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What is Ceremonial Cacao?

ai generated image of a cartoon cacao ceremony

You might not YET have heard of ‘ceremonial cacao’. But you probably soon will, especially if you are into yoga, meditation or mindfulness.

All over the world, yoga retreats, mindfulness centres, and sober raves are incorporating ceremonial cacao into their activities. All sorts of benefits are being claimed and all sorts of new rituals being practised.

So where did this trend emerge from? What is a ‘cacao ceremony‘, and what is ‘ceremonial cacao‘?

We’ve dug around in the history, habits, and claims of ceremonial cacao, and we’ve been intrigued, amazed and bemused. There’s a lot to like, and to celebrate, within this trend, BUT there is also a lot to be sceptical about, and some important caveats.

Join us as we untangle and define ‘ceremonial cacao’ as a product, advise where you can find ‘the good stuff’, and avoid some of the more outrageous claims. And we recommend specific bars, powders, and buttons that you can use in your next cacao ceremony.

Old World Ceremonial Cacao

The civilisations destroyed by the conquistadors; the Aztecs, Incas, Mayans, were extraordinary.

The Mayan calendar dates back at least 2,000 years and is so accurate that their calendar correction is 10,000th of a day more exact than the standard calendar the world uses today. Despite not using the wheel, Inca runners could transport fresh fish from the seas hundreds of miles inland to their imperial courts within a day. The Mayans built extraordinary cities with stepped pyramids, on the same scale as those in Egypt, that are being discovered to this day.

ruins of mayan buildings in belize

These civilizations made extensive use of cacao. Cacao was so treasured, and of such high value, that it was used as a unit of currency; indeed this is what Columbus mistook them for when he first came across these “almond shaped” beans on his fourth voyage. And cacao beans continued to be used as currency up until the early 19th century. All sorts of ceremonies, from weddings to giving birth, from ritual sacrifices through to moving house, involved cacao. And the Catholic Church co-opted cacao and drinking chocolate into many of its festivals and feasts.

Cacao was believed to have medicinal properties; everything from boosting sexual stamina to settling the stomach. Two key historical documents of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, The Florentine Codex (1590) and The Badianus Manuscript (1552) contain numerous references to “customary uses” and ceremonies involving cacao to address illnesses as diverse as: “angina, constipation, dental problems (tartar removal), dysentery, dyspepsia/indigestion, fatigue, gout, the heart (overheated), haemorrhoids and lactation difficulties” (intriguingly cacao was NOT seen as a solution to the likes of “beriberi, pellagra, rickets or scurvy”).

But the conquistadors’ destruction of Aztec and Incan aristocracies, enslavement of locals, the disaster of smallpox, and all the other horrors; makes piecing together how cacao was venerated in rituals, or prescribed as a medicine, far from easy!

illustration of blinded characters trying to identify an elephant

Small fragments of written documents have survived. And some indigenous tribes have managed to continue some of their ceremonies, rituals, and traditions. But piecing it all together is reminiscent of the parable of the blind men each being allowed to touch one part of the elephant and coming away with completely different impressions, rather than seeing the whole elephant. And in the case of ceremonial cacao, we are talking about LOTS of elephants: Different tribes, even in the same geographies, had very different traditions.

There are some ceremonies (for example the Japanese tea ceremony) where a centuries old tradition is clearly documented and, still studiously followed today. With ceremonial cacao, we just don’t have a full understanding, but we do have a bunch of intriguing customs that are now loosely grouped under the term ‘ceremonial cacao’.

Modern Day Ceremonial Cacao in Latin America

Just as the Americas’ indigenous peoples celebrated cacao and drank chocolate in many ways, the same is true today. Their descendants still use, and venerate, cacao in many ceremonies for very different purposes across Central and South America, from Mexico to Guatemala, Colombia to Panama. Anthropologists continue to document uses of cacao in ceremonies that vary from celebrating the birth of a child, marking the new year, venerating the rainforest and addressing a host of physical, psychological and metaphysical issues.

In the early 2000s, several intrepid travellers became intrigued by these traditions and ceremonies, in particular by those being celebrated by various Mayan peoples in Guatemala and Belize. Many of these cacao ceremonies are presided over by elders who have been continuing multi-generational ritual and traditions. These elders use cacao medicinally, and in ceremonies to help move people on from spiritual blockages to improve their physical and psychological well-being. And they venerate the key role cacao plays in preserving the rainforest.

Projects like the Mayan Wisdom Project and self-styled chocolate shamans like Keith Wilson have begun sharing these ceremonies, ideas and practices with global, non-indigenous audiences. Arguably the Mayan calendar played a key role here as 2012 marked the start of a fifth long term cycle where outsiders can be told more about Mayan customs.

Modern Day Ceremonial Cacao in The West

Studying, and preserving, these ceremonies is clearly to be lauded. But the use of terms like “chocolate shamans”, “inner magic”, “cacao spirit”, has raised some eyebrows.

And anthropologists have criticized some of the ‘ceremonies’ held by these ‘shamans’ as being VERY far from removed from the current ceremonies practiced by the descendants of the Inca, Maya, Aztecs, etc. today, and from the practices at the time of the Spanish conquest.

Indeed, some of cacao ceremonies are, to be blunt, quite “mad” (whatever you read, chocolate is NOT a natural psychedelic) and sometimes even “bad” (beware the unscrupulous sellers of ceremonial cacao who are vague about the source of their cacao).

But to continue the metaphors; we should be careful not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater”.

There is a lot about ceremonial cacao which is A GOOD THING. Drinking high quality chocolate at a sober rave, meditation circle, yoga retreat etc. has lots and lots of benefits.

And ceremonial cacao often overlaps with craft chocolate in its sourcing, crafting, ethics and ambitions. For example; Pablo of Forever Cacao stresses the importance that ceremonial cacao “respect the plant, know the growers and thank them” … and you can use the occasion to “unwind physically and metaphysically to relax”.

What is Ceremonial Cacao, as a Product?

This is a tricky question to answer, and not helped by some of the ‘fluffy’ terms used by ceremonial cacao to describe what they use.

In most cases, ceremonial cacao comes in the form of solid blocks which are then mixed with water (and sometimes other sweeteners, herbs, spices, and chilis) to produce a drink used in self-styled ‘cacao ceremonies’.

Try some of our powders and buttons for your next cacao ceremony:

Unlike, say, speciality coffee, there is no standard definition or ‘Q grading’ for ceremonial cacao. It’s more like matcha, where companies will market their products with labels like “culinary”, “every day” and “ceremonial”. To the cynical, “ceremonial-grade matcha” is a marketing term; it’s a way to have consumers pay a bit more. (And in the case of chocolate, the VAT rates will be different as products sold for “cooking” can avoid a VAT surcharge).

Nonetheless, there are some commonly accepted best practices as to what constitutes  ceremonial cacao. Broadly speaking these are consistent with craft chocolate overall… and to be lauded:

  1. The source of the cocoa beans should be transparent; and the growers/producers paid with long term, sustainable contracts. Unsurprisingly, many of the farms producing ceremonial cacao are the same as those used by craft chocolate makers. Indeed, Pablo Spaul of Forever Cacao, who works directly with the Ashaninka in Peru, sells both craft chocolate and ceremonial cacao.
  2. The cacao shouldn’t have additives; no emulsifiers, preservatives and even no sugar. This is good… even if many of us appreciate a little sugar to reduce the astringency and bitterness of the 100% cocoa, and to bring out some of the beans’ flavour.
  3. The cacao should be “traditionally processed”. Again, this is also better for flavour; avoiding industrial processes which are more about cheapness and efficiency (e.g. adding emulsifiers to speed up machinery, washing the cocoa mass in an alkaline solution, roasting nibs not full beans).

The third condition; “traditionally processed” is arguably the biggest difference between what is sold as ‘ceremonial cacao’ and more common 100% craft chocolate bars, 100% craft cooking chocolate, or even non-alkalinised craft cocoa powder. Practitioners of ceremonial cacao prefer to avoid even conching and tempering their chocolate. They may even skip roasting their chocolate (some craft chocolate makers do this too, such as Raaka).

What isn’t fine, and falls into the “bad” and arguably “mad” categories, are claims by that ceremonial cacaos being “raw” and/or “minimally processed” means they’re “healthier” or “magical”. Read more HERE about ‘raw chocolate’,  but bottom line; there is NO EVIDENCE that not roast, or minimally fermenting, or avoiding conching or tempering, makes chocolate healthier (or magical). If anything, the opposite may be true; roasting chocolate helps kill many of the bad bacteria found in cocoa.

infographic comparing ceremonial cacao and mass-produced chocolate
Ceremonial cacao is a LOT better than mass produced chocolate. But it’s really not that different to craft chocolate 100% bars.

The Good in Ceremonial Cacao

Friend of Cocoa Runners, Pablo Spaul, is one of the great advocates and superstars of ceremonial cacao here in the UK. And without wishing to embarrass him; he is a fantastic ambassador of why ceremonial cacao, and craft chocolate, can be so great. His approach is to focus on what’s really important in chocolate and so much more. When it comes to ceremonial cocoa, there are some really good things worth sharing:

Sharing and Savouring

Without doubt this is one of the good aspects of ceremonial cacao; and why it’s becoming a part of so many meditation and mindfulness events. Drinking ceremonial cacao is now central to everything from ‘sober raves’ to morning yoga classes. Sharing some drinking chocolate is a great way to connect and unwind. Reflecting and giving thanks for the farmers’ work which has gone into your chocolate is also a great way to use ‘mindfulness’. You are also encouraged to savour not scoff; something we care about a lot in craft chocolate.

Rituals

There is also a tonne of interesting research about the way that ceremonies and rituals improve how we enjoy and benefit from what we consume. But there have been a whole host of studies, for example here are the results of one by the Association of Psychological Science in the US that made extensive use of chocolate showing:

  1. Establishing simple rituals (such as how you unwrap, and then wrap back up a bar of chocolate) can be statistically shown to “enhance the delight in trying a bar of chocolate”.
  2. Slowing down and delaying gratification (i.e. savouring not scoffing) when eating vegetables also enhances the experience and “increases delight” (this study used carrots, but the same is predicted for chocolate).
  3. Personally taking part in the ritual and ceremony, as opposed to watching someone else carry out the key parts of the rituals and ceremony is also important.
  4. Explaining more about the product consumed, also vastly increased people’s enjoyment.

