My Top 5 Books for New Chocolate Enthusiasts

** This post contains affiliate links.**

For years, it felt like the world of chocolate books was divided in two: on one side, baking books with beautiful photos and super indulgent recipes — triple chocolate mousse cake, anyone? — on the other, serious books with in-depth information cacao genetics and the Mesoamerican roots of chocolate — too ambitious reads for a sleep-deprived mom.

As a new chocolate enthusiast in 2015, I longed for books I could read after putting the kids to bed, i.e. entertaining enough to keep me turn the pages, but with enough informative to deepen my chocolate knowledge.

Thankfully, the past couple of years have brought an abundance of books that fit that niche. With the holidays on the horizon, I thought I’d share my top 5 chocolate books for chocolate enthusiasts of all ages.

From Cocoa Beans to Chocolate, written by Bridget Heos, illustated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman

58693D16-C1F1-4BEB-8EAA-A8BBCA6367FBWritten for a junior audience, From Cocoa Beans to Chocolate by Bridget Heos covers all aspects of chocolate production, from the cacao growing on a fair trade plantation in the equator “where it’s warm all year” to chocolate-making in a “small chocolate factory.” With lively illustrations by Stefanie Fizer Coleman, this kids book provides a simplified yet accurate overview of the chocolate making process.

Bean-to-Bar Chocolate, America’s Craft Chocolate Revolution by Megan Giller

B2B Megan Giller

To the non-initiated, the world of bean-to-bar chocolate can be nebulous. Three years ago, I didn’t know most makers, didn’t understand chocolate labels, nor could I place cacao-growing countries on a map. The only way to make sense of that world, it seemed, was to eat my way through it — that’s how the 37 Chocolates challenge came to be.

Since then, Megan Giller released Bean-to-Bar Chocolate, giving chocolate enthusiasts a much-needed bean-to-bar primer. In this abundantly illustrated book, you’ll learn how chocolate is made, where it’s coming from, and how to taste it. You’ll meet the pioneers of the American bean-to-bar movement and discover trusted, established chocolate-makers. I personally loved the pairing ideas (bread! beer! cheese!) and the conversational, sometimes self-depreciating tone of the book (you’ll love the story of Megan trying to make chocolate.) Peppered with maker profiles and recipes, it is the book I wish had existed when I started my chocolate journey.

The Chocolate Tasting Kit by Eagranie Yuh

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**This kit was gifted to me by Chronicle Books ** 

The Chocolate Tasting Kit by Eagranie Yuh is a great gift for the food-lover who likes to entertain. The kit contains everything you need to throw a chocolate party, from tasting sheets and flavor flash cards to an introductory booklet for the host or hostess. I like how the latter provides very specific guidance on how to select chocolate by naming actual company names (hello Pralus and Askinosie.) In fact, I wish you could actually buy it on its own, as it provides much needed guidance to those new to the world of craft chocolate. The kit would make a lovely gift alongside a selection of fine chocolate bars.

Making Chocolate, From Bean-to-Bar to S’more by Todd Masonis, Greg d’Alesandre, Lisa Vega, and Molly Gore

Dandelion

First, a disclaimer: I have no interest in becoming a chocolate-maker. However, as a chocolate lover and educator, there comes a time when you want to know more. Why are some bars grittier than other? How exactly is life on plantations? And how do you bake with a two-ingredient bar?

Written by the team at Dandelion Chocolate, Making Chocolate touches on all of these topics and then some, in a engaging, approachable way. This beautifully illustrated volume is for anyone who loves chocolate, from the gourmand looking for a single origin chocolate mousse recipe to the the budding professional who wants to start making chocolate at home.

As a chocolate educator, I rely on its show-stopping picture of cacao pods, drying beds, and plantations to bring context to my tastings. It’s also the only mainstream book I found that makes the less glamorous aspects of chocolate-making look fun: the reports of chocolate sourcerer Greg d’Alesandre are funny and the tech-inspired approach to roasting beans is fascinating. There’s a way the authors talk about machines that make you feel giddy about a roll mill. This is must-have if you ever dream of making chocolate at home.

