These days in the world of fine chocolate, even Instagram hashtags can lead to sometimes heated debates of chocolate definitions, terms like “bean to bar,” “single origin,” and “chocolate maker.”
While the average consumer of chocolate may just want to eat and enjoy, those in the industry and aficionados are determined to speak with specificity when it comes to making and tasting chocolate.
In order to give the debate an academic, crowdsourced underpinning to the language being spoken, the Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA) initiated a months-long project that will be “in process” for years to come: the Chocolate Glossary (known officially as the Glossary of Fine Chocolate Terms). Currently housing around 150 specific terms, it’s an ongoing, open-source process, and everyone’s invited to the party.
The Chocolate Glossary team was led by Kristy Leissle, PhD, chocolate scholar and author of “Cocoa”. The team met every week for six months to study, then create the initial version of the Chocolate Glossary, and include academics, experts and industry peers from diverse backgrounds and around the globe (with an emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion of all places and cultures). Anyone is welcome to submit terms and/or thoughts, which will be taken into consideration during a twice-yearly revision process of the ongoing project.
This is an outward-looking tool there for the industry, and the public to [learn and] engage. We conducted an extensive analysis and developed a process for adding and changing definitions.Kristy Leissle, PhD chocolate scholar and author of “Cocoa”
“We also want to recognize the work that has come before in developing a shared language around fine chocolate,” says Leissle. “This is not about saying we have it all figured out, but a process by which to generate knowledge collaboratively around the terminology of fine chocolate. Think Wikipedia.”
Chocolate: A (Not So) Common Language
There are around 5.5-million cocoa farmers in the world, according to the Global Cocoa Market Study released on November 15 of last year by the International Executive Service Corps (IESC) with input from the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI). It’s funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and is one of the projects credited by Dr Leissle above.
But, even the term “cocoa farmer” raises a question of definition according to Kojo Hafer, publisher and editor of The Cocoa Post, a cocoa and chocolate industry news portal in Ghana, and also the founder of Ghana Cocoa Awards.
“In Ghana, a cocoa farmer can mean a landowner who never steps foot on the farm or does any labor, but is technically and legally a cocoa farmer, with a tenant doing all the labor,” says Hafer. “Other countries call the tenant actually doing the labor a cocoa farmer, too.”
Per that, speaking the same chocolate language is no small task. The fine chocolate ecosystem is global, encompassing many languages and cultures. It’s time that’s understood, embraced and defined. An innovative, knowledge-sharing tool and cultural repository, the Chocolate Glossary is helpful for people at all levels of chocolate knowledge and welcomes input from stakeholders.
“In order to differentiate fine chocolate from the bulk market, it’s important to discuss and define terms like traceability and sustainability,” says Kate Cavallin, who chairs the FCIA Value Chain committee and is the Business Operations Manager for Cacao Latitudes. “The Chocolate Glossary will be an important evaluation tool for collaborating and growing the fine chocolate industry.”
An important evaluation tool for individuals, companies and the chocolate industry as a whole, using the same language and ideas to discuss fine chocolate creates an opportunity to collaborate and grow together, something the specialty coffee industry has achieved over time. It’s just as important to discuss how we disagree–perhaps more than identifying points of agreement.
This heightened level of cooperation between chocolate professionals is an important way to grow the level of fine chocolate being sold in the overall market, currently at somewhere around five percent market share.
“One of our goals is really getting people to understand what we’re trying to do in all of our different segments, in all of our different ways, toward a better cocoa and chocolate future for everyone in the value chain,” says Cavallin.
Sander Wolf, founder of the Dallas Chocolate Festival (coming up Sept. 9-11) agrees. “In wine, names and words mean something: sweet, bitter, full-bodied, herbaceous. They have a meaning and a value,” says Wolf. “We don’t currently have that in chocolate and I envision the Chocolate Glossary setting those standards over time. With effort and perseverance, it can be definitive.”
Not So Simple: Cacao Vs. Cocoa?
In a recent FCIA members-only webinar, “Cocoa Ecosystem Report: The Common Language of Fine Chocolate,” Ecole Chocolate’s Alysha Kropf pointed out an obvious, though fundamental instance of the debate over terminology.
There’s a distinction between the terms cacao and cocoa, though it varies. Some have a very specific definition of cacao as the trees and seeds until fermentation, at which point they become cocoa. Others don’t believe we need to have that distinction. That’s a core piece of our industry and something that we need to define and use in a consistent manner.Alysha Kropf, Ecole Chocolat
“At Ecole Chocolat, we are educating people entering the industry, wanting them to have correct definitions and terminology because they’re out interacting with customers and educating people, building transparency and trust with their customers,” she continues. “The sooner we can all get on the same page about terminology, the sooner we can turn our attention to growing this industry, which is what we all want.”
The debate is ongoing, and it’s important to be inclusive of views across the industry as we come to a common understanding.
“If we don’t come through as an industry, we’re not going to be included in that conversation as cacao farmers, chocolate makers and chocolatiers,” says Monica Rogan, co-founder and chocolate maker at Goodnow Farms Chocolate. “There are so many stakeholders in the FCIA and in fine chocolate with so much passion and connection to the industry that our ability to work together to shape the conversation is a tremendous asset for professionals and the public. In the end, the goal is to connect and share our world with consumers and explain why it’s important for all of us. “
Albert Chau is co-founder of award-winning Fifth Dimension Chocolates, an online chocolate company based in London specializing in luxury hand-made chocolates and caramel sauces. He is also a regular judge at Academy of Chocolate Awards and Great Taste Awards.
“This common language will help us avoid confusion. Different words talking about exactly the same thing,” Chau says, noting the global nature of the chocolate industry. “Plus, it will help in the exchange of information between different countries and is especially important for non-English speakers.”
Need To Know
Definitions have been and will be authored by invited experts (FCIA members and non-members), and are required to: 1) use language accessible to a non-expert; 2) include a reference list of credible sources; 3) include an example specific to cocoa/chocolate if the term is not specific to the industry, i.e. “fair trade”. It’s open source, collaborative and everyone’s invited to contribute. Entries will be subject to ongoing review and revision by FCIA members and external experts.
FCIA Glossary Feedback Form: Anyone can use this Google form to propose a term to add to the Glossary, a new author or webinar speaker, or suggest revisions to existing terms. If you are submitting a new entry, please draft your definition and gather all sources and supporting links to a word processing document, then include with your submission. Revisions will be reviewed and adopted twice yearly, spring and autumn.
Submission Form: FCIA Glossary of Fine Chocolate Terms. Invited authors will use this google form to submit their Glossary entries.
Chocolate Glossary: https://www.finechocolateindustry.org/fine_chocolate_glossary.php
Global Cocoa Market Study: https://thechocolatelife.com/content/files/2022/01/Global-Cocoa-Market-Study-Report.pdf