Sourcing

Ceremonial cacao’s stress on knowing, and respecting, the source of the cacao is also clearly a good thing in avoiding all the problems of child labour, deforestation, unfair working practices, desertification, environmental degradation that are sadly so omnipresent in mass produced confectionery. Again, Pablo’s relationship with the Ashaninka of Peru is a fantastic example of this.

Beware some of the more “mad” claims and bad practices:

There are a number of claims that are made for ceremonial cacao that need to be treated with some scepticism.

Many of these “crazy claims” are similar to the health claims made by raw chocolate; and they are equally specious. Whenever you see a website or leaflet about ceremonial cacao going on about the many scientific compounds that make up chocolate (like polyphenols, catechins, phenylethylamine, theobromine, tryptamine, or tryptophan) and then makes claims that seem AMAZING, please be really, really sceptical.

There have been lots of studies (almost all underwritten by ‘big chocolate’) into the health benefits of chocolate. Sadly, many involve too few people to be valid, and their conclusions all too often match the ambitions of their big chocolate sponsors. So whilst there is no doubt that all high percentage, well made chocolate contains lots of wonderful chemicals, many of the claims stretch credulity.

The ‘bioavailability‘ of many of the wonderful chemicals in chocolate is unfortunately very low; that is to say, it’s hard for your body to absorb them; most just pass through your gut. So even though chocolate contains lots of polyphenols; a great antioxidant; you just can’t get enough of them for a significant impact. Similarly, chocolate has the “love drug” phenylethylamine, but sadly it doesn’t work as an aphrodisiac. And even though theobromine, the main stimulant in chocolate, can help lower blood pressure whilst increasing your heart rate, you’d be hard stretched to persuade your doctor to prescribe it to you!

Having said this, there are LOTS of benefits from consuming proper ceremonial cacao (or craft chocolate). They’re a great source of manganese and iron (so great for vegans). And they have a good role in help managing our mealtime appetites. But these benefits aren’t unique to ceremonial cacao: Craft chocolate has them too.

zoe science and nutrition podcase image

Cocoa Runners’ Spencer Hyman talks chocolate’s health effects.

For more detailed discussion on the REAL health implications of chocolate, check out this episode of the ZOE podcast.

zoe science and nutrition podcase image

The Truly Bonkers

Listen to a few of the many podcasts or articles extolling the wonders of ceremonial cacao and sooner or later you’ll come across claims that ceremonial cacao can have psychedelic effects, similar to ayahuasca.

These are bonkers! These claims are normally based on misunderstandings about anandamide, an endogenous cannabinoid that can be found in cocoa. Anandamide is a chemical that our bodies make which mimics the effect of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis. It works by binding to particular receptors in the brain, and anandamide can also bind to them.

However, just consuming chocolate won’t give you a cannabis-like high. As with other chemicals, anandamide in chocolate is not very bioavailable, and isn’t processed in the same way as THC from cannabis. Anandamide in the brain works because the body produces it itself: The word ‘endogenous’ means it’s internally produced. What’s in chocolate is actually an external analogue to anandamide.

So while you may feel super happy and even “high” after a sober rave or meditation session with ceremonial cacao this is not because of any pharmacological aspects of the chocolate. It’s psychological.

…and The Downright Naughty

One of the key tenets of both craft chocolate and ceremonial cacao is working directly, and over the long term, with the bean growers. At Cocoa Runners we sell over 1000 bars and we know not just where all the bars are made, but we also insist on knowing the source of the beans, and sharing this as much as we can. Many ceremonial cacao suppliers and practitioners are equally transparent (again, like Pablo).

Greenwashing

But just as there is greenwashing and false marketing in mass produced confectionery (see the recent Channel 4 Dispatches debunking of Cadbury), the same is also sadly evident with ceremonial cacao. 

Try digging into Legacy Cacao’s self declared “fair profit” company for any information on what they pay, or even who they are paying. And their claim that: “Today, there is only one guardian of the original, ancient recipe. This Mayan Priestess has exclusively chosen Legacy Cacao for this sacred calling. It is our privilege to deliver this legacy of love in its purest form from seed to sip”, doesn’t inspire much confidence in their chocolate crafting!

Cultural and Environmental Appropriation

Accusations of ‘cultural appropriation’ are also a major concern. While the likes of the Mayan Wisdom Project are working to share indigenous knowledge, some other companies have been accused of being less careful, and of appropriating indigenous beliefs and practices, adulterating them, rather than authentically seeking to understand and communicate them.

Careless ceremonial cacao sellers are also accused of endangering other plants. For example, many also sell ‘palo santo’. Palo Santo is critically endangered and harvesting it in Peru is illegal. In Ecuador they’re reforesting it. ‘White sage’ is also a problem: Found in northwest Mexico, overharvesting by spiritualists unconnected to indigenous peoples has made it critically endangered.

So check what additives and adulterations, or even just other herbs, are being promoted alongside ceremonial cacao. And just as with craft chocolate in general, make sure you are fully aware of the supply chain that’s delivering the beans in your ceremonial cacao. Push back and ask questions.

A Celebration

Cacao’s history dates back over five millennia. And Carl Linnaeus’ description of the cocoa tree as Theobroma cacao (or “fruit of the gods”) in 1753 hits the nail on the head. We are incredibly lucky to be able to enjoy this fruit of the gods. When the environment is respected, farmers are treated fairly and the cocoa bean crafted to optimise its flavour, the results are truly magical. And it’s great that many practitioners of ceremonial cacao are seeking to harness this philosophy and incorporate it into their sober raves, meditations, yoga retreats and the like.

It’s also great that e.g., Mayan spiritual leaders are being respected for their customs, and that we are learning more about the ways they venerate their environments. There is a tonne we can learn from this.

The same guidelines for purchasing craft chocolate should be used for ceremonial cacao. You should still always check the label, ensure you know exactly what ingredients and steps have been followed and where the beans come from. And whilst you should delight in savouring the ceremony and chocolate, you may also want to be wary about any ‘magical’ claims.

Ceremonial cacao is a great enhancement to any retreat, mindfulness activity or sober rave. And ceremonial cacao is a great reminder that adding some self conscious rituals as to how you savour your chocolate may further enhance your craft chocolate celebrations.

Some suggestions:

If you want to honour the history of Mayan cacao why not try a bar crafted with Lachua beans? These beans were grown by the Q’eqchi’; a Mayan tribe whose ancestors were the first people we know who brought chocolate to Europe in 1544, and whose traditional ceremonies continue to venerate cacao’s environmental importance.

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Chocolate Truffles: Past & Future

What is the history of chocolate truffles, and what’s their future in the craft chocolate revolution? What exactly is a chocolate truffle anyway? We’ll answer those questions and more in this deep dive into everything you need to know about chocolate truffles and their close cousin, the praline.

Read on to learn about the history of chocolate truffles – and their future in the craft chocolate revolution!

Chocolate truffles are ubiquitous. We might buy chocolate bars for ourselves, but when it comes to gift-giving, truffles remain the obvious choice. They carry a sense of luxury and excitement! Unfortunately, most chocolate truffles are not craft chocolate. They are usually made by chocolatiers, who often buy in poor-quality chocolate from unscrupulous makers. Luckily, things are changing as more craft chocolate makers explore the possibilities of truffles.

(Alternatively, you can skip to the end or click this link to peruse some exceptional truffles from craft chocolate makers!)

The History of Chocolate Truffles

The history of chocolate truffles is murky and confusing. Everyone wants the credit for inventing such an influential confectionary! 

Siraudin

Paul Siraudin was the first to claim that he invented the truffle. Siraudin began his career as a playwright, writing comedies and operettas. Then, in 1860, he tired of the theatre, and decided to turn his hand to confectionary. The career change did wonders, and his sweets were a great success! In 1869, he created a bon bon called a crème ganache in 1869. He named the sweet after a popular comedy called Les Ganaches (The Idiots), written by a Thespian pal.

Dufour

Another claim for inventing chocolate truffles comes from Louis Dufour. Dufour was a pâtissier who kept a store in Chambray, a small town in central France. On Christmas day in 1895, Dufour found himself in trouble. He was running out of ideas (and stock) for festive treats! Searching around for possible solutions, Dufour came up with a genius idea. First, he mixed up a batch of ‘ganache’ – chocolate mixed with cream. He shaped his mix into round balls, and then dipped these in melted chocolate. The sweet was a marvellous success! Dufour’s brother Antoine brought the idea to the UK, when he emigrated in 1902 and founded Prestat Chocolates in London.

Escoffier

But the man who tends to take the credit for inventing the trouble is Auguste Escoffier. Escoffier was a famous French chef who cooked for glitzy hotel restaurants in the 1920s. According to legend, one of Escoffier’s apprentices mistakenly poured hot cream into a bowl containing chocolate instead of a nearby bowl of beaten eggs and sugar. Escoffier yelled ‘ganache’ (idiot), giving the dish its name. He turned the apprentice’s mistake into truffles, rolling the ganache into balls and dusting them with cocoa powder. 

Whichever story is correct, the bottom line is that these ganache truffles are amazing. When properly crafted, the combination of melted cream and chocolate encased in a hard chocolate shell tastes incredible!

Truffle: What’s In A Name?

There’s much dispute over who came up with the idea of naming these chocolate ganaches ‘truffles’. Nonetheless, it’s generally accepted that these hand-rolled delicacies take their name from the legendary truffle fungus. (The history of the truffle fungus is far longer than that of the sweet. The consumption of these mushrooms has been traced all the way back to the Sumerians and Babylonians around 4000 BCE!) 

The hand-rolled chocolates we know as truffles share two similarities with their fungal namesakes. First, they are a total luxury, and completely delicious! Second, they bear a visual resemblance to the truffle fungus, small and round and dark-coloured.

Divided by a Common Language

Over the last century, chocolate makers worldwide have further confused the world of chocolate truffles by developing their own recipes. These sweets can differ wildly, but they all share the same name: truffles. 

To clear up confusion, flick through this slideshow for our quick guide to the international truffle scene, country-by-country!

Pralines Vs. Truffles: What’s The Difference?

The Belgians claim a lot of credit for inventions in chocolate. They claim to have invented couverture, an important process in chocolate history. A Belgian called Jean Neuhas also claims to have invented the type of truffle also known as a praline in 1912.

To give credit where credit is due, their claim that the Belgian chocolatier Octaaf Callebault invented couverture is probably true. Belgium’s claim to the praline’s invention is dubious (and their claim over truffles even more tenuous). However, in the world of fine chocolate, inventing mass-produced couverture isn’t something to be proud of! It’s a bit like claiming to have invented ready meals in the world of fine cuisine. (Come to a virtual tasting to find out more!)

