Let's clear up a few things

+ Where does chocolate come from?

Today, chocolate is made from grinding the fermented, dried, and roasted kernel of the cacao seed (aka cocoa bean) with sugar, and forming it into a solid bar or block. This seed grows inside the fruit of the tree, Theobroma cacao. You can learn more about the process here.

+ What is the difference between a chocolate maker and chocolatier?

A chocolate maker does what was mentioned above. A chocolatier or chocolate melter, receives the chocolate made by the maker and proceeds to produce other confections such as ganaches, bon bons, showpieces, and chocolate decor.

Today, there is a wave of small independently owned bean to bar operations. That is, small scale chocolate makers. Some of them may also use their chocolate to produce confections, but the added cost is limiting, and often only make chocolate bars, drinking chocolate, and so on.

+ How do I know which shops are chocolate makers, and which are chocolatiers?

A key thing to know is that today, most chocolate shops in your town or city are chocolatiers (chocolate melters), not chocolate makers. They make chocolates (bonbons, truffles, novelty items), but they don't take the beans and turn them into chocolate. As mentioned, some do both, but very rarely.

It's not to say one is above the other, but it's important to know who is producing what.

Most chocolate shop personnel will say they make their own chocolates, which is true, but if you want to know if they make it from the the cocoa bean itself, you need to specify. You need to ask if they make it themselves, on premise, from the bean.

+ Why do some chocolate shops state they make their own chocolate if they are not a chocolate maker?

Not all chocolate shops make their chocolate on premise, nor even make their own chocolates at all. Those chocolatiers who do obviously want to let you know that.

As a chocolatier, it's a new idea to have to differentiate yourself from a small scale bean to bar chocolate maker (someone who produces chocolate bars from the cocoa bean itself). Often you had to differentiate yourself from chocolate shops who get their chocolate made in factories, instead of on premise. You often have to specify your question as to what you mean when you ask "do you make your own chocolate?"

Some chocolatiers out there may try to mislead you to think they also make the chocolate bean to bar, but most do not. Most of this confusion stems from ignorance or miscommunication. Most consumers don't even know the difference, and so don't even know what question to ask in order to get a clear answer.

Ask: Do you make your own chocolate on premise, from the cocoa bean itself?

+ How many kinds of chocolate are there?

Historically there was one kind of chocolate, drinking chocolate, with a multitude of variations. This was made by grinding fermented, dried, roasted cocoa seeds, and mixing it with water and a variety of spices.

From that evolved dark eating chocolate (made from cocoa beans and sugar, sometimes vanilla). Once powdered milk was invented in the late 19th Century in Switzerland, milk chocolate arrived (cocoa bean, milk powder, sugar), and then white chocolate (cocoa butter, milk powder, sugar, vanilla). So does this mean there are 3 kinds of chocolate? Not exactly.

There is also gianduja (cocoa bean, sugar, hazelnut, sometimes milk powder), chocolate made with ground up tea leaves or coffee beans, white chocolate made with fruit powders or matcha green tea powder, and the list goes on. There are many many kinds of chocolate today. Even chocolate made from cocoa butter, sugar, and nuts, which is more in common with white chocolate as it lacks the dark cocoa solids.

+ How is cocoa powder made?

Cocoa powder is made from pressing a mass of ground cocoa seed kernel, after it has been fermented, dried, and roasted. This press squeezes out a majority of the cocoa fat, and leaves us two products, the cocoa butter and a cocoa press cake. The cocoa press cake is the brown solid mass with most of the fat pressed out of it. It's this press cake that gets pulverized into a powder.

99% of cocoa powder today is also alkalized or "dutched". What this does is make the colour darker, mild out the flavour, but also makes it more miscible in water (easier to mix). You will often say on the ingredients list of cocoa powder that it is alkalized, dutched, or contains sodium bicarbonate.

Cocoa powder was invented in 1828 by Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes Van Houten. It was a response to the high levels of fat in drinking chocolate that made it difficult for Europeans to mix it into water without separating. They reduced the amount of fat, as well as alkalized it, which is why it's often referred to as Dutched cocoa powder.

+ Is dark chocolate good for you?

Dark chocolate can be part of a healthy lifestyle if consumed in moderation. Dark chocolate is often linked to health because due to the high amounts of antioxidants contained within the dark cocoa solids. The darker the chocolate (higher percentage), the greater amounts of these cocoa solids, which also contain many minerals on top of the antioxidant polyphenols.