Les secrets du chocolat by Franckie Alarcon

Les secrets du chocolat

Somewhere between a chocolate connoisseur manual (the author shares details about a cacao sourcing trip with Stéphane Bonnat) and a baking book (you’ll find a few recipes in there), this French graphic novel is the most entertaining chocolate book I’ve read to date. Playful yet informative, it is light enough to read after a long day at work, but serious enough to deepen your appreciation of chocolate.

Written through the lens of its author, French graphic novelist Franckie Alarcon, Les secrets du chocolat provides incredible insight on the philosophy behind the work of a great French chocolatier, Jacques Genin. If you can’t intern with Genin but read French, do yourself a favor and get this book! And if you don’t, you’ll enjoy this anecdote: Jacques Genin never tasted chocolate as a kid. As an adult, he worked as a pastry chef and, when becoming a dad, decided to work with chocolate so he’d make the best looking birthday cakes for his daughter. This is one of the many, many touching moments of the book.

Now, tell me, what are your favorite books about chocolate?

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Fall 2017 Chocolate Tastings

I was sipping my cappuccino at Philter Coffee this fall one day when a lady named Chelsea asked me about my next chocoldunaiate event. Although I had none planned then, I promised her to organize one. After I emptied my cup, I headed straight to the library, where it took all of 30 seconds to book a chocolate tasting workshop with Alex. Gosh, I wish all my meetings were that productive.

I now look forward to meeting Chelsea and her friends at the Kennett Library this Saturday, November 18, 2017. I have a couple more events planned this year to satisfy your chocolate cravings, including a Map Chocolate pop-up sale that same Saturday and a tasting at Grace Winery next month. Here are all the details, I hope to see you at one or all of these events!

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Join me at the Kennett Library this Saturday, November 18 for a FREE chocolate tasting workshop at 2 PM. Spoiler: you’ll touch a cacao pod and taste camel milk chocolate from Dubai. Space is limited so make sure to register here. The event was completely booked last time so don’t wait to save your spot!

Kennett Library
216 East State Street
Kennett Square, PA 19348

Chadds Ford

On Saturday, November 18, I will have Map Chocolate bars for sale at the inaugural Potts Meadow Tree Lighting event, presented by the Chadds Ford Barn Shops and the Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art. I’ll be there with several cool artists (Katee Boyle! Bri from Arden + James!). The event will run from 4:30-8:30 PM, you’ll find all the details here.

The history of the Barn Shops goes back 50 years, when some historic buildings (old general store, gas station, etc.) in Chadds Ford, PA, were moved to their current location for preservation purposes. My friend Bri and her father have been fixing up the shops all year and they’re proud to share them with the local community.

Please note you MUST park at the Brandywine Museum down the road and take a shuttle to the event. For safety reasons, including Route 1 traffic backup and children wandering around, you can’t park at the Barn Shops.

Chadds Ford Barn Shops
1609 Baltimore Pike
Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania 19317

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I love with the quiet, romantic setting of Grace Winery in Glen Mills – Prince Albert of Monaco was recently there! – so I am thrilled to host a two-hour chocolate education and tasting workshop on Friday, December 15 at 6 PM – 8 PM. Tickets are $50 and include your first glass of wine. If you’d like to learn more about your favorite food, hold a cacao pod, eat a cacao bean, and taste several chocolates, secure a spot now on EventBrite.

Grace Winery
50 Sweetwater Road
Glen Mills, PA 19342

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Chocolate Shops & Independent Coffee Shops in Paris

Tour Eiffel

Guess what: I’m going to Paris in May! Plane tickets to France are at an-all time low so I finally booked that long overdue trip to my homeland. This will be my first trip to Paris as a chocolate-lover and I am excited to see the city through the lens of chocolate. As I was imagining myself hopping from one shop to another, I started compiling a list of chocolate shops in a notebook, but notebooks get lost and stained, so I thought why not compile them all on my blog instead? As an added bonus, it may help some of you plan your own visit. So there you have it, a list of chocolate shops to check out in Paris: some are bean-to-bar storefronts, others chocolatier shops, but all have been recommended by a friend or fellow chocophile.

