CWG BEAN TO BAR COMPASS
Bulk Versus Fine Chocolate
The difference between bulk vs fine chocolate can be quite clear when you’re comparing your cheap chocolate chips versus a $15 craft chocolate bar. However, the wide range of chocolate in between fine and bulk can be more of a challenge to discern, and subjectivity comes into play as well.
There is no universal standard for classifying chocolate as fine or bulk, or placing it within the quality hierarchy. Whether one is a craft chocolate maker, a large commercial maker, a chocolatier, or a seasoned foodie, what qualifies for high quality for one may not be the same for the other. Something to keep in mind is not exactly what a maker does to their cacao and chocolate, but why. Why do they roast it longer? To improve the flavour or to burn off the off-flavours of mediocre cacao? Why do they conche it for so long? Is it to achieve an incredible array of flavours, or is it to mute the poor flavours within. It’s going to be difficult as a consumer to discern all this just from a bite, but there is a lot a bite can tell you.
Let’s go over two extreme examples of the process of creating bulk vs fine chocolate.
Using cacao which is very bitter, astringent, without any other aromas or complexity.
This cacao may not be harvested at an optimal ripeness, and the fermentation may have been too short, too long, or the temperature of the fermentation heap too low. Perhaps it was dried too quickly, which didn’t allow the acetic acid from fermentation to evaporate.
You’re left with a very bitter, astringent, acidic cacao bean.
Now the maker will roast these cacao seeds longer and darker, much like how medicore coffee beans are roasted darker to the point where they taste burnt. This is done in order to burn off as much of the acidic and off-flavours as possible.
Once this cacao is roasted, its ground up and refined. Because this cacao is still very bitter, plenty of sugar is added to compensate for this.
The chocolate is conched for longer than usual. Conching allows for the more acidic and harsh flavours to evaporate out of the liquid chocolate. However, the longer you you conche, the more aromas evaporate out, and eventually most of are removed, leaving a very flat tasting chocolate. This was necessary to remove the poor flavours, but resulted in a very standard middle of the road chocolate.
Fine Bean To Bar Chocolate
They begin with fine cacao, which is harvested at the peak of ripeness. The cacao is known for its aromatic flavour profile, and zero bitterness.
The cacao is fermented at 50*C just long enough for optimal flavour of this specific cacao. The seeds are then dried within a few days, long enough to evaporate the acidic flavours left over and not too long so as not to develop any other off flavours produced by mould.
They are properly stored in order to avoid absorbing surrounding odours while being shipped to their destination.
The makers properly sort and then roast the seeds, careful not to roast for too long and burn off the fine flavours. The smell of brownies or chocolate cake is a sign the roasting is complete.
They are then winnowed and refined. The refining process is carefully monitored not only for appearance and texture, but also for flavour development. Makers take care not to refine or conche for too long, in order to maintain the fine flavours within.
Fine Cacao vs Bulk Cacao
We’ve been dealing with chocolate specifically, not cacao. However, there is obviously a relationship between the type of cacao and the quality of the chocolate. There are organizations, such as the ICCO, which tries to classify cacao as “fine”. However, keep in mind that just because one organization has a classification system, it doesn’t mean it’s the only classification system or used worldwide. There is fine cacao which exists that haven’t made the lists of various “fine” cacao classifications. Check out the “Genetics & Botany” page to learn more about the varieties of cacao which exist.
There are many factors involved in determining the final quality of chocolate, including but not limited to, type of cacao, how it was processed, and other ingredients used. Terms such as “fair trade”, “organic”, “vegan”, and percentage have nothing to do with quality or whether a chocolate is fine or bulk. Although many fine chocolate makers also try and focus on organic ingredients and fair trade practises, there are many chocolate makers who use bulk cacao which is also fairly traded or organic.
The bottom line is to look at the ingredients, how much information you have about the cacao, and finally your own discerning palate!