I'm on a journey to explore the world of American craft chocolate

Chocolate Glossary


Alkalized cocoa powder. Cocoa powder that has been treated with an alkaline solution to neutralize some of the natural acids, reduce chocolate flavor intensity, and produce a less bitter cocoa. Compared to natural cocoa powder, it’s a deeper, darker brown. It’s a familiar taste for Americans: Think packaged hot chocolate or, in expert Ed Seguine’s words, “the essence of an Oreo cookie.” 


Bean to bar. Chocolate made from scratch in small batches by people who buy, roast, and grind the beans themselves in a single facility. Chocolate made from pre-roasted nibs or premade chocolate liquor is not bean to bar.  

Blend. A chocolate made with more than one varietal of cacao. Sometimes this is done to control costs. Other times makers blend beans from different origins to bring out complementary flavors and create a more balanced chocolate.

Bloom. A whitish appearance and chalky texture caused by poor storage or handling. Sugar bloom is caused by moisture coming into contact with the chocolate: The chocolate will look dusty. Cocoa butter bloom is caused by poor tempering, improper storage, or changes in temperature: The chocolate will turn powdery gray, white, or tan and feel soft and crumbly. Either way, the chocolate isn’t ruined; it can be remelted and retempered and will be good as new.

Bulk cocoa. Lower-quality cocoa with robust, often flat flavors (usually from the Forastero family). Used in mass-market chocolate.


Cacao. The pod and beans of the tree Theobroma cacao. It’s referred to as “cacao” until it is fermented and dried. 

Cacao beans. See cocoa beans.

CCN-51. A hybrid of several types of cacao that is hardy and easy to grow but is widely considered to taste terrible. Used by big companies like Mars.

Chocolatier. Someone who makes confections. Most of the time a chocolatier buys premade chocolate, melts it down, and uses it to make her own bars and confections. Once in a while they make their own chocolate and use that to create confections. Think of a chocolatier as a chef who uses a premade ingredient to create her own masterpieces. 

Chocolate Liquor. Ground-up cocoa nibs, whether in molten liquid or solid block form, without sugar. Not alcoholic in any way (sorry). It refers to the nibs being in the liquid state when they are ground. Chocolate liquor + cocoa butter = cocoa percentage.

Chocolate Maker. Someone who buys whole cocoa beans and roasts, grinds, and smoothens them into bars herself in one location. Think of a chocolate maker as a scientist, experimenting and engineering the best chocolate from the raw materials. Someone who buys pre-roasted nibs or premade chocolate liquor is not a chocolate maker.

Chocolate Mass. See chocolate liquor.

Chocolatey. An adjective used to describe candy that can’t legally be called chocolate because it doesn’t have a high-enough percentage of cocoa in it (at least 10 percent) or includes non-cocoa butter solids like vegetable oil. To be avoided, because yuck.

Cocoa. Cacao beans after they have been fermented and dried.

Cocoatown. A machine used by many American makers to grind and refine cocoa beans and sugar. See also melangeur. 

Cocoa beans. The beans inside a cacao pod and the key ingredient in chocolate. Technically seeds!

Cocoa butter. The fat in a cocoa bean. Cocoa butter melts at body temperature, which is why it helps create a luxurious, creamy mouthfeel and is often added to bars and bonbons. Chocolate liquor + cocoa butter = cocoa percentage.

Cocoa liquor. See chocolate liquor.

Cocoa mass. See chocolate liquor.

Cocoa nibs. The broken pieces of the fermented, dried, and usually roasted cocoa bean after the shell has been removed. They can be eaten alone or ground to make chocolate liquor.

Cocoa Percentage. The percentage of a bar that comes from chocolate liquor and added cocoa butter. It is not related to quality in ANY WAY. Every chocolate maker has his own secret recipe and uses a different amount of chocolate liquor and added cocoa butter, which is why, for example, one 70 percent bar can taste so different from another 70 percent bar.  

