The American craft chocolate scene seems to get bigger and better every year, offering quality that rivals European chocolatiers. As the industry grows, chocolate bars are getting more complex. Small batch chocolate labels now list the country of origin of the cocoa bean, ethical practices, fermentation and roasting techniques, and of course the all important cocoa percentage.
For Mia di Tommaso, Driver’s chocolate buyer, the first priority is knowing the chocolates are made responsibly. She looks at the quality of the beans, and for Fair Trade certified products. Some makers, like Ashkinosie Chocolate, go beyond fair trade practices, offering profit sharing to farmers and sending them samples of the finished product. “Many farmers grow cocoa beans, but have never tasted chocolate,” said Mia.
As far as taste goes, the origin of the cocoa beans makes a difference. Beans from Madagascar tend to make bright and citrusy chocolate — Dandelion Chocolate has a popular Madagascar bar — while beans from Africa have a richer, fudgy, chocolate flavor. Beans from Equador can be smoky or spicy, and are sought after by some of Mia’s customers.
All fine chocolates list the cocoa percentage, because the taste of the bar depends so much on this number. The percentage shows you how much of the bar is cocoa butter and cocoa solids — the higher the number, the darker the chocolate. The remainder is added ingredients such as sugar or milk powder. In the craft chocolate world, 70% cocoa is typical for dark chocolates while milk chocolates range from 30-60% cocoa. Mia suggests looking for chocolates that use cocoa butter. “Cocoa butter is a really important ingredient, more than any other type of fat,” said Mia.
Craft chocolatiers also use fermentation and roasting processes to create unique flavors. All cocoa beans are fermented, but the length of fermentation can vary. Most chocolate makers use roasted chocolate beans, and perfect methods and temperatures that enhance the beans much like coffee roasters. Others, including Raaka Chocolate, offer unroasted virgin chocolate bars that boast the raw benefits of the cocoa bean.
Valentine’s Day Tip: In addition to Mia’s favorite picks for Valentine’s Day gifts in our Discovery section, look a limited selection of Poco Dolce’s seasonal Champagne and Strawberries Truffles due to arrive at the market any day now!