I made sure to add the name of the closest subway station as well as opening hours. And because coffee is a chocolate’s best friend, I have added a list of independent coffee shops in Paris, too. I hope you’ll find the lists handy and please feel free to list your favorite Parisian chocolate (and coffee) shops in Paris in the comments.

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Photo credit: Le Chocolat des Français

Chocolate Shops

A l’Etoile d’Or
30 rue Pierre Fontaine
75009 Paris
Open Monday, 2 – 8 PM
Tuesday – Saturday, 10:30 am – 8:00 pm

According to David Lebovitz, this is “best candy shop in Paris.” It is also the only place outside of the original shop in Lyon that sells Bernachon chocolate.”

Ara Chocolat 
54 Rue de Dunkerque
75009 Paris
Open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday: noon – 8 PM.
Tuesday: 4:30 – 8 PM.
Closed on Sundays

Atelier C
123 Avenue Daumesnil
75012 Paris
Metro Gare de Lyon, Reuilly-Diderot, or Montgallet.
Open Tuesday to Sunday, noon – 8 PM

Atelier C hosts 2-hour bean-to-bar workshops one Sunday per month. You can contact them on Instagram for a schedule of their classes.

Chocolatitudes 
57 rue Daguerre
75014 Paris
Metro Denfert-Rochereau, lines 4 and 6
Open Wednesday, Friday, Saturday: noon – 7 PM; Thursday: noon – 8 PM; and Sunday: noon – 2 PM, 4 – 7 PM

Laurence Alemanno, owner and founder of the company, is also the author of several books in French about cacao and chocolate, which you can discover here.

Chocolaterie Cyril Lignac
25 rue Chanzy
75011 Paris
Metro Charonne on line 9 and Faidherbe-Chaligny on line 8
Open everyday, 8 AM – 8 PM.

Cyril Lignac is an acclaimed pastry chef and the host of Le Meilleur Pâtissier, the French equivalent to the Great British Bake-Off. His latest venture is a boutique entirely devoted to chocolate. I have seen chocolate bars in gorgeous, colorful wrappers, pralines, and bonbons.

Comptoir du Cacao

192 av de Versailles
75016 Paris
Open Tuesday through Saturday 10:30 AM to 7PM
Sunday 10:30AM to 1PM

118 rue Ordener
75018 Paris
Open Tuesday through Saturday 10:30AM to 7PM
Monday 2 PM to 7PM

The chocolate factory is located outside of Paris in Bazoches sur le Betz. You can check out directions to the facility here.

Jacques Genin

Turenne Shop:
133 rue de Turenne
75003 Paris
Métro : République, Filles du Calvaire, Temple
OpenTuesday – Sunday, 11 AM – 7 PM (7:30 PM on Saturdays)
There is room to sit and enjoy your chocolate at this location.
Varenne Shop:
27 rue de Varenne
75007 Paris
Métro : Rue du Bac, Sèvres Babylone, Varenne
Open Tuesday – Saturday, 10:30 AM – 7 PM
I only knew Jacques Genin by name until I read Franckie Alarcon’s graphic novel Les secrets du chocolate. The graphic novelist followed the chocolatier for a year and wrote about his experience in the book. Genin comes across as a generous, passionate, and approachable, which made me eager to check out his shop.

Kosak 
106 rue Caulaincourt
75018 Paris
Metro Lamarck-Caulaincourt
Open Tuesday – Sunday, 11 AM – 11 PM

Kosak is an ice cream shop located in Montmartre that also specializes in bean-to-bar chocolate. The shop carries a lot of the brands I tried during the “37 Chocolates” challenge, such as Dick Taylor. From my interactions on Instagram, the owners of the shop seem super friendly.

Le Chocolat des Français

The chocolate is available in many locations across the country. Find a list of retailers here.

La Manufacture de Chocolat Alain Ducasse
40 rue de la Roquette
75011 Paris
Metro Bastille, lines 1, 5, 8
Open Tuesday – Saturday, 10:30 AM – 7:00 PM

Chef Alain Ducasse opened his bean-to-bar operations in Paris a few years ago. I was not too crazy about his Colombia bar but French writer Martin Page swears by the unconched chocolate, so I plan on giving a try.

