4 Changes I’d Like to See to Chocolate Marketing, One Year Later

In June of last year, the Fine Chocolate Industry Association released the results of a fascinating survey on consumer perception of fine chocolate. Turns out, “pleasure” is the number one driver of fine chocolate purchases (for more on what defines “pleasure,”, check out the survey’s summary here.) Interestingly, direct or fair trade labels don’t influence purchases that much.

There are so many ways you can convey pleasure through chocolate. Taste is obviously one way, but the overall purchase experience matters too. As such, packaging plays a big role in enticing chocolate-lovers. After all, a wrapper acts as the storefront to a chocolate product, be it in a bar or bonbon.

When I find new bars at a coffee shop, I often have less than a minute to make a purchase decision. Unless I’m familiar with a particular maker and origin, I’ll likely pick a bar based on packaging and I know I’m not alone.

I wish every chocolate-maker and chocolatier would take a hard look at how their packaging conveys pleasure. Unless you’re marketing to chocolate fanatics like me, Costas Esmeraldas or Ucayali doesn’t mean much to most consumers, and neither does a term like “conching.” Conveying pleasure through other ways is key to grow the fine chocolate market and that’s why I shared 4 changes I’d like to see in chocolate marketing last year.

The article struck a chord with many readers and it became the most read and commented post of 2018. Even better, several chocolate industry professionals took action based on my suggestions. As a follow-up to that piece, and with the Fine Chocolate Industry Association’s survey results out, I figured it would be helpful to hear from chocolatiers and makers who changed their packaging. 

If you’re a chocolate eater, I’d love to know what you think of these “before” and “after” photos and testimonials. Please also leave a comment with what matters to YOU when you purchase chocolate. And if you’re a member of the chocolate industry, I hope the case studies below will help you make the right decisions for YOUR brand.

Testimonial #1: Paul-John Kearins, Chocolatier, Chocolatasm

Paul-John Kearins is the founder of Chocolatasm in Provincetown, Massachusetts. His flavor combinations are so off-the-beaten path (rhubarb sage bonbon, anyone?), I interviewed him on his creative process on the blog last year. Paul-John also molds bars with intriguing flavor combinations. He recently changed his wrappers from the colorful ones on the left to the more simple one on the right. Here’s what motivated the change.

 

 

 

Why did you change your packaging?

I changed my packaging because of your blog and the discussion on Well Tempered (a Facebook group for fine chocolate industry professionals.) I decided NOT to bombard people with tasting notes and elaborate descriptions and opted for visuals. It’s too much to cram onto a bar …. so I cut it down. I Marie Kondo’d my wrappers.

How do customers react?

They are extremely wowed. In [social media] posts where my bar is shown amongst other makers people are commenting “ohh, I want the octopus one!”

In stores, it jumps out at you. With a simple label in the corner with a catchy name and minimal description it doesn’t matter whether there are notes of plum or salmon or whatever… people want it because it’s pretty.

Testimonial #2: Will Marx, founder, Wm. Chocolate

Wm. Chocolate is a young bean-to-bar company based in Madison, Wisconsin. Its founder, Will Marx, is one of the kindest and most articulate people I know (read his interview on the Bar & Cocoa’s blog) and his Belize bar my biggest chocolate crush of 2017.

Wm. Chocolate was one of the first company who tweaked their packaging based on my expressed views. Before (left photo below,) the front of the package was packed with information on sourcing and you had to flip the package to read detailed tasting notes. After the changes (photo on the right,) the flavor profile migrated to the front. Here’s what Will has to say on the new wrapper.

 

 

 

What changes did you make to the packaging?

I started putting a more generic two-word “flavor summary” in bold on the front of my bars. I’ve noticed that often customers will go down the bar lineup reading these, and then ask to try one by naming its flavor summary rather than its actual title (origin, %). For example, they say “I want to try ‘sweet & fruity.'” This is not always the case, but it happens often enough to confirm the value in using these simplified descriptors.

Second, I am noticing a general increase in sales of smaller/”mini” bars. In stores that carry both sizes, the mini bars tend to sell much more quickly, even though the larger ones are a better value and the buyers are repeat customers who have tried them before. Hence, there seems to be an element of favoring the smaller purchase regardless of value.

That said, large bars sell better when I’m sampling at point of purchase. It seems that a taste validates preferences powerfully enough to drive the larger purchase.

In any case, for these reasons and more, I am all but decided on making mini bars the new default size, such that all products will be offered as minis, with only the “classics” (demonstrated sales success, reliable cacao supply) in large too.

Testimonial #3: Wednes Yuda, Cokelat nDalem

To say this testimonial blew my mind is an understatement. You see, Wednes Yuda, founder of Cokelat nDalem, is based in Indonesia. Indonesia! It never would have occurred to me someone from such a distant place would have found value in this blog. The internet is amazing. This testimonial is lengthier than the previous two, but I think you’ll appreciate the thought process behind all the changes.

