11 Predicitons for Craft Chocolate in 2018

By Spencer Hyman  ·  1st February 2018  ·  Uncategorized

Now we are through January and semi recovered from the Holidays, we’ve decided to stick our necks out with a few predictions for 2018.  We plan to dive into each of these predictions in more detail in the upcoming months, so apologies if we are a little briefin some cases. We’d also like to warn you that these predictions vary between the “wishful” ones (i.e. it’d be really nice and not too hard to imagine), the “safe” forecasts (where we are arguably cheating as we already have plans in these areas), and then afew “pessimistic” notes where we’d love to be proven wrong

Before we start, we thought we’d kick off with a first pass stab at a simple definition of “craft chocolate”.  As with everything else in these posts, please let us know yourthoughts.

“Craft chocolate” is the pursuit of  the unique tastes conjured from small batches of the best beans”

Some predictions:

1 We will see an upgrade to “proper” drinking chocolate, especially in speciality coffee stores  
The key driving force here is speciality coffee stores finally realising that if you aregoing to serve proper coffee, you can’t really serve a form of hot chocolate that is theequivalent of instant coffee.  So, hopefully their customers will no longer just be served alkalalinised cocoa powder with sugar, loads of added ingredients, e numbers, vegetable and palm oils, etc.

This trend is encouraged by more and more makers launching craft drinking chocolate (ie powdered, shaved or buttoned versions of their own chocolate bars), and a fewmakers are even pressing their own powder (Pump Street, Chocolarder, Akesson, Chocolat Madagascar, Askinosie to name but a few …) so you can also enjoy great drinking chocolate at home too

2 Chocolate boards will become a mainstream rival to cheese boards
Okay, so this is a little bit more wishful.  But there are some restaurants now offering “chocolate boards” (e.g., 67 Pall Mall, The Ten Cases and Carluccios) and more andmore craft chocolate fans are sharing their passion for fine bars at the end of meals inthe evening. Try it for yourself with one of our boards with their “breaking bars” (https://cocoarunners.com/shop/craft-chocolate-sharing-board/)

3 Bloggers and journalists start to do more debunking of crazy chocolate myths and raise awareness of some of chocolate’s “darker” sides 

3.1 Great stuff by the Guardian and Mighty Forests on deforestation (See Guardian Online) … and next on child labour?

3.2 Call out the nonsense claims of RAW chocolate.  RAW food fans believe thateating food that isn’t heated above 42 (or sometimes 45) degrees celsius is better foryou.  This isn’t always true; for example, cooking tomatoes increases their antioxidant properties. But for some foods it may well be true.  However there is no evidence thatso called “raw” chocolates are “better” for you (despite the number of makers claimingthat the chocolate they are selling in health food stores is “RAW” and therefore “super healthy”).  More interestingly, none of these “raw” chocolate makers can explain howthey can ferment, or dry, the beans they use without the beans going above 45 degrees.  Indeed, the “father” of raw chocolate, Santiago from Pacari, openly admits that hecan’t guarantee the beans in his “Raw Bars” don’t go above 50 degrees (he just notesthat “ all the cocoa ingredients are minimally processed and kept at low temperaturesto maintain the antioxidants and complex flavour profile of our carefully selected cacao”). And whilst Santiago’s bars are carefully cleaned, please also remember thatmakers roast their beans not just to bring out different flavours but also to kill off bacteria and pathogens that may be in the unroasted beans.

4 Speciality beans become even more “special” as farmers andmakers experiment with fermentation, drying and bean genetics

4.1 This one is a fairly safe prediction.  The likes of Mikkel Friis Holm have been atthis for some time with their double and triple turns and single variant beans withIngemanns. Ditto Oialla, Original Beans and many more with Alto Beni. And Pitch Dark tried out different fermentations in Ecuador. But we are seeing more and moremakers experiment here.  Chris Brennan with new yeasts.  Arnaud of Eritaj with teas.  Mark from Krak is getting in on the fermentation act too.  And we look forward tosharing with you more of these bars in our monthly boxes

4.2 BUT before we get too excited, we need to remember that these innovations will bea small percentage of what is already a small percentage of “speciality cacao”.  Most cacao in the world is from ‘Universal Clones’ – CCN 51 being an of quoted example -which is grown primarily because it is disease resistant and faster to grow.  Theseclones are not grown for their flavour.  We lag way behind (fine) wine and (speciality) coffee, with their fascination with fine flavour beans and their extraordinary quality control.  As Martin Christy notes, “you could probably take 2 hands and list most ofthe places we know of in the world that are growing single varieties”

4.3 Nevertheless, every journey starts with single steps.  The sustainability reports ofTaza, Marou, Original Beans, Koko Kamili, Omnom and others evidence the way thatmakers and farmers are working together to develop high quality, speciality beans. Similarly, the Heirloom Cacao Project is doing an amazing job of promoting thediversity and distinctiveness of speciality beans (and they would now require Martin tohave three hands with their latest accession of heirloom beans from Madagascar andTanzania)

5 New bean origins emerge to delight and enthuse 

Again, this one is a fairly safe prediction.  Following on from Kokoa Kamili showing usthe amazing potential with Tanzania, Taza with Haiti, etc. a host of new regions arebeing explored.  Expect to see more and more bars from the South Pacific (and not just Papua New Guinea but the Solomon Isles, Fiji and more).  Mexico is clearly due for arenaissance.  Togo is one to savour as demonstrated in our last box.  We also have high hopes for India – as Mirzam in our December box showed

6 New maker regions continue to emerge

6.1 More great makers are emerging from countries where cocoa is grown. Peru is astandout here with Shatell, Cacao Suyo, Marana and more to come.  Columbia andCosta Rica next — and closely followed by Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador will all be coming forward with new makers. And there are more surprises instore; not just India but perhaps China (Fu Wan is already growing and crafting fromtree to bar in Taiwan), and more.