Pierre Marcolini
235, Rue Saint-Honoré
75001 Paris
Open Monday to Saturday 10:30 AM – 7:30 PM

89, Rue de Seine
75006 Paris
Open Monday to Sunday, 10:30 AM – 9 PM

3, Rue Scribe
75009 Paris
Open Monday to Friday, 10:30 AM – 7 PM
Saturday, 10:30 AM – 7:30 PM

Yes, Pierre Marcolini is from Belgium but for those of us who cannot take the trip to Brussels, we can always head to one of his Paris shops. A pioneer of the bean-to-bar movement, Marcolini is also the author of an imposing book about chocolate, which my friend Penny recently reviewed.

Pralus
35 rue Rambuteau
75004 Paris
Metro Jacques Bonsergent, line 5
Open Monday to Saturday, 10 AM – 8 PM; Sunday, 10 AM – 7 PM

Coffee and Cream

Independent Coffee Shops

Café Lomi
3 rue Marcadet
75018 Paris
Open everyday, 10 AM – 7 PM

Coutume
47 rue de Babylone
75007 Paris
Open: Monday – Friday : 8 AM – 6 PM
Saturday –  Sunday: 9 AM – 6 PM

Fondation
16 rue Dupetit Thouars
75003 Paris
Metro: Temple (line 3)
Open 8 AM – 6 PM on weekdays, 8 AM – 6 PM on weekends.

Hexagone Cafe
121 rue du Chateau
75014 Paris
Metro: Line 13 Pernety or 13 Gaîté; line 6 Edgar Quinet
Open 8 AM – 6 PM on weekdays; 10 AM – 6 PM on weekends.

Hollybelly
19 rue Lucien Sampaix
75010 Paris
Metro Jacques Bonsergent, line 5
Open 9 AM – 5 PM on weekdays, 10 AM – 5 PM on weekends.

Ob-La-Di
54 rue de Saintonge
75003 Paris
Metro Temple, Line 3
Open Monday-Saturday, 8 AM-6 PM; Sunday 9 AM-6 PM

Ten Belles
10 rue de la Grange aux Belles
75010 Paris
Metro Gare de l’Est (lines 4, 5, 7); Jacques Bonsergent (line 5); Goncourt (line 11); Colonel Fabien (line 2)
Open 8 AM – 5 PM on week days, 9 AM – 6 PM on weekends.

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How is Chocolate Made?

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How Cocoa Beans Become Chocolate: Graphic Developed by Ecole Chocolat and Megan Giller of Chocolate Noise

How is chocolate made? Find that out in my latest post on the Choco Rush blog. A big thank you to Ecole Chocolat and Megan Giller of Chocolate Noise for providing the fun and educational graphics, including the one here. Happy reading!

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Interview with Carol Morse, Founder & Maker, Acalli Chocolate (New Orleans, Louisiana)

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Carol Morse, maker and founder, Acalli Chocolate. Photo credit: Erin Krall.

“So. Much. Flavor.”

Those were my thoughts as I sampled the Milk & Nibs bar by Acalli Chocolate last summer. The brand had been recommended to me by Laura, a chocolate-loving barista, soon after I committed to the 37 Chocolates challenge. I was looking for recommendations and she was happy to share hers. She jotted down the names of four makers on a piece of parchment paper before commenting on each brand.

“Acalli. I like what she does in New Orleans.”

She?

That was a first.

I was not aware of any female chocolate-makers. I obviously had to learn .

A few weeks after that conversation,  I found myself in Wayne, Pennsylvania, trying to escape the scorching heat with my friend Teresa. We pushed the door of Gryphon Cafe and, as I ordered an ice latte, my eyes caught the sight, on the elevated counter, of a small orange box with the name of that Louisiana maker – Acalli Chocolate. The bar, a combination of  65% dark milk chocolate, was sprinkled with cacao nibs. I was intrigued.

