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Coffee and Chocolate: A Perfect Pairing

I had the opportunity to attend the Barista Guild of America’s Bloom Event that took place in Providence, Rhode Island on 6 March. In its fourth iteration, Bloom was created to offer baristas a higher level of coffee education that they were not receiving at other industry events. Bloom is geared towards those baristas who are looking to make coffee a career and are transitioning to the next level. One session “Process to Possibility” had panelists exploring processes and creativity at origin, while another panel, “Retailer to Roaster” discussed the transition to roasting your own coffee. The session, “Managing Conflict and Emotional Labor” offered baristas advice on how to deal with challenging customers in coffeehouses as well as conflicts or tension with co-workers.

As a lifetime lover of dark chocolate (I was always the only child thrilled to find Hershey’s Special Dark and Mounds candies in my Halloween loot) and now a growing fan of single origin chocolates (I’m quite fond of the “bean to bar” movement), I particularly enjoyed the “More than Mochas: Exploring Chocolate & Coffee Together” session—and it’s not because (well, not only…) we had a chocolate tasting, where the presenter, Carla Martin, PhD, founder and director of the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute, had attendees sample several chocolates, beginning with a milk chocolate (mostly sugar, only 10% cacao) and ending with a fabulous chocolate from Jamaica. Dr Martin discussed pushing the possibilities of pairing chocolate with coffee.

Considering the average American ate 12 pounds of chocolate per person in 2017, and the US spent $23 billion on chocolate last year, I’m certain the potential to improve coffee chocolate blended drinks with higher quality chocolate is strong—but not just in the US, globally as well. Many coffee shops are using simple chocolate syrups to flavour mocha drinks but using a fine or higher quality chocolate (but it does not have to be a single origin) would bring the beverage to the next level and create a “better and new experience for consumers,” said Dr Martin, who noted that there are several coffeehouses beginning to feature higher quality chocolate in their coffee blended drinks, and some cafés are offering chocolate flights.

Cacao/chocolate have many similarities including historic trade routes. Furthermore, both industries face many similar challenges origin, but the chocolate industry is far behind coffee in terms of research and development. There are 13 known cacao varieties and there are believed to be more, but Dr Martin explained that cacao is an orphan crop, and currently there is no international organization studying it. “The cacao/chocolate market lacks an industry definition of fine or craft chocolate, and there are no standards for defining quality,” she said, adding that less than 1% of chocolate is considered specialty. She explained that if more coffeehouses would use higher quality chocolate in the blended beverages, not only would it improve the drinking experience for consumers, it would help the cacao/chocolate industry as a whole; helping farmers and possibly elevating cacao R&D—a new element to sustainability, a cause that the coffee industry is truly passionate about furthering.

All this talk about chocolate has sparked a craving so I’m off to do some sampling (perhaps a chocolate bar…maybe a chocolate flight or a caffè mocha…) before heading to the NCA Convention. Happy pairing!

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