Wednes, can you tell us about your company and the changes you made on your packaging?

We started our business in 2013 from our home with a brand called Cokelat nDalem. nDalem means “home” and “Cokelat” is chocolate in Indonesian. We didn’t start as a bean-to-bar chocolate maker to adapt to the Indonesian market. Instead, we used what you call “compound chocolate,” which is made from cocoa powder and a substitute for cocoa butter, mostly coming from palm oil fraction.

We do this because real chocolate made with cocoa butter is quite expensive for Indonesian people. In addition, handling real chocolate and distributing it is challenging in a tropical climate in Indonesia. Basically, it’s not economically sound to start a small business making real chocolate. Although “it just”compound chocolate, we try to make it as good as possible by choosing a good manufacturer who provides us with compound chocolate blocks. The concept of our chocolate is combining Indonesian inclusion to produce Indonesian chocolate flavor with Indonesian culture history in the packaging. I put our packaging below.

 

 

 

The concept to combine Indonesian flavor with Indonesian culture as packaging become a good concept for a souvenir. It’s indeed customary for Indonesians to bring something back from our travels to share with our relatives. Chocolate meets that need nicely.

In 2014, as our business grew, our local government invited us to a group discussion with small business owners and local cocoa farmers. We had no idea these farmers lived so close! They asked us: “Since you’re making chocolate, why don’t you make chocolate from our beans then ?” We explained that making chocolate would involve big machines and a lot of capital and, at the time, we weren’t there yet.

It took us about one year to research bean-to-bar chocolate and that’s when we found Chocolate Alchemy’s website. In 2015, we decided to have two different product for two different markets. Again, most of Indonesian aren’t familiar with higher quality chocolate. Our bean-to-bar chocolate is for people who’ve tasted real chocolate before or have been abroad where they tried chocolate. This market is growing but our sales are modest relatively to the Indonesian population. Since our goal is to help the farmer get the most benefit from their beans, we tend to sell the bars directly to the customer so we can get more margin that than we can split with our farmer. We currently pay the beans three times the cost that what local middle men offer.

Our early packaging for the bean-to-bar range tells the customer about the farmer and how proud we are to produce from a local source. We made this choice because trace-ability is getting more popular in Indonesia. Eating responsibly is getting increasingly important. With this kind of packaging, we can ensure that the customer gets the idea of what we’re trying to do. Here’s our first version of the packaging.

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With time, we realized our market preferred a classier packaging, something less crowded, without too much information to distract them when picking chocolate.

In 2018, we got a designer help to re-design our bean to bar packaging. The idea is remained the same, as we want to tell the customer what we do, who’s our farmer (traceability), and what’s the benefit of eating our chocolate. We added a piece of small information on how to make chocolate in our small company.

 

 

 

We haven’t put any information regarding texture yet because our market is not on that level yet. But hopefully, we can adjust that on later packaging. And we do not put notes in the front panel because we want to make the information is as easy as possible for our current customer. We do put information regarding notes in the back of our packaging (our packaging are printed on both sides.)

With this current packaging, our market for the bean-to-bar chocolate is growing nicely. We actually need to find new farmers because our farmer’s production is no longer adequate to follow our need.

I hope you found these testimonials helpful. If you or your company are looking for a creative, out-of-the box take on chocolate naming and descriptions, email me at estelle(at)37chocolates.com. I’ve already worked with Kosak and I’d love to collaborate with you! If you liked this article, sign up to my newsletter to be notified of future blog updates.

Video Training: How to Design a Chocolate Tasting Lecture & Workshop

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Photo by Becca Mathias Photography

If you’ve been following me for a while, you may know I’m a food writer and chocolate sommelier in the Philadelphia area. Over the past three years, I’ve led chocolate tastings at libraries, schools, and private clubs and institutions. I’ve also collaborated with Chester County wineries on wine and chocolate pairing events. For a peek into these events, check out photographer Becca Mathias’ relevant blog posts here and there.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve received an increasing number of questions from the chocolate community on how I pick bars for tastings, how deep one should go on the chocolate-making process, and how to price the offering. I decided to address all these questions, and then some, in a 32-minute video geared towards chocolate industry professionals. You can watch it at http://gum.co/chocolatetasting.

Watch the Video: How to Design a Chocolate Tasting Lecture & Workshop

The video is a recording of an Instagram live, packed with resources (books, tasting guides) with a clear action plan to find venues for your tastings and create memorable events. You are free to contribute whatever your budget allows to access it (suggested contribution: $15.)

