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Packaging Study

6. If you could standardize how fine chocolate is labeled, what information do you think should be included on every package?

Candice Alstrom
I think all bars need to include origin, ingredients, and whether or not they sourced from a bigger company. Example: Whole Food Tanzania bar says it's processed in Belgium. That means what exactly? After much digging and research, we find out it's sourced from Callebaut. Why not just say so? In collaboration with Callebaut, Whole Foods presents you with this rare bar. But that would mean they would have to disclose certain things about fair trade they don't want everyone to know about. Longer story there but to get to that information, the average person would not even come close to that. You can't just easily Google that.

I have to give Taza Chocolate the ultimate praise for how they disclose information about their bars. They put a simple barcode on the back of all bars. You type in that number on their website, and it's every single bit of information about the bean you could possible ask for. Your beans were picked by Jose in the Dominican Republic on these lines of latitude and longitude, at 11:30 am on Friday the 17th.... The weather had mild rains in the afternoon but otherwise it was a clear day when the beans were picked. I am exaggerating that last bit but I mean it's just incredible the details they give.

This also should include truffle makers and patissiers. William Curley uses Amedei. He is all about telling you that in his books and on his products. He believes it's the best in the world and wants you to know he is using fine Italian chocolate. Paul A. Young uses Amedei and Valrhona. A tiny shop in London called Melange will tell you openly that she uses Belcolade. It shouldn't be hidden or an industry trade secret which chocolate you use as your couverture.

David Arnold
As fun as it is to compare all the different details in the chocolate processes I only need the ingredients list and an approximate expiration date. If the maker has more completely documented accurate information to share let them. I’m usually curious about uniqueness but too many misleading claims and attributes appear on bars.

Debbie Ceder
Oh, we’re dreaming here!  How nice it would be to have such standards available for all products.  My preference list would start with the basic requirements of percentage, origin, bean type, ingredients, vintage and/or birth date chocolate was made, and company name.  Further, I’d love it if they would break down the percentage into how much is cacao mass and how much is cacao butter.  Next on my dream list would include harvest date, bean grade, plantation/coop, altitude, coordinates, conching time, equipment used and flavor notes. If process and roasting description don’t endanger a chocolate maker’s recipe that would be nice, too.  Unless a chocolate maker is involved in every stage of the process (and even if they are), it is unlikely that they will know the length of fermentation, let alone the number of times a batch of beans was turned during fermentation, and the weather conditions during fermentation could change the effect, as well.  So, I don’t think I would find that information of use on the label, even if it included seasonal weather descriptions.

Vic Ceder
Package labels should include the bean origin and percent cacao.  The 'organic' designation means nothing in terms of quality to me.  Chocolates labeled as 'vegan' is a flag that I probably do not want to buy it - it's like labeling water as containing zero calories.

A pet peeve of mine is that I'd like labeling to contain the term 'cacao' instead of 'cocoa', which to me means alkalized cacao powder.

Some information is non-negotiable-- country, regional name, cacao percentage, ingredients, weight.

Beyond the essentials, here is the information that I would like to know:

* Roast level (like Fresco)
* Conche time- the number of hours
* Fat content. (When the nutritional information is available this is listed in grams.)
* Bean type (when possible and feasible)
* Terroir. As specific as possible with any town and co-op information that is available (if known)
* Date the bar was made.
* Batch number (if available)
* Batch size
* Whether aged or not, and for how long.

Some additional information such as fermentation methods, plantation, and farmer information would be nice to be able to read more about to on a website. Many larger coffee roasters are able to provide this level of detail because there is economic incentive for them to gather it and write it up. I wonder, though, where small artisan chocolate makers would get the time to research and write all of this information? Artisan chocolate makers are already overworked and underpaid with a very labor intensive product. Added time means added wages and added expense or a decrease in the profit margin. I can live with less information if it keeps the costs down.

Mark Xian
Percentage, origin, coordinates, bean type, seasonal weather description, harvest date, altitude, bean grade, ingredients, process, farmer, plantation, coop, vintage, birth date chocolate was made, flavor notes, company name, length of fermentation, equipment used, times turned during fermentation, awards, roasting description, conching time, etc.) 

All the above except for awards which are a specious game scored by foodie-“yummifiers”, aka feeding-machines, that vacuum up anything / everything in sight & declare it “yummy” but are often clueless when it comes to premium chocolate.  

Besides, taste we’re told is ‘so subjective’ so what does an award mean anyways? 

It means money as one exorbitantly-awarded chocolate maker discovered running around the country, the world really, entering all these “contests”, many of them with the thinnest competitive field, then posts ribbons, medals & citations they collected all over their website & packaging to dupe unsuspecting buyers. 

Enough digression… back on point, listing soil type & starter culture(s) (if any) would nicely complete the data set. 

Trouble is, like those “awards” how can you fit it all on the packaging? Plus seals from Fair-Trade, UTZ, Organic, Rainforest Alliance, et. al., that now make chocolate bar wrappers more crowded than the endorsements on NASCAR drivers. 

The practical reality is that rampant disorganization / myth-information pervades the industry to belie any accuracy of information. 
  • Mislabeled accessions, genotypes, & tree stock; 
  • Seeds pulled from many properties, each often growing different kinds of cacáo, undermine the notion of “single origin” & thereby create traceability problems; 
  • Fermentation is such a complex microcosm unto itself requiring a manual of its own; 
  • Conching variables (duration, sheer / friction, heat, etc.) 

