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What Is “Small Batch” Chocolate?

If you’re new to the world of chocolate, you may have heard the term “small-batch” and wondered what it means. How small is small-batch, and what difference does that make?

The Perfect Illustration

This week, we came across the perfect illustration from one of our partners, Forever Cacao. Chocolate maker Pablo was excited to be picking up their biggest ever delivery – two small pallets of fine cocoa beans from a co-operative in Peru, pictured above.

But if you pull back from this photo a little, it starts to tell a different story.

Cocoa Beans

Behind the wall is a mountain of cocoa beans from West Africa, destined for the bulk chocolate and confectionery market.

The beans are loose, mixed up, and moved around by tractors. This isn’t uncommon – it’s the only way the multinational mass-production manufacturers can produce confectionery chocolate bars at the price they do. It’s not just a commodity, it’s a commodity on a massive scale.

The beans for all your average 50p newsagent chocolate bars are stored in warehouses like this around the world.

Quality Control

The most obvious advantage of sourcing and crafting on the scale of Forever Cacao is the level of quality control it allows for. Many of our makers hand-sort their batches to remove the mouldy or unfermented beans.

Beans being hand-sorted in NearyNogs‘ factory in Northern Ireland.

They then adjust the roast profile and conche time depending on the qualities of that specific batch; it’s one of the beauties of craft chocolate that no two batches of beans are the same!

Another advantage of sourcing in small batches is felt at origin, on the farms. When buyers demand beans in bulk, cocoa farmers are forced to turn to foul-tasting (but high-yielding) clone varietals or deforestation for full-sun monocultures.

Supplying in small batches also allows them to choose varietals based on flavour, and reduces the pressure on them to resort to pesticides and other chemicals.

Of course, there are some downsides to sourcing in small batches. In her fantastic blog, Kristy Leissle explored craft chocolate’s reliance on the mass-production supply chains. Shipping in small quantities is extremely unprofitable, so many makers have to rely on the international supply chains established by these large corporations.

There have also been a few attempts to change this, including a number of makers transporting cocoa beans from the Caribbean on wind-powered sailboats.

That’s the “small batch” difference – and why we think it’s worth paying a little more for your chocolate.

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