Antioxidants, although part of mainstream western culture now, are still a controversial topic. Their impact on immediate and long term health is still debated.

As well, Dark chocolate is also a high caloric food. Roughly 50% of a cocoa bean is fat, and so a small amount is packed with a lot of calories. This is not a negative factor, but needs to be considered.

Dark chocolate is not a health food, or some sort of superfood. However, high quality chocolate is not something to be afraid of if consumed mindfully and with moderation.

+ Why is dark chocolate said to be healthier than milk or white chocolate?

A cocoa bean can be separated into two components, roughly 50% cocoa butter and 50% cocoa solids (the brown component). The nutrients obtained from chocolate, that is, the minerals and antioxidants, are contained within the cocoa solids, not the cocoa butter.

It's not just dark chocolate, but high percentage dark chocolate. The higher the percentage of dark chocolate, the greater proportion of the dark cocoa solids, and therefore greater amounts of minerals and antioxidants.

Milk chocolate is (most often) made with higher amounts of sugar, as well as contains milk powder, therefore less cocoa solids. White chocolate is made of cocoa butter and sugar, no cocoa solids, and so does not contain any of the minerals and antioxidants found in dark chocolate. As well, studies have shown that chocolate taken with milk reduces the chances of antioxidants being absorbed by our bodies. These chocolates are more likely to be compared to a treat or dessert.

+ What determines percentage on a chocolate bar?

The percentage listed on a chocolate bar reflects the amount of cocoa bean (cocoa solids and cocoa butter) within the bar, in relation to sugar and or other ingredients. A 70% dark chocolate bar that only contains cocoa beans and sugar, is 70% cocoa beans and 30% sugar. A 55% milk chocolate bar is 55% cocoa bean and 45% milk & sugar combined. The percentage on a white chocolate bar indicates the percent of cocoa butter only, the rest being sugar and milk powder.

+ What is chocolate liquor?

It's very simple, chocolate liquor is a ground up mixture of 100% cocoa nibs (cocoa seed kernel). Think of it as peanut butter, but made with cocoa nibs instead of peanuts, and less refined. This is the step in the processes after the cocoa seeds have been roasted and winnowed. Once chocolate liquor is made, it can go one of two paths: continue to making chocolate, or pressed to make cocoa powder and cocoa butter.

+ Can I put chocolate in the fridge?

First let me ask you, why do you want to do that? There is only one reason you need to put dark chocolate bars in the refrigerator: Heat. Dark chocolate bars will not spoil or grow mould. The high levels of fat and polyphenols prevent that.

However, your pricey fine chocolate bar hates warmth, either from the sun, a heating element, or near an appliance that gets warm (don't put them in the cupboard above your stove).

Chocolate loves to be in a dark cool dry place. A safe spot in the pantry is a good idea. However, some of you may not have air conditioning, or live in warm climates. If your room temperature where the chocolate is stored often exceeds 23-25 degrees celcius, you may want to refrigerate it.

You have read that refrigerating chocolate is bad for it, and yes, it's not optimal, but its a better option than leaving it in a very warm room. They key is, you just need to keep it well sealed, and allow it to acclimate to room temperature before unwrapping it.

If the chocolate is still in its original wrapper and not opened, perfect! Seal it in a resealable bag (after removing excess air) and place that bag into a clean odour free tupperware. You want to avoid odours from the food being absorbed by the chocolate. If the chocolate is opened, wrap it back up very well, and repeat the process above.

Now, the reason people suggest not to refrigerate chocolate is often because of the condensation that may develop on it after you take it out. This will affect the texture, flavour, and overall experience. How do you avoid that? Easy. Keep the chocolate sealed, and allow it to come back to room temperature before you want to consume it. This often takes a few hours. Then you can open it and enjoy. As long as the chocolate is not still cold to the touch.

Some recommend a wine cooler as well, as a fridge is often a bit too cool, but you still should allow it to acclimate to room temperature.
The bottom line is, don't keep your chocolate forever. Although dark chocolate won't spoil, the flavour will degrade over time. Some argue the flavour lasts for years, but from my experience, it rarely does, especially if its been previously opened. Fine chocolate is best consumed within a year of when it was made. Enjoy your chocolate fresh, and save the future for new bars.

I guarantee you have more questions.  So why not fill out the comment box below and get some answers!