Pretty boxes: How to choose the right packaging for your chocolates

Box of homemade chocolate truffles

Chocolate packaging craft brown

If the popularity of Mast Brothers proves anything, it’s that we’re all suckers for pretty packaging.

But when you’re gearing up to sell your first box of chocolates, making wholesale packaging choices can seem really daunting. The options seem endless. And not only for packaging… You’ll be making choices about graphics, about liners, about trays, seals, labels… decision after decision. It’s overwhelming.

The following guiding principles will help you make choices you won’t regret later.

First, consider your brand.

For example, you might ask yourself:

  • Are my chocolates elegant or rustic?
  • Are my chocolates priced to be high end treats or everyday indulgences?
  • Does my business have a theme, and if so, how can I incorporate that theme into my packaging? (For example, if you’re known for bonbons with unusual flavor combinations, consider boxes as playful and creative as your flavors).

Homemade chocolate trufflesAnd here’s an anecdote from my own life.

My chocolate bourbon truffles (pictured) are elegant and modern, with clean lines and geometric patterns (thanks to my trusty transfer sheets), so I guess I could have packaged them in elegant boxes with shiny foil liners.

But… refined packaging is not my brand.

How did I know that? Well… I dip each of my chocolates by hand. I’m proud to use chocolate from a local small-batch chocolate maker. I steer clear of artificial ingredients and preservatives.

So I was looking for packaging that suggests my chocolates aren’t just pretty sweets to be mindlessly eaten. My packaging needs to make it clear that these are high quality, individually produced treats, made entirely by one person from simple, wholesome ingredients.

My packaging needs to feel PERSONAL. Because my chocolates are personal.

With that in mind, I chose simple craft paper boxes, each one tied with twine.

The resulting packages are modern, rustic, and elegantly simple. Just like what’s inside them.

Second, consider what packaging will best protect your chocolates during transit.

If you plan to ship your chocolates, you’ll need strong boxes, perhaps with plastic trays to keep each chocolate in place, and a protective foam layer under the lid. And you’ll need to seal your boxes well and stamp them with a sell-by date.

But if you’re hand delivering chocolates to a friend as I did, you can skip the trays entirely, opting instead for simple brown paper liners. Layers of gift tissue should keep the chocolates from moving around too much.

They won’t be sitting around long at your friend’s house, so no need to worry about an expiration date on these babies. 🙂

Craft chocolate packaging

Btw, I bought these boxes and liners on amazon, but wholesale packaging distributors are cheaper and offer a wider variety of customizable packaging. Shoot me an email if you’re looking for wholesale confectionary packaging distributors — I’d be happy to send you a few names.

Shopping spree in NYC

bean to bar chocolate bars, dick taylor, durci, bonnat, fruition

Bean-to-bar artisan chocolate barsDoes anyone else have this problem: every time you innocently wander into a chocolate retail store, you drop an obscene amount of money in a shockingly short amount of time.

Please tell me I’m not the only one.

Recently, in the latest incarnation of my compulsive chocolate shopping habit, I poked my head into a new-ish chocolate retail shop in midtown Manhattan, 2beans.

I just wanted to pick up a bar of Francois Pralus. I swear.

I spent $110 in 30 minutes (of course I did).

It was a big chocolate haul, even for me. But I’m so glad I splurged, because these turned out to be some of the most delicious and surprising bars I’ve tried in quite some time. It was actually pretty hard for me to rate these because they were ALL fantastic.

But I’ll try my best.

So here you go folks: in descending order, from my very favorite to my least favorite. I’ve added links to online suppliers of these bars, in case you want to try them for yourself.

Heavenly:
Francois Pralus Venezuela 75% chocolate barFrancois Pralus Venezuela 75% (France):
Creamy, nutty and earthy, some may think this bar has too much added cocoa butter, but I think it’s perfect.Fruition 76% Maranon Chocoalte bar

Fruition Marañón 76% (US): Citrusy, balanced, a little astringent at the end but not over the top.

La Molina Gianduia Fondente e Nocciole Intere (Italy): Best. Dark. Gianduia. Ever. Not. Exaggerating.La Molina Gianduia Fondente with hazelnuts

Bonnat Surabaya 65% dark milk chocolate (France): Chocolat Bonnat Surabaya milk chocolateAn interesting, creamy, slightly sour dark milk chocolate with a hint of smokiness. It almost tastes like a goat milk chocolate (it’s not). I love pungent, funky-tasting milk chocolate, and you can’t go wrong with Bonnat.

