Friday, August 25, 2017

The Chocolate Categories

I was never into the star system for rating things. It doesn't explain nearly enough and it implies that you should be directly comparing things that may in fact be very different even though they are in the same broad category (books, movies, chocolate, etc.). So when I am writing a chocolate review, you've probably noticed my difficulty in simply saying: it was bad, it was weak, it was okay, it was good, or it was excellent. The truth is much more complicated than a simple statement.

Over the years, I've begun to develop my own vocabulary for describing what a chocolate offers. So I'm going to take today's post to briefly describe (along with some examples) what I mean by the chocolate categories I tend to reference in my reviews.

Candy - This one should be self-explanatory. This means Hershey's, Mars, and Nestle products and their kin. Reese's Cups, Three Musketeers, M&M's, that sort of thing. The chocolate itself is the smallest factor in products like this. If a chocolate's packaging doesn't look like a candy wrapper and yet that's the category I put it in, well, that's criticism. I don't generally think too highly of this category because most of it is cheaply made with bad ingredients, but I don't dislike candy, so I am completely in support of other brands trying to make better quality chocolate candy (in particular there are quite a few alternative Reese's Cups for sale these days). "Candy" shouldn't mean "low quality," but unfortunately it usually does.

Confections - Although very similar to candy, when I refer to confections I think more of brands like Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. They do make all of their sweets by hand (they don't make the chocolate themselves, just the truffles or candied apples or whatever else they sell), and that gives them a different feel to off-the-shelf candy. Usually the quality of confections is a little better than that of candy--but that isn't a general rule of my category. Instead of just tasting sugar, vanilla also plays a strong role. Confections aren't gourmet, but they can be just as satisfying in their own way because they come with an element of nostalgia. Milk chocolate usually; if there's dark chocolate, it's the light kind.

Mass-Produced Chocolate - Think of Godiva. Some of their chocolate is good, but none of it is as good as they claim that it is. They claim that it's a gourmet indulgence, the diamonds of the chocolate world. Yes, it can be nice to pick up one of their truffles after a day at the mall in the same way that you might buy a cookie. But Godiva doesn't make diamonds. Mass-produced chocolate is the chocolate that you can instantly distinguish from fresh, handmade truffles (you know, the kind that only have a shelf-life of two weeks).

Casual Chocolate - This is such a vague phrase, and yet I find myself using it often. This is chocolate that isn't trying to be gourmet or high end. It's just trying to use quality ingredients to make a product that tastes good. I usually put brands like Theo into this category. Theo is one of my favorite brands to share with people because it's readily available to buy and because the look and flavors are straightforward. You don't have to tell people to sit quietly and smell the chocolate and snap the chocolate and taste it in five steps in order to describe the flavor notes (I mean, you can, but you don't have to). You don't have to read a novel about the kind of cocoa or the conching method used. You just eat this chocolate and come away pleased (well, if it's carried out correctly).

Gourmet Chocolate - Some people call this craft chocolate; I don't like that name because it just reminds me of wine and beer. I prefer calling it gourmet because that's the word that, for me, truly implies the care and devotion that goes into chocolate like this. Amano, Michel Cluizel, Domori, Pralus. Fine chocolate made by people who take care to visit the cocoa plantations and choose the specific cocoa beans they want to use--and then use that same attention to detail along every step of the process. Quality ingredients is just the beginning for chocolate like this. This is the chocolate that you can talk about for hours if you want to because it's a topic in itself. This is the chocolate that can be most exciting to write about or publicly praise because of its high standard.

But do you see what I mean now? As wonderful as gourmet chocolate is, I don't want to eat that all the time. Sometimes I just want a chocolate candy or confection. So it would feel unfair to rate a gourmet chocolate higher than a confection if they are both doing their job and achieving their specific and separate goals. That's why I describe what a chocolate offers rather than just sticking to a star-like system of rating. And yes, there is crossover in my vague categories. Some products fit into more than one place, and probably some don't fit well into any of them. But this is just a quick look at some of the vocabulary I use; each review is of course going to describe the specific case that is each individual chocolate.

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