6.2 And then we look forward to showing casing a bunch of new makers from all overthe world – South Africa, Spain, Estonia and Uzbekistan. And now that Modica (Italy) ismoving to “bean to bar” and not “reassembly”, Taza finally may have some European competition for stone ground craft chocolate.

7 Dark Milks become more and more popular

We define a dark milk as being a milk bar that contains more than 50% cocoa. Incomparison a Dairy Milk and Galaxy each have around 20% cocoa content, Hershey’saround 10% and the majority of our milk bars have over 40% cocoa content.  Hat Tipto Martin Christy to responding to Lizzie’s suggestion to create a dark milk categoryfor the ICAs – and expect to see more fantastic bars here.  And who knows, Cadburymay even use the “Cadbury Dark Milk” Trademark registration they made early last year

8 Craft White Chocolate also becomes far more accepted, spurredon by more and more makers experimenting with their own presses 

Kudos to Askinosie, Chocolat Madagascar, Akesson and Pump Street for pioneeringthe way here.

9 Sugar continues to be a confusing topic

Sorry this is a bit of an obvious statement and prediction. Sugar is clearly a magical additive. Without sugar (and salt) low fat processed foods wouldn’t work.  And sugar isclearly addictive.  And it’s clearly in all chocolate (even 100% bars have some sugarfrom the cocoa fruit).  So all forms of chocolate are being hammered by the anti-sugar brigade.  Diverting attention by promoting the benefits of alternative sugar is just that — a diversion.  The evidence that e.g., coconut based sugars or other alternative sugarsare somehow “healthier” doesn’t stack up.  Moreover most (all?) of these “alternative” sugars overpower the chocolate. What we need to do is accept that sugar, like manyother things, needs to be enjoyed in moderation. One key difference is that while most consumers expect to eat a mass market chocolate bar in one go we would hope most consumers savour a craft chocolate bar and enjoy it over a few evenings. Expect alonger post here on “the bliss point”.  And don’t expect an easy answer

10 Customers start to read the label  

10.1 Again, this is sort of a wishful one .. but one that is at least directly under ourcontrol

10.2 The difference between instant coffee and coffee beans, or fruit juice concentrateand “fresh” juices is easy to see.  Unfortunately a chocolate bar is, well, a bar, whetherit’s mass processed or crafted. Fortunately labelling helps a bit here.  But we have to get customers to read the label (hint: if there are more ingredients that cocoa mass, cocoa butter, sugar and milk think again – and (to paraphrase Michael Pollan) if there are anyingredients that your grandmother wouldn’t recognise, put the bar back …).

10.3 Above and beyond the ingredients, makers can also help consumers by movingbeyond specifying the cocoa percentage (which can be misleading with e.g., 100% bars being bulked out with cheaper cocoa mass rather than cocoa butter) and country oforigin.  In addition to not requiring makers to say whether or not their cocoa has been “dutched” (ie processed in an alkaline solution). EU law doesn’t require makers to saywhere a bar (or drinking cocoa) is made.  So we suggest looking for details of where, how and who crafted the bar – and the details of the estate, farm and harvest details tounderstand bar provenance.  Again, we are planning a longer post on this subject soon

11 More and more customers will enjoy more and more craft chocolate “experiences”  

11.1 To date craft chocolate has “lagged” behind other craft movements in “theatre”.  For example speciality coffee shops provide a fantastic means for consumers to try speciality coffee whilst also appreciating the care and attention required to make great coffee (especially if they have their own roastery in the background).  Similarly thelikes of Neal’s Yard in artisan cheese are masterful in giving consumers theopportunity to try and experience a huge range of cheeses. The same is true forbreweries in craft beer, wineries and artisan gins / stills. Napa valley has made anindustry out of this — with many wineries receiving over fifty thousand visitors year (most of whom spend lots of $$$), and selling all their wines on allocation or at thecellar door.  Sadly, very few craft chocolate makers have been able to build similar experiences — although Zotter, Dandelion, Marou, Soma and Pump Street aretrailblazing this route.  And we hope that we will in 2018 see the emergence of a fewother means to “experience” craft chocolate in even more powerful ways

11.2 The first and most obvious means are more customer tastings. These can be simple “try before you buy” and go all the way up to formal tastings and pairings.  And wehope that 2018 will see the emergence of a many other means to “experience” craft chocolate in even more powerful ways; Omnom’s new facility in Iceland is worth atrip to Iceland and Dandelion’s new project in San Francisco will be a “must visit”.  And who knows, perhaps we’ll even see some small batch craft chocolate fairs emerge (hint: watch this space)

11.3 In addition, we’d love to encourage more visits to both makers and plantations.  For some time now, we’ve been making ad hoc introductions between members of ourmonthly Craft Chocolate Tasting Club to makers and growers for them to visit on theirtravels. And we hope that 2018 could be the year when these introductions go onefurther with a formal programme.

As ever, thanks for all your support.

Spencer