The Scoop on Single Origin Chocolate
Like real champagne or Kona coffee, regional or single origin chocolate makes a special treat. In this article, we tell you why
Chocolate aficionados argue that single origin chocolate is special in the same sense as a regional wine or coffee variety. Cacao beans grown in a particular area of the world make it special, sometimes even from a specific town or cacao plantation.
The idea that, as with coffee and grapes, different conditions impart differing flavors to the chocolate. Just as you have distinctive Kona or Blue Mountain coffees, or Grand Cru and champagne wines, regional chocolates are equally distinctive -- at least to the discriminating palate.
Whether this true or just clever marketing, people take to single origin chocolates in droves. Like wines, chocolate has its own subculture and jargon. Chocolate tasting became so popular that even purchasing chocolate tasting kits containing several types of chocolate at specialty stores is popular.
Ideally, a regional chocolate should have a specific taste all its own. A good chocolate means "multi-layered," and contains berry, coffee, or vanilla "notes." Furthermore, the tactile and visual characteristics mark the chocolate, with "finish," snap," and "sheen" considered significant.
Chocolatiers quickly jump on the bandwagon, especially in Europe. Both regional and single origin chocolate are usually highly-touted, and offered in small bars costing $3-10 or more. All indications show that chocolate breeds a generation of chocolate snobs to compete with the existing crop of wine snobs.
The benefits of regional chocolate
That said, there are positive aspects to the single-origin craze. Most single origin and regional chocolates grow using organic methods, fair trade practices, or both. According to Transfair USA, which certifies fair trade and single origin chocolates in U.S. markets, less than 1% of domestic American chocolate is fairly produced, though the percentage shows higher in Europe.
Most mass-producers generally don't worry where their chocolate comes from or how it's grown -- they just want to get it to the consumer inexpensively. The lesson is, if you want to know where your chocolate comes from and that it's produced in a way fair to the workers, buy the single origin kind.
Fortunately, it's becoming a lot easier for American X-choc fans to be socially responsible. The Internet serves our specialty chocolate needs nicely, which can be shipped right to our door (for a premium) from such manufacturers and Vogel and Dagoba Organic Chocolates.
Even better, the big guys are getting into the act. Hershey's recently purchased specialty chocolatiers Scharffenberger and Dagoba, and plans to use them to get into the growing specialty market. Soon, single origin chocolate should be easier to find -- but don't expect it to cost any less.