What is artisanal chocolate?

Have you noticed how the chocolate market has diversified in the last 10 years? There were dozens of new brands and terms that no one knew about – such as bean to bar and tree to bar — and the packages started to print cocoa percentages.

The latest novelty is varietal chocolate, which indicates the type of cocoa used in the recipe and its origin. It may seem like an exaggerated gourmetization at first glance, but in fact the world of chocolate in Brazil has changed radically — and for the better.

To explain this blow-by-blow movement, it is necessary to go back in time.

It all starts with cocoa, a typical fruit from the Amazon region that was planted in large quantities in southern Bahia. It was so successful that, at the beginning of the 20th century, Brazil was already the world’s largest producer — from this period the rich and powerful colonels of Ilhéus, those who populated Jorge Amado’s novels and made their way into TV soap operas.

More interested in accumulating wealth, they were not very concerned with quality and only focused on exports — and that was how it was for decades, until a fungus with a complicated name, the pernicious moniliophteraended the party in the 1990s.

raw cocoa

Image: Caio Ferrari/Folhapress

Nicknamed “witch’s broom”, the plague spread through plantations, decimated crops and bankrupted farmers.

The rise of the chocolate industry in Brazil coincides with this golden phase of cocoa. But, paradoxically, cocoa was not the star — the market was flooded with very sweet products, in which sugar and other ingredients, many artificial, entered (and still enter) in greater quantities. And all within the law.

Cocoa farm in Ilhéus, Bahia - Márcio Filho - Márcio Filho

Cocoa farm in Ilhéus, Bahia

Image: Márcio Filho

Until 1978, it was mandatory for formulas to contain at least 32% cocoa, but this changed in 2005, when Anvisa reduced the requirement — today, it is enough to contain 25% cocoa for a product to be classified as chocolate.

The “New Chocolate”

A new chapter began to be written in the early 2000s, when heirs of those wealthy farmers of yesteryear began to look for a way to save their bankrupt estates. The solution was presented with the name “fine cocoa” — fruits cultivated, harvested and processed with much more care, which generated high quality beans, highly valued in the international market.

Cocoa harvest and preparation, in Ilhéus - Raul Spinassé/Folhapress - Raul Spinassé/Folhapress

Cocoa harvesting and preparation, in Ilhéus

Image: Raul Spinasse/Folhapress

One of the pioneers was João Tavares, owner of the Leolinda farm, between the Bahian municipalities of Ilhéus and Uruçuca. In 2010, he mustered up the courage to compete with his almonds at the Salon del Chocolate in Paris. Whenever he introduced himself as a Brazilian, he would hear mocking remarks — but he got his revenge, returning from France with one of the Cocoa of Excellence awards.

Since then, many Bahian cocoa farmers have followed the same path and the culture has spread to other states — in addition to Pará, the current champion in national production, Espírito Santo, Minas Gerais and Rondônia already have their crops, part of which are dedicated to cocoa cultivation. thin.

From almond to tree

Mission Chocolate - Disclosure - Disclosure

Mission chocolate

Image: Disclosure

The availability of such good almonds has given rise to another segment here — artisanal chocolatiers. And they are not content to buy almonds to turn them into chocolate.

They make a point of visiting the plantations, following the harvesting process, giving tips on the fermentation and roasting stages. hence the term bean to bar (from almond to bar, in literal translation).

Represented by Associação Bean to Bar Brasil, they already number in the hundreds – although a recent survey shows that there are 118 in the country, the estimate is that they reach 350.

In this cake there are small people like the American Arcelia Gallardo, who produces the award-winning bars of Mission Chocolate in a house in the South Zone of São Paulo, and powerful brands like Dengo, which maintains a factory in the capital of São Paulo, 25 stores in the country. , but he continues to handpick the almonds he buys from Bahian producers.

Cocoa harvest at the Baianí brand farm - Press Release - Press Release

Cocoa harvest on the farm of the Baianí brand

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Some chocolatiers adopt a variant of the term, the tree to bar (from the tree to the bar), which classifies professionals who are also cocoa farmers. This is the case of Juliana Aquino, owner of the Baianí brand, who inherited a farm in Una, southern Bahia, and launched the brand in 2018.

The packaging of artisanal chocolates helps to differentiate them from industrialized products. For starters, the cocoa content is always high — even milk bars tend to easily reach 40% cocoa — and this content is always clearly stated.

Many producers still insist on telling where the cocoa comes from, since the terroir greatly influences the result, as explained by taster Zélia Frangioni.

Although there are exceptions, chocolates made with cocoa from the Amazon tend to have more floral notes, and those from Bahia are fruity and woody, for example.”

Consumers of artisanal chocolate are tuned in and, in addition to demanding quality, they want to know how it was made — complaints about the exploitation of child labor in cocoa plantations around the world are not uncommon.

Production by Luisa Abram - Disclosure - Disclosure

Produced by Luisa Abram

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For this reason, many professionals are keen to show that they are attentive to issues such as sustainability and social justice — chocolatier Luisa Abram, for example, only uses wild cocoa beans from the Amazon Forest, which come from fruits collected by riverside communities.

By now, you may be asking yourself: but where does Belgian chocolate fit into this story? The fame is deserved and comes from the Belgian brand Callebaut, which does not sell products to the final consumer — only raw material (industrialized) for chocolatiers and confectioners. And Callebaut chocolates, for those who don’t know, use almonds from several producing countries, including Brazil.

How to taste craving chocolates

Luisa Abram's Chocolates - Disclosure - Disclosure

Luisa Abram’s Chocolates

Image: Disclosure

Replace the habit of eating chocolate from the big industry with bean to bar it’s not always easy. It is a process that consumers of specialty coffees, craft beers and wines have already gone through. “It’s a change that can take time and depends on educating the palate”, warns Zélia.

In order not to make mistakes at the time of purchase, she suggests taking some precautions. Start by analyzing the label.

“Who makes chocolate with good cocoa does not need to add any type of flavoring or flavoring, nor vanilla”, says the taster.

Fat, only if it’s cocoa butter. And the cocoa content must be clearly stated on the packaging. “One of the fundamental principles of the industry is transparency,” she says.

As the range of options is vast, it is advisable to take into account your own taste when choosing.

Those who like industrialized dark chocolate can start with a bean to bar with a high cocoa content, which will be much more intense, but not necessarily bitter. Now, if the person is used to milk chocolates, better start with the milk bean to bar too”, she recommends.

But get ready: it can be a delicious path of no return.