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It’s not unusual to hear people talking about wine regions, tastes of wine from particular wineries, and wine made from different types of grapes. Even coffee is now often assessed by region and companies that offer coffee exclusively from Hawaii in the form of Kona coffee charge a high price for doing so. This interest in differing tastes depending upon region has migrated to chocolate, and introduced the concept of single origin chocolate.
Single origin chocolate is chocolate made from beans from one region, sometimes even one farm. Chocolate connoisseurs argue that chocolate has varied tastes and such tastes depend upon where it is grown. When chocolate is made from beans from many different areas, taste distinction is more difficult to discern. With the advent of single origin chocolate comes the idea of chocolate blends that promote the best features of chocolate. Blending varieties of chocolate from one location to produce superior chocolate is actually a very old concept, made new by a generation of chocolate experts and tasters.
Proponents and fans of single origin chocolate contend that region makes a different in taste, and they entice chocolate lovers to try simple tastings to detect these differences too. Some companies even offer tasting kits for four people, in order to detect the multi-layered tastes of chocolate from different regions. Words like "finish," "snap" and "sheen" are used to describe the differences between chocolates, and tasters may discern berry, vanilla, or coffee “notes” in chocolate from one particular region. To many this sounds a great deal like wine tasting terms, and they would not be wrong to assume this. As popularity in wine tasting has grown into a mass and profitable business, chocolatiers realized the market potential of chocolate tasting, and have capitalized upon it.
Some companies have used single origin chocolate for years, and the trend of chocolate tasting has been a popular one in Europe. America is now catching up with numerous companies offering slim bars of chocolate from a single origin. The idea is often paired with the concept of organic growing conditions, and with good labor conditions for workers.
This is often where chocolate meets its downfall. Transfair USA, which certifies standards for world labor practices and wages contend that only about 1% of chocolate in the United States is produced in a manner incorporating fair labor practices. In some areas, like the Ivory Coast, production of chocolate translates to child slave labor practices, which are very disturbing. Organic chocolate may not be the highest quality because chocolate plants are susceptible to numerous pests. Yet companies like Whole Foods now sell both organic and Transfair certified single origin chocolate.
One benefit to this chocolate is that people can know exactly where what they eat is being produced. This may lead to consumer controls on areas known for poor labor practices. Single origin chocolate is not likely to put large-scale chocolate manufacturers, who need not describe to consumers where they get their chocolate supplies, out of business.
In fact, companies like Hershey’s are now profiting instead of losing business to single origin chocolate companies. Hershey’s recently purchased Scharffenberger, Joseph Schmidt and Dagoba Organic Chocolates. Hershey’s will still continue to produce numerous other chocolate bars, like the famous Hershey bar, but will also profit from the single origin trend through their other brands.
Some chocolatiers feel the recent trends toward single origin chocolate are merely smart marketing but don’t necessarily represent better quality chocolate. Many prefer to select their chocolate by taste rater than region. Ultimately, some chocolate experts contend, the trend aims toward high-end consumers with extra money to spend, but good chocolate is more about personal satisfaction than region where it is produced.
I am such a huge fan of single origin chocolate. I honestly think that it would be better if every chocolate came like that.
I first started learning about the world of specialty chocolate when I learned that I had a nut allergy, and had to start looking for nut free chocolate.
There really is a whole world of detail when it comes to chocolate production, and like so many other things, there is a dark underside too. Many workers for larger chocolate producers have quite bad working conditions, not to mention all the pesticides and chemicals involved in making a big cacao harvest that leach into the earth.
So that's why now whenever I have any
kind of chocolate confection I always go with single-origin, organic, Fairtrade chocolate. It not only tastes amazing, it's great to know that you're doing something good for the world too.
So the next time it's time to buy Valentine's chocolate, get a gift that really matters -- buy single origin chocolate, and give a gift to your partner and the world at the same time.
The whole world of chocolate tasting really does get pretty crazy. For Christmas one year my husband got me a personalized chocolate hamper, which was amazing, but very, very in depth.
All of the gift chocolates in the hamper were from a different origin, and each bar had a little tag telling you where it came from, and what kinds of tasting notes to expect, what its intensity rating, etc was. It even included different chocolate reviews for each bar, like they do for movies. It was all very informative, and of course, delicious!
It does kind of make me wonder though, who gets the job of tasting and reviewing chocolate all day long? I mean, I assume you have to have some sort of qualifications to write chocolate reviews, but I have no idea what that would be. I bet it would be the "sweetest" job ever though!
I agree -- chocolate should be about enjoyment, not a specific "tasting" or an in-depth review of working conditions.
Now, don't get me wrong, I am all for Fairtrade and good deals for farmers, etc, but I don't think that you absolutely have to get the most expensive single origin chocolate to get that.
I guess what I'm saying is, when it comes down to it, buy responsibly, but don't buy some kind of chocolate that you're not even that fond of just because it's supposed to be the "world's best chocolate" or whatever.
Get what you like, I say, even if that's some cheapy wholesale chocolate.