Why is good chocolate expensive?

Poor processing
Clean processing

Genetics & Processing.

To make fine flavour chocolate, the processing of cacao is vastly different to the processes undergone when making low quality chocolate. Encouraging farmers to grow the right kind of cacao under the conditions preferable for fine flavour, takes financial incentive. A farmer will typically take the option that pays best. Fine flavour chocolate makers, in collaboration with cacao processing projects, are able to offer financial reward to farmers in return for growing the right varieties of cacao. These varieties are usually native and in harmony with local biodiversity. Not only are we keeping cacao a financially rewarding crop for the farmer, we are also helping to create and maintain sustainable, bio-diverse environment with long term prospects for the farmer.

Once the farmer has harvested cacao, the processing begins. Essentially fermentation, drying and sorting are the three fundamental processes that should happen in the country of origin. For most of the worlds chocolate (used to make mass produced products) this processing is done at the farm. Beans are piled together to ferment underneath leaves of shade crops (such as banana), once a rough fermentation is complete the beans are laid out to dry in the sun somewhere convenient, sorting is not really to the farmers benefit as there will be a loss in weight. Small holdings like this will sell their beans at the going market rate to middle men who will trade the beans on to a larger market. These beans will eventually end up in mass produced chocolate. All of the unpleasant flavours caused by poor fermentation and drying on the farm will be masked by sugar, milk powder and other flavourings in the finished product.

When a fine flavour project sets up to support farmers growing native cacao, they will usually become responsible for the processing of the cacao. This will typically involve a large investment of cash to build a purpose built processing facility. Instead of the farmers being responsible for processing their own cacao, they will sell the cacao immediately after harvest to the project who will take control of the processing. The facility will be designed to ferment and dry the cacao in a way which will harness the flavours to their full potential. Strict controls are needed to maintain the fermentation temperatures and quality of the finished beans. Many of the poor quality, damaged or rotten beans which would usually be sold to the mass market will be discarded at this facility. The costs begin to rise substantially. As well as offering the farmers more money per kg for their crops, the project may offer other incentives to the farmer. Collection of the freshly harvested cacao from the farm by the project for instance can save the farmer a long trip to the middle man. By working closely with the farmers, real friendships are made, and a sense of pride is felt in the work, which should be an important part of any culture. Medical expenses and other help, such as building projects or equipment purchase may also be financed by the project. The project will need labour, and will typically become a benefactor to the community, providing paid work to local families at a better wage than what is typically offered in the area. The expenses of a premium cacao processing facility are immense, but without correct processing it will be impossible to make fine flavour chocolate.

Once the beans have been harvested, sorted, fermented, dried and sorted again, they will begin their journey onwards to the chocolate makers. Shipping in small volumes incurs more expense. Artisan chocolate makers may be looking for around 500kg of beans, if things are going well maybe a few tons, but multinational chocolate companies will be buying bulk cacao by the truck load. An economy of scale results in it costing more to ship smaller quantities to artisan chocolate makers. Then there is customs tax, and delivery within the country. It could be that the beans will arrive at a port miles away from their final destination.

The beans will eventually arrive at the chocolate makers workshop. Once they have arrived, they must be checked for quality, sorted again if necessary and then the chocolate making can begin. Roasting, breaking, winnowing and grinding are all done with high levels of care and patience on fairly small scale equipment to achieve premium quality. A large multinational company may be working in ton batches, an artisan is more likely to be working in batches of around 50kg.

The chocolate once made will then be aged, before it is ready for use. When ready, it will typically be used to create chocolate bars, but could be used to make pralines or other confections. Once the product is ready it will usually be wrapped by hand. All of this is labour intensive, usually done with a great deal of attention to detail, and with a hands on approach. A large company churning out cheap chocolate bars will be using giant machinery without finesse, adding questionable ingredients along the way to bulk out the finished product, which will be wrapped by machine.

Once a fine flavour chocolate product is ready to be sold, it has gone through vastly different processes from the cacao that went to the mass produced market. The techniques used and standards of quality are could not be more different. The last expense to be added, and quite likely to be the biggest, is tax. All chocolate which has had value added will attract VAT. If a fine flavour bar costs £5, then £1 will go to the UK government.

We are selling our bean to bar chocolate at £4.95 for an 80g bar. It’s incredibly good value for this kind of chocolate. We make it that way because we want to make premium, ethical, environmentally responsible chocolate more accessible for everyone.

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