What Is Craft Chocolate

chocolate and cocoa beans

What do you think of when you hear the term “craft chocolate”? Does it bring to mind a premium chocolate product with a fancy wrapper? Or a high-priced, melt-in-your-mouth, velvety smooth chocolate bar with subtle, nuanced flavors?

Craft chocolate can be described as all of these things and more. Making craft chocolate bars can be described as bean-to-bar because the process begins with high-quality cacao beans and ends with the finished chocolate bar. It takes a certain skill to produce craft chocolates, and craft chocolate makers focus more on the art of chocolate making than on the consistency that you will find from mass chocolate producers. Many mass chocolate producers have adopted the term “bean-to-bar,” because it is technically true. However, for those whose passion is creating the best craft chocolate, it is so much more.

Would you like to know what makes chocolate “craft chocolate” and differentiates it from mass produced chocolate? Keep reading to learn more.

What is Craft Chocolate?

The craft chocolate movement began in the 1990s and really took off around 2005 to 2007. Since then, the chocolate craft industry has continued to grow, with thousands of small-batch chocolate makers around the world joining in and contributing their products.

The word “craft” implies that the chocolate maker has a special skill used when making chocolate by hand. Most craft chocolate makers are self-taught and pride themselves on making their chocolate bars from scratch in small batches. The purpose of craft chocolate is to provide an artisanal product where the chocolate maker is involved in every step of the process, from working with farmers to choose the highest-quality cacao beans to creating the final chocolate bar.

Craft chocolate bars are made typically using only three ingredients: cacao beans, cocoa butter and sugar.

Attributes of Craft Chocolate

Most craft food and drinks like beer or wine follow industry standards with clearly defined terms developed to help the consumer better understand the product. But there is no industry standard for craft chocolate, making it difficult for consumers to understand exactly what makes craft chocolate different. Standards of quality would make it easier for consumers to determine what makes a chocolate bar “craft” and ensure the highest quality was upheld across the board. Right now, each small-batch chocolate maker is responsible for ensuring their labels clearly state the ingredients and origin of their chocolate bars.

A study conducted by Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences looked at what craft chocolate consumers look for in artisanal chocolate. In their research, they discovered that American consumers found craft chocolate exciting and novel, and they uncovered attitudes around craft chocolate that included sustainability and fair-trade practices. Some of the characteristics that consumers believe signal a quality craft chocolate product include segmentation, price, availability and packaging.

Craft chocolate is better for the farmers who grow and harvest the cacao beans, and in craft chocolate making, the supply chain is transparent and traceable. Consumers often look for a fair-trade or sustainability certification, which is available for the small farmers who grow cacao beans. This label inspires trust because its certification is supposed to ensure that the cacao beans are grown ethically and without using child or slave labor. Unfortunately, a fair-trade certification does not ensure these standards are upheld. What consumers may not know is that numerous investigations into some West African fair-trade cacao farms have uncovered unethical practices in spite of these certifications. In addition, the cost of the certifications is out of reach of many of these farmers.

To counter this system, many craft chocolate makers source their cacao beans directly from the farmer through the direct trade system and do not put sustainability certifications on their labels. They believe these labels dilute their product since the label does not ensure ethical practices are followed. Instead, these craft chocolate makers work directly with farmers so that they know where their cacao beans come from, and farmers get paid 50 to 300 percent more through the direct trade system than in the commodity system.

Craft Chocolate and Bean to Bar Chocolate

What is the difference between craft chocolate and bean-to-bar chocolate? Truthfully, these terms mean basically the same thing. “Craft chocolate” and “bean-to-bar chocolate” are terms sometimes used interchangeably or even simultaneously to describe the chocolate.

Bean to bar specifically refers to the entire process of chocolate making:

  • Choosing the source of the cacao beans
  • Harvesting
  • Roasting
  • Cracking
  • Winnowing
  • Grinding
  • Conching
  • Tempering
  • Molding the final chocolate bar

The chocolate bar craft maker creates their final product through the bean-to-bar process with care. Bean-to-bar, craft chocolate is usually made from scratch in small batches with high-quality cacao beans.

When making their chocolate products, craft chocolate makers focus on the flavor of the cacao beans. Cacao beans are chosen based on transparent and ethical sourcing practices as well as the flavor the terroir, or environment in which the cacao beans are grown, creates. The origin of the cacao beans determines whether the chocolate has a fruity, nutty, earthy or spicy flavor.

Most craft chocolate makers in the US buy cacao beans from farmers in Central America and South America. Over half of the world’s cacao is grown in West Africa, but many of the top varieties of cacao are grown in Latin America, with the Dominican Republic coming in as the world’s leading exporter of organic cacao. The Asian market is growing quickly as traditional mass production cacao farms in South Asia are re-planted with higher-quality varieties of cacao beans.

Craft chocolate makers are an eclectic group themselves, and many stumbled into the industry by way of an entirely different career path. Some are former lawyers and auto mechanics, while others inherited a family business. The result is a culturally diverse but united group who found common ground in the craft chocolate making process.

While European craft chocolate has a longer history than that of the US, centered in France and Italy, the US has emerged as the center of craft chocolate production. There are currently almost 300 bean-to-bar chocolate makers in the US alone. The overall impact of craft chocolate can be seen globally as cacao farmers begin to receive more competitive prices based on the quality and unique flavors of their cacao.

The specialized industry of craft chocolate making has recently expanded and grown in popularity in countries outside the US and Europe as chocolate makers have begun making chocolate in the same country in which the cacao beans are grown. Countries such as Ecuador, Peru and Japan have seen a recent surge in craft chocolate makers.

Where to Buy Craft Chocolate?

Cococlectic sells the best craft chocolates through our online bean-to-bar subscription service. Cococlectic’s chocolate is vegan, non-GMO, fair-trade and ethically sourced and does not contain any soy, gluten, dairy or nut. However, the chocolates may be produced in a facility that handles these ingredients.

At Cococlectic, a different American small-batch bean-to-bar chocolate maker is featured each month. These chocolate makers are passionate about their trade and make craft chocolate bars from scratch using only three main ingredients: cacao beans, sugar and cocoa butter.

Cococlectic offers a variety of craft chocolates in gift boxes or through a chocolate-of-the-month subscription club.

Sign up today for the subscription club and join us for a free virtual chocolate tasting with our featured chocolate maker of the month.