (keep in mind it was your typical grocery aisle type of chocolate back then that I was consuming).  At the time I thought I was just burned out on eating chocolate and needed a break from it so I would enjoy it again. Looking back I now know the real reason I wasn’t enjoying it anymore: boredom.  To me, one of the things “craft” chocolate means is the very opposite of boredom.   Craft chocolate is the creative, exciting, expression of flavors in bars made with beans from different countries and even the same beans used by different craft chocolate makers offer so many different scents and flavors.

So often a mass produced grocery store type bar is described as tasting like chocolate.  In the craft chocolate world there is no describing something as just “tasting like chocolate” because chocolate can taste like so many things like dark honey, raspberries, oak, orange blossoms, etc., from just the expression of the flavors in the beans, combined with cocoa butter, and sugar.

Continuing along the line of taste, if I were to purchase a mass-produced chocolate bar in the candy aisle of the grocery store, I know that if I had bought that bar a year ago, today, or a year from now chances are that bar would taste the same because of how it’s made.  It’s made to always taste the same.  In craft chocolate, season to season (vintage to vintage so to speak) can have a huge impact on flavor in the beans from one harvest to the next. While the quality of the beans and the chocolate made from them should always be good, “craft” chocolate also means variations of flavor.

Just like in craft beer, wine, and coffee there is the experience of taking a moment, looking at the color, smelling, tasting, various mouth feels/textures, length of finish, and so forth.  Craft chocolate is a part of conscious eating/living versus grabbing a snack to eat on the run.

Craft chocolate often represents using direct trade, quality ingredients, not using beans if they have off flavors and taking a loss if necessary instead of using them, helping the environment, and protecting rare cacao.   But it also offers unusual tasting opportunities some in very limited/exclusive releases never to be seen/tasted again.

To me, craft chocolate means unique experiences. And who wouldn’t want more of those?

Victoria Cooksey: https://www.instagram.com/victoria.cooksey/?hl=en

Thanks for reading and look for more Dark Matters Tasters and Makers Series posts later this year!

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