After we picked our drinks, Teresa and I sat down, we breathed a sighed of a relief – cool, at last. I opened the orange box, inside which was a thick cellophane wrapper that I unsealed to reveal a dark piece of chocolate. I cut the bar into squares, one of which landed on my tongue.

“So. Much. Flavor.”

That day, I finally understood what craft chocolate was about.

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Soon after I posted my video review of Acalli Chocolate’s Milk & Nibs bar , I connected with Carol Morse, founder of Acalli Chocolate and we spent a couple of hours on Skype getting to know each other. Unlike other makers, who fall into chocolate by wondering how chocolate is made, Carol became curious about chocolate after finding herself on an actual cacao plantation. How cool is that? I found her story so interesting that I invited her to share it with you. In this article, Carol answers a few of my questions about her background, her brand, and what’s next for her company.

Thank you, Carol for sharing your chocolate story.

1) When we first talked last year, I was surprised to learn that you have a PhD in Anthropology. How did you make the switch to becoming a full-time chocolate-maker?

I don’t have a PhD, but anthropology was my college major. I also have a background in economic development, as I worked in micro-finance before I made chocolate. So the full chain of chocolate making – from cacao and the people that grow it to the final bar – lets me combine a lifelong love of chocolate with an interest in people and the work that they do.

My husband is an archaeologist (he is pursuing his PhD), and three years ago we spent a summer in Guatemala while he studied a Mayan language and I worked remotely for a California micro-finance nonprofit. We visited Maya Mountain Cacao in Belize and I met Guatemalan chocolate-makers. I was just fascinated by everything, and when I got back to the U.S., I ordered small equipment and cacao from John Nanci (I don’t know what I would’ve done without his Chocolate Alchemy website!) to begin making chocolate at home. The Chocolate Life was also a really helpful forum for me when I started out – so many chocolate-makers offering advice and guidance.

In 2014, I visited the Norandino Cooperative in Northern Peru, and was impressed by both their work and cacao. I began buying from them shortly thereafter.

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The original line-up of Acalli Chocolate bars. Photo credit: Carol Morse, Acalli Chocolate.

2. What is the origin of the name Acalli?

The name Acalli (ah-CALL-ee) means “canoe” in Nahuatl (the Aztec language that also gave us the word “chocolate”). It seemed appropriate as a name since canoes connect people even across great distances, and were an early method of transporting cocoa beans. I also just think it’s a pretty word and one that evokes the spirit of travel and a sense of adventure. My husband is an anthropologist and linguist, so he helped come up with it!

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Carol Morse, founder and maker, Acalli Chocolate. Photo credit: Erin Krall.

3. When I think of New Orleans, I think about hot and humid: what challenges does that climate pose for a chocolate-maker?

I’m constantly learning about the impact of climate on chocolate here! I didn’t realize what I was getting into when I started, but I do feel like I understand chocolate better because of the time I’ve spent figuring out why things go wrong. Humidity is a big issue – I have a humidity monitor in my workshop and it rarely reads below 50% relative humidity. It’s often above 65 or 70…and I have learned that you can temper in those conditions, contrary to popular belief! Summers are also difficult when it comes to keeping the temperature down, especially for tempering and molding. But like anywhere, I guess you just figure out what works for the conditions you have. I definitely get nervous making summertime deliveries, but I appreciate ice packs more than ever before!

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Park Morse, Carol’s brother, at work making chocolate. Photo credit: Carol Morse, Acalli Chocolate.

4. You just added two new bars to your existing bar line-up. Could you tell us a bit more about your chocolate?

Of course! I’m currently buying all of my cacao from the Norandino Cooperative, and it’s a big cooperative that spans several regions of Peru. I started out last year with three bars. Two are made with beans from six communities in the Tumbes region of Peru, and one is made with beans from the community of El Platanal in Chulucanas, Peru.

The bars that I just released are smaller “tasting bars,” and they’re darker, with an 81% cocoa content. They’re made with a blend of the Tumbes and El Platanal beans, and sweetened with local Louisiana sugar. The combination is so fudgy and rich, with a hint of molasses from the sugar. One bar is plain, and the other is topped with nibs and sea salt. I’m a little obsessed!

