If you’ve been to any top restaurant lately, chances are you ate dishes made with local produce from growers the chef knows personally. While the farm-to-table movement has been on the rise for some time, there’s another complementary ethos that’s yet to gain as much traction – but it’s just as worthy. Bean-to-bar craft chocolate may only account for a tiny percentage of the world’s chocolate production, but it’s an exciting industry that offers a product with a fuller spectrum of flavours and more hands-on practices than the mass-produced stuff we’re familiar with.

There are several key small-scale speciality makers in Aotearoa’s chocolate industry, including Wellington Chocolate Factory, Nelson-based Hogarth Chocolate, Auckland’s Miann Chocolate Factory and Ocho in Dunedin.

These businesses work directly with farmers, removing the middlemen and having more control over the ethics and sustainability of their cacao. It’s a net win, as chefs who use craft chocolate also gain a deeper connection with the ingredient’s origin.

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The movement is still in its infancy in New Zealand, but there are select places where you can be sure your dessert order will be made with bean-to-bar – and it’s good to know where to look because the country’s 15 craft chocolate makers supply fewer than 20 restaurants.

One Auckland chef using top-quality local chocolate is Callum Liddicoat, executive pastry chef at Park Hyatt restaurant Onemata. He’s been working with Foundry Fine Craft Chocolate in Mahurangi (north of Auckland) since Onemata opened in 2019. Tasting his way through a single-origin chocolate flight with chocolate maker David Herrick, Liddicoat was amazed to discover the depth and complexity of flavours coming from just two ingredients – cacao and sugar.

“You and I can taste the same bottle of wine but we’re getting different notes on our tongues. That comes across in chocolate as well,” he tells Broadsheet. “We’d taste the Tanzania or Papua New Guinea, and David would get maybe fermented banana or sour cherry, whereas I might get aniseed or a really earthy flavour. That’s what I really enjoy about using Foundry.”

Chef Leslie Hottiaux, who co-owns Karangahape Road wine bar and restaurant Apero, sources a Fiji 60 per cent dark chocolate from Brian Campbell at Miann. It’s currently used in a chocolate tart served with hazelnut ice-cream. The choice, Hottiaux says, is driven by the desire to know exactly where her ingredients come from.

Outside of the craft industry, most of the world’s chocolate is made on a huge industrial scale by a handful of corporations.

Most small-to-medium-sized chocolate companies buy pre-made chocolate (known as couverture) from these big producers, then transform it into bon bons, bars, desserts and more. There are many people trained in the art of using couverture, but very few have the skills to make chocolate from scratch – from cacao beans.

Like the craft beer trend before it, the movement aims to challenge industry traditions, with a focus on small-batch production using specialist ingredients. Working “from bean to bar”, craft chocolate makers go through a complex process that starts with roasting and cracking cacao beans, and ends with tempering and moulding the chocolate. It takes several days to complete – while industrial makers have whittled the process down to just a few hours.

Another key difference is the type of cacao used. Just like the grapes used to produce different styles of wine, there are many varieties of cacao, each with its own distinct flavours. You might taste tropical fruit, roasted nuts or spices – not notes usually detected in mainstream industrial chocolate alone.

In Wellington, Shepherd uses Wellington Chocolate Factory in its desserts, and Lucid Chocolatier’s single-origin Peruvian chocolate is on the menu at QT Wellington’s Hippopotamus and Bellamys by Logan Brown. Aucklanders have a few more options, with Miann’s chocolate used at quite a few restaurants, including Kingi at The Hotel Britomart, Mr Morris, Ahi and Sid at The French cafe.

With such complex flavours on offer, it can be hard to understand why more restaurants haven’t embraced craft chocolate – although it does come at a higher price than couverture.

Liddicoat believes it may be due to a shortage of well-trained pastry chefs in New Zealand – and also to low levels of awareness. As craft chocolate is a very new movement, it hasn’t yet permeated the culinary institutions where many chefs are trained.

Culture takes time to evolve, and many people are attached to the confectionery of their childhoods – but high-end craft chocolate doesn’t just taste finer, it can elicit novel, nuanced flavours that are entirely different to the “chocolatey” taste we’re all familiar with.

And once you’ve tasted what a professional chef can do with it, the appeal only grows with every bite.