The deeper we dig into the complex world of cacao terminology, the more confusion we are uncovering. There is a wide vocabulary of words at our disposal, and it appears we are free to use them as we see fit, giving them the associations that suit us best depending on our individual endeavour, as there is no regulatory body to check what is going on. The biggest problem with this is the consumer is left unsure of who means what, and producers who are going all the way can easily be lumped together with others who are just scratching at the surface.
For instance that fundamental word which all others often rotate around ‘chocolatier’ is open to a variety of different interpretations. In Britain, a chocolatier could be a person who makes chocolate from the beans, or someone who works with chocolate to make confections, or it can be used to describe a company that simply buys and sells chocolate. Well, it’s not an English word, in fact my spell check still won’t recognise it… but I don’t think that this means we are free to interpret as it suits us. If we look to the French (who we could say officially own the word, given that it is written in their language) they will give us a clear definition. A chocolatier, under the French definition, is an artisan small batch producer who creates chocolate confections using the chocolate which they made themselves.
There are 5 real chocolatiers in France, who have fought to protect the name. I’m not sure what would happen to anyone found abusing this name in France, but we all know how seriously the French take their food. In Britain there are precious few companies who would fit this definition of the word Chocolatier.
A company who is using couverture (high end cooking chocolate) to create confections, should, in the French language, be called a ‘confiseur’.
It is really too late now in Britain to start redefining the word chocolatier, it has taken its place with so many who are working with couverture. Therefore it may be best if we settle on the term ‘chocolatier’ to mean anyone who creates chocolates from couverture. A company making small batch confections from the chocolate they made themselves, is under the current terminology still defined as a ‘Bean to Bar’ producer, or a ‘Chocolate Maker’.
I am to often confronted with a chocolatier in the UK, who will give the impression that they do create their chocolate from cacao bean. Pictures of cacao beans on promotional material, ambiguous terms such as ‘handmade chocolate’ lure me in with anticipation, but once the surface is scratched there is often little substance. I find this pretence disappointing to say the least. That’s not to say that working with chocolate should be somehow second rate, it is a creative and technical challenge which requires patience and perfectionism. It should be held in high regard for what it is, but not purposefully confused with what it isn’t.
‘Bean to bar’ fits well to that new breed of go for broke micro production entrepreneurs who are working hard to create pure chocolate flavours using the finest cacao. The emphasis for a bean to bar producer is typically to create fine flavour chocolate, which is usually moulded into a bar. Hence the name. The most recent issue for small craft makers is that the big companies making chocolate from bulk cacao are now beginning to use these terms too.
As a consumer, if you are unsure about the length a chocolatier goes to bring your their products, the simplest way to find out is just by asking them. If you should be confronted by staff who are either unsure or uninformed, then it’s best to call or write to the owner. A good chocolatier should be proud to tell you they use the finest quality, ethically sourced couverture they can get their hands on. If they are making it from bean to bar you can be sure they will be keen to let you know. Look out for a company trying to navigate their way around the subject, like they just don’t want you to look behind the curtains to see what is going on backstage. Any quality producer should be proud to show you.