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The latest (delicious!) additions to Acalli Chocolate’s original line of bars. Photo credit: Carol Morse, Acalli Chocolate.

5) There are over 150 bean-to-bar chocolate-makers in the US today. What sets Acalli apart?

A big tenant of business model is sourcing in person. I’m not the only one doing that, but it was something important to me from the beginning, especially in light of my anthropology and development background. I want to pay a price that treats cacao as a value-added specialty product, not a commodity. Because there is a huge amount of work that goes into cacao production: cultivation, harvesting, fermenting, drying… I want to acknowledge all the work that has been done by the farmers before I even receive the beans.

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Park and Carol Morse in front of a fermentation box in Tabasco, Mexico, summer 2015. Photo credit: Acalli Chocolate.

6) What’s next for Acalli?

Launching the new little bars has been such an exciting way to close out the summer! I’ll be expanding those into more retail locations, and we’re slowly starting to move toward prime drinking chocolate weather, which is great. I quietly introduced some drinking chocolates late last winter and I’m eager to start offering those in a more visible way.

My husband Luke, my brother Park and I (that’s the entire Acalli “staff,” with Park helping with production and Luke doing a lot of the web and social media work) all visited about twenty farmers in Mexico last summer to pursue Chiapas and Tabasco as potential bean origins. I’m hoping to introduce a new Mexican origin some time soon. I’ve been roasting sample batches of Chiapan beans this week, so that’s been an exciting project also!

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Finding Bean-to-Bar Chocolate in the Philadelphia Area

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Taza Chocolate bar from my local Whole Foods Market

If you live in a small town like I do, you may have a hard time gathering a large selection of craft chocolate from a wide range of makers. However, with a little curiosity, you may be surprised at the number of bean-to-bar chocolates you’ll be able to find close to your home. For instance, did you know that many independant natural stores carried lesser known chocolate brands right in the candy aisle? Your local coffee shop may also offer a nice selection of bars right by the register, make sure to check it out.

To me, the quest for craft chocolate is part of the fun: I love the thrill I get from finding a bar I had spotted months earlier on Instagram (I am looking at you, Askinosie’s licorice bar.)  I have now been looking for bean-to-bar chocolate locally for over a year now and, while I still have a lot more places to explore, here a list of my favorite craft chocolate purveyors in the Chester County & Philadelphia areas. A word of caution: this is a non-exhaustive, kind-of-subjective list, which I will update as I go. In the meantime, I’d love to know where you shop for chocolate, both in the Philadelphia area and beyond. Leave a comment to let me know!

Carlino’s – both Ardmore and West Chester locations, PA

  • Ritual Chocolate (their 75% Balao bar and 60% Novo coffee bars are excellent).

Gryphon Coffee – Wayne, PA

Lolli and Pops – King of Prussia Mall

Malvern Buttery – Malvern, PA

Philter Coffee – Kennett Square, PA

The West Chester Ice Cream & Coffee Bar – West Chester, PA

Kimberton Whole Foods – Multiple locations

Martindale’s Natural Market – Springfield, PA

Whole Foods Markets – Multiple locations

Sazon Restaurant – Philadelphia, PA

Shane Confectionary – Philadelphia, PA

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What is Bean-to-Bar Chocolate? (2/2)

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Back in December 2015, the concept of bean-to-bar chocolate was put on the spotlight after Scott, a Dallas-based blogger, published of four-part exposé demonstrating that the Mast Brothers company had not always been a bean-to-bar chocolate-maker. To meet early demand, Scott explains, the company used premade chocolate known as “couverture chocolate” instead of making it from the actual beans. While there is nothing wrong with using industrial chocolate in confections, the Mast Brothers had claimed to be bean-to-bar maker from their very early days. The chocolate scandal, which was relayed on national media, triggered a series of reactions that made one thing clear: there is a lot of confusion around what being a bean-to-bar chocolate-maker actually means.

