If you walk along the shelves in a well-stocked supermarket or chocolate shop, you will quickly find yourself overwhelmed. There is nice and less nice packaging. The packaging contains information about the origin of the beans, the cocoa content, certifications and awards. But what does all this mean?
#1 The beautiful appearance: The information on the chocolate packaging
Origin of the cocoa beans
In general, the more information, the better. It is common to find farm information when the cocoa beans come from a single plantation. At the very least, however, it is noted on the chocolate which country it comes from and from which cooperative. If this is not the case, you should better keep your hands off this chocolate. In this case, the probability that the cocoa beans come from unfair and non-ecological conditions is very high.
origin of the chocolate
The chocolate was made in Belgium or in Switzerland? In this case, it was probably (partially) processed by large producers there and then resold. The fact that the chocolate was made in Belgium or Switzerland says absolutely nothing about its quality. In addition, this information is not legally regulated. So it could even be that only parts of the chocolate were produced there. If you have already taken part in one of our team tastings , you now also know that there are great manufacturers all over the world. The only really exciting ones are chocolates that were made in the country of origin of the cocoa beans. In this case, the added value is relocated to the country of origin, which is extremely beneficial for the local economy. An example of this is MIA , whose founder we recently interviewed on the subject .
You don't know the manufacturer's name yet? This is generally a good sign. Large manufacturers who (allegedly) also produce fine chocolate should be approached with skepticism at first. Especially with well-known names, it is important to take a closer look at the list of ingredients and the origin of the cocoa beans. They often set high prices for fairly inferior products.
Handmade & Raw
Two keywords that are “en vogue” in the bean-to-bar area. And both terms that we like to question when it comes to chocolate. For most, “handmade” means that not everything is machine-made and often in small batches. However, it is rather unlikely that all steps are really handmade. In particular, the grinding of the cocoa beans or nibs is rarely done by hand. The term "raw" is usually similarly imprecise. Especially during the fermentation, but also during the grinding and conche process, high temperatures are reached that are difficult to regulate and therefore cannot keep the "raw promise". You can find out here why we prefer to speak of unroasted chocolate and what health risks raw chocolate can entail.
Bean to Bar
Craft bean-to-bar makers like to point out that they're small and independent. But take a closer look: bean-to-bar is not a protected term! Theoretically, corporations can also produce their own chocolate from the bean to the bar. Serious manufacturers usually add further details about their production method at this point and, above all, point out the origin of the beans very precisely.
The cocoa content indicates the percentage of cocoa mass and cocoa butter in a chocolate. A higher percentage does not mean higher quality or that the chocolate is more or less bitter, just that the cocoa content is higher. By the way, the simple rule of thumb here is: If you subtract the cocoa content from 100%, then the rest of the table is sugar. Of course, this only works for chocolates without additives. By the way, to taste as many flavors as possible, it is advisable to try chocolates around 70%.
When purchasing chocolate for our shop and our tastings, this is one of the most important points for us. It must be clear where the cocoa beans come from and that they have been traded fairly and directly. This is the only way to ensure that the cocoa farmers get a fair price, making child labor and child slavery extremely unlikely . Certifications such as FairTrade, Rainforest Alliance etc. are good in concept but not always as successful in implementation as they would like. Transparent information about the supply chain and direct trade are still the best indicators of fair and sustainably produced chocolate.
As with other foods, the following applies: the fresher the chocolate, the more aromatic it is. Conversely, the expiry date is only a loose indicator of when the chocolate will lose its aroma, especially with chocolate. In particular, dark chocolate without additives such as milk powder or nuts lasts significantly longer than the best-before date indicates. By the way, you can find tips on how to store chocolate well here .
References to chocolate flavors are suggestions only, not the 'holy grail'. You can use the tasting notes provided by the manufacturer to find a suitable chocolate. It's more fun, however, if you try it first and see which flavors you can taste before you read the tasting notes from the manufacturers.You can find out here how you can design your own tasting .
#2 Less is more: the list of ingredients
When it comes to the ingredients of a really good chocolate, less is always more! If you look at the list of ingredients, you will see that the ingredients are the best way to distinguish fine chocolate from bad chocolate. Really good, dark chocolate should contain three ingredients (cocoa beans/cocoa butter, sugar, possibly sunflower lecithin) and high-quality milk chocolate should contain four ingredients (cocoa beans/cocoa butter, sugar, milk powder, possibly sunflower lecithin).
Other animal or vegetable fats, "E"s, artificial flavors, soy lecithin, vanillin, polyglycerol polyricinoleate, and emulsifiers are undesirable. They point to mass-produced chocolate, which not only tastes worse but is mostly bad for people and the environment...and last but not least for your taste buds!
Lecithin is an emulsifier. And as already mentioned, this is not necessarily desirable. However, from a manufacturer's point of view - especially in the case of smaller manufacturers - the use of lecithin is often necessary in order to reduce the viscosity of the chocolate. This makes working with the chocolate much easier, the natural taste of the cocoa beans is not overpowered.
#3 Hui on the outside, ugh on the inside: What you can do without
A synthetic version of vanilla. In our view, vanillin in chocolate should be avoided at all costs. It masks both good and bad flavors in the chocolate. Neither is desirable.
butterfat or butter oil
Clarified butter (mostly made from pure milk fat), often used in place of cocoa butter in cheap, low-quality chocolates. Dark chocolate in particular should always be vegan, but by no means all are. So if you are looking for vegan chocolate, you should definitely take a close look.
Also a pretty clear indication that the chocolate is inferior and cheap to make.
From our point of view, stevia, xylitol, aspartame, sucralose & Co give chocolate a strange taste.
One of our rules of thumb when looking at the list of ingredients: if you can't pronounce an ingredient right away, then it doesn't belong in your chocolate either!
#4 No negotiation: A reasonable price
“Your receipt is your ballot” is especially true when buying chocolate. Because your chocolate consumption behavior has an immense impact on the environment and the lives of other people. While there are big downsides to mass-produced chocolate, which are reflected above all in rainforest clearing and child slavery, fine chocolate can score right here.
The manufacturers of fine, handcrafted chocolate not only strive for fair and direct trade. By purchasing fine cocoa beans directly, they also support sustainable cocoa cultivation from old cocoa varieties. In contrast to mass-produced cocoa beans - where soil is destroyed and trees are cleared - with fine flavor cocoa farms CO2 is usually even saved and, of course, habitats of rare animals are reforested. It also contributes to biodiversity by breathing new life into old cocoa varieties. This goes so far that some chocolate manufacturers can even produce their chocolate in a climate-neutral manner.
So if 100g of chocolate costs less than €4, then – to put it briefly – nature or the people in the supply chain pay a high price for it. At the same time, and we cannot emphasize this often enough, a high price does not automatically mean that the chocolate is of higher quality or fairer. The high price can either be due to expensive marketing and sales. Or - in the better case - it stems from the fact that the manufacturers only produce small batches or source particularly rare cocoa beans, which sometimes makes supply chains longer and more expensive.
The best chocolate
Armed with this list, you can now dare to buy chocolate! If you want to make it easy for yourself, you can also order directly from our shop . We have a small, fine selection of 100% fair and sustainably grown chocolate. The selection is so small mainly because we put our partners through their paces and only the best chocolates make it into our shop!
By the way, you can find out how to find a chocolate that suits you here .