Who did invent the praline, then?

The French have the strongest claim to inventing the praline, or at least coining the term. In 1636 Clement Lassagne, chef to the French Duke of Praslin, made a confection out of almonds and sugar. He named this treat the ‘praslin’ after his boss. After he retired from working for the Duke, Lassagne changed the spelling. He founded a sweet shop called La Maison de la Praline (the house of praline). The shop still exists in the French town of Montargis — and it still sells pralines!

These pralines spread internationally. They became a classic dish in theFrench colonies of New Orleans and Louisiana in the 18th and 19th centuries. There, the praline became a source of great pride, and income, for many Creole families.

Confusion then occurred in 1912 when Jean Neuhas in Belgium started to use the word praline to describe a sweet which he also called a truffle. Neuhaus’s praline comprised a hard outer shell which contained various fillings. Nowadays, many companies specialise in making these chocolate casings, which they sell to other chocolatiers to fill. These companies are mostly chocolatiers rather than chocolate makers like those we work with at Cocoa Runners. They buy in chocolate ready-made, rather than producing it themselves.

What to Look for in a Truffle

First, in our opinion, neither the American nor the Belgian pralines are really truffles. Moreover, the chocolate they use probably wasn’t made in America or Belgium. Couverture chocolate used by chocolatiers is usually bought from huge conglomerates with murky supply chains.

Here are our tips for working out the quality of a truffle. They’re similar to the rules of thumb we use for chocolate in general:

  1. Check the ingredients! To paraphrase food writer Michael Pollan, make sure your grandmother would recognise them all.
  2. Make sure you know the source of the chocolate beans used in the ganache and casing.
  3. Identify where, and how, your chocolate is made.

The Future: Craft Chocolate Truffles

The history of chocolate truffles is a history of mainly chocolatiers, not chocolate makers. Therefore to date, very few truffles are made with craft chocolate. But this is changing!

Chocolarder crafts all their chocolate in Cornwall, and make wonderful truffles, including incredibly moreish salted caramels. Mike Longman, founder of Chocolarder, directly sources the beans used for the chocolate casing from the indigenous Ashaninka people of the Peruvian Andes. He then combines this chocolate with Cornish sea salt and fresh Cornish cream to make truffles’ ganache filling. See the truffles here! They also make a gorgeous Friis Holm have created an alcoholic option for an after-dinner tipple.

David Crichton (of MasterChef fame), works with Pump Street Chocolate to create delicious bars and – more recently –  incredible truffles which he calls ‘The Careless Collection’. Pump Street’s bread and butter truffle was so good that Simon and Tim wouldn’t share it with their guests when we took it to Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch!

And even though we aren’t (yet) selling them, do also try the fantastic Scottish truffles crafted by Charlotte Flower using sweet cicely, a herb which is related to the carrot family!  See here. Or try some of the other truffles sold by Cocoa Runners, which you can see above!

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Cocoa Pulp: Drink of the Gods

Thanks to Marika van Santvoort, we are delighted to be launching ‘Pacha de Cacao‘, a delicious fruit juice made from the pulp inside a cocoa pod.

To find out more about Marika and her new drink, read on below. Or just click here to be one of the first in the UK to try this delicious, nutritious, healthy and environmentally sensitive drink.

Pacha de Cacao is sold in recyclable glass bottles of 250ml, and we are currently selling it in cases of six, shipping it via DPD. Going forward we hope to find some other ways to ship it, but for now this is the only economic route we’ve found.

Cacao Juice and Pulp

The transformation of astringent cacao seeds first into cocoa beans and then chocolate bars is pretty miraculous. A large part of the magic is down to fermentation, when the sweet pulp surrounding the cocoa seeds reacts with different bacteria and yeasts in the local environment to transform the bitter, astringent cacao seeds into cocoa beans which have some distinctly chocolate-like nutty, caramel, earthy, citrusy and woody flavours.

And if you ever have the chance to open, and taste, a fresh cocoa pod, you will know that the pulp is delicious. Depending on where you are and what cocoa pod you try, the pulp can have flavours that range from mango, lychee, citrus, peach, whey-like or even minerality. Indeed in South America many delicious deserts and drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) are often made from cocoa pulp.

However, most cocoa pulp is wasted. Some of the pulp is literally left on the jungle floor, and much of it evaporates and drains away during fermentation.

And this is a shame, given how delicious it is and given that cocoa pulp is approximately 30% of the weight of a cocoa pod. Cacao seeds (which become beans) account for another 20%, and the husk and outer shell of the pod is about 50%. The husk, or pod skin, can be transformed into fuel, fertilizers or even paper. But the pulp is generally ignored and effectively wasted.

And this is a shame, not just environmentally but also nutritionally. Cocoa pulp is also full of ‘healthy stuff’, everything from magnesium, potassium, manganese and vitamin B1.

With Pacha de Cacao, Marika has worked out a way to bottle the pulp for our benefit, and also to turn what was a waste product into another source of income for cocoa farmers.

Marika van Santvoort

Marika has a rich, and varied, career. Born in the Netherlands, Marika studied human rights and then moved to Africa to work for various NGOs, including Amnesty International, before spending two years in Cameroon where she worked to support local prisoners. Whilst in Cameroon, Marika fell into the world of cocoa, initially working on various cocoa sustainability projects before returning to the Netherlands. And since being back in the Netherlands, Marika has doubled down on cocoa and chocolate, helping to run Chocoa (the annual Dutch chocolate festival set up by Caroline Lubbers and Jack Steijn), setting up her a cocoa bean trading company that works directly with farmers (Gaia Cacao), and setting up Pacha de Cacao.

She describes Pacha de Cacao’s “eureka” moment as when she was talking to a farmer in Ecuador who she saw “eating the pulp and spit out the beans“. He explained that savouring “cocoa pulp” gave him “good energy”. Having seen similar behaviour in Cameroon, she realised that cocoa pulp need not be a “waste product” but could become an intriguing new product and an additional source of income for farmers.

Fortunately for Marika (and us), cocoa pulp is being developed by many of the ‘big chocolate’ companies like Nestle and Callebaut as a source of fructose (i.e. sweetener) and to make various claims about “no added sugar” (see elsewhere on our blog for more on this); so they’ve tested, and ensured, that cocoa pulp is certified as a foodstuff both in the EU and US.

But there is remarkably little (published) research on cocoa pulp. There is some work on making alcoholic drinks out of cocoa pulp in South America. But very little has been done to make cocoa pulp into the next coconut water (one US company did try a decade ago to make smoothies with other fruits and cocoa pulp but sadly folded).

Marika has therefore spent the last few years developing her own processes and procedures from scratch. She currently works with two farms in Ecuador who remove a significant amount of the pulp before they ferment the cacao. And Marika works with a local Ecuadorian factory to pasteurise, remove fibres from the pulp and then freezing this before shipping it to Amsterdam where the pulp is then further purified and bottled.

CCN51

For those interested in cocoa varietals and fermentation, one intriguing side-note is that Marika may have finally found a good use of CCN51, a high yielding cocoa clone ‘invented’ in Ecuador back in the 1970s. This mass produced clone has memorably been described by Ed Seguine as having the flavour of “acidic dirt”, but may be improved by Marika’s processes.

CCN51 was developed to be high yielding, disease resistant and low cost, not for ‘fine flavour’. And it is blamed for much of the deforestation of cocoa in the jungles of Ecuador. CCN51 it can be grown most efficiently by planting sapling CCN51 clones in cleared jungle land, and indeed following the hurricanes of 1997/8 where much of the Ariba Nacional Cocoa Crop was wiped out, farmers did plant CCN51.

CCN51 has a lot of pulp, indeed arguably more than needed to ferment the seeds (this is often cited as one reason for its less than enthralling flavour profile). So Marika, by working with CCN51 and removing pulp ‘pre-fermentation’, is not only crafting an intriguing drink, but possibly improving the flavour of CCN51 beans (although it’s hard to see CCN51 every generating the complexity and depth of Ariba Nacional, Maranon, Gran Blanco and other ‘heirloom’ cocoa varietals).

Pacha de Cacao (the name)

Marika and her team thought long and hard on how to describe and name their drink; eventually they hit upon Pacha de Cacao. In her words: “Pacha comes from the Quechua word for ‘soil’ and ‘earth’ and de cacao is Spanish for ‘of cacao’. Together they stand for ‘world of cacao’. We wanted to create a strong link to Pachamama, the female goddess, Mother Earth, who is an important concept in most of the Latin American cultures. We believe in giving back to Earth, and we do so by using the cacao pulp and preventing from it being wasted“.

As Marika said, tastes great, great history, and a great new use of what would otherwise be a waste product.

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Bridging the Gap

A Marketing Masterclass from Omnom and Zac Efron

Omnom are masters at ‘bridge bars’. We’ll explain this concept below, as well as try to tempt you to enjoy, and to share, some great craft chocolate bridge bars by Omnom and a few other craft chocolate makers.

Finding Craft Chocolate

Once most people try craft chocolate, they get it. Immediately they taste the difference. And many then go on a journey of unwrapping the story behind the bar, realising how much good these bars do for them, the farmers, and the planet.

However, it’s not always easy to get people to try their first craft chocolate bar.

The first problem is one of access. In a pre-covid world, the secret of physical retail was “location, location, location”.  But there are very few physical retail stores that stock craft chocolate. In comparison, in London, there are over 500 specialty coffee stores and almost every pub sells craft beer; but the number of physical stores selling craft chocolate is at best a couple of dozen.

Most sales of craft chocolate are therefore online, i.e., via the internet. And if the secret of physical retail is LOCATION, the secret of the internet is SEARCH. Hence Google… though increasingly for many physical products where the customer knows what they want the first port of call is Amazon; growing from less than 20% to over 60% in many categories over the last decade (source: NYTimes).

But if you aren’t aware of craft chocolate, you aren’t going to search for it (and there isn’t much craft chocolate for sale on Amazon). The serendipitous discovery of a great new specialty coffee or craft beer is a LOT easier via your local pub or specialty coffee store.

Raising Awareness

Back in the day, mass-produced chocolate companies were masters of TV and print advertising. Think back to your favourite childhood bars and you’ll conjure up an iconic advert. And we’ve had great fun assembling links to a few UK examples; the classic lorry, the kid in a cowboy costume, the guy performing amazing feats to deliver a magical box of chocolates, a boyfriend sharing their last whatever, or some beautiful lady romancing a stick of chocolate in some exotic location.

