A Beginner’s Guide to Craft Chocolate

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A Beginner’s Guide to Craft Chocolate

Chocolate. It’s a word that brings a smile to just about every person’s face. And those smiles are growing, as high-quality chocolate continues its rise, with artisan makers emphasizing superior ingredients to create delectable bars. But what is “craft chocolate”?

The phrase is usually used synonymously with “bean to bar,” which is defined as chocolate made with whole beans from scratch by one company.

All chocolate starts as whole beans. But most of the chocolate on store shelves is made from beans roasted in enormous batches and combined with sugar, vanillin (fake vanilla) and a host of other additives to make a consistent product.

With craft chocolate, the focus is less on consistency, and more about artfulness and deliciousness. Artisans work closely with cocoa farmers to source the highest-quality beans, which they carefully roast, grind and smooth into chocolate. They use few ingredients besides cocoa beans and sugar.

Wine connoisseurs might be familiar with the name of the first bean-to-bar chocolate company in the U.S.: Scharffen Berger.

In 1997, winemaker John Scharffenberger partnered with chocolate aficionado Robert Steinberg to make chocolate from scratch. They coined the term “bean to bar,” and they inspired a generation of similar makers. Twelve years ago, there were only five bean-to-bar makers in the U.S. Today, there are nearly 200.

Of course, not all good chocolate is necessarily bean to bar. Many great producers use chocolate premade by different companies (like Valrhona or Guittard) to create truffles, chocolate bark and other tasty treats.

Here’s what to know next time you’re overwhelmed in the chocolate aisle.

Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate doesn’t have a legal definition in the U.S. Essentially, it’s a form of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate housed under the umbrella of “sweet chocolate.”

Dark chocolate usually contains at least 50% cocoa, with most around 70%. Be sure to look for the percentage on the label, as well as a list of ingredients. You might see milk, which is allowed. In fact, there’s a new category called dark milk. It has all the flavors of a complex dark chocolate with the creaminess of its cousin, milk chocolate. Try Castronovo Chocolate’s Sierra Nevada Dark Milk from Colombia.

Read more at Wine Enthusiast Magazine