Imagine a room full of chocolate-obsessed people.
A tall man tastes dark chocolate from the Philippines, while a charming lady attends a conference about flavor development. A curious kid scrutinizes a cocoa pod like it’s his new favorite toy, while a group of chocolate makers talks business next to the most modern bean-to-bar machines. The wife sips on cacao juice from Ecuador, while the husband licks artisanal chocolate spread from his mustache.
Amsterdam has never been more delicious!
At its 7th edition, Chocoa has brought together chocolate lovers from all over the world, welcoming 150 exhibitors, feeding 6.000 visitors, giving stage to 83 international speakers and organizing 35 tastings. Everybody had their own share of fun: on one side, professionals in the cacao and chocolate industry enjoyed 3 days full of tours, conferences and BTB networking; on the other side, the following 2 days were open to the public and dedicated to diving into chocolate tasting and buying.
What better occasion to discover new trends in the industry?
Here are the latest chocolate news from Chocoa in Amsterdam:
BOOM OF BEAN-TO-BAR MAKERS IN EUROPE
The bean-to-bar mania is spreading fast across all European countries. From Spain to Russia, from Sweden to Romania, chocolate makers are springing up all over the Old World. Why? The reasons might be many.
For the good or the bad, Europe has always followed the latest trends in the food industry coming from the US. The American craft chocolate movement started 13 years ago, and Europe is now catching up with its own league of bean-to-bar professionals. Another reason might be the long-time European tradition of patisserie and confectionery. With an increasing sweet tooth since sugar was first imported from America, maybe it was only natural for dessert professionals to start looking at the curious ingredient that is chocolate and finally wonder about its origin and making. So much that many pastry chefs and chocolatiers have now added chocolate making to their curricula.
Some names are already established, while others are just getting started. Nonetheless, the number of chocolate makers in Europe is only meant to increase.
“SINGLE ORIGIN” SOON TO BE REPLACED BY “SINGLE ESTATE” AND “SINGLE VARIETY” CLAIMS
Long gone is the time when only craft chocolate carried the names of exotic countries of origin. Since big chocolate brands started to witness stagnant sales, their new strategy has been clear: closing the gap with fine chocolate as much as they could. One of their tactics now consists of including the country of origin on their packaging.
So it happens that in 2019 you can step into the cheapest supermarket of your town and find mass-produced chocolate for € 0,99 a bar that carries names like Ecuador, Peru, Colombia or Ghana. Many unaware consumers are captivated by these claims, and associate specific countries to the quality of the chocolate (when the country itself is by no means an indication of quality). To counteract such misleading actions, craft chocolate makers are fighting back with new claims: Single Estate and Single Variety.
Single-estate chocolate is chocolate made using cocoa beans from one area of land. This can include different varieties of beans, but same terroir. Single-Variety chocolate is chocolate made using cocoa beans with the same genetics. These can include different terroirs (although usually in close proximity), but same genetics (where the genes of the mother-tree gets passed on thanks to grafting).
Big chocolate manufacturers are known for their habit of blending cacaos from different regions of the same country, so in theory they could never be able to use such claims. These new specifications could help craft chocolate take a further step away from mass-produced chocolate in the mind of consumers.
DELICIOUS INCLUSIONS BECOME A MUST
Remember in 2016 when chocolate lovers were all about dark, sugar-free, high-cacao content, protein packed, raw chocolate? Scrap all that. In 2019, consumers are pulling away from their healthy resolutions and decide they want their delicious treats back.
The same makers who have always been loyal to dark chocolate are now offering milk and white options (also dairy-free and vegan) to satisfy this renovated demand for deliciousness. Even inclusions aren’t relegated to healthy choices like nuts, seeds and dried fruits anymore, but cover a wide range of rich flavors: cappuccino, gianduja, candied fruit, liquors, matcha, coconut, chai, liquorice. Having delicious alternatives in the assortment becomes a must, and these delicious alternatives are often what drives most of the sales.
Have consumers worldwide gotten bored of plain dark chocolate?
IT’S NOT BULK CACAO ALL THAT IS AFRICAN
With West African countries producing 70% of the global supply of cocoa beans, the entire continent has always been labelled as the land of bulk, flavorless, cheap cacao, only to be used for mass-produced candies. But the stigma on African cacao is slowly but steady being defeated.
Some special places are being discovered in Tanzania, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Cameroon, where fine cacao can be grown in the respect of the environment and the people who take care of it. In these rare gems, farmers learn the best harvesting and post-harvesting practices, biodiversity flourishes, fermentation centers are created, and the community’s wealth increases year after year. Most of the times, substantial help comes from private companies, local governments and investments from abroad. The result is more African fine cacao on the market available to craft chocolate makers. And when more chocolate bars made with African cacao start circulating, this helps defeating the stigma.
Although most African cacao is still produced among corruption, injustice and poor standards, these fine cacao origins bring hope for the future.
CACAO JUICE: A NEW DRINK DEDICATED TO CHOCOLATE LOVERS
The fresh mucilage that surrounds the cacao beans inside the pod has enchanted many adventurers with its exotic mix of flavors: pineapple, mango, passion fruit, papaya, guava. Like cocoa beans, the flavor of the cacao mucilage changes depending on genetics and terroir. But one thing is sure: its taste has no rivals and is hard to forget!
In Latin America, the cacao mucilage has long been appreciated in all sorts of drinks, from smoothies to cocktails. However, in the Western world we have been talking about the cacao mucilage only in regards to post-harvesting processes, as it is the cacao mucilage that initiates the important step of fermentation. But if you have fantasized about enjoying the fruity cacao pulp every day, the wait might finally be over.
In the US, cacao juice can already be found in fine chocolate stores thanks to a couple of companies that have recently started producing it. But if cacao juice has also reached Europe, this means that it has the potential to become the next big thing.
Attendees of Chocoa in Amsterdam had the chance to get a taste of Cacao Juice, a new product about to be launched on the European market that is made with the fresh pulp of Ecuadorian cacao beans. No added sugar and no preservatives. Just the pure taste of the sweet mucilage we have all been craving. But there is also an ethical side to the story: farmers could potentially start to rely on an extra source of income for their cacao mucilage (once enough amount is set aside to ferment the cocoa beans).
Who’s ready for cacao juice cocktails?
Based on the latest chocolate news from Chocoa in Amsterdam, 2019 is set to be another exciting year for craft chocolate, with new origins, new players and new flavors ready to steal the show and change the rules of the game at any given time.
What do you think of these chocolate news and trends from Chocoa?
I did NOT get paid and did NOT receive any kind of favor for writing this article. These are my honest opinions at your service.