Ladies and gentlemen, I officially GIVE UP. My career as a chocolate writer ends here. Enough, I’m done!
Not really, but it almost happened. My frustration this past week reached THE TOP. Please, tell me that this is a common feeling also in other specialty food fields like wine, cheese and coffee. Because if it only belongs to the chocolate world, I’ll start damning the day I decided that chocolate would have paid my bills.
Oh yeah, you still don’t know what I am blabbering about. The reason why I feel the need to vent out is simple.
You chocoholic like me, trying to build a decent knowledge on chocolate matters, go ahead in the infinite Internet space and try looking for specific, unquestionable, fixed, always-applicable and publicly accepted chocolate terms. Have fun with that. I already had my fair share while putting this article together.
It almost seems like the deeper you look into the origin and meaning of words, the more confused you become. Chocolate is one of those fields where sometimes it should be better to be content with general definitions and approximate explanations. The more you dig for the truth, the more you will get stuck in uncertain historical facts, different terminology from country to country, misused terms, and chocolatiers all having their own personal vision on things.
Since I am not a quitter, I had to give at least a satisfactory answer to questions and doubts that had been tormenting me for a while. Therefore, here are the 3 most confusing chocolate terms explained in the most accurate way I could achieve.
Chocolate Makers Vs Chocolatiers
Let’s put it this way. Chocolate Makers are like snow leopard, while Chocolatiers are more like cats. The first ones are rare and extremely hard to find. The second ones are pretty common and well spread around the globe.
What differentiates Chocolate Makers from Chocolatiers is the level of involvement in the chocolate process. Turning cocoa beans into chocolate is a complicated, highly specialized and expensive process. And this is what Chocolate Makers do: they buy cocoa beans, roast them and grind them into chocolate. The result is the so called couverture, that is the final product for Chocolate Makers, and the ‘raw material’ for Chocolatiers instead. In fact, Chocolatiers buy the couverture from Chocolate Makers and utilize it for their truffles, pralines, flavored bars and other creations.
Making chocolate and making confectionery from chocolate are two distinctive forms of art, both equally admirable, but they shouldn’t be confused any longer.
- Chocolate Makers can be also Chocolatiers, but they will rarely be good at both activities.
- Make sure that chocolate companies are not taking unfair credit for “their” chocolate.
- Chocolate Makers can go as far as owning a cocoa farm or collaborating with cocoa farmers.
- Some of the best Chocolate Makers are in the United States.
What defines ARTISAN chocolate?
This is one of the chocolate terms that has been confusing me the most, and now I finally know why.
First of all, there is no legal definition for artisan chocolate. Not a single number or objective indicator to rely on. I read somewhere that a batch of 10,000 boxes or bars is not an artisan product. But is it 10,000 a day, a week, a month? Who knows! S
econdly, this seems to be the most purposely misused term among chocolate companies. To look all fancy in front of potential customers, some businesses take advantage of the uncertainty surrounding this term and proclaim themselves ‘artisanal’ when they are really not. The confusion rules.
However, we may still be able to define artisan chocolate thanks to few indicators: no mass production, no assembly line, handcraft/handmade, never large quantities produced, supervision of a chocolate maker/ artisan that ensures quality and innovation. In most cases, we will have to rely on the goodwill and transparency of chocolate professionals.
- Artisan chocolate has to be made in small batch. On the other side, being made in small batch doesn’t ensure that a chocolate is Artisan.
- More than a few midsize companies use the term ‘artisan’ to describe chocolate that is not handmade.
- Small quantities allow the chocolate artisan to keep precise control on the quality of the chocolate.
Single Origin: where is the boundary?
With the explosion in popularity of bean-to-bar chocolate, it has become common practice to state where the cocoa beans used to make a specific chocolate came from. Since the origin will mostly determine the flavor (together with the artisan’s skills), chocolate makers take pride in where they source their cocoa beans. But when can a chocolate be called ‘single origin’?
Single origin should indicate that the cocoa beans to create a specific chocolate have been sourced from the same place. This definition of ‘place’ can be quite broad though. Some chocolate makers will tell us the country. Some others the specific region. Some will be more detailed and reveal the cocoa plantation or estate. And many more also the cocoa variety. Again, no regulations yet. We could be fussy critics and argue that sourcing cocoa beans from a single country does not guarantee the single origin, since plantations positioned in different regions could have been affected by different weather and soil conditions, therefore diversifying the flavors even in the same country. We could use this same logic for region and plantations too, until we arrive at the single tree!
Since cocoa beans seem to already be at the edge of a shortage, we cannot expect chocolate makers to source enough good cocoa beans from one and only plantation. Therefore, I’ll be content with the indication of the country or cocoa variety.
- Single origin chocolate does NOT imply better quality than blended chocolate.
- Venezuela and Madagascar are renowned for producing the finest cocoa in the World.
What are YOUR thoughts on these confusing chocolate terms ?
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.