Even doctors agree that chocolate is good for you, particularly the varieties with a high cocoa content. High-end chocolate is high in cocoa, with a round, rich taste. Several key factors make high-end chocolate a totally different product from the consumer candy we call everyday chocolate, and there are many reasons why it's worth spending more.
The Reasons for Paying for High-End Chocolate
The reasons why it's worth paying more for high-end chocolate start with the raw ingredients. The soil where the beans have grown, the amount of sunlight, and the length of time beans are left to ferment and dry all affect the quality. The best cocoa beans, used in high-end chocolate, originate from the Criollo tree. This variety, native to Ecuador and Venezuela, is thought to be closest to the original tree that the Mayans used for their chocolate. Criollo beans require such tender care that they account for less than 10% of worldwide chocolate production. As with the best in wine, tea and coffee, high-end chocolatiers often know not just the country where the beans originated, but often the region, district or the actual plantation.
Most "everyday" chocolate includes relatively low amounts of cocoa solids from low grade beans. Copious amounts of sugar and fat are added, and ingredients such as milk are often dried rather than fresh. The hardy but somewhat bitter Forastero tree produces most of the cocoa beans used in consumer chocolate. High-end luxury chocolate, on the other hand, typically includes upwards of 70% cocoa solids from the purest beans. Cane sugar is preferred and natural vanilla is used to enhance the taste. Only very small amounts of the best quality fresh dairy ingredients are added to complement, but not overpower, the taste and scent of the cocoa.
The Chocolatiers Process
To bring out the distinctive chocolate flavour, beans are roasted gently and the husks removed. The remaining nibs are then ground into a rich cocoa liqueur. Further processes follow, including conching. The conching process is particularly important to give high-end chocolate its rich, round taste. The better the conching, the silkier the texture and silkiness is often used as an indicator of the quality of the chocolate. Once these processes are complete, the tempering begins.
Tempering allows cocoa butter crystals to be re-established, giving chocolate its gorgeous glossy appearance. The molten chocolate is heated to the correct temperature and worked until malleable and ready for moulds. Keeping as much moisture out of the final process as possible is another way that high-end chocolatiers ensure the best experience for their customers.
You don't have to be a pastry chef to enjoy chocolate to its fullest, look at the gloss on the bar. Close your eyes and breathe in the scent, whether floral, woody or a combination. Hold a piece of chocolate to your ear, break it gently, and listen for the 'snap'. The sharper the snap, the higher the cocoa content. Break off a small piece and put it on your tongue. Let it melt slowly, so you can savour the flavour.
So why spend more on high-end delights? The health benefits of high-cocoa content chocolate are well documented. One benefit is its ability to help reduce stress levels. Select luxury chocolate for the purity of the raw ingredients and the knowledge and skill of the makers. Most of all, however, the reason to opt for high-end chocolate is, quite simply, its taste.
James Hutchins, of James Chocolates, is an award winning chocolatier based in Somerset, England. James designs incredible luxury handmade chocolates for all occasions.