Did you know?
The flavour profile of a true single origin chocolate, made by one of the world's fine chocolate makers, can be as complex and specialist as a fine wine. Also, the term "single origin" should not be taken as an assurance the chocolate is necessarily of a high quality, as this of course depends on who is actually making the chocolate and what quality of cocoa they are using. For a true understanding of this term and to avoid being misled by clever marketing and packaging, read on..
Definition of single origin chocolate
Single origin chocolate is so called because the cocoa beans used to create it are taken from a single source/origin, in some instances a single estate or plantation but in most instances a single country or region. It refers to the origination of the cocoa beans used to create the chocolate and not the finished chocolate itself. The source (terroir) and use of certain cocoa varieties allows the chocolate maker to create particularly charismatic flavour profiles within each bar and quite unique to the next.
Good and bad single origin chocolate
To say that a single origin chocolate therefore is a good chocolate would be incorrect. There are good and bad single origin chocolates just in the same way there are good and bad olive oils, wines, vinegars and so on. To address this issue is a little more complicated as it addresses many different aspects and processes in the creation of a good chocolate. For instance, a particular origin, due to its unique geographical position, soil, climate and immediate habitat may produce an exceptional crop of cocoa, but if this is then not correctly harvested, dried, roasted and handled by a true chocolate maker using only the best methods will amount to nothing. The same can be said of the particular variety of cocoa used, a single origin chocolate does not guarantee that the variety and grade of cocoa used is of a high or low quality, just the origin.
To fully understand what makes a great single origin chocolate is to inform yourself of all these variables and ultimately the reputation, integrity and craftsmanship of the chocolate maker. How do you do this? Well, we have spent years sourcing the worlds finest chocolate and learning all there is to know about its origins and manufacture. We are completely independent to decide which brands to include in our collection, and which of course to recommend.
The sources of the best single origin chocolate
There are particular countries, such as Venezuela and Madagascar that are renowned for producing some of the finest cocoa in the world. Whilst this sort of statement may be used as a general rule of thumb it is a general statement none the less, and in certain instances may even be used to mislead the consumer, which I shall cover later.
As “Single Origin” can be as broad a description as describing that the cocoa used originates from a single country then this again is open to many variables. Many chocolate makers detail further the origin, such as the name of the plantation or estate and also the cocoa variety, this certainly informs the consumer that not only is the chocolate maker proud to display the quality of cocoa used to create the chocolate, they are even going as far to highlight the name of the plantation or estate, allowing us the opportunity to check its credentials, if we so wished.
Often it is not possible for a chocolate maker to source fine flavour cocoa from one plantation alone due to the practicalities of supply and demand, also the way cocoa is sold on the world market. To buy cocoa originating from one country eliminates many supply problems that otherwise may happen from a single plantation or estate. A poor harvest, disease or natural disaster can affect a cocoa harvest as any other crop and so to limit the supply to one particular plantation requires a considerable gamble with the supply chain. Many of the top chocolate makers either own or manage the land on which the cocoa is grown to ensure as much control as possible and lessening the risk.
The worlds top chocolate makers specialising in single origin chocolate
It is ultimately the true chocolate makers (cacaofevier) that have complete control over the cocoa and its processing and finishing. It is their craftsmanship that produces the best chocolate in the world, using only the purist and finest of ingredients money can buy. We are talking about the true chocolate maker here, those that actually create the chocolate from “bean to bar” as oppose to reforming pre-made chocolate bought in bulk form. The finest chocolate makers have a world wide reputation, as with a fine wine maker, and it is these people we should be very thankful, for without these passionate craftsmen and women, constantly striving to create a chocolate better than before, we would all be eating mass produced confectionery created with inferior ingredients. Of course, quality comes at a price.
Single origin chocolate has always been the domain of the top, 'bean to bar' chocolate makers. It was in this particular pure, form of chocolate that they could really showcase their talent and unlock the many exciting and charismatic flavours of the cocoas. A few have even brought to life the lower grade Forestero cocoa which is typically used for bulk flavour, a considerable achievement. We recommend the following for producing the finest single origin chocolate in the world.
A selection of some of the worlds finest, bean to bar chocolate makers:
The future for single origin chocolate
Single origin chocolate has been one of the biggest growth areas in chocolate in recent years. This is due to a number of factors; the published knowledge and improved availability from fine chocolate lovers and retailers such as ourselves to an increasing awareness of the ingredients used in foods and consumers eating habits generally.
The luxury end of the food market has also seen an increase in growth, perhaps this is a sign that many of us are quite fed up with low quality, tasteless and even harmful foods produced on the cheap.
Single origin chocolate has been around for decades but never in the mainstream market and that is simply down to price. For the last 40 years, mainstream, highstreet chocolate has declined in quality considerably, to the point of becoming candy almost, a cheap, sweet confectionery, rather than the “food of the gods” it once was. This is because the mass-producing chocolate manufacturers have of course been primarily concerned with quantity and not quality, cocoa is expensive and so to use as little as possible, of the lowest grade, technically defined as “bulk cocoa”, is what matters to them. To consistently supply this mass production of “chocolate” bars requires the same mass production and processing of the cocoa – something has to go in the process.
Enter single origin chocolate... Can this single term and the marketing ethos behind its reputation be utilised to breed new life into a declining market? – You bet it can, even better is that it requires minimum effort with some clever packaging design and a new marketing angle.
It is therefore unfortunate that in today’s marketing led world that we have seen a new breed of inferior, single origin chocolate entering the high street. Many manufacturers are now reacting to the increase in popularity of single origin chocolate, and the higher price tag it achieves, and are creating their own products to cash in on this trend. The unfortunate aspect is that they will always be looking to produce this chocolate in the cheapest way possible and so utilising the lowest quality cocoas, methods and ingredients.
Consumers will notice the term "Single Origin" becoming ever more apparent on packaging, even on the most inferior of products, in the hope the customer will believe that this statement means something special. Many will. Single origin chocolate will no longer stand as a seal of quality it once was and further work will be required from the true craftsmen to protect their work and reputation whilst others seek to benefit from this. Perhaps they should have seen this coming and perhaps a stricter and more specific labelling of chocolate could have been implemented earlier on?
On a more positive note, single origin chocolate, from the most reputed "bean to bar" chocolate makers of the world, will inevitably continue to remain the ultimate in fine chocolate and many more cocoa varieties will be utilised in coming years and even brought back to life with the help of the many cocoa researchers and agronomists committed to rare and endangered cocoa. Ever evolving origins and expertise from cocoa farmers to chocolate makers will provide a constant chocolate tasting experience for us all to enjoy for a long time to come.
By The Chocolate Traveller
Chocolate Trading Company