Extremely tasty:

Durci Empyrean Sabor 70% (US): This is the second bar I’ve tried from Durci, and I Durci Chocolate Empyrean Sabor 70% darkwas surprised that these Venezuelan beans tasted as floral to me as the first bar I tried (Durci’s Corona Arriba bar, with Nacional beans from Ecuador). I wonder what I’m tasting that’s so floral. Is it something in the roast?Castronovo colombia dark milk chocolate

Castronovo Colombia 63% dark milk (US): One of the best dark milk chocolates I’ve tried recently from a North American chocolate maker. Interesting, earthy flavor notes, but super smooth and creamy like a European milk chocolate.

Tasty enough, but didn’t rock my world:

Fruition Hudson Valley Bourbon 61% dark milk chocolate (US): I was mildly disappointed by this bar. It’s good — everything Fruition makes is pretty awesome. But I had trouble detecting any bourbon or woody flavors, and it lacks the smoothness I want in a dark milk chocolate.

Dick Taylor craft chocolate Belize barDick Taylor Belize 72% (US): Everyone I know who has tried this bar has raved about it. I was expecting great things, which might be why I was a little disappointed. Its fruitiness is nice, but I find it VERY astringent.

Good, but a little boring:

Bonnat Java 65% dark milk chocolate (France): This is a fantastic dark milk chocolate, but it’s not nearly as interesting as the Surabaya.

Domori Criollo 70% Chuao (Italy): Very smooth texture, but I was underwhelmed by the bar’s flavor. It just seemed to lack nuance. To be fair, I only got to try a small sample, and I didn’t have a fresh palate, so I should probably give it another shot.

How about you — what were your favorite bars from you most recent chocolate shopping spree?

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Chococurb’s Nano Subscription

Seattle Chocolate's birthday cake confection

I have something awesome to share with you today.

One of my (other) favorite chocolate delivery companies, Chococurb, has a brand new offering that, as far as I know, is unique among the competion: a MINIBAR delivery service. Dubbed the Nano subscription, each delivery contains five minibars for $10. $10!! That’s the price of one Mast Brothers chocolate bar in some cities.

Here’s how it works. You either buy one shipment for $10, or a 6-month or 1-year subscription for slightly less. Each shipment contains five chocolate samples, each of which weigh between 0.2 and 0.9 oz (at least in the shipment I received). Which means you are basically paying $10 for 2 oz of chocolate. Which admittedly is a lot. But you get to sample five new hard-to-find chocolate makers for the price of one Mast Brothers bar. And shipping is included.

This may give you a better sense of the size of the bars:

I think the Nano subscription is a great deal*. Especially for lazy people like me who are happy to pay an extra few bucks to sample lots of hard-to-find chocolate brands without leaving the house.

I also think it’s a great idea from the Chococurb team. As far as I know, Choco Rush, Cocoa Runners and Cococlectic aren’t offering comparable minibar subscriptions — at least, not yet.

Btw, the 6-month and 1-year subscriptions make great gifts. And if someone close to you isn’t a chocoholic (which, frankly, I would find hard to believe), well… it was my birthday last week. Just sayin.

*UPDATE 8/19/16*

Get 10% off your Nano box subscription until September 19th by using the discount code INTEMPER at checkout.

Was Seaforth inspired by Mast Brothers?

http://www.chocolatereviews.co.uk/seaforth-cows-milk-60/
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/legalcode
Photo credit: Garrett Ziegler via Flickr
http://www.chocolatereviews.co.uk/seaforth-cows-milk-60/
Photo credit: Lee McCoy via Chocolate Reviews

First, a disclaimer: I’ve never tasted Seaforth Chocolate. I have to assume it tastes better than what Mast Brothers was putting out the last time I tried their bars. I also have no reason to doubt Seaforth is (and always has been) a true bean-to-bar chocolate company.

The disclaimer is warranted because I’m about to compare certain marketing choices made by Seaforth to those of Mast Brothers. And, as many of you may know, Mast Brothers recently fell from grace after being outed last December for misleading consumers by selling remelted Valrhona as their own bean-to-bar chocolate. While the chocolate community was well aware that Mast Brothers had once made their bars out of industrial couverture chocolate (the texture of Valrhona is not something a bean-to-bar start-up company can reproduce without hundreds of thousands of dollars of specialized equipment), consumers were taken aback when they learned the truth.

So I don’t make the comparison between Seaforth and Mast Brothers lightly. And in all fairness, the similarities are almost entirely superficial. But that said, the similarities are significant. It appears that the new UK-based company is attempting to fill Mast Brothers’ big, hand-crafted shoes.

Let’s start with the less obvious similarities — the ones I would normally chalk up to mere coincidence. First, like the famous brothers, Seaforth’s chocolate has a maritime theme. And like Mast Brothers, the company claims to have sailed its beans from the Caribbean on a wind-powered schooner in an attempt to reduce its carbon footprint.

