Bean-to-bar, small batch, craft, artisan, microbatch chocolate; all of this boils down to the same idea of a new way of making chocolate.
Chocolate as we taste it starts as a seed that someone took the time to plant and then care for, just as someone created and cared for you. And just like you wouldn’t want someone to only see one still image from a life lived in motion, you shouldn’t limit your chocolate experience to the bar in front of you. Each bar you taste is just a snapshot of the life of that cacao and the many seeds used to make that batch of chocolate, and even that same chocolate will taste different a year later, if you can let it sit that long. Craft chocolate makers know this and try to cultivate the different personalities of each batch of cacao they make into chocolate.
The old type, or old model for chocolate making, is considered to be that of the 5 Big Chocolate makers: Mars, Nestle, Hershey’s, Kraft, and Cadbury (now owned by Kraft). The term Big Chocolate works two-fold, in one way referring to their ubiquity around the world as producers of a large percentage of chocolate & as most people’s first experience with the stuff, as well as being part of an industry mindset which controls a large enough portion of cocoa sales as to have majority control. This means that they have a monopoly on purchasing the cocoa grown in some parts of the world, notably West Africa, as well as controlling the conditions in which it is grown & harvested & processed. So what is craft chocolate and how has it proven itself to be different?
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Craft Chocolate: Bars With a Heart
All different kinds of people, most of whom stumbled into chocolate making from a whole other career path, such as lawyer, ethnobotanist, or automechanic. Some also started their careers as chocolate makers or inherited a family business. This has resulted in a very culturally disparate but decidedly united group of chocoholics, such as myself, finding common ground in cacao grown around the world. Often, the website The Chocolate Life is used as a meeting ground and a forum for all things chocolate, and it is there that you can learn a lot more about the nuances of the craft chocolate movement.
A marked shift from westernized and over-processed “chocolate” to a global chocolate product, made from beans from all around the world. Single-origin or single-plantation bars are one of the staples of the Movement, and are used to showcase both the nuances in flavor of each region’s beans and the skills of a craft chocolate maker. In my opinion, a great chocolate makers cajoles an evolution of flavor notes from their beans, combining scent & taste & texture to create unique flavors. There are dozens, in not hundreds, of small-scale chocolate producers in the US alone, all at varying levels of incorporation and fame.
A shift in consumerism towards businesses with more transparent practices and fairly traded ingredients started in the 1980’s, eventually leading to the formation of several equal trade and environmentally-friendly certification companies. However it is generally accepted that the craft chocolate movement began in earnest around 2005 with the forming of Shaerffen Berger (now owned by Hershey’s) and Taza. The aforementioned Taza joined with four other companies (Askinosie, Patric, Amano, and DeVries) in 2008 to form the association of Craft Chocolate Makers of America. In 2010 and beyond, hundreds of tiny chocolate producers have popped up worldwide, including some makers who make chocolate from their own cacao, often called tree-to-bar chocolate. This exponential increase has caused a huge shift in availability of microbatch chocolate-making equipment, bumping the numbers up even higher.
The new center for craft chocolate production is the US, not Europe, although European craft-style chocolate has a longer history, centered in France and Italy. Impact of craft chocolate can be seen globally, however, as cocoa production is being taken up in all corners of the world. Cocoa farmers everywhere are starting to receive more competitive prices based on quality and the unique flavors of their cacao, with criollo cacao generally fetching the highest prices.
You don’t get rich as a chocolate maker unless you are exploiting someone else along the way; there are simply too many people involved in the many stages of chocolate making. So for most makers it comes down to a desire to make a positive ecological and economic impact upon the far reaches of our earth, alongside a need to publicly realize their long time love affair with chocolate. This combination has resulted in a huge leap in bars bearing some kind of quality certification, almost making that a cultural prerequisite to being considered an artisan maker. The inundation of certifications finally lead Taza Chocolate’s founder Alex Whitmore to found Direct Trade certification, a less stringent endorsement which indicates simply that the maker bought the cacao straight from the farmer at a price both parties found to be fair.
To read how chocolate is made, check out my page here.
Wait— There are Different Types of Cacao?
Oh yes! There are three subspecies of cacao, each of which has numerous types thanks to evolution based on climate, sunshine, altitude, rainfall, soil nutrients, and many other factors. Though you can read more about them here, the three types are:
- Forastero: It was brought to West Africa in the late 1800’s, and to south Asia in the 1980’s, from its native growing region in modern-day northern Venezuela/Colombia. Currently it comprises the majority of the world’s cocoa crop, and is the main type cultivated in Africa, where over two-thirds of the world’s cocoa is produced. Generally it is referred to as the “hardy” variety of cocoa, withstanding most viruses and bearing the most fruit of the three subspecies, though it also tends to have a very straight-forward cocoa taste with very few flavor notes, making it less desirable for craft chocolate. Of the three, it generally fetches the lowest market price, and as such is the variety of choice for the creation of cocoa-flavored products and cocoa butter for cosmetic and consumptive use.
- Trinitario: A hybrid of the forastero & criollo varieties, this middle-of-the-road variety originates on the island of Trinidad, where forastero trees were introduced to a criollo plantation after a plague devastated the crop. Nowadays there is trinitario growing all over the world, and it comprises about 10% of the world’s cacao production, as well as the bulk of the fine-flavor cacao market. The criollo qualities of trinitario pods can be expressed in the form of white cacao beans, sometimes as few as 5% of the beans, or one to two in each pod.
- Criollo: The most varying in flavor and aroma, criollo is believed to be native to current-day southern Mexico and Guatemala. It is cultivated mostly on small estates in Latin America, almost exclusively for consumption in artisan chocolate bars, and comprises 1-2% of the world’s cacao production. The most expensive of the three types, criollo trees are being planted more often these days, sometimes taking the place of older forastero trees in an attempt to gain more money from each harvest. Incentive for this comes because despite bearing fewer fruit on average than their counterparts, criollo can fetch upwards of 3x market price per metric tonne, largely due to their differing nuanced flavors and inherent lack of bitterness.
- Other: There are currently ten types of cacao genetically mapped, some of which have traditionally been under the umbrella of either Criollo, Trinitario or Forastero.
So is it Cacao or Cocoa?
Well, according to Escazu Chocolate‘s Hallot Parson, that depends on what language you speak. Or more aptly, it depends on the language spoken by the chocolate maker who is talking about the ingredient. “Cacao” is both the scientific name for the species of fruit from which chocolate is made, as well as being the Spanish word; in English and French the plant is called “cocoa.” I used to think that the distinction lay in whether the fruit was in its raw state or its processed one, but Hallot’s explanation makes more sense than any other one I’ve encountered.
As a chocolate aficionado and an avid traveler whose interests are currently in Latin America, my preferred term is cacao, as evidenced forever in the name of my site. This word, however, tends to throw people off, as it has different connotations in different contexts as well as meaning nothing to people who grew up with the word “cocoa.” So some people react to the word by saying “Ca-what? What did you say?” While others hear the word and think of the fruit of their childhood or long days working on a plantation; still others recall fudge-scented rooms full or roasting cacao or their first bite of artisan chocolate. None of these is correct and none are wrong, because that’s part of what cacao is— a unique experience and a global phenomenon with roots both everywhere and nowhere specific.
TL; DR: both words are correct; it is simply the same word in different languages.Thanks for reading!