Describing a food as “craft" implies an elevation, a longevity and dedication to perfection— or as close as you can get to it. Recently this term has been applied to a variety of emerging premium markets, including beer, coffee, and chocolate. In the case of the latter, what distinguishes a craft chocolate from a mass-market chocolate is the human touch & transformation present in its every element.
Compared to single origin chocolate, which only addresses where the ingredients come from, the term “craft” applies to each step of creation.
Craftspeople, or artisans, have been around for millennia. Back when everybody had a single role in their society, being an artisan meant that you'd been perfecting your family's craft since childhood. But as societies became larger and roles more specialized, cooks became pastry chefs, and then chocolatiers, and eventually, some of them became chocolate makers. Now many of these chocolate makers are crafting bars which are savored and shared just like bottles of wine.
Yet we still don’t think of wine and chocolate as being in the same category of fine food. To most people, the idea of a craft wine is redundant. Wine is already an elevated beverage, largely savored on special occasions and in specific settings. Chocolate entered the wider market as a mass-produced product, so we’ve been taught to think of it as a cheap snack. To differentiate craft chocolate, the language used to describe it must be elevated accordingly.
The term “craft” is a relatively new addition to the chocolate industry’s vocabulary. Many people started using it around 2013 and 2014, when a few large chocolate manufacturers started co-opting the term “bean to bar chocolate.” In the intervening years, chocolate makers, educators, and observers alike have tried to define the term “craft chocolate.” You can read some such examples here, here, and here. But the main tenets of craft chocolate are these: quality and traceability.
Chocolate makers who identify with the craft chocolate movement value using high quality cacao, carefully harvested and processed from the world’s most flavorful varietals. But they also want to make sure that the high quality cacao they use is sourced from people, not places. The ideal of craft chocolate is not just knowing your chocolate maker, but also the farmers and processes behind the cacao beans going into that chocolate bar or bonbon.
Then again, just like “natural” or “premium,” the term “craft chocolate” currently has no legal definition; anyone who wants to can call their chocolate “craft.” That’s why it’s important to get to know the chocolate makers behind the chocolates you buy. Because unlike the stakeholders at industrial chocolate companies, your local chocolate maker is excited to meet you.