This isn't one of those fluffy, shallow posts about why we love chocolate you'll find strewn across the internet that are aimed at the kind of people which go weak at the knees for a Dairy Milk, a Galaxy, or dare I say it, a Reece's cup. To me to me the emotional desire for that kind of "chocolate" is more about the big businesses knowing how to get us addicted to sugar, fat and salt. What I'm actually talking about here is why we appreciate artisan chocolate, craft chocolate, bean to bar chocolate, or what I call "real chocolate".
We could go down the scientific route here and talk about the that chocolate lovers apparently have different bacteria in their gut (nice!); how there are mood-altering compounds that affect your serotonin levels and the creation of dopamine, which means that even thinking about eating chocolate can produce a mild-euphoric state or how phenylalanine is a mild anti-depressant. The truth is that every week there will be another scientific study that says "chocolate is healthier than fruit" or it may "protect the brain from strokes." You'll even get the NHS discussing claims and counter-claims as what effect chocolate has depression.
The truth is that there are just so many different reasons why people love chocolate, not all scientific. My reasons will be different than the people whom are just addicted to fat and sugar. You see that’s what most easily available confectionery is. Take the Cadbury's 'Marvellous Creations" Cookie Nut Crunch. It has 1050 kcal in each bar, along with 107g of sugar and 34g of saturated fat. Despite Cadbury using what I would call low flavour cacao (compared to the rest of the cacao gene pool), I doubt you could taste cocoa flavour cacao in all that. Some people love it, but I don’t.
Virtually every study I can recall about our love affair with chocolate focuses on the chemical aspects of the cocoa bean but forget that it’s all so often a fraction of the actual chocolate bar. Most people love chocolate, not because of the greatness of the bean but the predisposition to love fat and sugar. It’s about time that journalists stop being duplicitous. You can’t say that fatty foods are bad for you and then say that chocolate is good for you if you don’t recognise the fact that far too many people consume relatively low quality chocolate.
Whenever the positive emotional or longer-term health effects of dark chocolate are mentioned you'll never see the authors talking about the importance of the quality of the bean or the skill of the maker employs to tease out interesting flavours. Flavour seems to be a side show. And this is the first reason as to why I love chocolate. It's the damn flavour! Can we start writing about flavour?
Chocolate from large companies is often dull, lank and flavourless. It bears no resemblance, in my mind at least, to the cocoa bean. I could point to the interesting flavours of each and every chocolate that we offer here, and even the much larger selection we don’t yet offer. It would take me an age to compare and detail chocolate which offers red fruit notes, those with tobacco, caramel or figs. I’ve simplified the flavour profiles commonly delivered in our quick guide to single origin chocolate, but it’s the never knowing what you’ll find and the sense of anticipation and exploration, which only builds upon the flavour that you actually witness which is why I love chocolate. Without flavour, chocolate would be nothing to artisan chocolate lovers.
I love seeing how chocolate changes over time. The Pralus Chuao 75% is a radically different chocolate than it was when I first tried it a few years ago. It may still have a heavy roast but it has transformed into a milder, jammier affair. Returning to a chocolate after a few years is just the same as returning to your favourite holiday destination and seeing how it has changed over time. Are the same scenes present? Does it give you the same emotion? Is it as wonderful as you remember it?
So, I live and breathe chocolate. Before I ran this chocolate shop I reviewed chocolate, went to events and even judged chocolate awards (I still do). Doing that you meet a good number of chocolate makers. You find out what makes them tick and learn about what their passions and principles are. And I get that from so many of the customers I engage with. Your level of knowledge and passion invigorates us and what we do. Our desire to keep pleasing you by finding new and interesting chocolate is what drives us on. Your pursuit of excellence and intrigue is fantastic - that sort of educated desire isn't present in confectionery-addicts. That sets you apart and makes our love for chocolate stronger.
Finding Something New
Most confectionery manufacturers have a standard base formula that won't change over a decade or two. They might dial down the level of cocoa solids, increase the sugar levels and make the bar size smaller to enhance the “bottom line”. But over a few years you'll hardly notice the difference. The marketing departments may produce spreadsheets highlighting sales falls and exclaim the need for something 'new'. Their answer to everything seems to be 'product proliferation'. Each iteration of a core product has to be available to their eager customers. Dairy Milk with XYZ ingredient, in a grab bag, in a gift tin ... It's all essentially the same. It doesn't excite, for others they'll go crazy. That’s the difference between the love of chocolate and the need for confectionery.
Bean to Bar chocolate makers take the more interesting, and definitely less profitable route. They'll seek out new and unusual cacao growers. They'll pay over the odds for the beans and tens, if not hundreds of hours, experimenting with roast times, conche times, and levels of cocoa versus sugar. They'll hone the relatively limited supply of beans to bring the best out of them. Big companies would hate to do this, even though they have well-funded laboratories. They want to produce standardised products made with homogenous ingredient.
Craft chocolate makers embrace and celebrate variety. They understand that every harvest or estate, even from the same region, will produce something different and they have to alter their processes accordingly. It's this opportunity that artisan chocolate makers give us to explore an unprecedented variety of chocolate I adore. Real chocolate makers take risks, big chocolate makers produce chocolate designed by committee for people that want exactly the same buzz each time.
Seeing Companies Grow
For many this won't be a valid reason. But for me I love seeing how chocolate companies grow and become bigger and better. I have my ears close to the ground with chocolate companies and I try and catch them early on. I remember doing the first review of Zotter in the UK, bringing Wilkies to the country, trying Marou early on, spending my own money importing chocolate from Hawai'I just to see how it tasted. All of these companies change and expand over time. It's nothing to do with the chocolate, but the people. Knowing how dependent people in distant countries are on our chocolate purchases are and promoting them to a wider audience gives me so much pleasure. If only love for people rather than market share was a focus of these big companies.
There are just so many reasons to love chocolate. Of course on a chemical level we have the three ‘evils’ of fat, sugar and salt. We also have some great components of the cocoa bean that are two often lost in mass-produced confectionery which are bought to the fore by artisans, but it’s also the people right from the growers to the makers which chocolate the most loved food stuff in the world. Whether you like a Dairy Milk or a Pacari, you have your own reasons for loving chocolate, you can never be wrong. But when you next get a wave of satisfaction when you take your first bite of chocolate for the day, have a think why.