We’re all familiar with the debate, American vs European chocolate – who does it best? Even though it really comes down to personal preference, many foodies automatically think of Europe, citing cacao, sugar, and fat content as reasons why European chocolate is superior. European chocolate often elicits memories of childhood or traveling abroad. We can all appreciate a delicious Cadbury bar, right?
However, when we move away from our supermarket favorites, American chocolate might surprise you. Let’s take a look at some chocolate history to understand the nuances of this debate. For centuries, European chocolatiers produced chocolate that was rich and creamy. Belgium and France in particular became famous for their chocolate confections. In the late 20th century, chocolate connoisseurs began looking for new and exciting ways to experiment with chocolate.
Scharffen Berger was founded in San Francisco in 1996 by chocolate connoisseur Robert Steinberg and winemaker John Scharffenberger. They set out to craft chocolate from the best ingredients they could find. They are credited as the first American “bean-to-bar” chocolate maker, paving the way for the craft chocolate movement to take hold. Scharffen Berger particularly valued the individuality of the cacao bean, where it was from, and how it was treated during the chocolate-making process. The idea that chocolate could be more than a sweet treat was a relatively new idea. They treated cacao like a fine wine; the origin and terroir of the beans contributed to the unique and complex flavor of the chocolate. This was revolutionary and helped lay the foundation for the craft chocolate movement we know today. This also separated chocolatiers from chocolate makers.
So, what is the difference between a chocolatier and a chocolate maker? A chocolatier buys a giant block of chocolate and melts it down to create their own confection. A chocolate maker sources raw ingredients (cacao beans, sugar, etc.) to oversee the entire process from start to finish. This difference became an important distinction in the world of chocolate.
Unfortunately, Scharffen Berger sold out to Hershey in 2005. Their chocolate became mass-produced, losing the individuality that set them apart, effectively halting the craft chocolate movement in America. However, Europe had begun quietly experimenting with craft chocolate and took the lead in producing bean-to-bar chocolate for a while, making slow and steady progress. Similar to old-world wine, Europe still struggled with breaking from its traditional methods. After all, these traditions had produced the beloved chocolate confections that we’re still fond of today.
Eventually, the American craft chocolate movement came back in full swing with many motivated by the buyout of Scharffen Berger. Today, American chocolate makers are on the cutting edge of the craft chocolate movement. For example, Raaka, a craft chocolate company located in Brooklyn, NY, prides itself on its chocolate bars made with raw (unroasted) cacao. Raaka means raw in Finnish and the philosophy behind this technique is that it preserves the natural fruit-forward notes of the cacao bean. We also have companies like Dick Taylor that have a non-traditional origin story, the founders, Adam Dick and Dustin Taylor, came from a background of woodworking and boat building. Both loved making things with their hands and after learning about the growing craft chocolate movement, they could see the commonalities between woodworking and the bean-to-bar process. They bought some small-scale equipment and started their journey as chocolate makers. Now they make everything from single-origin chocolate to interesting flavors such as blackberry and bergamot or whiskey barrel-aged dark chocolate.
Europe, while still producing its famous chocolate confections, is also home to many innovative chocolate makers. Omnom is a great example of a brand that’s not afraid to experiment. It was founded by two friends, a chef and an entrepreneur, in Reykjavík, Iceland, in 2013. They have incredibly high standards for their ingredients and only source their beans from three different origins. One of their most creative inventions includes a white chocolate bar that’s made with roasted barley malt and activated charcoal giving it a completely black appearance with nuanced flavors. Amedei is an award-winning Italian chocolate maker that’s known for its aromatic flavors using carefully collected ingredients. For example, their Porcelana bar is made from pure-bred “Criollo” cocoa, of which only 3,000 kilos are harvested a year. Another bar of theirs uses maple sugar as its sweetener.
This only scratches the surface of chocolate history and the incredible offerings of the modern craft chocolate movement. There are so many inventive chocolate makers who are constantly reimagining our experience with food. We’re so excited to see what the next decade has in store for chocolate. We hope we’ve disrupted some of your preconceived notions about American and European chocolate. The truth is that every chocolate maker and chocolatier is unique, and the best way to find your favorite is to eat more chocolate! That’s not such a bad thing, right?
Are you looking for a way to engage your remote distributed teams? Our European vs American Virtual Chocolate Tasting is designed to explore this timeless debate through education, and of course, eating gourmet chocolate!
A chocolate tasting is a perfect virtual team-building exercise to bring international teams together. Click here to see all of our virtual tasting offerings.
Want to explore on your own instead? Shop by Chocolate > Brand > (American or European) to select your own bars.
By: Addy Rose