What is Luxury Chocolate?
August 30th, 2023
What is Luxury Chocolate
The answer from Melt Chocolates, London’s Most Luxurious Chocolate Company, may surprise you. We will also explain to you how to find luxury chocolate – the search for luxury chocolate is much more difficult than you might think.
Luxury Chocolate is really a combination of three factors:
Firstly: The Highest Quality
Secondly: Innovation and Creativity
So luxury chocolate really is chocolate that combines the best chocolate in the world, world-leading innovation and creativity, and finally personalization. We will explore each of these features one-by-one to illuminate what luxury chocolate really is and what it’s not.
Firstly: What is the highest quality Chocolate?
Quality: What do we mean by the highest quality chocolate? Quality chocolate today is seeking out the best chocolate that is available in the World or in other words the best tasting chocolate that money can buy.
Like a wine sommelier tasting hundreds of wines – including during International competitions – we act like chocolate sommeliers – tasting many thousands of different cocoas. (Yes we know it’s a difficult job!!). Once we have found the best-tasting chocolate we must ensure that it follows strict criteria of sustainability, is environmentally friendly and doesn’t involve any subsistence labour, child labour or any other form of exploitation. The best-tasting chocolate that money can buy – will typically translate into Single Origin Chocolate. It will often be recognised by Award-winning accolades. Melt’s Chocolates have received 2 Gold Stars, and two One Gold Star from Great Taste Awards and Silver and Bronze from the Academy of Chocolate.
Single Origin Chocolate
Single Origin Chocolate means we know the exact location of where the beans are grown and sourced. This means they are not blended with lower-quality chocolate from around the world. Just like you know the grape variety and the location of the winery for wines – so we know the bean variety and exactly where the chocolate is grown. In the Whisky world this is the difference between a Single Malt and Blended Malts. In our wine analogy, this would mean you might focus on a region like Bordeaux or Burgundy and the exact type of grape from that region.
Melt’s hunt for the best chocolate in the world
At Melt we want to go much further in our hunt for the best quality chocolate in the world – we need to seek out the finest single-origin chocolate from the best quality beans. Ideally the tree-to-bar model is actually followed directly from the location of where the cocoa is grown. Each step of our process we will explain below. This search for the best chocolate – often means tracking down the Criollo bean – or finding cocoa beans that are grown wild and are not farmed or grown on a plantation. This is Melt’s hunt for the most exquisite chocolate in the world.
Empireland – the Old Model
99% of chocolate follows an imperial model – that is no longer fit for purpose in today’s world. The conventional or historic model, which still applies for 99% of the world’s chocolate is to source cocoa beans from tropical areas – like Africa and Latin America. Then ship the beans to Europe or the US for processing and “adding value”.
Broken Imperial Model
This model has been broken for a very long time as European and US manufacturers are able to exploit a disparity in buying power to keep the price of cocoa very low, resulting in large-scale subsistence farming in Africa and Latin America. The export from Africa or Latin America is a commodity, basically the dried cocoa beans. The farmers then collect a mimimal percentage, often merely 5% of the final product value, for the beans. This model applies to fairtrade chocolate, organic chocolate and many brands that the consumer believe to be environmentally friendly or sustainable.
Belgian Chocolate, Swiss Chocolate – is not luxury chocolate.
This is where the consumer gets the idea of Belgian or Swiss Chocolate as being luxury chocolate, when it is not. The cocoa beans are just shipped to Belgium and Switzerland – and the processing and value-added packaging and marketing is developed from the location of Belgian or Switzerland. This is really, a fundementally “broken model”. Vast marketing budgets convince consumers that Swiss or Belgian chocolate is luxury chocolate. However this is not to deny that real innovation occurred in these countries. Switzerland is famous for adding milk to chocolate and inventing the conching machine. Belgian is famous for being one of the largest manufacturers of cocoa in the world.
New World Model or Raise Trade
The best model for the farmers is that the chocolate liquor or chocolate bars are made at source. In other words the same location from where the beans are grown. The best quality chocolate will be from tree to bar – all in the same location. Tree-to-bar or bean-to-bar, single-origin chocolate, wholly produced in the location, such as Madagscar or Colombia where the cocoa beans are grown creates a sustainable model where the farmers capture much more of the added value of the chocolate production.
Raise Trade means that the local farmers capture a far larger share of income, develop an important skill base, and are able to export a finished premium product – which is no longer subject to the commodity-based trading rules of Empire land.
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TAX REVENUE FOR DEVELOPMENT
What do we mean by the best beans in the world?
The conventional answer is that there are four varieties of Theobroma cacao, as it was officially named in 1753 by the Swedish scientist Carl von Linné. They are Criollo, Forastero, Trinitario and Nacional. But this is a massive simplification. The truth is that the best chocolate beans in the world – come from wild cocoa – that is not farmed, and does not come grafted in a plantation – essentially the chocolate cannot be classified and this of course makes it the best. Just as a unique individual will resent classification – so the same analogy applies to cocoa beans. They are all truly unique.
