Back in 2016 I penned a series of three articles on LinkedIn where I thought and talked through the use of some key terms used in chocolate today. The link above goes to the one discussing craft/artisan, from which you can link to the other two. The distinction between craft and industrial I used in the article is one that formed the basis of two presentations I made in July 2017 titled The Future of Craft Chocolate at the Salon del Cacao y Chocolate in Lima, Peru, and at Chocolat Bahia in Ilheus a week later.
The primary concerns of an industrial chocolate maker are consistency: consistent pH, consistent flavor, and consistent rheology. This is because the customers of the industrial chocolate maker rely on this consistency in their equipment and in their recipes. Thus, the sourcing and manufacturing practices of the industrial chocolate maker revolve around taking an agricultural product that varies from harvest to harvest – and region to region (and sometimes bag to bag)– and making a finished product that tastes and acts the same, day in and day out, year in and year out.
Craft chocolate makers’ have other concerns – consistency and repeatability are not primary drivers.
My thinking on this topic has evolved over the past year. I have not changed my basic premise. What I have moved away from is thinking of the two as opposite sides of a coin, to a visualization of a continuum where craft is at one end and industrial is at the other. This way of thinking addresses many questions that arise from thinking of the differences as a sharp dichotomy.
Navigating the Artisan/Craft ~ Industrial Continuum
For the artisan/craft maker, creative decisions tend to be made based on intuition based mostly on personal experience, not formal training or science, and happen mostly in the moment, in real-time, for each batch. Beans are roasted until the smell is right. The chocolate is in the melangeur until the taste and texture “seem about right.” Differences in outcome in individual batches are celebrated, knowing they may never again be repeated because little to nothing about the process is precisely replicable. Hand labor is also prized, even (especially?) when it is not cost-efficient to use it.
For industrial makers, decisions regarding the physical and taste characteristics of a chocolate tend to be made once, and once made, science steps in to set the parameters for production to ensure a consistent product whether produced in batches or via continuous production. Cut tests will reveal if a shipment of beans has a mix of fermentation levels that will result in a chocolate of a known flavor. Roasts and blends are changed based on both scientific and experiential understanding of how changes will result in a specific product. For industrial makers, art and creativity inform the science but do not drive the processes and there is little to no hand labor involved at any step in the process.
It is possible for a maker to occupy more than spot in the continuum and quite often a craft maker who starts off doing everything intensely hands-on will develop methods and procedures (and purchase equipment) that will move one or more parts of one or more of their processes towards the industrial end of the scale, even if only by a very small distance. This is not a bad thing – it’s often a sign of the need to increase production and lower costs to become sustainable as a business.
The same is true for industrial makers. Some, many, or most of their products can be pegged to industrial end of the continuum. But is is certainly possible to introduce artisan/craft thinking and processes into the development and manufacturing of products aimed at consumers who appreciate the mix.
Summary: Thinking of artisan/craft as a continuum, not a binary construct, is way of making sense of thinking about makers large and small. Importantly, it avoids the need to pigeonhole makers into very small boxes.
What do you think? Is the idea of thinking of artisan/craft and industrial as opposite ends of a continuum helpful?