But this sort of FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) advertising is very expensive. And it doesn’t work so well in today’s media environment.

Instead, in the online world, word of mouth and endorsement by recognised (and ideally respected) celebrities reach the parts that others can’t. And, arguably, internet viral marketing is even more powerful with its capacity for exponential growth and ‘blitzscaling’.

Bridging the Final Gap

However, even with a recommendation or endorsement, there is often one final hurdle. For many products and categories, especially one that doesn’t fit an existing habit, consumers are nervous to even try.

And unfortunately, this can be the case with craft chocolate. Many consumers are reluctant to brave the unknown and try a bar made with beans from a place they’ve barely heard of and with a percentage that seems far higher than they are used to.

To cross this final ‘bridge’, craft chocolate makers have crafted bars which incorporate a familiar ingredient, or perhaps a local flavour, that customers recognise, helping them feel comfortable enough to give the bar a try. The familiar thus acts as a ‘bridge’ to a whole new tasting experience; for example:

The list of bars, and makers, we have is awesome here; and we’ve assembled over two dozen brilliant bridge bars for you to try.

Icelandic Magic

From the get go, Kjartan and Óskar, the founders of Omnom, have used their Icelandic roots to bridge to local consumers and international tourists. They have an awesome Nordic liquorice bar which is still one of their best sellers. They partnered with a local coffee roastery to make a bar that is like a solid cappuccino. Plus their black n’ burnt barley bar is an extraordinary experiment with local brewers.

Every Christmas they experiment with new local flavours and create more of their amazing packaging. Ditto Valentine’s Day and LGBT pride.

And they’ve just released a bar whose list of local and natural ingredients is as long as the name of an Icelandic saga! SUPERCHOCOBERRYBARLEYNIBBLYNUTTYLICIOUS.

The Great Taste of Zac Efron

In parallel, Omnom has worked another bit of magic. Kjartan and Óskar have become friends with Zac Efron. And Zac has just made a highly-rated Netflix documentary about Iceland. So of course Óscar and Kjartan, plus their crew and their iconic factory in Reykjavík harbour, all feature prominently. And this is an AWESOME mechanic for reaching new customers and persuading them to try Omnom’s bars.

Share the Love

If only every craft chocolate maker could persuade Zac Efron (or another celebrity actor with great taste) to try, and fall in love with, their bars.

But there is another way. It doesn’t have to be a celebrity who shares their appreciation of craft chocolate. A recommendation from a friend, family member, partner or colleague also works especially if it’s to an accessible, ‘bridge bar’.

So we’ve assembled a bunch of great bridge bars, see below for a few too. And we’d ask that you too share the love, just like Zac, and recommend these to your friends, family, and colleagues.

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What Craft Chocolate can Learn from Specialty Coffee

Craft chocolate aspires to enjoy the spectacular success story of specialty coffee. The number of craft chocolate makers over the globe has exploded in the last few years from less than a couple of dozen to over a thousand (and the UK now has over fifty, up from fewer than five when we started Cocoa Runners).

Whereas specialty coffee generates over 10% of all coffee sales in the US and the UK, craft chocolate still only accounts for less than 0.1% of the total chocolate sales in the UK and the US.

To understand specialty coffee’s success, and in an attempt to learn from them, we’ve spent many hours with our friends in the coffee world. And we’ve hosted several Craft Chocolate Conversation sessions with coffee experts such as Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood and James Hoffman.

SIMILARITIES

1. HISTORY

Civilisations have drunk both chocolate and coffee throughout time, although chocolate’s history is a few thousand years older. Interestingly, both entered the European mainstream in the mid-17th century as people sought out non-alcoholic drinks. The first UK coffee house opened in Oxford in 1651, and the first recorded chocolate house followed in Bishopsgate, London, in 1657.

2. QUALITY

Consumers clearly understand the difference between mass-produced, convenience products and ethically sourced fine-flavour products. Whether eaten or drunk, you can literally taste the difference.

Both are all about the beans. To make great coffee or great chocolate you need to start with great beans. To get great beans you need high-quality varietals, small-batch fermentation, drying, and careful roasting (many chocolate makers even use coffee roasters for their roasting).

3. ON THE FARM

Both also suffer from opaque supply chains, deforestation, and underpaid farmers. Furthermore, these issues are compounded by treating coffee and chocolate as commodities where price, not quality, is all important. Specialty coffee effectively addresses the plight of farmers and the environment. It proves that it really is worth paying a (small) premium for great beans that are well crafted.

It tastes better, it’s better for farmers, and it’s better for the planet. Craft chocolate is following a similar model of ‘direct trade’ to support farmers and the environment.

Both crops are also great alternatives to growing another crop starting with a C; cocaine. And indeed the US DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) works to encourage cocoa and coffee farming as alternative high-income crops and livelihoods.

DIFFERENCES

There are also many important differences between specialty coffee and craft chocolate which help explain specialty coffee’s success. Some of these are relatively easy for craft chocolate to learn from and fix. Others are harder, but they offer some important insights for craft chocolate. Given the number of these, we’ve separated them out.

1. DRINKING VERSUS EATING

It’s far easier for specialty coffee to explain how the magic created by a proper barista is different from commercial chocolate. It happens right in front of you, as most people drink specialty coffee in specialty coffee stores. Over 80% of UK specialty coffee consumption is estimated to happen in specialty coffee shops.  Everyone can see (and smell) the difference between the magic of a barista in a coffee shop versus a jar of instant coffee.

Chocolate is no longer consumed primarily as a drink. It first became a bar thanks to the pioneering work of Joseph Fry, Rodolphe Lindt, Henri Nestlé, and Daniel Peter in the 1840s and then 1880s (for more on this, please do join a virtual tasting). This move to pre-packaged bars has created a few challenges.

By contrast, when you buy a bar of specialty chocolate you almost always purchase the finished product off a retailer’s shelf (or in an online box). You don’t get to see the magic that goes on behind the scenes to craft a bar. It’s more like trying to tell the difference between different jars of instant coffee. It’s not obvious by looking at the front of a bar of chocolate how it’s been made.

If you turn the bar over, you can tell a lot more about the bar. And in our virtual tastings, we explain what to look for in the ingredients, sourcing and crafting.

In addition, considering every capital city in Europe has hundreds, if not thousands of specialty coffee stores, the number of places you can see chocolate being crafted in the US or Europe in many cities can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

2. UPGRADE

Specialty coffee is a far easier ‘upgrade’. If you want to impress, show how cool you are, etc. you’ll pick a specialty coffee store over a chain. Specialty coffee is lucky here; it fits with the zeitgeist. Working in an office in town, and especially if you worked in a start-up, the coffee shop was the place to meet with your colleagues, hold an interview, etc.

Similarly, it’s relatively easy to switch from instant to awesome beans for your morning cup of coffee at home and even easier now that Colonna Coffee is producing awesome capsules too. Specialty coffee doesn’t require new habits; it replaces and even upgrades existing rituals.

Craft chocolate is a tougher upgrade. Much mass-produced chocolate is consumed as a mid-morning or mid-afternoon ‘pick me up’ or ‘reward’, and easily purchased from a vending machine or local convenience store. By contrast, craft chocolate is regularly savoured in the evening, post-dinner alongside or instead of desert, etc. Equally, it’s hard to find craft chocolate bars in physical retail (although a few specialty coffee stores are now selling craft chocolate bars).

3. RITUALS, FAIRS, KITS

Specialty coffee also has far more fairs, kits, rituals, and hobbies. They’ve HUGE fairs (far bigger than our craft chocolate takeovers at Canopy Market). Indeed, we once shared a stand with Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood at the London Coffee Festival; it was like being at a rock festival with people literally queuing up for selfies with him, his signature, etc.

Specialty coffee also has way more rituals; like cupping. Preparing a coffee at home or in a specialty coffee store is the subject of all sorts of geek debates and intriguing rituals.

And then there is the kit. There is a huge industry constantly launching new coffee grinders, different filters, and pour-over devices. Maxwell has now even come up with a machine to “optimise your water” (PeakWater: Like a home water filter jug that you can tweak for your taste in coffee and according to the water hardness etc. in your house).

4. ADDICTION

Coffee is more addictive. In moderation, this is clearly helpful. But if you drink 5-10 coffees (i.e. ingesting about 400mg of caffeine) a day for 2 weeks, you are likely to get caffeine withdrawal symptoms if you went ‘cold turkey’.

Theoretically, you can get addicted to the caffeine in chocolate, but you’d need to eat an INCREDIBLE 1kg per day for the same period. Theobromine, which is the largest stimulant in chocolate, isn’t addictive; sugar is addictive… but that’s another story. Another argument for craft chocolate is that it contains relatively little added sugar.

5. DEFINITIONS AND PACKAGING

Specialty coffee has far clearer definitions (similar to e.g. craft beer). Q grading of coffee means that it’s very clear which beans can be labelled “specialty”. And specialty coffee makers are good at conveying this via their packaging, labelling and terminology. Specialty coffee packaging is brilliant at telling the story of the individual farmers, their location, fermentation, and giving pointers to consumers.

By contrast, there is no equivalent definition for craft chocolate, and all too often even craft chocolate makers only place the origin, not the farm, estate or co-operative’s details on their labels. (Note: At Cocoa Runners we only sell bars where we know both where the bars are crafted and from where the beans are grown, fermented and dried. Even now, we’re still struggling to persuade some of our makers to include these crucial details on their packaging. It really is crucial to craft chocolate, as both a reminder of its principles and an important tool for consumers.

IN SUMMARY

Bottom line: There is a tonne we can learn from specialty coffee!

Please see below for some examples of bars which bring great coffee together with great chocolate.

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What can craft chocolate learn from speciality coffee, craft beer and other craft movements?

Before diving in, it’s perhaps worth comparing overall market sizes and what share craft has of
different categories, and to show how much upside there is in craft chocolate (note: these stats are
best estimates!).