But I probably wouldn’t have noticed these similarities had it not been for the striking resemblance of Seaforth’s  packaging to classic Mast Brothers bars. The wallpaper style wrappers and square stickers are incredibly similar. And even Seaforth’s font choice perfectly mimics Mast Brothers. Take a look for yourself and tell me if you don’t agree.

Seaforth’s mold design:

https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjchdzPs9XLAhVBJB4KHf5ACA8QjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.chocolatereviews.co.uk%2Fseaforth-cows-milk-60%2F&bvm=bv.117218890,d.amc&psig=AFQjCNGCR3rwOpJ_rJmrXoiNblYEcIS5EA&ust=1458774193299303
Photo credit: Lee McCoy via Chocolate Reviews

vs.

Mast Brothers’ packaging:

https://bluebergitt.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/choosy-about-chocolate/
Photo credit: Blue Bergitt

If you still aren’t convinced, compare these blurbs from the two companies’ marketing materials.

Seaforth’s sail boat:

The cocoa beans for this bar were transported from the Dominican Republic on board the Tres Hombres. This traditional wooden sailing boat has no engine but relies on the wind and the waves (to be specific the currents) to deliver its delicious cargo across the world. As a result, this bar is not only Fairtrade but almost carbon neutral as well.

vs.

Mast Brothers’ sail boat:

In May 2011, the Black Seal, a 70-ft schooner built by its Captain, Eric Loftfield, sailed down to the Dominican Republic to retrieve a shipment of cocoa bean for Mast Brothers Chocolate. In 14 days, the schooner sailed back to Mast Brothers’ headquarters in Brooklyn using only wind power. The Mast Brothers later boasted that they were the first since 1939 to sail cargo into New York City.

The Mast Brothers directed by Brennan Stasiewicz, from The Scout on Vimeo

So, what do you think? Inspiration or coincidence?

And, perhaps more to the point, does it matter that a smaller, newer company is borrowing to such an extent from a more established company? Chocolate makers and chocolatiers are often inspired by the marketing choices, packaging, chocolate styles, and flavor combinations of other industry participants. Maybe that’s okay. What do you think — when does inspiration cross the line?

Using transfer sheets to decorate truffles

Chocolate truffles decorated with transfer sheets

Dark Chocolate Truffles Decorated with Transfer Sheets

Last weekend I spent Sunday afternoon holed up at Union Kitchen with a professional chocolate maker and a former chocolatier*.

The mission: make chocolate truffles out of Undone Chocolate.

The plan: make a ganache out of Undone’s salted 72% chocolate bars, pour into a frame and let it cool in the industrial refrigerator, then cut it into squares and dip it in tempered Undone Chocolate.

The twist: decorate the truffles with chocolate transfer sheets.

Chocolate transfer sheets are like temporary tattoos for truffles: you press them on when the chocolate is in liquid form, and when the chocolate hardens and you peel them off and the pattern of the colored cocoa butter remains on the surface of the truffle as if you’ve used a stencil and spray paint. (Non-toxic spray paint, naturally).

Transfer sheets can also be used with specialty molds. We actually did consider using molds for these truffles but quickly realized it was unworkable — the chocolate was simply too thick for small molds and wouldn’t spread evenly into the corners.

Why is Undone Chocolate so thick? Well, that’s just what happens when you make two-ingredient chocolate. Most chocolate makers add additional cocoa butter to the other ingredients (primarily cocoa mass and sugar) before grinding and refining them. Undone skips this step. The resulting chocolate is potent, thick and intense, and it won’t easily spread into the crevices of molds (this is also a characteristic of “high viscosity” chocolate).

Anyway… we opted for hand dipping the ganache squares in chocolate, and we added some additional cocoa butter to it to make the enrobing process easier. This turned out to be a good call. The extra cocoa butter produced a couverture-like chocolate that tempered well and left our bonbons with nice thin shells.

Using transfer sheets to decorate chocolate truffles

I cut the transfer sheets into squares and pressed one onto each enrobed truffle while the chocolate shell was still wet. Chocolatiers with fancy equipment skip this part — they can cut the entire slab of ganache at once using a guitar cutter**, after which they send the pre-cut ganache squares through an enrobing machine (it’s like a chocolate shower) hooked up to their tempering machine.

In any event, the transfer sheets worked beautifully. I recommend them to home chocolatiers attempting to create professional-looking truffles without colored cocoa butter or fancy molds. I bought these particular transfer sheets from Chef Rubber, but you can buy small quantities of them cheaply on Amazon.

