Single-origin chocolate is a simple idea. It’s chocolate that’s made from one variety of cacao harvested in one region. Why does this matter? Well, cacao is a plant. Like other plants, its beans take on the characteristics of the region where it’s grown—its terroir. Many terms used to describe single-origin chocolate will be familiar to wine lovers—earthy, floral, herbal and berry, to name a few.
When cacao is blended, the effect of terroir is lost. That doesn’t mean that blended chocolates are not as good. In fact, blends are used by some of the world’s finest chocolatiers. Gail prefers the distinct flavors of single-origin chocolates, but she does use some blends, too. For chocolatiers, the alchemy comes in finding that perfect chocolate to make a flavor come to life, whether it’s a blend or single-origin. That’s part of the challenge and the discovery.
Using single-origin chocolate often makes it simpler to trace the cacao’s source. While Gail doesn’t insist on Fair Trade certification, which can be too expensive for most small growers and no guarantee of quality, she does her best to to determine that farmers are using sustainable practices and are paid well for their crops. To that end, she carefully selects her chocolate sources, often traveling to cacao-growing areas to see conditions for herself.
Similarly, organic certification is no guarantee of quality flavor and costly for farmers. It’s also largely a non-issue for cacao. About 80% of the world’s chocolate is organic by default—most farmers can’t afford chemical applications and it’s not efficient for the crop.
When discussing dark chocolate, cacao percentage is often mentioned. A bar of unadulterated cocoa mass would have a 100% label, but it would taste extremely bitter. Sugar is added to make chocolate more palatable. The amount of pure cacao determines the cacao percentage. For example, if you have a bar labeled 70% and the bar is 100 grams, 70 grams are pure cacao (cocoa mass and cocoa butter) and 30 grams are sugar. Typically, quality dark chocolate ranges from 50 to 85% in cacao percentage.
A quick rule of thumb: The higher the cacao percentage, the more pure chocolate you’re getting.