In many respects, I find it difficult to recall a time when bean-to-bar chocolate was available. When I first started working in this field over six years ago, I never in a million years would have guessed how big it would become since then. Even only 10 years ago, there were probably about a dozen handmade chocolate manufacturers in the United States. These days, however, there are hundreds, and that number does not even include those who make chocolate as a hobby in their homes. Over the course of my life, a great number of these players from all over the globe have come into my sphere of influence, both online and in real life.
Therefore, I did what we humans tend to do and classified them. Although the vast majority of the people who produce things I’ve spoken to or read about could be placed neatly into one of 10 categories, the majority of them would fit very well into a couple of them.
Those that seek cacao are fixated on locating the highest-quality beans possible, so they can turn them into chocolate. They emphasize the worth of heritage cacaos that are cultivated in different parts of the globe and place a greater emphasis on quality than originality. Both groups are very devoted to their trade; some of them are focused on bringing attention to the exceptional taste cacaos produced in a particular region, while others just wish to collaborate with the industry’s most talented producers. They are not interested in the latest and greatest fad, but rather the classic varietals from which all others originate, despite the fact that the fruits may be more delicate.
Origin: Central & South America
Percentage of the population: 19%
Examples: CACAODADA, Amano, Cacao Hunters.
Only a small percentage of chocolate manufacturers in the current day earn their livelihood purely from their chocolate. The majority also have a cafeteria, in which customers may purchase sweets, beverages, and other delicacies. Still others have another entirely unrelated side business that they’ve been doing for a very long time, maybe even long before they started manufacturing chocolate. These creators have been given the whimsical moniker of “Part-Timers” by me.
In most cases, the people who work just part-time have another enterprise that they wish to include into their operations, such as selling bread, pepper, or coffee. This might entail a variety of different things, from selling inclusion bars in their web shop to selling graphic shirts in a section of the café. This in no way indicates that they are less committed to chocolate; rather, it only indicates that they have discovered an intriguing activity in addition to chocolate (something I suppose I should work on).
Origin: northern Europe
Percentage of the population: 16%
Examples: Pump Street, Akesson, Primos de Origen.
These manufacturers are obsessed with include components that make their chocolate the healthiest possible. The majority of the time, you will discover that their chocolate is sugar-free, and instead, it is sweetened with an advanced food that you can hardly pronounce, or something you never imagined could be delicious. Yet nevertheless, it works. They are continually looking for the next great superfood, even if the superfood they need has been there in front of them the whole time (anyone remember Theobroma cacao?). Your taste buds are in for a pleasant surprise, and it won’t necessarily be an unpleasant one. Choose from 100% bars topped with sea salt, dried fruit, or spicy pili nuts that have been wrapped in chocolate. You should be aware that if the word “carob” appears anywhere on the list of ingredients, you should probably avoid eating the bar and instead run away.
Origin: a gym near you
Percentage of the population: 9%
Examples: Cucu Chocolate, Raiz The Bar, Böhnchen & Co.
The majority of these creators spend the most of their time at their chocolate factories, where they are either shaping bars or tending to the most recent batch of chocolate. Mad scientists are often admired for the fact that they are able to achieve nothing but faultless outcomes, despite their obsession with developing the most original and precisely expressive taste profiles. This is accomplished by modifying each stage of the process in very minute ways, and as a result, the release of a single batch might sometimes take several months. Do I have this correctly? It has to age for precisely 99 days.
Origin: Middle America
Percentage of the population: 4%
Examples: Rogue, Patric, Palette de Bine.
It’s possible that my desire to make the world a better place colors my perspective, but the social entrepreneurs are my favorite kind of businesspeople. These are the people that create chocolate and work directly with farmers and cooperatives with the goal of bettering people’s lives via the production and sale of delicious chocolate. Although it may seem straightforward, in practice it is everything but.
Not only does social entrepreneurship via chocolate and cacao include paying higher rates for cacao of a better grade, but it also involves working directly with the community of cacao producers in order to improve their lives. Whether this was accomplished by launching a tourist initiative on some of the cacao farms, assisting in the construction of schools, or just providing them with access to a market, the social choco-preneurs have really represented the transparency and excellence that characterize handmade chocolate.
Origin: the US
Percentage of the population: 8%
Examples: Askinosie, Harper Macaw, Dandelion Chocolate.
Chocolate Nonconformists (Hipsters)
The Chocolate Noncornformists are here to bring you the most unique and hard-to-find product of the month, fresh out of their factory (which is most likely situated in downtown Brooklyn). As is the case with the Superfood Fanatics, these manufacturers run the risk of being dismissed as not really being a part of the movement, maybe because they have expanded so much into other fields. They place a premium on the origin of the cacao less out of a desire to locate the most delicious tastes possible and more out of a desire to stand out from the competition. Some of them are purists and exclusively make single-origin bars, but the majority of them also have a magnificent line of inclusion bars that is subject to change more often than the weather. However, there is a little something of the hipster in all of us.
