The Cost of Premium Chocolate

The Cost of Premium Chocolate

The chocolate industry is blooming, with more options than ever lining market shelves. It’s exciting to see widespread attention on fair trade, bean-to-bar, single-origin, and ethically sourced cacao, but it can bring on some sticker shock. While a classic drugstore bar can sell for $1 a pop, a fine-quality bar can range from $7-$14. It seems like an extreme difference. However, it’s like the difference between buying conventional or organic apples: you get what you pay for.


Incredible chocolate starts with incredible cocoa beans. That involves prime location, environmental conditions, ethical work practices, and a fair price per pound. The main differentiator between an artisan-made product and a mass-produced, shiny-wrapping kind of bar lies within this humble bean. To get specific, it usually takes about 12 cocoa beans to make one chocolate bar, with about 140 cocoa beans making a pound. Commodity cocoa is generally sold by the metric ton (that’s 2,204 pounds) for somewhere over $2,000 per ton, leaving little room for cocoa farmers to profit. However, quality cocoa is fair trade (which means humane working and trade conditions) and sustainable (which means positive environmental conditions). Fair trade cocoa beans sell for upwards of $2,500 per ton, including a premium that supports workers' families, education, and community. Want to support a farm that pays its workers a fair wage and treats the land with respect so it can continue to nourish crops in the future? Those basic factors require some extra dollars. Cocoa prices are actually falling, making it harder for small-scale farms to survive.


Beyond the bean, small chocolatiers have a business to run. Factory space, packaging, quality checks, and retail locations all factor into the price. We’re not saying the price difference is inconsequential—in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Your purchase is your vote, and what a delicious way to exercise your power!

What is the Difference Between Cacao and Cocoa?

What is the Difference Between Cacao and Cocoa?

Photo by Jackie Donnelly via Spice & Ink

 

Cacao and cocoa have many similarities: spelling, origin (both are from the theobroma cacao tree), taste, and several similar uses. They do have a couple of notable differences: nutritional value, cost, and availability. The powdered form of both can be used almost interchangeably in baking, ice creams, smoothies, and mocha drinks. In short, cacao and cocoa start their journey from the same origin, the humble cacao bean, but they take different routes to get to their ultimate destinations.

 

Cacao is the product of raw cacao beans that have been pulverized (powdered), chopped (nibs), or processed into other forms. It’s been minimally treated and retains a large portion of the bean’s original nutrients, including antioxidants and fats.

 

Cocoa, on the other hand, has a heavier processing method. It also comes from cacao beans that have been pulverized but these beans have been roasted over a high heat and removed of its fats (cocoa butter), which tends to create a sweeter flavor. Many cocoa companies also often infuse their cocoa with other ingredients, such as sweeteners and milk fats. You can find brands of plain powdered cocoa that have not been sweetened or processed with other filler ingredients, so be careful when shopping and be sure to read the labels. Lastly, the Dutch cocoa-processing style also puts it the cocoa through an additional step, which is an alkalization process that removes some of its acid and bitterness and really balances out the flavor.

 

In summary, while cocoa has a smoother taste, it often contains fewer nutrients, filler ingredients such as sweeteners, but is more widely distributed, and usually costs less than its cacao counterparts. Cacao, on the other hand, packs a great big punch with nutrients and flavor, however it is often a bit pricier and harder to source, and its flavor can be a bit more dark and bitter. They are, however, definitely siblings in the world of chocolate production. Which is your favorite?

 

"Dutch-processed Cocoa Powder, Cacao Nibs, and Cacao Shells" by Jackie Donnelly