Sources: MarketLine, Business Inside, Statista, ICA, SCA, Natural Products. Note: some differences in years (2014-2018)
Sources: Specialty Coffee Association (2012, US); Brewers´Association (2015, US); SFSU; USDA Dairy products 2000, CBS-Global (2010, US); Statista (2013), wine selling for more than $15 a bottle). Note that the very high end coffee market is estimated at 7% of total. Specialty or gourmet chocolate market estimated based on consumption of fine beans. THANKS TO FRANK HOMANN FOR AN EARLY DRAFT OF THIS DATA

At a high level, in addition to becoming ‘cool’, craft food and drink movements have (at least) six common characteristics:

  1. They are demonstrably better; either in terms of taste, ethics, environment credentials and/or health (ideally all of these),
  2. They are an easy upgrade: They appeal to an existing vice or habit,
  3. They have some relatively clear and accepted definitions,
  4. The differences are easy to explain and/or are well explained,
  5. They have a space to experience and purchase (which ideally should be ‘cool’),
  6. They have cool kit, rituals and vocabulary to enjoy the product.

What follows below is an attempt to explain each of these characteristics and a comparison to craft chocolate, starting with a high level summary:

SUMMARY (for those in a hurry!):

CRAFT CHARACTERISTIC / PILLAR  WHERE IS CRAFT CHOCOLATE?
Demonstrably better; either in terms of taste, ethics, environment credentials and/or health.Argument easy to make for craft chocolate on all fronts; tastes better, better for you (minimal ingredients, you’ll eat less, etc.) and better for farmers, rainforest and the planet.
They are an easy upgrade: They appeal to an existing vice or habit.Speciality coffee and craft beers are an obvious, direct upgrade. Craft chocolate is an obvious upgrade for those already enjoying chocolate e.g., in the evening with a partner as a treat, or for millennials, etc.
They have some relatively clear and accepted definitions.Should be doable… but no standards (yet!), no green cap, no Q graders, no minimal interest!
The differences are easy to explain and/or are well explained.Not enough craft chocolate ‘baristas’, DJs or ‘sommeliers’… but invariably, tonnes of interest!
They have a space to experience and purchase (which ideally should be ‘cool’).Craft chocolate needs more environments like Zotter, Dandelion, Chocolarder, etc., and to be in more speciality coffee stores and independent wine stores so that it can benefit from the ‘osmosis’ of speciality coffee stores, etc. where you can ‘feel’ the difference.
They have cool kit, rituals and vocabulary to enjoy the product.Are chocolate boards and craft chocolate tasting flights our equivalent to special wine glasses, latte art, AeroPresses and the like? And always encourage “savour don’t scoff”.

1) BETTER

The common first appeal here is taste. But it’s not the only one. For example, for speciality coffee aficionados taste is clearly super important. And in most UK speciality coffee stores over 75% of most of the coffees sold are milk based. Tasting those speciality beans through this milk is hard; even when you are using milk from The Estate Dairy (an amazing dairy whose milks have super high fat content that makes great lattes etc.). Above and beyond taste, speciality coffee focuses on how it’s better for coffee farmers, it expresses great concern about the impact of global warming on coffee futures, etc. The stress on ingredients and direct trade also often lends to the argument that craft foods and drinks are healthier as they are less processed, have higher quality ingredients, less additives, etc. For example, natural wine pushes its credentials of minimal intervention as being healthier and better for farmers and the farm. Bread makers are also keen to stress how their grains, seeds and crafting create not just more delicious sourdoughs and breads but are also better for you and the planet. Craft chocolate clearly tastes better, is better for your and better for farmers and the planet. At all our tastings we’re always delighted by guests’ reactions to the myriad flavours, tastes and sensations craft chocolate offers; and customers are also delighted that these bars satiate appetites with less (so they are arguably healthier as you’ll eat less); and by craft chocolate’s focus on direct trade and its benefits for the farmers and planet.

2) UPGRADE

If you want to be ‘cool’, you now order a craft beer when you head to the pub after work (and this now extends beyond Old Street, Shoreditch, Brooklyn and  San Francisco). Mass produced beers just don’t cut it if you want to be cool. Similarly if you are having a meeting in Old Street during the morning you are spoilt for choice with achingly trendy staff. Serving cheese from La Fromagerie or Neal’s Yard Dairy etc. is a great way of ending any dinner party and reaffirming your foodie credentials. And you obviously want a lovely sourdough from E5 Bakehouse, Little Bread Pedlar, etc. to go with these cheeses. Ordering a craft gin based cocktail (and in Old Street, an English whisky) shows you are ahead of the curve. All of these are easy, and cool, upgrades to existing habits.

Craft chocolate can also be an easy upgrade. For those already having a couple of squares of chocolate at the end of an evening, trading up to a craft chocolate bar is a relatively easy sale. For the most part, chocolate is either consumed in confectionery, cakes, biscuits etc. and/or as a reward or reenergiser earlier in the day. And even though a craft chocolate bar isn’t (yet) seen as an obvious alternative to a mid afternoon snack of a biscuit or mass produced chocolate bar (the reward or ‘pick me up’), craft chocolates can, and are, eaten at all times of the day. It may be difficult to upgrade an older generation who’ve become habituated to sweet confectionery. But it’s really easy to enthuse and delight millennials, generation X, Y, Z etc. with the taste and ethical credentials of craft chocolate.

Craft chocolate can also be used to create new habits; a small square complementing a morning coffee, sharing some bars at the end of a meal in addition/instead of a cheese board, etc. Craft chocolate is fantastic as a shared experience, comparing and contrasting different bars, makers and beans at one sitting. You can sort of do this with wine if you go to a wine tasting, but most of us only open 1 bottle at a time. Similarly, it’s not that common to drink 3+ espressos. By contrast, it’s easy to try 3-4 different craft chocolates in one sitting (although you may not always finish all the bar). This sort of savouring and celebrating should work especially well in geographies where there is less of a tradition of chocolate and e.g., desserts.

3) ACCEPTED DEFINITION

Speciality coffee has Q graders and a clear grading system for what beans can count as speciality grade. The wine industry (and a bunch of other European foods including everything from Parmesan cheese to Melton Mowbray pork pies) have done a great job of using the likes of DOC and region to claim out their distinctiveness. Craft beer in the USA has clearly articulated definitions for everything from size through ingredients and ownership. This is clearly possible for craft chocolate given its focus on direct trade with individual farms, small batch processing, focus on ethics, taste and environment, etc.). To date craft chocolate hasn’t yet established a clear definition internally or in its communication with consumers. We don’t (yet) have the equivalent of craft beer’s green cap and mark. We ought to be able to do this. An easy first step is to follow some simple labelling approaches. It’s also worth stressing that the key to all these definitions is to focus on the highest possible ingredients ; and this is something that craft chocolate has built into its DNA with its focus on heirloom and high quality beans from a specific farm or co-operative (not just a region, country or continent).

4) WELL AND EASILY EXPLAINED DIFFERENCES

If you walk into a store selling natural wines by the bottle to take home and/or glass to drink there and then, more often than not, you will be regaled with the merits of their wines. Similarly a bartender will proffer stories about their craft gins (and hats off to Maxwell at Colonna Coffee who has crafted a special line of speciality coffee capsules for bartenders to use and showcase for their cocktails). Whisky bars are popping up with eye boggling selections of whiskies (for example Black Rock for the 800 plus whiskies, all of which Thom has tasted and can tell you about), etc. Speciality coffee is really clear that a great cup of coffee needs; 1, a great farmer to grow great beans, 2, great roasters to roast the coffee ,and 3, great baristas to make your speciality coffee. And baristas know that a key part of their job is the theatre of what they do (latte art, pour over stirring, etc.) and communicating how special their coffee really is. Going to Neal’s Yard Dairy or La Fromagerie is like having your own personal shopper or ‘cheese DJ’ who will insist you to taste a range of artisanal cheeses so they can find a selection that work perfectly for you/your needs. And the Napa wine industry has explained to a generation of Californian wine makers why their wines are different to mass produced wines, and built a tourist industry second only to Disney in terms of consumer spend.

One point to stress; this is not about forced education. This is education by doing, seeing, smelling, tasting and experiencing. It’s often a process of osmosis. It’s the chats with your friendly wine maker; it’s seeing the barista grind the beans and pour the filter coffee; it’s admiring the way a bartender carefully mixes your drink and tells you about the ingredients (aka spirits) they are combining; it’s the stories about the cows and sheep who provide your cheeses. It’s about the trendy publications (online and offline) who advise on what’s hot, and why. It’s all about the flow and more like e.g. learning to dance on the dance floor with a great partner who knows their moves. It’s not about forced learning; that isn’t cool. No one wants to feel they are going back to school and learning biology or Latin.

5) PLACE AND SPACE TO EXPERIENCE

Most people’s first experience of speciality coffee is a speciality coffee store. And then, over time, people build the confidence and comfort to purchase speciality coffee at home (Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood has a great phrase here; “B2B2C” which he has used to great effect with both his Bath coffee store and his capsules). Wine in the UK was first sold in pubs and restaurants, and then the “off trade” emerged with the likes of Oddbins; and now more and more wine bars are combining on and off premises purchase (see 10 cases in London). Neal’s Yard Dairy really took off when it started to sell its cheeses as part of cheese boards served in restaurants. These out of home experiences also help with the explanation (see above) as well as providing a place to purchase craft products. Having an approachable expert on site should take the hit and miss out of your first experience of a new craft food and drink. It reduces the risk and increases the chance of you finding the perfect iteration of this craft expression for you.

For the most part, craft chocolate hasn’t yet been easily able to showcase the farming and crafting that underpins farmers’ and makers’ work. The ‘flow’ is really hard to communicate via a label on a supermarket shelf. However there are a number of operations that show what can be done. Zotter does an amazing job in its Austrian Factory to enthuse, educate and sell. Dandelion’s stores in Japan, Pump Street‘s Orford café, Mirzam’s factory/café in Dubai and Omnom’s factory in Iceland also do great jobs of showing why their craft chocolate is different by letting you look ‘behind the scenes’ to understand the crafting involved. You literally can “smell the cacao”. There are a few great craft chocolate stores in Europe and the US, and thanks to all our craft chocolate DJs in speciality coffee and wine who are selling craft chocolate here in the UK. Going forward we need to be more here so that consumers look beyond the surface packaging (and at least read the label, check the source of beans and location of maker).

It’s also worth thinking about how this has worked in other regions. For example, ‘dessert bars’ have been phenomenally successful as a means of growing the tradition of cakes and desserts in Singapore, Hong Kong and all of SE Asia. Similarly speciality coffee bars are converting China to coffee drinking with over 400 shops opening in Shanghai in the last year.