 *Chocolate makers are the people that roast raw cocoa beans and grind them into chocolate. Chocolatiers take a chocolate maker’s product and turn it into confections, like truffles.

Confectionary guitar
Confectionery guitar

 

**Btw… that guitar cutter is a $2000 piece of equipment. And tempering machines with enrobing attachments can cost ten times that. Of all the barriers to entry faced by aspiring chocolatiers, the initial capital investment in equipment is probably the most difficult to surmount. But I digress.

 

Raaka’s 60% coconut milk bar

Raaka Coconut Milk Chocolate Bar

Raaka Coconut Milk Chocolate Bar

This, my friends, is what milk chocolate tastes like when it’s all grown up.

The other day I posted about my latest obsession: dark milk chocolate. But it wouldn’t be fair to write a whole post about dark milk chocolate without giving credit to the chocolate bar that opened my eyes to all this deliciousness in the first place.

Ironically, the bar in question is dairy-free.

Raaka’s vegan 60% dark coconut milk chocolate bar blows my mind. The texture is just… indulgent. I won’t go into a long flavor soliloquy full of words like “floral” and “fruity,”

Raaka Coconut Milk Chocolate Bar

because, well, I’m not training to be a sommelier. The company thinks it tastes like strawberries (it’s certainly fruity, but, seriously… strawberry?). To avoid being obnoxious, let’s just say it tastes awesome.

Note that this rave review is coming from someone who, until recently, hadn’t bought a milk chocolate bar in, I don’t know… a decade?

Funny thing is I’ve actually been avoiding Raaka for years too. I bought one of their super dark bars back in 2012 and wasn’t impressed with the texture or strong vegetal taste (if you’ve ever tried unroasted bean — or “raw” — chocolate, you know it’s a bit of an acquired taste). It seems like Raaka has upgraded their production equipment since then and are now manufacturing some really refined, top-rate chocolate. I’m glad I gave the company another taste.

Also, I appreciate that Raaka has the integrity to market its bars as “virgin,” not “raw.” But I’ll save my diatribe about “raw” chocolate for another post.

 

 

 

Obsession: dark milk chocolate

Chocolat Bonnat Surabaya Milk Chocolate

So, last night at around 11:30 p.m., this happened:

Cocoa Runners Invoice

What stands out right away as you look at this invoice?

Ok, other than the expensive shipping. And that it’s priced in British Pounds (thanks a lot, Cocoa Runners). And, yes, it’s weird to order ten chocolate bars in the middle of the night. Ok ok, besides all that.

I was hoping you might notice that eight of the ten bars listed above are of the dark milk chocolate variety.

But, what IS this dark milk chocolate stuff she speaks of?

A little industry background here will help. The FDA mandates that any bar labeled “milk chocolate” must contain at least 10% cocoa mass (btw, guess how much cocoa mass is in a Hershey’s Bar: 11%). In contrast, anything labeled “dark chocolate” must contain at least 35% cocoa mass (“bittersweet” chocolate usually contains >50%), and no more than 12% milk solids.

So, what happens if a chocolate bar contains more than 50% cocoa solids (cocoa mass + cocoa butter) AND more than 12% milk solids? Well… that’s dark milk chocolate. It’s a hybrid chocolate style that straddles the line between dark and milk without truly belonging to either category.

I know, TOTAL CRAZINESS. Mind blown!

I realize I might be the only person on earth who thinks the concept behind dark milk chocolate is so fricking cool. I know most people don’t sit around geeking out about chocolate for multiple hours a day. But if you’ve read this far, I’m guessing you like chocolate a lot. So do yourself a favor and pick up a bar the next time you get a chance. And for vegans out there, coconut dark milk chocolate is a real thing, and it’s delicious.

So, what should I expect from a dark milk chocolate? 

It will not be as sweet as a typical milk chocolate, since some of its sugar has been replaced by cocoa solids. But it will be creamier and smoother than most dark chocolate of comparable cocoa percentage (and do try to find the highest percentage of cocoa solids you can when you hunt for a dark milk bar — 60% is about right, higher is better).

Think about coffee — also a naturally bitter and acidic substance made from roasted seeds. When you add cream to coffee, the dairy fat and milk solids in the cream cut a lot of the bitterness and acidity of the coffee, allowing other flavor notes to shine through. Similarly, milk powder acts as a flavor modulator in chocolate, bringing out some flavors and muting others.

I’m hopeful that the dark milk chocolate fad will eventually improve the range of quality chocolate products available to consumers and spur the development of a new market for intense, flavor-forward milk chocolate. While we’re waiting for that to happen, I’ll be happily nibbling my way through the massive stack of chocolate bars arriving on my doorstep any day now.