I live in Brazil – in São Paulo – where it’s not easy to import craft chocolates, so I always buy chocolates right before traveling abroad and have them delivered when I get to my destination.
Now that I have participated as a judge in some competitions and have organised four editions of the Brazilian Bean to Bar Award – the Prêmio Bean to Bar Brasil – my approach to buying chocolates that have won awards vs non-awarded one is different than it used to be.
Here are my considerations:
1) Awards do not choose the best chocolates in the world or in a region
They choose the best chocolates among those that were submitted.
That is an important distinction. I may be obvious, but many people misunderstand this. Submitting to a contest costs money. Even more if the brand headquarters is across the globe from where the judging will occur, because of shipping costs. A few brands submit many entries (some most of the products they make!), but most brands submit just a fraction of what they produce due to the cost of entry fees and shipping.
So remember to take that into consideration when comparing the number of awards companies have. And note that some brands simply don’t participate at all.
Not having an award seal on a product doesn’t mean the product is bad. It could just mean it has not been entered into any contests.
2) Some bars that have won awards don’t carry the seals.
Some brands just announce the awards on social media and display the list of awards on their websites.
However, they choose not to use the seals on the packaging. Some bars pictured in this post have won awards but do not carry the seals.
3) Judges are human, not measuring tools, so how one judge perceives a chocolate may be different from other judges.
Results usually represent an average of the grades given by the judges.
Averages are statistically good, but sometimes, depending on the number of tastings and the gap between the highest and lowest grades, it may not represent the truth – simply because sometimes the truth cannot be transformed in a single grade.
And, to be fair to all of the participants, every entry should be judged the same number of times, which does not always happen.
4) Most of the time, the chocolate evaluated by the judges is not from the same batch that you find to buy.
And if it is not, results as flavour notes or texture can be different!
I have seen some people complaining about buying an awarded bar and hating it. It may happen for two main reasons. First it is because it may be a different batch. It shouldn’t be so different, but it sometimes is – that’s one of the attractions (and drawbacks) to craft chocolate.
The other reason is personal taste, as discussed next.
5) What judges like is not always what you like or what you expect it to be.
This is especially the case regarding craft chocolates with a consumer who is mostly familiar with industrial chocolates.
People who consume industrial chocolates are used to eating products full of sugar and artificial flavorings (or even natural ones, as vanilla). When tasting a craft bar with no added flavourings, or added fats of any kind, with more cacao and less sugar, it is always a surprise. One can love it or hate it, just because he/she is not used to it.
6) Chocolates that travel long distances to a contest are at a disadvantage compared to those that are produced in the city or region where the judging will take place.
Chocolate is very sensitive to temperature, humidity, and smells.
Those that travel from other countries may suffer more. They are usually well packed, but they may not arrive in the same condition as the fresh ones that travel just a few miles.
Does this mean you shouldn’t buy awarded chocolates?
No! Of course, not! On the contrary, buy them, but not only them, as I used to do and have seen people doing the same.
My point is that you may find excellent chocolates that have not been in the winners list and you may love it. Go ahead! Taste different brands and cacao origins, with and without inclusions, with and without award seals, and pay attention to what you like and don’t like. The world is full of great chocolates!
All photos ©Zelia Frangioni.
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