Wake up and smell the coffee: Cocoa and chocolate industry can learn from coffee grading system

By Oliver Nieburg contact

- Last updated on GMT

Borrow learnings from specialty coffee to develop cocoa quiality standards, says Lutheran World Relief. Photo: iStock - gojak
Borrow learnings from specialty coffee to develop cocoa quiality standards, says Lutheran World Relief. Photo: iStock - gojak
Chocolate makers can draw on coffee industry grading standards to develop a common quality system for cocoa, says Lutheran World Relief’s manager of coffee and cocoa.

Many chocolate companies have individual proprietary standards to assess cocoa quality, but Lutheran World Relief (LWR) says the industry should create a common language to make cocoa sourcing from new origins easier and quicker.

Rick Peyser, senior relationship manager of coffee & cocoa at LWR, told ConfectioneryNews: “There are so many parallels between the path coffees have taken and the challenges cocoa is facing.”

He said artisanal chocolate makers stand to profit from a common quality system for cocoa.

“The benefit will be for those who are beginning to deal with larger volumes. They can express what they are looking for from sellers.”

For example a bean-to-bar chocolate maker that sources all its cocoa from a single at-capacity cooperative in Peru can easily find cocoa from other regions that match its taste profile when working to a common standard, said Peyser.

Coffee’s grading system

Guittard Chocolate, Puratos’ Belcolade division and NGOs including LWR, Biodiversity International and Catholic Relief Services began developing cocoa standards in September this year.

The group hopes to learn from widely-used coffee industry grading standards that have been in place for over twenty years.

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SCAA has a glossary of coffee terms based on sensory science that has become the standard most cuppers use to describe coffee they buy and sell. Source: SCAA

The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), which features around 3,000 members such as Starbucks, developed standards to define specialty coffee in the late eighties that Peyser said have endured as a measure for quality coffee.

It uses descriptors on taste and aroma to rank coffee. Scores of over 80 are considered top quality coffee, while anything above 90 is among the finest coffee in the world.

Coffee is ranked by around 4,000 industry-employed, licensed ‘Q-graders’ who have taken a three day course.

What next for cocoa?

“I feel optimistic that standardization is getting traction in the fine flavour cocoa world,” said Peyser.

The LWR-backed cocoa working group formed after a presentation from Peyser at a World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) meeting in El Salvador in September. The group is assessing existing protocols and company standards to develop a common tool.

Peyser said the group plans to share provisional standards at the WCF partnership meeting in Dominican Republic in May next year.

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