Cocoa powder. The powder that results from removing cocoa butter from chocolate liquor. It can be natural cocoa powder or alkalized cocoa powder.

Cocoa solids. The part of the cocoa bean or chocolate liquor made up of nonfat solids, usually between 42 percent and 50 percent.  

Conche. The name of a machine and the process of stirring, aerating, and heating chocolate in a particular way that makes it extra smooth. Standard in European-style chocolate but not American style. Invented by Rudolph Lindt in 1879.

Couverture. Chocolate usually used for covering confections. It’s made with a higher percentage of cocoa butter than eating chocolate, which means it has a creamier mouthfeel.

Crankenstein. Machine used by very small-batch makers to crack cocoa beans in order to extract the nibs. 

Criollo. A genetic group of cacao with light-colored or white beans that is considered desirable. Many (but not all) criollos have a mild, delicious flavor. Called a fine flavor bean in the industry. One of the most prized type of criollos is called Porcelana.

Dark chocolate. No legal definition in the United States. A form of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, under the umbrella of “sweet chocolate.” Can contain milk products (!!!).

Dark milk chocolate. Milk chocolate with a higher-than-usual percentage of cacao. This allows for the depth of flavor of a semisweet chocolate with the creaminess and dairy element of a milk chocolate bar. 

Direct trade. A popular system among bean-to-bar makers in which a maker buys ingredients directly from farmers and imports the beans herself. This means that she visits the farmers in person to see firsthand how they grow and process cacao as well as helps improve that process, which often translates to superior cacao. Makers who use the direct-trade model develop long-standing relationships with farmers as well as pay them much, much more than the industry standard or even fair trade. Many keep open books and help the farming communities with humanitarian projects. There is no official “direct trade” certification system. Pioneered by Taza Chocolate and Askinosie Chocolate.

Drinking Chocolate. A thick, rich drink made of melted chocolate, sugar, and water, milk, or cream. Not to be confused with hot chocolate.

Dutched cocoa. See alkalization.


Fair trade. A certification system designed to provide additional income to farmers. Fair trade guarantees a base price for certified cocoa beans that is supposed to be higher than the farm gate price and provides farmers with a bonus for community programs like health care and education. Other certification certifications include Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade USA. Many bean-to-bar makers feel that there are too many loopholes and problems with this third-party certification system — namely that farmers often do not receive the extra money — and prefer to practice direct trade (see above).

Fermentation. A crucial step to making chocolate that helps develop flavors. Raw beans are fermented straigtht out of the pod. Depending on the region, fermentation takes place in baskets, wooden boxes, or cylinders for three to six days.

Fine flavor cacao. High-quality cacao with more nuanced flavors (usually from the Criollo and Trinitario families, if you want to get nerdy about it). Also more expensive.

Forastero. An umbrella term that in the past was used to describe lower-quality cacao. Many people in the past (and some in the present) considered forastero cacao to be inferior and to taste bad. Now the term is used to describe any cacao that is not in the Criollo genetic group and is not a hybrid. Many are hardier and produce more pods and more beans than Criollos or Trinitarios, which means big chocolate —which is interested in high yields, cheap prices, and consistency — often prefers to grow cacao and breed hybrids from this group. The most prevalent Forastero cacao is the Amelonado genetic cluster. Considered bulk cacao, not fine flavor.


Ganache. A smooth mixture of chocolate and cream, often with butter or cream added. Firm ganache can be used as the filling for truffles and bonbons; pouring ganache can be used on cakes and pastries. 


Heirloom cacao. Cacao that has been designated “heirloom” by the Fine Chocolate Industry Association’s Heirloom Preservation Program because of its genetic qualities and superior taste. 

Hot cocoa. Cocoa powder mixed with hot milk or water. Often confused with drinking chocolate.


Inclusion. An added ingredient that significantly alters the flavor and/or texture of the chocolate, such as almonds, sea salt, or dried raspberries. In other words, a fancy way of saying there’s stuff in your chocolate.