6) RITUAL, KIT AND LANGUAGE

As anyone who has to buy gifts for a fan of coffee, wine, whisky, cheese etc. knows, there is a LOT of great kit to purchase when you want to make the leap to enjoying craft food and drink at home. Coffee starts with scales, V60 filters, special kettles, grinders, and now water. And if that is too much there are even some ‘simplified’ bits of kit to create great coffee at home; for example the AeroPress or fine flavour capsules that have the finest coffee. Wine has decanters and glasses (just listen to wine aficionados wax lyrical over their Riedels or Zsalto), Coravins (to enable you to have one or two glasses from a class wine), fridges, circular cellars and a host of apps to photo and store your favourites. Even cheese has special boards and all sorts of knives, brushes and other kit.

There are also rituals around each of these craft products which help both physically and psychologically improve the experience. Taking your cheese out an hour before you eat it. Decanting and swilling your wine in its glass to admire colour, aroma and “legs” (yes, really). And then there is the vocab that you can study in courses from the WSET and all the flavour wheels created by UC Davies, the SCA for coffee etc.

Craft chocolate, possibly because it’s still developing daily habits and occasions, hasn’t yet developed a super wide range of kits, courses and rituals. Martin Christy has the beginnings of a WSET-like training for chocolate. We’ve a couple of restaurants doing craft chocolate tasting boards (thank you 67 Pall Mall and Andrew Edmunds). We know that our own craft chocolate tasting boards go down a treat. We’ve also some tasting pouches; copied from Pump Street’s. And there are clearly many more opportunities we can, should, and will develop. For starters, “savour don’t scoff” and “melt before munching” should be common mantras.

CONCLUSION

On first inspection, you can either argue “glass half full” or “glass half empty”. Craft chocolate, along some dimensions, seems less developed than other craft food and drink categories in building core craft ‘pillars’. But we clearly see this is a “glass half full”. On the most important aspect of craft; having a better product; craft chocolate clearly wins out. Everyone who tries craft chocolate agrees it tastes far better. And everyone who hears the story grasps that it is both better for them and better for farmers and the planet. So we start from a strong position. And the first step to solving any problem is to figure out the key questions, which in this case are around rituals, habits, kit, etc.

And there are a lot of obvious first steps we can start to take:

  1. Celebrate the way that craft chocolate not only tastes better but is better for you and better for the farmers and the planet, and remember that this is because craft chocolate is based around the finest possible beans.
  2. Continue to learn from our colleagues in other craft industries.
  3. Become far clearer about what makes craft chocolate distinct, stressing the importance of unique terroir and beans, etc. And let’s start with better labelling of craft chocolate.
  4. Show when, how and why craft chocolate can be a simple upgrade. In addition, seek out new habits and rituals. Neal’s Yard Dairy proudly refers to how it re-introduced cheese boards to the UK with Sally Clarke in the 80s. Len Evans used to wax lyrical how he redesigned Australian wines to be “quaffable” without food so as to work for Brits in the 60s and 70s when we only used to drink in pubs. Indeed before salted caramels in the 2000s, bringing chocolate to a dinner party was (at best) pretty much a super cool joke where the box of Black Magic were almost retro enough to be cool. Long live craft chocolate boards; and ideally some craft chocolate tasting sets (one of the great delights of craft chocolate is comparing different bars and experiencing how different beans, conches, roasts, fermentations, terroir, etc. impact the experience). Celebrate how well craft chocolate goes with wine, whisky, coffee, etc. Delight in savouring different craft bars as special shared moments.
  5. Double down on finding ways to explain and experience the magic and flow of craft chocolate. Find more ways and more places where people can enjoy (and purchase) craft chocolate and meet fellow craft chocolate evangelists, enthusiasts and DJs.

Wishing you more craft chocolate crafted from the finest single estate beans in small batches to share and savour with friends.

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Explaining the Wonders and Importance of Craft Milk Chocolate

We’ve been really delighted by the support shown for our weekly Wednesday “Welcome to the Revolution” craft chocolate tastings

Part of the fun of these tastings is trying several very different craft chocolates that vary between dark, milk, stone ground, to even 100%; and having everyone share their reactions in real time on the main screen (and thereby avoid the awkward silences or (worse) loud shouting of in person big tastings). During these online events it’s always intriguing to hear your questions, feedback and comments, and we are constantly learning.

Our guests often tell us that they prefer, or are at least more familiar with milk chocolate, and although we talk about the origins of milk chocolate in our tasting sessions, it’s worth taking a bit of deep-dive on it. So here we’re exploring the importance of milk chocolate in history and the extraordinary variety milk chocolate can offer (including some “no sugar” and non-dairy options), while also owning up to a few of its challenges (hint: it doesn’t age well and it’s VERY moreish).

Milk Chocolate in History

For almost all of chocolate’s five thousand year history, we consumed chocolate as a drink. And for much of it’s history, chocolate has had strong religious and aristocratic leanings. But thanks to three discoveries within the last fifty years of the nineteenth century, chocolate went mainstream and became eaten, rather than drunk.

  1. The first ‘discovery’ was by Joseph Fry in the 1840s who counter-intuitively worked out  that by adding cocoa butter back into the chocolate pastes that were used to make drinking chocolate he could create a stable, chocolate bar that people could eat. And in 1847 Joseph Fry launched from his Bristol factory what is accepted as the world’s first commercial chocolate bar.
  2. These first bars were very grainy and gritty (similar to Taza’s stone ground bars of today). In 1879, after apocryphally leaving on a machine over the weekend, Rodolphe Lindt ‘discovered’ what is now called conching and how to make the smooth chocolate bars that predominate today.
  3. In parallel, and a few villages away, Daniel Peter was working on how to add milk to chocolate. Initially he had huge problems as chocolate does not react well to water (as anyone who cooks with chocolate can testify). However when he partnered with Henri Nestlé, a neighbour who had invented a milk condensation process for his baby foods, the two were able to start making commercial milk chocolate in 1875.

Putting these discoveries together; bars, smoothness and milk; kicked off the “chocolate revolution”.

To put this revolution in context: It is estimated that in 1870 around 50 million people drank chocolate, compared to 500 million drinking tea and 200 million drinking coffee. But with the transition from drinking to eating chocolate, world consumption of cocoa beans increased tenfold between 1850 and 1900 (from less than five thousand tonnes to over fifty thousand tonnes). And it has kept growing; from 50,000 tonnes in 1900 to 632,000 tonnes in 1940 to 4.5 million tonnes in 2016.

Much of this is down to the ‘moreishness’ of smooth, milk chocolate. Indeed it can be argued that Daniel Peter’s creation of milk chocolate created one of the world first ‘bliss point’ foods.

Varieties and Virtuosities in Milk Chocolate

Just as different beans, fermentations, drying, roasting, grinding, conching and recipes create huge differences between dark chocolates, the same is true of milk chocolate. Indeed, arguably milk chocolate is capable of even greater varieties; and so tasting a diversity of milk chocolate can help you explore the impact of some key factors:

  • Different percentages: Try comparing these two bars crafted by Friis Holm, from the same bean and farm:
  • Different makers: Try comparing two milks made by different makers, but with similar recipes and the same origin:
  • Different milks: Try comparing how the milk from different animals affects milk chocolate’s flavour:

Challenges of Milk Chocolate: Ageing and Vintages: “Use by” versus “Best Before”

One of the many facets of craft chocolate that we are REALLY looking forward to is the emergence of ‘vintage’ craft chocolates. Just as wines vary year to year, so does cocoa. And similarly, just as wines age, so can chocolate (in both, the tannins evolve to create radically different profiles). Fresco and Friis Holm are already exploring this. But it deserves more attention. And it brings home one of the differences between dark and milk chocolates (and craft versus mainstream chocolates) that is exemplified in the confusion over “best before” and “use by” dates.

In the UK almost all foods and drinks have to have a “use by” or “best before” date (wine is one of the exceptions, it doesn’t have to have either). These different phrases often confuse consumers, and lead to considerable food wastage.  Here is the difference:

  • Use by: Contains an ingredient or additive that goes off. Generally a really BAD idea to eat after the use by date; but this is complicated by the cautiousness of many makers, and it’s often OK to eat some products (e.g. a yoghurt) a day or so after it’s use by date.
  • Best before: Arbitrary date applied by the producer. Food and drink can be safely eaten after the date, but the flavour and/or texture may be impaired.

Milk Chocolate of all varieties clearly needs to have use by dates. And (ironically) the additives and preservatives in many mass-produced dark chocolates means they too have use by dates.

Dark craft chocolate should not have a use by date; but sadly by law it does need to have a best before date. There is no consensus around what this date should be; most makers will suggest a year from the date of production, but others argue for 18 or 24 months. It’s perfectly viable to try dark bars that are three to five years old, although to improve the melt and mouthfeel, they are best savoured after they’ve been lightly warmed.

(Insider tip: Occasionally we have some bars that are close to their best before dates, and we place these in ‘lucky dip boxes‘ where you can purchase a selection at a discounted price, which avoids waste).

But bottom line: IT IS NOT A GOOD IDEA TO EAT ANY MILK CHOCOLATE, OR MASS-PRODUCED MAINSTREAM DARK CHOCOLATE, AFTER ITS USE BY DATE (although a few weeks/months is normally fine).

Challenges of Milk Chocolate: Resisting the Bliss Point

In the late 1960s, after his graduation from Harvard with a degree in experimental psychology, Howard Moskowitz was assigned the task of figuring out how to ensure that American soldiers would eat more of their MREs (Meals Ready to Eat in army speak, i.e. field rations). And his discovery of what he named the “bliss point” has impacted everything from spaghetti sauces, fizzy drinks, pizza, salad dressings to snack foods. In a nutshell, the bliss point is about making food irresistible; or in Pringles’ catchphrase; “once you pop, you can’t stop”. And Moskowitz worked out that by adding salt, sugar, fat and flavourings in different proportions to different foods (and drinks), you could engineer people to eat far more. We can’t help but reach for more.

Arguably Daniel Peter worked this out a century before Moskowtiz when, along with Henri Nestlé, he worked out how to make milk chocolate. Milk chocolate is very moreish. Whereas most of us will savour dark craft chocolate, and are happy with a few squares from a couple of bars, with milk chocolate it is harder to resist (and this is true of both classic milks and dark milks with over 50% cocoa in them). Indeed in the case of mass-produced milk chocolate even the packaging reflects this; it assumes that the whole bar will be eaten in one go (actually the same is true of many mass-produced dark chocolates, as they too have other fats, oils and flavourings added to optimise for the bliss point).