The feedback so far has been very positive and I’m humbled to have reached chocolate educators across several countries. Here’s what Kristen Joslin, founder of Cocoa Nouveau in Chesapeake, Virginia said about the training:

I just downloaded and watched your tasting video, thank you!! I really struggle with tasting events, I spend all my time working with chocolate and tasting it but generally feel like I don’t know what I am doing! I took a master of chocolate flavor class and I still feel like an imposter when doing a class! ….

I took 2 pages of notes on your video. My most important take away, honor the people in front of you, meet them where they are, try to convey how labor intensive chocolate is and be known locally. Thank you!!

Bringing fine chocolate in front of tasters is essential for the growth of our industry. I hope my tips will give you the confidence to host your tastings and expand the crowd of fine chocolate supporters.  Thank you for your support and please let me know of any questions in the comments below.

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A secret chocolate project in Paris + an upcoming tasting in Kennett Square

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Catherine and Nathalie, owners of Kosak in Paris, France

About this time last year, I started hinting at a “secret project” involving a gazillion chocolate samples and dozens of pages on Microsoft Word. Many of you inquired but I managed to keep it zipped.

Well, the time has come to spill the (cocoa) beans: knowing how classic chocolate descriptions bore me, Paris-based chocolate shop Kosak owners Nathalie and Catherine tasked me with writing 150+ chocolate descriptions and 30 maker profiles in a novel way. No cryptic tasting notes, but rather short, relatable stories about life, nods to a Swedish furniture catalog, and the occasional reference to poetry. All in French and English. You can already read the French versions now at www.kosakchocolat.com, as well as on their brand new distribution catalog.

The experience introduced me to the European bean-to-bar scene (and ALL of the chocolate on Kosak’s famed wall) and  stretched my writing skills. I’m forever grateful for the trust of Kosak and very proud to be part of this new chocolate journey.

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A peek at my recent wine & chocolate pairing event at Galer Estate.

On this side of the Atlantic, chocolate tastings are in full swing. On Saturday, November 10, 2018, at 10:00 AM, I’ll be at the Kennett Library for another chocolate tasting workshop. Attendance is FREE but registration will be required on the Kennett Library website. You’ll get to taste the impact of roasting the chocolate’s flavor through three bars from Fresco Chocolate Chocolate. Each will feature a different roast (light, medium, and dark) of the same bean and I think you’ll enjoy the experience.

To be notified of future events, please sign up to my newsletter!  It’s really the best way to keep in touch.

Not Too Hot For Chocolate: Summer 2018 Updates

That’s right, it’s never too hot for chocolate. Last year, I shared some tips on storing chocolate in the summer and I remain a fan of having bars shipped to my PO Box. Added bonus: no more judgement from the mail (wo)man. “You got more chocolate, huh?” But if you prefer someone else to do the storing (🙋🏻‍♀️), I’ll be happy to share some bars at my upcoming talk next week. And if you’re planning a trip to Paris, scroll down for the name of latest (French) chocolate crush.

Upcoming Events

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On Tuesday, June 12, 2018, join me at The Market at Liberty Place in Kennett Square at 6 PM for a one-hour presentation on “Blogging to Promote Expertise.” I’ll be telling the story of my “37 Chocolates” challenge while you nibble on Czech (!) chocolate. Hors d’œuvres will be served, networking promises to be good, so I hope you consider attending. Registration is free but you must RSVP on the Kennett Office Hours website.

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Photo credit: Becca Mathias Photography

I’m currently running a Kickstarter campaign for the third printing of my food survival guide for French expats in the US (did you know pastry chef David Lebovitz called it an “essential read” for French people coming to the US?!) In exchange of your $75 pledge, you’ll get a seat at my next sit-down tasting at Galer Estate on Sunday, October 14, 2018.

The setting is magical — I mean, look at these photos ! – and non-francophiles will get three chocolate bars instead of my books. The campaign has met 103% of its goal and, if your budget allows, I hope you consider backing the project as I try to reach my stretch goal of $4,000. No contribution is too small and rewards start at the $5 level.

April in Paris + A New Chocolate Crush

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Attendees of my Parisian tasting in April 2018

Back in April, I collaborated with the lovely owners of Kosak — an ice cream and bean-to-bar shop in Montmartre — to hold my first chocolate tasting in Paris, France. Attendees were curious, savvy, and yet, very surprised by the diversity of flavors in bean-to-bar chocolate. Even in France, few people are aware that chocolate can taste like caramel or, say, raspberries.

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Antoine holding a (totally delicious) passionfruit nibs bar

The next day, I was fortunate to meet Antoine Maschi, co-founder of Chocolat Encuentro, one of the handful of French bean-to-bar makers. After running a chocolate factory in the Dominican Republic for five years, he and his partner Candice launched Encuentro in the outskirts of Paris last December.

