Buying chocolate has become like buying wine.
You step in a wine store and you know you will be spending 30 minutes figuring out what bottle to bring home. There is red, white, Champagne, Rose. Some are expensive some are cheap, which one to select, which one is good value for money?
Shopping for wine is an overwhelming and exciting experience. And so has become shopping for chocolate.
What is quality chocolate?
In 2017, chocolate making is such a popular business that new brands are popping up every month all over the world. More competition means more alternatives for chocolate lovers. But also a bigger difficulty in realizing which chocolate is quality chocolate.
Unfortunately, there is no common definition for “quality” or “good” chocolate. This is because different consumers have different standards for their palates. If John is used to $1 chocolate bars from the supermarket, he might get enthusiastic about $4 chocolate bars and think that THOSE are quality chocolates. While his girlfriend Mary is passionate about craft chocolate, so she won’t even bother with anything under $7.
In the end, quality chocolate is simply chocolate that tastes good to the palate of its consumer. This is as objective as it can get in any discussion about food.
But of one thing we can be sure: after tasting, flavor is definitely the best indicator for quality chocolate, no matter personal standards. A pleasant texture and exciting tasting notes make a chocolate bar worth its price. But what about BEFORE tasting?
Too bad that consumers often don’t get to taste the chocolate before they buy it. And here comes the challenging part. In the search for their own “quality chocolate”, consumers end up relying on all sorts of factors. From a pretty packaging to reassuring certifications, some of them have nothing to do with quality, i.e. the flavor of the chocolate. So what should consumers pay attention to?
Among all these factors, price might just be the most reliable indicator for quality chocolate. And here is why.
It is true that also Price, like Flavor, has its fair share of subjectivity. Depending on the size of the wallet and personal believes on money, the notions of “cheap” and “expensive” are always biased. But in this discussion there is really no need to define these terms. The first important thing to understand is this: there is no way to start with low-quality raw materials and end up with high-quality finished products.
This seems like an obvious conclusion. But there is nothing too obvious for consumers who have suffered from decades of misleading marketing. With their shiny TV commercials and smart wording, big manufacturers have led us to believe that we could afford great tasting chocolate for a few dollars. The problem is that great tasting chocolate comes from good cacao genetics, attentive post-harvesting processes and great making skills. It takes a lot of time to achieve these goals, and it especially requires a lot of money.
All this effort can’t be reflected in a low price tag. There is no fine food priced “just like” or “just a little over” its mediocre counterpart. The gap in price has to be significant, because the gap in effort is significant too. Which brings us to the second important thing to understand: high-quality raw materials reflect on the price tag of the finished product.
If we consider the range of prices for 100 gr chocolate bars, they usually go from $3 to $27 (extreme cases excluded). This means a sea of alternatives. No wonder chocolate consumers can get overwhelmed. Will they spend their money right? Will they choose the right product? There is no guarantee. But at this point, whoever believes to be getting a quality product for a low price is either naive or has very low standards for his palate.
All this said, is price the best indicator for quality chocolate?
No doubt that scams are always around the corner. It takes integrity to recognize the real value of a product and price it accordingly. I have seen milk chocolate bar going at S$45 that is truly a scam. Not every professional is willing to do that. However, chocolate writer Mort Rosenblum puts it in the best way:
“Expensive chocolate is not necessarily the best. But the best chocolate is rarely cheap.”
Assiduous chocolate buyers will confirm that they seldom get disappointed by what is considered a high price tag. As in every market, more often than not, you truly get what you pay for. Or at least, the more you pay, the higher the chances of being satisfied with your purchase. And even if it wasn’t so, what other indicators could chocolate consumers truly trust?
Pretty packaging is no guarantee of a pretty flavor. It is simply a nice shell that can either contain a flavorful chocolate or an awfully tasting one. You can never know before you try it.
Same goes for the places of origin chocolate . Both fine and bulk cacao can be grown in every country, in every region, in every farm. Reading “Ecuador” or “Peru” shouldn’t get consumers any more excited than reading “Ghana” or “Tanzania “instead look for the type of cocoa bean used.
As for certifications, Fairtrade or Organic have nothing to do with the end flavor of the chocolate. Fairtrade deals with labor conditions. Organic has to do with agricultural practices. Neither encourage the making of quality chocolate.
Cacao varieties can’t be trusted either. The cacao tree is such a promiscuous plant that sometimes not even farmers are 100% sure of what they are cultivating. Left alone chocolate makers that can make up any name on their packaging. And even if DNA tests were run and chocolate makers were honest, great cacao can still be badly roasted and processed into awful chocolate.
In the end, price is the factor among all that has the highest chances to be directly connected with the quality of the chocolate. It might not be the absolute best indicator for quality chocolate, but it is the best that we have at our disposal before tasting the chocolate. Always buy your chocolate from a reliable source.