What Are the Differences Between Craft and Industrial Chocolate? — Take Two

Visualizing a continuum where artisan/craft is at one end and industrial is at the other invites nuance

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?

No. 1-6

As the chocolate industry's targeted client (both industrial and craft), I found this post very interesting; I especially liked the handsaw vs. circular saw analogy.

George Robertson
George Robertson

As a small chocolatier for more than 35 years, I think this is a great distinction. I have and still experiment with various chocolate sources and techniques, albeit, mostly discarded, but my small coalition of friends and customers wouldn't have any other chocolate in any form! I have been at loss for your input for a while, but so glad I fond your site again! Thank you. Chocolates and cakes by george.

Tom F.
Tom F.

Makes perfect sense Clay.



Antonella - My work with machinery suppliers (FBM in particular) has led to the development of machines that give small makers more and better control. I am particularly proud of my contributions that led to the release of the Kleego - the first conche for small makers working out of small batch (35kg) melangeurs nearly five years ago. The Kleego can do in less than 2 hours what can take up to 2 days in a melangeur.

There is an attitude change that needs to take place - the notion that stone-on-stone is “more authentic” than other approaches and therefore stone-on-stone is the only technique to use if you want to be called an artisan/craft maker. IMO, artisan/craft is not defined by the equipment used. Is a carpenter less artisan/craft if they use power tools? A circular saw is okay but a table saw is not? Nonsensical, non-starter, argument.

I do not believe that cocoa origin has anything to do with a definition of artisan/craft. As long as the beans are not defective, a competent chocolate maker should be able to make tasty chocolate using beans from any origin. In fact, that could be an interesting test. Ask small makers to make an interesting chocolate with bulk West African Forasteros. Or even properly-fermented CCN-51. I had a bar from Carlota from Colombia made from CCN and even many experienced tasters would have trouble recognizing the bean varietal.

I also think it's possible to make chocolate using some kits of industrial-scale equipment – it's a matter of how it's used. Imagine a 250kg/hr two-into-five roll mill into a 500kg Thouet conche. Beans are roasted in 50kg batches from hand-sorted beans, and regular inspection of the contents of the conche, making adjustments along the way. It may not be a particularly efficient use of the machinery, but the hand of the maker making intuitive decisions along the way is what could tilt this toward the artisan/craft end of the continuum, even if the equipment is towards the industrial end of the size scale.

Or did I misunderstand what you were saying?


I sincerely hope the world of machinery suppliers will influence that of the "handmade" makers, not the other way round. As more small-boutique artisans will start understanding that there is special equipment designed to achieve their specific objective (= to produce great chocolate) while increasing efficiency (= to cut time on labor-intensive tasks), then creativity will sparkle. And I hope a sound selection will be possible not only based on the cocoa origin a maker buys, but what he actually transforms into a valuable product people would buy again.