These beans have an infinite variety – just as nature intended. This is pure chocolate, the taste of tropical paradise, and the type of chocolate that Emperor Montezuma would have drunk and loved. Wild cocoa is complex, has a massive finish and is just one of the most exquisite tastes in the world. Think of a flowing chocolate river with hints of lemon and raisin. You can tell when wild cocoa is ready to be picked by the clouds of birds circling above – ready to feast on natures banquet. The logic of wild chocolate trees and beans – equally applies to apples or plums in your own garden – self-seeded apples or plums also have a unique genetic makeup – and taste unique and delicious. The cocoa, apple or plum trees that you buy are always grafted. The Centre for grafting is actually in Reading University, UK.
The four main varieties of the cacao plant: forastero, criollo, trinitario, and nacional are all grafted varieties. Bred specifically for certain attributes.
Criollo is the Unicorn of the chocolate world – delicate and exquisite but very prone to diseases and therefore not grown at scale. Due to its fragile state, susceptibility to disease, and low production, criollo plants now make up less than 1 to 5% of the total world cocoa production. Criollo is now so rare – coming across it is like finding a unicorn or perhaps a snow leopard. We know it exists – we have seen it and when we discover it – with its unique, complex flavor – we absolutely love it. Criollo is the rarest and most expensive cocoa on the market, and is native to Central America, the Carribean.
Criollo is equivalent to the Arabica of the Chocolate World
Criollo is particularly difficult to grow, as they are vulnerable to a variety of diseases and produce low yields of cocoa per tree. Yet the flavor of Criollo is exquisite, delicate and complex. Think of a vintage Bordeaux wine of the Premier Classification. The criollo is lower in classic chocolate flavor, but rich in “secondary” notes of long duration. Again think of Criollo as the Arabica of the coffee world. Whereas Forestero is the Robusta of the Coffee world.
Criollo beans are considered the best of the grafted cocoa. Within the criollo variety, there are porcelana, chuao, ocumare beans, referencing a particular terroir of the criollo bean. Criollo cocoa is often fruity, very aromatic, and has very little bitterness.
Trinitario beans make up less than 10% of the world’s total cacao production. The Trinitario being the least pure has a wider range of tastes and profiles than any other variety. The story goes that in the 1700’s disease and disaster eradicated almost all the criollo cacao plants, until farmers on the islands planted forastero to strengthen what remained. Trinitario is a natural hybrid biological class resulting from cross-pollination from the local criollo and the newly planted Forestero. Not surprisingly it first came into existence on the Island of Trinidad. Assuming all the trees were dead, the plantations were replanted with Forastero, but these spontaneous hybrids appeared. Trinitario combines the best of the two other main varieties: the hardiness and high yield of Forastero and the refined taste of Criollo. The quality of the cocoa varies between average and superior. It is the predominant fine flavor cocoa. Trinitario populations are usually highly variable in bean characteristics because the parents have such highly contrasting characters. They can now be found in all the countries where Criollo cocoa was once grown: Mexico, the Caribbean islands, Colombia, and Venezuela.
The Robusta of the Chocolate World
Forastero is the Robusta of the Chocolate World – but is by far the dominant chocolate largely originating from Africa – Ghana and the Ivory Coast.
The Forastero variety is the “elephant of the world” chocolate production. Likely orginating in the wild in the Amazon basin it was transplanted to Africa and now African cocoa is entirely made up of Forastero. Forastero is significantly hardier and of higher yield than Criollo. Forastero cocoas are typically strong in classic “chocolate” flavor, but have a short duration and have simple and earthy flavors. Forastero is particularly tannic and is therefore more astringent and bitter than the other varieties of cocoa. This is where the analogy with Robusta Coffee rings true. The high-yielding plants of forastero made it an easy choice for growers, and even up until the mid 20th century, growers replaced the criollo crop with the low-quality forastero for this reason.
The least known cacao, and fourth variety is nacional. This bean variety was only recently discovered in Peru and Colombia. In its purest form, it is regarded as the world’s rarest cacao. Chocolates made with nacional beans are rich, creamy, and with little bitterness.
The world of cocoa is a strange one – for who could imagine that a University in Reading has gained an international reputation for cocoa research and has become one of the global centres for the production and selling of cocoa plants. Reading Univeristy uses custom-built greenhouse facilities to recreate the ideal growing conditions for the cocoa plant. The genetic resources database and quarantine facility hosted by the University support international cocoa research and breeding by enabling scientists to find out about and exchange plant materials, whilst minimising the risk of spreading devastating pests and diseases.
The International Cocoa Quarantine Centre at Reading (ICQC,R) provides research institutes working on cocoa with distinct genetic types (‘genotypes’) for use in their crop-breeding programmes. Plant material is received from genebanksand tested for the presence of diseases over a two-year period. Plant material, in the form of budwood, is then provided to over thirty institutes in cocoa-growing countries worldwide.
Second: World-leading innovation and creativity
Countries that have innovated in Chocolate have been rewarded with long-standing reputations for excellence.
Think of the invention of the Conch to grind Chocolate by the Swiss and their addition of milk to chocolate bar. Henri Nestle was the first to add milk to a bar – creating the creaming milk chocolate that Switzerland is famous for to this day. But the Swiss were not the first to add milk to Chocolate, Sir Hans Sloane published a chocolate milk recipe in 1700 – although he did not produce milk chocolate bars- because the chocolate bar had to wait until the Fry’s of Bristol invented the chocolate bar that we know and love today.