Summary

Forewarned is forearmed. Craft milk chocolate is awesome. It has a range of flavours and textures that can rival dark craft chocolate. And the addition of milk to chocolate helped move chocolate from being primarily a drink for the aristocracy and wealthy to being a delight that everyone can eat and savour.

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Chocolate Glossary

With such complex processes, and a long, storied history, it’s not a surprise that a complicated language has evolved for all things chocolate.

In this glossary of chocolate terms, we hope that we can give you some definitions of the key words and phrases used in the world of craft chocolate.

Let us know if there’s anything missing!


Arriba Nacional

A variety of cocoa bean found in Ecuador.

Artisan Chocolate

Chocolate made from the bean by an artisan chocolate maker, usually in small batches.

Bean To Bar

Chocolate made from the bean by a chocolate maker.

Blooming

A white appearance on the surface of the chocolate, usually caused by temperature fluctuations during storage. This causes the cocoa butter or sugar to rise to the surface of the chocolate. To prevent blooming, store your chocolate in a cool dark place, but not in the fridge!

Bulk Chocolate

Mass produced chocolate, generally used in confectionery or cakes. Bulk chocolate is commonly made in large factories using cheaper, lower flavour beans than artisan chocolate.

Cacao

From Theobroma cacao, the scientific name for the cocoa tree. In most cases, the words “cacao” and “cocoa” can be used interchangeably.

Carré

From the French for “square”, used to refer to small 5-10g square chocolate pieces. Often used as tasting samples.

Chocolate Maker

A person or company who makes chocolate from cocoa beans.

Chocolatier

A person or company who works with chocolate, usually making truffles, filled chocolates or confectionery. Chocolatiers will generally buy in pre-made chocolate, rather than make it from the bean themselves.

Cocoa

The term cocoa is a general term, used to refer to products made from the cocoa bean, the fruit of the Theobroma cacao tree. It’s sometimes used interchangeably with “cacao”.

Cocoa Bean

The seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree, found inside the cocoa pods (fruit).

Cocoa Butter

The natural fat present within the cocoa bean. This can be extracted from roasted beans using a hydraulic press. What’s left behind is called cocoa press cake, which can be ground up to make cocoa powder.

Cocoa Liquor

Cocoa Percentage

Cocoa Powder

Cocoa Pod

Compound Chocolate

Conching

Couverture

Criollo

Dark Chocolate

Dutch Process

Finish

Flavour Notes

Forastero

Ganache

Gianduja

Lecithin

Melange

Metate

Milk Chocolate

Moulding

Mouthfeel

Nibs

Press Cake

Real Chocolate

Roasting

Single Estate

Single Origin

Snap

Stone Ground

Tempering

Theobroma Cacao

Trinitario

Truffle

White Chocolate

Winnowing

Vanilla

Vanillin

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What is white chocolate .. and is it REALLY chocolate?

white chocolate cartoon

White chocolate is, to put it mildly, divisive. Some love it, some disdain it. Some even challenge if it merits being called “chocolate”! So, is white chocolate really chocolate?What really is it? We’ve taken a moment to do a quick deep dive to review the history and complexities of white chocolate. It’s a more exciting story than you might imagine!

White Chocolate History: Vitamin Supplements

Nestle’s website argues that they “invented” commercial white chocolate with their launch of the Milkybar back in 1936. The Milkybar was a smart repackaging of Nestrovit, a multivitamin product launched on the children’s health market in 1929. Nestle described Nestrovit as ‘a vitamin-enriched condensed milk for children that used cocoa butter to make it into an easy to eat bar’. In hindsight, the only surprise is that it took almost five years for Nestle to realise Nestrovit’s commercial potential. Since then, Milkybar has been a bestseller, turbocharged by the iconic Milkybar kids ads, which launched in 1951.

Nestle’s claim to have commercially launched the “white chocolate category” is hard to argue with. And the flagship product it is still going strong; Nestle sells over 1.9 billion white Milkybar buttons in the UK per annum.

White Chocolate History: Dutchmen’s Beards

But quite how, and when, anyone first worked out how to make white chocolate is up for debate. White chocolate was almost certainly around before the Milkybar. What’s more, it may well owe its genesis to Georgian-era facial hair! In the early 19th century, Dutch men who drank hot chocolate had a problem. Cocoa butter has many wonderful features, but it doesn’t dissolve well into water or milk. To avoid this unfortunate mess, a father and son team, the Van Houtens, came up with a machine to press cocoa beans. This squeezed out the offending cocoa butter and enabled the fashion-conscious Dutch to safely drink their chocolate. (Come to a virtual tasting to hear more about this weird side of chocolate’s history.)

What to do with cocoa butter? The Invention of White Chocolate

The excess cocoa butter generated by these cocoa presses spawned various inventions and ideas. These included Joseph Fry’s stone ground, stable chocolate bar in 1847, a crucial creation for chocolate history. (Again, join a tasting to find out why.) The leftover cocoa butter was seized upon by cosmetic and pharmaceutical properties. It had many useful qualities for these manufacturers, including smoothness, shelf life, safety, melting point and flavour absorption. Even now, a huge amount of cocoa butter never goes into chocolate. Instead, it’s a crucial ingredient in all sorts of lipsticks, lotions and notions. The pressed cocoa mass, meanwhile, often becomes a far less valuable by-product. It is sold off to be used in cakes, biscuits, cereals, ice-creams and other food products.

Fortunately for white chocolate lovers, some cocoa butter was also used to make white chocolate. Recipes for making white chocolate date back to the 1870s, and it’s mentioned in a 1923 Food Encyclopedia. (Read more about the pre-Nestle history of white chocolate here.) Nevertheless, Nestle’s Milkybar is responsible for white chocolate’s boom, and enduring popularity with consumers.

But is white chocolate really synonymous with cheap, sweet bars produced in bulk by big chocolate companies like Nestle? We argue not! Let us introduce you to white chocolate as you’ve never tasted it before, produced with care and attention by our craft chocolate makers.

What is Craft White Chocolate?

White chocolate is defined (with a few subtle differences) in the US, EU and UK as being made from at least 20% cocoa butter and over 14% milk (powder).

It then gets very messy as lots of different ‘stuff’ can be added. As ever, reading the ingredients list is critical to identify mass-produced, ultra-processed white chocolate, and differentiate it from craft chocolate.

Luckily, the past few years have seen more and more craft chocolate makers starting to explore whit chocolate’s potential. These makers are very conscious of the source of the cocoa butter, and equally careful about the other ingredients too.

Some craft chocolate makers even press their own cocoa butter! In the US both Goodnow and Askinosie have presses. And in the UK, Chocolarder, Pump Street and Willie’s also make their own cocoa butter. Franck Morin has repaired a historic cocoa press in Donzère, in the South of France. However, these makers are still the exception rather than the rule. Crafting chocolate is already hard without adding yet another step to the process! After all, no craft chocolate maker has their own cows to make their own milk (as far as we know…). Instead, most craft chocolate makers purchase organic and transparently traded cacao butter to use in their standard bars, and to make white chocolate.

Craft White Chocolate: A World of Variety

Craft chocolate makers have brought their usual creativity and ingenuity to white chocolate. As a result, many different delicious variations on white chocolate have sprung up. A few of them are detailed below!

Classic Whites. In these bars, the only ingredients are usually cocoa butter, milk and sugar. For great examples of this, please see some examples from Willie’sFriis Holm and Original Beans.

Toasted Whites. Despite having ingredients identical to classic whites (cocoa butter, milk and sugar), these bars have more of a caramel, toasted note. This depth of flavour is thanks to the way they are crafted. Bryan Graham of Fruition pioneered this style. See Fruition’s Toasted White, but also Åkesson’s whiteDormouse’s toasted white or Ruket’s white bar, which are made in a similar style.

Inclusion Whites. These bars have added ingredients which enhance their white chocolate aspects. The most obvious flavour is vanilla (see Zotter’s white). But there are also more intriguing flavours, like Boho‘s lemon or tumeric bars, or Fossa’s salted egg bar.

Flavoured Whites. These bars use white chocolate to ‘carry’ other flavours. For example, Omnom and Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé have used white chocolate bars to create amazing bars that explore everything from matcha to latte and liquoricecookies and cream to burnt barley (this last bar is counterintuitively, coloured black).

One other development is plant-based ‘mylk’ white chocolates, suitable for vegans. While most vegan chocolate has traditionally been dark, these (and similar milk chocolates) use plant-based milk substitutes to offer vegan versions of these sweeter, lighter options. However, vegan white chocolates face challenges in counting as ‘white chocolate’. Under EU definitions, white or milk chocolate must use ‘milk from a lactating animal’. Expect to see terms like ‘whyte’ or ‘wh!te’ in future. For now, enjoy the wonderful whyte flavours bars of Karuna.

What About Mass-Produced White Chocolates?

One difference between mass-produced and craft white chocolates can be the use of ‘deodorised’ cocoa butter. Naturally, cocoa butter has its own smell, similar to cocoa mass. This scent can be removed through injecting steam to remove the aromas and volatiles. This removes some of cocoa butter’s antioxidant properties, but makes it easier to use in cosmetics. Deodorised cocoa butter is used for mass-produced chocolates so that other additives, aromas and ingredients can be applied more easily. As a result, deodorised cocoa butter can be a tell-tale sign that you’re buying bulk chocolate.

The more obvious way to measure the quality of your white chocolate, though, is to read the ingredients. To be called “white chocolate”, a product must have 20% cocoa butter and 14% milk. Some unscrupulous makers try to get round this, trying to confuse customers by applying labels like “white choccy” or “chocolite” to products that don’t meet the minimum requirements. Other producers fill the other two-thirds (66%) of the chocolate not covered by the regulations with unpalatable additives. Although they meet minimum standards, a quick review of 5 well known brands yielded the following unsavoury ingredients:

  • Vegetable fats,
  • Palm oil,
  • Low erucic rapeseed oil,
  • Corn syrup solids,
  • PGPR (polyglycerol polyricinoleate) from castor oil,
  • Mango kernel,
  • Tocopherols,
  • Whey powder,
  • Shea butter,
  • Vanilla flavouring (or vanillin),
  • Soya lecithin.

And beware the amount of sugar! With craft chocolate bars, both milks and white bars very rarely will there be more than 30% sugar. For example, Mikkel Friis Holm’s white bar is 40% cocoa, 30% milk, and 30% sugar. Even if you could manage to consume a whole 100g bar in one sitting, it’s still less sugar than a portion of many breakfast cereals, or half a can of coke. By contrast, Milkybar is more than 53% sugar, and designed to be scoffed in one sitting.

