Most chocolate bars should not cost $10—but there are good reasons that some do.
Drugstore or supermarket chocolate is cheap for several reasons. About three-quarters of the world’s cocoa beans come from West Africa, where farmers are often not paid fair prices and nearly four million children work in cocoa production—two million of them in dangerous conditions, according to research done by Tulane University (pdf). Long, convoluted supply chains make it easy for mass-market companies to keep themselves in the dark about these practices, as shown in a 2010 documentary, The Dark Side of Chocolate.
“The longstanding disconnect between farmers and consumers, geographically and socially, allows for many problems in pricing and transparency to remain,” says Carla Martin, lecturer on African and African American Studies at Harvard University, and founder and executive director of the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute.
That is where the $10 bar comes in. While not all craft chocolate merits that price tag (see our report on Mast Brothers), there is plenty that does.
Craft chocolate costs more because it reflects true costs of production, including the value of the beans and the cost of employing skilled artisans who take their time. Large companies buy their beans from large plantations, explains Brady Brelinski, of the Flavors of Cacao review site, whereas craft chocolate makers often buy from smaller farms. “Smaller farms are more likely to pay closer attention to post-harvesting details that are integral for flavor development in the same way a small chocolate maker can pay closer attention to processing details,” he tells Quartz. Plus, craft chocolate makers often offer transparency every step of the way.
“Super premium chocolate is cheap fodder compared to other specialities,” Mark Christian, of C-Spot, a chocolate review site, tells Quartz via email. He points to the high prices paid for caviar—”just fish eggs that are now aquacultured”—and even bottle service at a nightclub—”for fermented grape juice.”
To find the best chocolate bars, look for those with single-origin beans or that say “direct trade” or “bean to bar.” These words usually indicate very short supply chains, often just the farmer and the chocolate maker.
Recommendations from the experts
Quartz asked a number of experts from the field, including authors, chefs, retailers, reviewers, and other craft chocolate makers, about their favorite craft chocolate. Many pointed to leaders like Askinosie Chocolate (which shares profits with farmers), Patric Chocolate (known for top-notch inclusions like nuts and spices), Rogue Chocolatier (which pays 2-4 times Fair Trade prices), and Amano Artisan Chocolate (whose founder, Art Pollard, is called a “legend” in the craft chocolate world).
But the craft chocolate industry in the US has grown, and a number of newer companies also come highly recommended. Dandelion Chocolate in San Francisco, Fruition Chocolate in the New York state’s Hudson Valley, and Madre Chocolate out of Hawaii are just a few of the best in the US.
(Some of) the best bars you can buy online
These are just a few incredible chocolate bars available for purchase online. Step into any good chocolate shop, though, and you will find many, many more.
- Fruition Chocolate’s Marañón Dark Milk 68% Limited Release ($11.95) won the World Gold in the 2015 International Chocolate Awards. The company “should be the pride of NY,” says Maricel Presilla, author of The New Taste of Chocolate.
- Areté Fine Chocolate Tanzania 70% Kokoa Kamili ($12) is made with only cacao and sugar in Silicon Valley. Sunita de Tourreil, CEO and founder of Palo Alto chocolate shop The Chocolate Garage, calls the company a “rising star.”
- Patric Signature Blend 70% Dark Chocolate ($14) is made from beans of more than one origin. “Balanced, easy, but with a dynamic range of flavors presenting, it is delicious and can be gobbled mindlessly or slowly enjoyed and savored,” says Aubrey Lindley, co-owner of craft chocolate shop Cacao in Portland, Oregon.
- Askinosie’s White Chocolate Bar ($10.50) made only with cocoa butter, sugar, and goat’s milk. “This is as good as it gets for white chocolate,” says Dandelion Chocolate co-founder Todd Masonis.