Their range of bars may be narrow, but every single one is beautifully crafted. I’m especially impressed by the fierceness of their Öko Caribe. It boasts a chocolatey backbone with red fruit notes way stronger than I anticipated. It is, hands down, my favorite interpretation of the Öko Caribe beans. 

And get this: each wrapper’s illustrated with a fresh cacao pod whose color is chosen based on the bar’s tasting notes: red fror red fruit, yellow for pineapple and mango, etc. How clever is that? Mark my words, Chocolat Encuentro is one maker to watch.

Find out more about Chocolat Encuentro in this 2’54”-interview and discover the bars at the following retailers in Paris… Or at Galer Estate in October!

A Facebook Group for Chocolate Lovers

The one thing better than having a passion is sharing said passion with like-minded people. That’s why I’m so grateful my friend Lilla of Little Bee Chocolates started a Facebook group where chocolate-lovers like us can share our latest chocolate obsession. It’s called Taste Better Chocolate and I advise you not to go there hungry.

Now tell me, what chocolate discoveries have you made recently?

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Chocolate Tasting Guides

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I used to be one of those people. You know, too cool for chocolate sniffs and tasting notes, harvest years and terroirs. Heaven forbid someone called me a food snob. But if the 37 Chocolates challenge taught me anything, it’s that slowing down matters. Paying attention definitely matters. Taking notes also matters. Referring to a floral note does not make you a food snob, it makes you someone who cares.

Think about it: if you spent a first date scrolling down your Instagram feed, would you know if that person across the table is right for you? The same goes for chocolate: the more present you are with it, the better you’ll get to know it, and the better you’ll determine if it’s right for you. And just like we sometimes need a friend’s nudge to see some signs, we can use a helping hand to catch some subtle notes. So head out to my latest post on the Bar & Cocoa blog (formerly Choco Rush) to discover three of my favorite tasting guides.

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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5 Things I Did Not Know About Chocolate

2015-10-26 15.07.34Before the “37 Chocolates” challenge, all I really knew about chocolate was that it was made from cacao beans grown in faraway countries and that making it was a labor-intensive process. That was about it. As the challenge unfolded, I have learned interesting, puzzling, sometimes disturbing facts about cacao and chocolate that I’d like to share with you today.

1) There is “cacao” and then there is “cocoa”. I always knew about “cocoa” but “cacao”? I thought that was the French term for “cacao”! As it turns out, the term “cacao” is usually used to refer to the bean of the fruit of the cacao tree but, once fermented, it is typically referred to as “cocoa”. This is the explanation I found on the Equal Exchange website as well as in the book called Raising the Bar, The Future of Fine Chocolate.

2) Ivory Coast is the #1 producing region of cacao beans in the world.

3) Shockingly, the cacao grown in West African plantations, including those in Ivory Coast, has been associated with child slavery. The topic is well documented – in 2014, CNN even devoted an entire documentary on the issue – and a corporation like Nestle cannot guarantee that the cacao used its chocolate products does not involve child slavery. To me, that meant farewell to most mass-produced chocolate candy bars that are the most likely to contain cacao from West Africa.

As a consumer, feel free to ask a manufacturer about the origin of the cacao used in their chocolate products. To learn more about the issue of child slavery in cacao plantation, check the CNN Freedom Project page.

4) A 70% chocolate is not a 70% chocolate. Let me explain: the 70% chocolate bars you buy at the grocery store are usually made from a blend of cacao beans formulated to taste like what we have come to associate to “chocolate”. If you are mostly used to these bars, your first taste of a quality, single origin chocolate, will send you to a land of both delight and confusion.

I will never forget my first taste of a 70% Madagascar chocolate, whose complete lack of bitterness and bright citrus notes totally threw my taste buds off: that bar did NOT taste like chocolate! As you further explore the world of single origin chocolate, you will discover that an 80% bar is not always darker or more bitter than a 70% chocolate bar from the grocery store and you may find that a 70%, single origin chocolate is too sweet for your taste. In the world of single origin chocolate, the percentage of cacao specified on a wrapper is not an indication of how dark, bitter, or “chocolate-y” your bar will be.

If you are not familiar with the notion of single origin chocolate, check this article on The Kitchn website.

5) A chocolate-maker is not a chocolatier. It took me months before I realized you could not use these terms interchangeably. A chocolate-maker makes chocolate from scratch, starting from cacao beans.  A chocolatier uses already-made chocolate, typically referred to “couverture chocolate”,  to use in his or her chocolate creations (think truffles and bonbons, or even bars.) I like to say that chocolate-makers express their personality by making chocolate and chocolatiers by making chocolate confections.

To learn more about the steps involved in the chocolate-making process, check this article by Ecole Chocolat.

Now, tell me, what are some facts about chocolate you have learned through this post?