If you are not clear on the concept yourself, take a moment to read the post I wrote to define the concept of bean-to-bar chocolate. However, the real challenge does not lay as much in explaining the concept as in determining why it matters in the first place. In this post, I’ll explain why the concept came to matter to me as a consumer.

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This chocolate bar by Cacao Atlanta has clear dark cherry notes

Before I started my 37 Chocolates challenge last year, the only chocolate I ever had came straight from the grocery store. For the past several years, I had resorted to chocolate to help me cope with stress at my deadline-driven job. I would buy 12-packs  of Theo Chocolate bars on Amazon (dark chocolate with cherries and almonds was a favorite), Endangered Species from the grocery store (I had a soft spot for the blueberry inclusion variety) or the 71% dark chocolate by Valrhona that I would stock up on at Trader Joe’s (I still really enjoy this bar). I would not spend more than $3.50 on a bar because I could not justify spending so much money on chocolate I would eat for stress relief purposes and, if I am really honest, mindlessly. In addition, I had already been disappointed by $8 bars marketed as “bean-to-bar” chocolate, which had then made one thing very clear: the term bean-to-bar is not a guarantee of quality. At that time, I made the decision of sticking with mass-produced but reliable and inexpensive bars than taking the risk of getting disappointed again.

Now, to be fair, all of the chocolate I ate at that point was technically bean-to-bar. However, I had noticed that the phrase typically found its way on the wrappers of handcrafted, smaller batch chocolate that you find in gourmet stores and independant coffee shops. As a consumer, I typically interpret that phrase as a justification of a higher price tag, since it’s a lot more work to make chocolate from scratch (i.e. from the beans) than it is to melt and remold industrial chocolate.

Time went by, I left the stressful job and started growing bored with my chocolate selection. While it felt safe to have a list of go-to brands and bars, that first bite of Twenty-Four Blackbirds Madagascar chocolate made me wonder what awaited me outside of my chocolate comfort zone. I had noticed the explosion of American-made, small batch chocolate and, surely, I thought, some of these bars had to be good. Plus, there seemed to be something about the whole “single origin” chocolate, even though I knew nothing at the time about the difference between Guatemalan or Peruvian cacao. Although I felt guilty at the idea of spending the equivalent of one hour of minimum wage into a 3-oz piece of indulgence, I grew increasingly curious and related the likely prospect of eating disappointing bars as the inevitable bad dates leading me to “the one.” So I took a leap, opened my mind (and yes, my wallet), and never looked back.

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Nightswimming, a beloved dark milk chocolate by Map Chocolate

Today, I mostly eat bean-to-bar, small batch chocolate and, while I still enjoy the occasional bar of Valrhona, here’s why there’s no going back.

First, I really appreciate knowing where my food comes from. Most small batch makers will disclose the country of origin of the cacao, some going as far as mentioning the name of the region or the actual estate where the cacao is from. Remember that 40% of the world’s cacao comes from West Africa, where the practice of child slavery is unfortunately still common on some plantations. When you buy industrially made chocolate, the odds are that the cacao used in the blend comes from West Africa.

Next, I learned to appreciate the concept of single origin chocolate, which is not commonly found in grocery stores. While my chocolate-making friend Robert Campbell swears by cacao blends, some single origin chocolates have completely blown me away. For instance, I love the light citrus notes of Madagascar chocolate, have fallen hard for the strong caramel notes of the Castronovo Sierra Nevada bar, and will never forget the distinct cherry notes of this Patanemo bar by Cacao Atlanta.

Finally, I discovered that some makers truly master the craft of making chocolate, going through every single step of the process, from the sourcing of the beans to the molding of the bars, with intention and care. These women and men know how to coax the flavors of each cacao, so the flavors will shine when hitting the tongue. Sometimes, the skilled maker is also an artist  who will infuse the bars with her or his vision of the world. In the right hands, the craft of making chocolate is elevated to the rank of art. Some bars will thus bring us to our knees and make our heart beat faster. And, sometimes, the chocolate will find such an echo in our soul that we may shed a tear. This is what Map Chocolate does to me. That is what an artfully crafted piece of chocolate can do to you. $8 for a piece of art? That’s what I call a steal.

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