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Percentage of the population: 9%
Examples: WKND Chocolate, Fossa, Batch Craft.
Unroasted Makers exclusively utilize cacao that has not been roasted, which serves two purposes: first, as a nod to the “raw” trend that has been going strong over the last decade; and second, as a strategy to set themselves apart from competitors in the market. This simply implies that they skip a phase in the process of manufacturing chocolate, which is a step that develops a significant amount of the taste of the beans. As a result, their chocolate often has the reputation of tasting like dirt. This is correct some of the time.
Unroasted chocolate has a good appeal in the culinary community as well as the vegan community since it is suitable for a broad variety of the restricted diets that are now fashionable.
The manufacturers in this category that are the most well-known and inventive not only provide single origins, but they also build an experience that revolves around each bar. Otherwise, the bars have a flavor that is often indistinguishable from the soil from whence their components originated.
Origin: also Brooklyn
Percentage of the population: <1%
Examples: Raaka, Fine & Raw, The Raw Chocolate Co.
They are the chocolate firm that specializes in crafting something for you to give to each and every person on your list, regardless of the event or circumstance. You want it, right? They have an abundance of it. Which ones, exactly? They have twenty of them. Do I already have enough of a Willy Wonka vibe going on for you? The majority of the People Pleasers have been in business for well over a decade, making them far older than the handmade chocolate movement. However, this does not always imply that they do not possess any traits associated with the movement.
The People Pleasers that are situated in cacao-growing regions have a greater propensity to source locally, but the largest of them will source from all over the world and take their creative cues from the areas that provide their ingredients. Even though they are often large corporations, if you choose and select carefully, you may be able to detect a hint of the craft movement even in the peppermint bark that they sell.
Origin: big cities around the world
Percentage of the population: 14%
Examples: Theo, Zotter, Pacari.
It is quite challenging to classify the European Traditionalists as part of the new artisan chocolate movement since they create chocolate in the European style and continue to make it in the same manner that they have for decades. These are the large-scale chocolate manufacturers that are based in France, Belgium, and Switzerland. They control a significant portion of the market in their respective nations and often provide the chocolate that is used by local chocolatiers. However, outside of Europe, only those who are very into handmade chocolate will be familiar with their name.
“Oh, you brought back a Bonnat bar from your trip to France? Tres chic!”
The European Traditionalists often have a history that dates back many generations, and they are now working on their methods for rebranding. Therefore, you should be ready for some significant adjustments in the world of chocolate, and please set aside a piece of that Bonnat bar for me.
Percentage of the population: 12%
Examples: Bonnat, Pralus, Domori.
The next generation of chocolate manufacturers who offer value fascinates me the most at the moment. Despite the numerous challenges it offers in the manufacturing process, I am of the firm belief that this method of chocolate production is the way of the future. A maker is considered to be a Tree-to-Bar Locavore if they not only cultivate their own cacao (either as a farmer, supervisor, or owner of a plantation), but also produce chocolate from the cacao that they grow.
This manufacturer has complete command over the whole process of producing chocolate, beginning with the planting of the cacao tree and continuing until the final product is packaged and sold. It is likely that this manufacturer is situated in a relatively remote region of the nation that produces cacao. This not only allows them to retain more money in their home economy, but it also enables them to experiment at every stage of the chocolate-making process, giving them an amazing lot of control over the process and fostering their creativity. In particular, when it comes to inclusions, tree-to-bar locavores have garnered a reputation for exhibiting national pride on a global scale in relation to the foods and beverages produced in their own country.
Tree-to-Bar Locavores, as opposed to Unroasted Makers, provide you the opportunity to experience the culture of the region from where the coffee originated via its flavor.
Origin: anywhere cacao is grown, but especially Hawaii
Percentage of the population: 7%
Examples: Kallari, Azzan, Lonohana.
I am well aware that the sum of these percentages does not equal one hundred; unfortunately, not everyone can be categorized into a single tidy little box.
In the end, this is not intended in any way as a criticism on those who create chocolate. On the contrary, this is meant to be somewhat of a love letter to a few of the individuals who I look up to the most. Simply put, each and every one of these folks wants nothing more than for you to have access to superior chocolate. They desire all of the advantages that come with eating chocolate of a high quality, but in order to reach your market, you occasionally need to check a few boxes and adapt to expectations. Or not.
Who would you add to this list, and how would you classify them according to the criteria presented here?
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