The treat of the moment Each country has its own holiday season favorites, but some cravings are equally appreciated anywhere in the world. Chocolate is one of them, and it’s having a momentum.
What is chocolate? The eye-catching bars intrinsically connected to joyful preteen moments, like “schools are closed and mom is finally out of home” or the luxurious, crafty boxes of elaborate pralines and bonbons that make “a great gift for any occasion”. As a child, one rarely enjoys the latter, so it’s easy to instinctively discard them as: “boring chocolates for adults”. The incident mentioned above, made me skeptical about handmade chocolates for many years. It wasn’t until a trip to the US and the discovery of a newly founded company, that I've gained interest in the wonders of cocoa. That company was Mast Brothers. Based in a small factory in Brooklyn, their bean to bar endeavor delivered beautifully wrapped dark chocolate bars to boutiques and fancy groceries across the entire nation. In the years that followed, I saw small-batch chocolate makers sprouting up all over the place. Sabadì, Madecasse, Idilio, Akesson’s…
Original recipes sourced from Sicily to Vietnam, great stories to narrate and an impressive packaging to show off, made many companies of the kind really attractive. At the same time older artisanal chocolate bar makers, like Compartès and Amedei, grasped the opportunity to gain larger market shares thanks to the world’s growing appetite for well-crafted cocoa bean derivatives. It turns out that, whereas a luxury good, chocolate hasn’t been affected by the financial crisis. According to market research reports, up to 2017 revenues from the global chocolate industry are expected to grow at a rate of over 2%. Numbers say it clear: thanks to the public’s growing appetite for gourmet foods (a 70% of the consumers buy specialty foods as “treats”) a new generation of artisanal chocolate entrepreneurs found fertile soil to develop their businesses.
Through their dedication to premium ingredients, but also thanks to a lower price point and a more attractive packaging than traditional chocolatiers, they created a whole new category in the business. That’s how every grocery that respects itself, ended up carrying at least one type of small batch, bean to bar chocolate bars. There are even chocolate subscription services like the UK based Cocoa Runner or the American Standard Cocoa, who every month deliver a selection of premium, rare chocolates at your doorstep.
As Cocoa Runner’s Spencer Hyman said in a recent interview “Now is a great time for great chocolate -- not least as we’re seeing more and more artisan manufacturers launching 'bean to bar'. The US scene has exploded, makers such as Mast, Fruition, TCHO, Taza and Dandelion pioneered the way and last year over 50 new “bean to bar” manufacturers launched. The UK has started to take off and is blessed with Willies and Duffy, who’ve been around now for a few years. And now almost every week there are new makers - for example in the there’s Pablo (Forever Cacao), Chris (Pump Street Bakery) and Ali (The Chocolate Tree). And outside of this bean to bar is taking off in cocoa growing regions - from South America, Madagascar to Vietnam and Hawaii. So we can really spoil our customers with a choice of makers from Brooklyn to Budapest, Saigon to San Francisco and Copenhagen to Cleethorpes”.
The new generation of Willy Wonkas doesn’t have much in common with the luxurious wonders of the international chocolate nobility. Catalan confectioner Oriol Balaguer or even the sculptural bites of Francisco Migoya, a former French Laundry pastry chef and a professor at the Culinary Institute of America who recently founded the much publicized Hudson Chocolate show a more artistic profile. They don’t even particularly relate to 'alchemists' like Paul a young, the gifted chocolatier who got at the forefront of the British chocolate scene in less than a decade.
The new chocolate making trend, is mostly about honest ingredients and a bold storytelling. Nuts, sea salt, fruits or spices are blended in sophisticated combinations, crafted to attract an adult public. There are dreamers like Alan Patric McClure, who decided to make a career shift after a trip in France in 2004. And there are territorial brands like Marou, Akesson's and the Grenada Chocolate Company, who promote the virtues of the forgotten territorial cocoa cultivations, from the Philippines to the Carribean.