Industrial Chocolate. Chocolate made in huge quantities, often using commercial-grade beans with vast quantities of sugar, vanillin, cocoa butter, and emulsifiers like soy lecithin to guarantee consistent taste and texture. Low cost and consistency are the primary goals. 


Lecithin. An emulsifier used in place of cocoa butter to thin chocolate, whether to make it easier to mold, create a smoother mouthfeel, or to make confections. Many American bean-to-bar makers eschew the most prevalent form, soy lecithin, because they consider it filler and/or want to make a soy-free and non-GMO product. Some have moved to sunflower lecithin while others choose to keep their bars above 70 percent cacao (where there’s enough natural cocoa butter that they don’t have to use an emulsifier). Despite what many people think, to use or not use lecithin isn’t a moral decision but a practical one, and if it is used, lecithin comprises no more than .5% of the finished chocolate by weight.


Melangeur. A machine used to grind cocoa nibs into chocolate liquor, most often using stone grinders.

Metate. A traditional stone table with legs that is heated from underneath and used with a smaller stone roller to grind and liquefy cocoa nibs.

Milk chocolate. A combination of chocolate liquor, sugar, milk, and/or cream. In the U.S. it must contain at least 15 percent cacao.

Molinillo. A traditional whisk used to froth drinking chocolate.

Mouthfeel. How a chocolate feels in your mouth texturally. These days we tend to think that good chocolate is usually smooth in the mouth while poor-quality chocolate might feel grainy, gritty, or waxy.


Nacional. A floral-tasting type of fine-flavor cacao bean most often found in Ecuador.

Nib. See cocoa nib.

Non-alkalized cocoa. Cocoa powder that is not processed with alkaline. It looks lighter brown than Dutch-processed cocoa and tastes slightly more bitter but has more chocolate flavor.


Origin. Geographical location in which the cacao is grown.


Porcelana. A prized type of extra-high-quality criollo cocoa bean. See also Criollo.


Single estate. Beans grown on a single plantation, or “estate.” The beans can come from a single varietal of cacao, or the chocolate can be a blend of varietals; all that matters here is that they are grown on one estate.

Single origin. Chocolate made using cacao beans from one specific place, or "origin." The chocolate can be made from a single varietal or a blend of varietals. 

Snap. The sharp sound a properly tempered chocolate bar makes when it’s broken into two pieces. Experts look for a good snap as a mark of quality chocolate.

Soy lecithin. See lecithin.


Temper. The process of heating and cooling chocolate to the correct temperature so that Form V crystals form, which means it will have a nice snap, sheen, and mouthfeel. After this process, the chocolate is shelf stable and ready to be eaten.

Terroir. The French word for “land.” A combination of factors such as soil, landcape, and climate that give foods like cacao beans, wine grapes, and coffee beans their distinctive taste.

Theobroma cacao. The botanical name for the cacao tree, a tropical evergreen. The name, bestowed by botanist Carolus Linnaeus, means “food of the gods cacao”.

Theobromine. A stimulant related to caffeine and one of several hundred compounds that compose chocolate. Found in the seeds of the fruit of Theobroma cacao.

Trinitario. A type of fine flavor cacao that's a hybrid of two types of beans: Criollo and a Forastero varietal called Amelonado. Trinitario beans combine the disease resistance and more robust nature of Amelonados with the delicate flavor of Criollos. Named after Trinidad, their place of origin. 


Varietal. A specific type of cacao.


White chocolate. Cocoa butter combined with other ingredients like sugar, milk or cream powder, and vanilla. There are no cocoa solids in white chocolate. To be considered white chocolate in the U.S., it must contain at least 20 percent cocoa butter and contain no other vegetable fat.

Winnow. The process of separating cocoa nibs from the shell, usually done with vibration and air. If you’re really DIY, you’ll use a hair dryer to blow away the light shells and leave the heavy nibs behind.