Standards & definitions, in short, are hard to come by. 

Unless a consensus can be drawn that defines single-estate or true single-origins, with secluded genotypes, practicing micro-fermentation… & on down the entire production chain, the end result will remain a “hodge-pod” (to drop yet another term coined by the C-spot®) of hybrid mongrels, mutts & dumb clones that prevail today.  

Hope springs & a few glimpses, however imperfect, point the way to a possible future: the vertically integrated models of Claudio Corallo & Daintree; the rather uniform Nacional cacao of Marañón Canyon; the segmented varietals the Hacienda San Jose in Venezuela; & info-rich packaging with respect to processing parameters from Fresco.

Scott of Dallas Food
An accurate ingredient list, identification of origin (as specifically as possible), and statement of percentage of cacao solids are enough for me.

Chloe Doutre-Roussel
I tend to think that the old fashion % + country of origin + genetic if really pure genetics would be enough; like labeling 10 years ago… why? I am not sure if any of this information is useful for more than a niche of aficionados, and even for this niche, the detail given is not “useful”, not enough to bring any better understanding of the chocolate. Too many details about the beans and process are research, not chocolate marketing; the most important relation between chocolate and us “humans” is pleasure and there is no need for reading tons of technical info nor to have learned encyclopedic knowledge on cacao and chocolate to get if a chocolate is good or not and listen to the emotion it brings to us;  I think all this information deviates us from the most important we should all do: connect to our body, listen to our senses, forget all the rest and discover the subtle notes of the music this chocolate brings to our body.

I am of course interested in an intellectual point of view on any information useful but the information would need to be far more detailed than “conching time , fermentation time “ etc.  A conching time tells you absolutely nothing if you do not know the brand of the machine, the size of the batch , the parameters of the machine (temperature and duration); if anyone decided to give us much detail, it would be only useful to compare two different cacaos processed with different conching times or temperatures ; Fresco’s approach giving roasting level is useful as you can clearly see that high roast flattens the complexity, gives a standard “roast” aroma, compared to the same cacao with a lighter roast- But at the end, people like bar X more than Y for the pleasure it gives to them and not because the conching time or roasting is higher or longer.  And what it teaches you is true for his products, not for chocolate in general.

George Gensler
Aside from the difficulty of standardizing terms, if I were standardizing fine chocolate labels, I would have percentage, with the fat percentage listed as a separate number, origin, bean type (by percentage for blends with a minimum amount required for a bean type to be listed), bean grade, ingredients, company name, and chocolate maker’s name (for companies that don’t make their own bars – I’d like to know who processed the beans).  The other examples listed would be interesting information, but not crucial.

Maricel Presilla
I think it is essential to have the origin of the beans and percentages on the package. I would like to know more information about the cacao, but I wouldn't force that onto anybody because I know the politics of cacao buying. I don't think that it would be fair to a small guy who stumbled upon a great little farm to say exactly where he bought the cacao because a big buyer will come in and out source this person. I have seen it happen. It has happened to me and also to a lot of people that I care about. It happened with Cuyagua, for example. And so I do not advise to say exactly where you obtained your cacao if you are concerned about unfair competition. But if you are sure of yourself, you should disclose this information and make it a part of your marketing campaign. It will benefit everyone involved. But if you are not sure then you can just give a general geographic location and that would be fine with me. These things are important but I really want to know if the person has a connection with the farmer and if that chocolate maker has a factory. I like to know where the chocolate maker makes his chocolate. I like that that information on the package. All ingredients should also be listed very clearly on the packaging.

Alex Rast
Each one should have cacao solids/sugar/cacao butter percentage listed as a 3-number figure. Date of manufacture and lot number are essential. Origin, bean type, and year of harvest *where known and documentable* ought to be listed but it must be understood that it's not common that the manufacturer will have definitive information on this. Nothing else is necessary and in fact everything else is likely to be either unreliable, proprietary, or irrelevant.

Richard Vaughan
With plantation and single-origin chocolate using one cacao variety, I would love to have accurate cacao genetics identified (one of the 11 known genetic clusters rather than Criollo, Trinitario, or Forastero), but that would likely be too expensive to determine. I would be personally interested in details regarding fermentation, drying, roasting, and conching attributes, but the latter two in particular are generally considered trade secrets by most chocolate makers. Realistically, I’d like to see standardized labels include plantation origin (for single plantation chocolates), regional origin (including specifics multiple origins for blends) and harvest date(s), portion of the chocolate making cycle for which the chocolate maker takes responsibility (e.g., tree to bar, fermentation to bar, bean to bar, liquor to bar), ingredients, production date, and best before date. If the chocolate contains any added cocoa butter, the source of that cocoa butter should also be identified (origin(s) and harvest date(s)). Most chocolate makers who include added cocoa butter purchase it made from low-quality cacao.

Ian Whitaker
All ingredients, along with their percentages, would be displayed prominently on the front. The cacaofèvier (who transformed the beans into chocolate) would be also be stated.

All of the examples that you listed would be interesting to know, but I would not go as far as requiring them by law. After all, the priority for the chocolate maker should be producing great tasting chocolate and the priority for the public should be enjoying the taste of a piece of chocolate. Some cacaofèviers have less resources than others, and some may, for example, wish to keep their blends secret.