A Nod to the Critics of White Chocolate

A cocoa bean (depending on the varietal) will be between 52-57% cocoa butter and 48-43% cocoa solids. So claiming that white chocolate isn’t really chocolate seems a bit unfair; it’d be like arguing dried mango isn’t mango because it doesn’t contain mango juice and water. White chocolate and dark chocolate are made from different parts of the bean, but both can be equally delicious. The key issue for chocolate quality is the care taken in the making process…and what is taken away and added. Reading the ingredients is more important than worrying about the cocoa solids percentage!

Having said this, cocoa solids are responsible for most of dark chocolate’s flavour and health benefits. Cocoa solids contain hundreds of different chemical compounds including aldehydes, ketones, esters, pyrazines, alcohols, carboxylic acids and more. These compounds give dark chocolate its complex aromas (for example, the ester phenethyl acetate has aromas of honey, ketone acetoin of butter and cream, benzyl alcohol of rose, etc.). And the various health benefits of chocolate from the likes of flavonols, theobromine, etc. also come from the cocoa solids.

So, those who argue that white chocolate may not be as healthy may have a point. But still, a major benefit of any chocolate is that savouring a bar at the end of the meal can help you resist more sugary puddings, by helping you feel more satisfied.

The Delights of White Craft Chocolate

Cocoa butter may not be packed with flavonols, esters, pyrazines, etc. But it is responsible for the amazingly satisfying melt of dark and milk craft chocolates. And white craft chocolate, when well conched, also has a fabulous melt (although the snap is far softer).

Because they use cocoa butter “as is” (i.e. not deodorised, but either plain or toasted), craft white chocolate bars that are made with only cocoa butter, milk and sugar have extraordinary flavours; just try any of the below.

Similarly, it’s worth tasting for yourself the way in which high quality cocoa butter is used by craft chocolate makers to also absorb other flavours, again see below.

One final point: Cocoa butter is also very filling. It’s hard to scoff a real white craft chocolate bar. They’re far too rich. With that in mind we’ve built taster boxes for for white chocolate where the bars are ‘taster’, or only 50g. Or, you can try the full size box and savour it over several weeks. (Luckily, cocoa butter is stable over many years, lasting even longer than milk powder!)

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Cocoa and Cacao… What’s the difference?

So the ‘smart Alec’ answer here is spelling. ‘Cacao’ has two As, one O and two Cs. ‘Cocoa’ has one A, two Os and two Cs.

However, all sorts of claims are made for the benefits of the likes of “raw cacao nibs”, “alkalinised pure cocoa powder”, etc. Almost all these claims are hogwash. And some are downright misleading.

And then there are a bunch of definitions in dictionaries, government departments, medical sites, etc., which are at best amusing and invariably confused and confusing.

Having said this, there are a couple of best practises for using the terms cacao and cocoa. And as long as these aren’t bowdlerised by nonsense terms like ‘raw’, the way we use the terms helps us think more about the magic of chocolate and that it’s so much more than a commodity or mechanic for half-baked health claims.

Bottom line: Think of “cacao” as to what the farmer does with the fruit of Theobroma cacao. Cocoa is what makers do with cocoa (or cacao) beans.

Cacao is what comes from Theobroma cacao (aka, the tree whose fruit gives us chocolate)

Most craft chocolate makers and “cacao sourcerers” (yes there really is such a term; it refers to people who source the cocoa beans used to make chocolate), use “cacao” to refer to the fruit of Theobroma cacao that is handled on the cocoa farm, i.e. the pods, the pulp inside the pods, the seeds, and the then fermented and dried ‘beans’.

But you can also refer to cocoa pods, cocoa seeds, cocoa pulp, fermented cocoa beans, dried cocoa beans, etc.

It really doesn’t matter too much. Both are correct.

Cocoa is what chocolate makers do with fermented cacao (or cocoa) beans

Many of us use the term ‘cocoa’ to refer to ‘hot cocoa’ (i.e. the drink) or ‘cocoa powder’.

These terms started to be extensively used in the early 19th century following the invention of the cocoa press (by father and son, the Van Houtens). And to demarcate the massive innovations following on from this invention (coupled with a few by Fry, Nestlé, Lindt, and Daniel Peter), the idea of makers processing the fruit of the cacao tree into cocoa, is a useful historical reminder.

The cocoa press kicked off a bunch of innovations and further inventions (if you want more details, and to taste loads of chocolates, please do come to an in person, or virtual craft chocolate tasting).

  1. Fairly soon after working out the mechanics of the cocoa press, the Dutch also realised that if you ‘washed’ the remaining cocoa mass in an alkaline solution you could remove some of its bitterness, lighten and redden its colour, whilst also improving its solubility in water, milk etc. Smart marketing was deployed for this alkalinised or ‘Dutched’ cocoa powder such that many consumers perceive Dutched or alkalised cocoa powder to be nutritionally superior; but in fact, natural cocoa powder retains far more of the nutritionally valuable minerals like magnesium, potassium, iron, etc. In the US, food labelling requires that manufacturers say whether cocoa powder is alkalinised. But here in Europe, and the UK, this isn’t a requirement (you can read more on the deficiencies of European labelling regulations and other issues on chocolate labels). And in Europe (and the US), most cocoa powder is alkalinised. So if you want some cocoa powder to make a great hot chocolate and/or to cook with, please can we recommend our Kokoa Kamili cocoa powder (and if you are near Nkora speciality coffee, check out their hot chocolate made with this).
  2. In parallel, this extracted cocoa butter also became a key ingredient for cosmetics. Cocoa butter is an amazing butter in a multitude of ways. It nourishes and moisturises. It doesn’t go rancid or ‘off’ for a VERY long time. And it can be crafted into a stable solid at room temperature which then can melt on contact with bits of the human body like lips (lipsticks), cheeks (blushes), arms and legs (moisturisers), etc. And so popular is cocoa butter for these purposes that cocoa butter is now far higher priced than cocoa mass (which is used to make confectionary, ice cream, etc.).
  3. Another use of the spare cocoa butter also (apocryphally at least) gave rise the transformation of chocolate from being consumed as a drink to being eaten in the form of stable, solid bar. Back in 1847, Joseph Fry had his eureka moment when he realised that he could add back cocoa butter to the cocoa mass used to create drinking chocolate to create the first stoneground chocolate bar (try a Taza bar to explore the very different textures of these stone ground bars).
  4. Over the next fifty years the Swiss then fine tuned the idea of the chocolate bar into smooth and moreish chocolate bars thanks to Rodolphe Lindt (conching), Jean Tobler (tempering), Daniel Peter and Henri Nestlé (milk chocolate); learn about these developments at a tasting.
  5. At the same time, advertising and trading standards here in the UK can be partially traced back to “hot cocoa”. Cadbury are, again, coming in for criticism of their sourcing with child labour etc. But they were (and arguably still are) amazing marketers. And amongst their marketing genius was their use of the advertising for their Dutched cocoa essence drinking powder in the 1860s as “Absolutely Pure. Therefore Best”, alongside medical testimonials, which helped shape the idea of which gave rise to the modern day trading and advertising standards authorities.

What about raw caca nibs, raw cacao, etc.?

Cocoa (or cacao) nibs are wonderful to nibble on, add to porridge and smoothies, use for cooking (both sweet and savoury), etc. Try them from our shop.

And they are also very nutritious. And they can be packed with flavour. They also are less astringent to consume than 100% chocolate bars; so many chocolate connoisseurs worried about additives and sugar will opt for a handful of nibs rather than a few squares of 100% chocolate. To somewhat oversimplify, this is technically because the finer particles of the ground cocoa nibs in your smooth 100% chocolate bar can deliver the tannins in your chocolate faster and more effectively to dry out the proteins in your saliva which is what creates that puckering sensation of astringency.

But these nibs aren’t ‘raw’. Please read our longer rant on “raw”. But raw cocoa (or cacao) nibs are nonsense (as are raw bars). All cocoa nibs are made with fermented beans, not unfermented cocoa seeds. And as cocoa beans can’t germinate, they shouldn’t be called ‘raw’, at best raw should be confined to cocoa seeds. And these aren’t very pleasant to eat (they are super bitter and astringent). And fermentation and drying of cocoa goes above 42 degrees which effectively kyboshed another often quoted characteristic of raw foods; i.e. they’ve not been cooked or heated above human body temperature.

Almost all cocoa nibs for sale direct to consumers, are also roasted. This roasting is partly to impart flavour; just as roasting coffee beans differently imparts different flavours, the Maillard reaction does the same for chocolate. Roasting is also used to kill off any bugs and nasties in the chocolate (cocoa beans are a notorious source of anthrax). And almost all raw chocolate is ‘flash roasted’. This is true of many of the ‘raw’ bars we sell (e.g. Minka) where these bars are roasted similarly to the “virgin roast” of Conexión’s bars, i.e. a flash roast for 1-2 minutes rather than 18-25. We do have a few exceptions, e.g. Raaka and Forever Cacao, who don’t roast their beans (and they are very careful to test all their beans for any nasties). But these makers are careful not to confuse the loose definition of raw with their ‘unroasted approach.

And on a final note: Cocoa nibs are super healthy and nutritious. But the extra claims that go along with raw cocoa nibs are scientifically unfounded. For example, the oft quoted claim that these raw cocoa nibs are higher in anti-oxidants because of their ORAC score is technical tosh. And the same is true for raw chocolate bars’ health claims. Indeed many of these supposedly super healthy raw chocolate bars are packed with sugar and other ultra processed additives, so you’d be FAR, FAR better off with a craft chocolate bar that has ‘cleaner’ ingredients, tastes far better and is far better for the farmers and the planet.

So bottom line: If you do want to draw a sensible line between ‘cacao’ and ‘cocoa’, this processing by makers is as good as any line to draw. But don’t fall for the marketing nonsense about raw, alkalinisation, etc. Having finished this rant, we’d love to ask you readers with an interest in chocolate a couple of questions:

  1.  Why do so many people continue to believe so much tosh about chocolate?
  2. What do we have to do to get more common sense into the industry about not just misleading health claims but also disingenuous sourcing claims (such as Cadbury’s Cocoa Trace programme)?

Let us know your thoughts here (please comment on the blog here, or send an email to team@cocoarunners.com).