30th of August 2021
Once you’ve had your first bite of real chocolate, it’s hard to get that momentous experience out of your head. This is certainly the case for many historians, scientists, writers, chefs, and chocolate lovers who’ve made it their mission to dig deeper into the cacao bean’s many mysteries, wanting to understand why it has such a profound effect on us. Together, these dedicated chocophiles have created a treasure trove of information that dissects chocolate’s fascinating history and current intrigue surrounding its impact on cuisines, cultures, economies, and our taste buds.
Here are 10 great books about chocolate that track its millennia-long journey from bean to bar to our mouths—no Ooompa-Loompas included.
1. The Secret Life of Chocolate, Marcos Patchett (2020)
It’s not surprising that the “food of the gods” would have a secret life of its own—one we’re only starting to uncover. This over 700-page textbook goes well beyond Chocolate 101 as it dives into the discoveries of medical herbalist Marcos Patchett. The Secret Life of Chocolate is organized in three parts: “Chocolate Roots,” “Medicinal Chocolate,” and “Metaphysical Chocolate,” each providing detailed context into cacao’s role on both a global and individual level. Patchett balances all the geeky history and science with a witty sense of humor and an insatiable curiosity that allows him to read between the lines of traditional thought, making this formidable tome easy to digest.
2. The True History of Chocolate, Sophie D. Coe & Michael D. Coe (2013)
One of the great chocolate researchers and Mayan historians, Sophie D. Coe was putting together her comprehensive The True History of Chocolate when she succumbed to cancer in 1994. Her husband Michael D. Coe completed the book, publishing its first edition two years later. It’s long been a go-to source on chocolate’s whirlwind history, as the Coes paint a vivid picture of cacao’s riveting transformation from bitter liquid gold to sweet mass-produced product and all the implications that come with satisfying the world’s love for it. It’s since gone through two revisions to include more up-to-date findings, with the third (and last) edition published in 2013. However, given all the research since then—especially around the origins of cacao, which likely go back further than the Coes thought— it could use another brief update.
3. Cocoa, Dr. Kristy Liessle (2018)
This book’s simple title belies the heavy—and necessary—revelations within. Dr. Kristy Leissle is a chocolate scholar and co-founder of the Cocoapreneurship Institute of Ghana, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering local farmers and supporting a sustainable industry. While much has been written about Latin America’s cacao history and industry, Africa is too often ignored, even though it continues to produce most of the world’s cacao. Liessle is looking to change that conversation. In Cocoa, she takes the reader across West Africa’s many cocoa farms and then across the world as she exposes the exploitation still rampant throughout the region and how it affects cacao’s social and economic value—all the way to our mouths.
4.Bean to Bar Chocolate: America’s Craft Chocolate Revolution, Megan Giller (2017)
The rest of the title to this American bean-to-bar bible says it all: “The Origins, the Makers, and the Mind-Blowing Flavors.” Author Megan Giller offers an in-depth look into the artisanal chocolate revolution that’s swept through the States over the last few decades. In Bean to Bar Chocolate, she tells the story of craft chocolate through the eyes of its savvy pioneers and intrepid personalities while weaving in some choice cacao-starring recipes from the companies she covers. To her, it’s not just about the cacao itself, but how chocolate makers use their cherished beans as a rich, powerful medium for expression. Giller is the force behind Chocolate Noise, a great resource for the latest on craft chocolate.
5. Chocolate: Indulge Your Inner Chocoholic, Dom Ramsey
While we hardly need a book to help us indulge our “inner chocoholic,” chocolate master Dom Ramsey has somehow made the hobby of reading its own delicious experience. The award-winning maker behind London’s Damson Chocolate runs through the chocolate-making process with beautifully designed illustrations and food photography. Along the way, he shows where chocolate comes from, how it’s made, how to taste it, and how to create your own with a “remarkable selection of recipes from the world’s finest chocolatiers, pastry chefs, and chocolate experts.” This is a great beginner’s guide to the art, science, and enjoyment behind meticulously crafted bean-to-bar chocolate.
6. Discover Chocolate, Clay Gordon (2007)
The intro to Discover Chocolate starts with an inspiring message: “You, Too, Can Become a Chocolate Critic.” From there, chocolate writer Clay Gordon goes into the fundamentals of finding your tasting zones, buying the best chocolate, and pairing it with wines, spirits, and more. He offers tons of helpful nuggets throughout, including a glossary of chocolate terms, interesting flavor combinations, and a detailed rating system to help you decipher the good from the great. Gordon continues to write and report about the chocolate industry on his site TheChocolateLife.
7. The Chocolate Connoisseur: For Everyone With a Passion for Chocolate, Chloe Doutre-Roussel (2006)
This lighter read speaks to the chocoholic in all of us. Author Chloe Doutre-Roussel is the former chocolate buyer of London’s luxury department store Fortnum and Mason and the creator of Paris’ Chloe Chocolate. She wrote The Chocolate Connoisseur to share her deep passion and expertise with chocolate consumers looking to learn more about the complexities of making and tasting the world’s finest chocolate. Doutre-Roussel helps the reader understand the roots of what they’re tasting and how to fine-tune their palate—even if they don’t quite have her metabolism (she claims to eat more than a pound of chocolate a day). Her personal experiences as a chocolate buyer and cacao-focused traveler up the entertainment value.
8. Casa Cacao: The Return Trip to the Origin of Chocolate, Jordi Roca & Ignacio Median (2019)
Top international pastry chef Jordi Roca went on an extensive journey through South America, dipping into the depths of the Amazon jungle and beyond to learn about the origins of cacao—one of his most cherished ingredients. He gets to know the bean through the farmers that know it most intimately, tracing its path from intimidating plant to decadent dessert. Casa Cacao is an excellent primer for budding chocolatiers and pastry chefs looking to better understand how chocolate is made—down to the types of fat crystals in cocoa butter. Roca includes 40 cacao-centered recipes to try out what you’ve learned.
9. From Bean to Bar: A Chocolate Lover’s Guide to Britain, Andrew Baker
An excellent complement to Megan Giller’s American craft chocolate overview, journalist and established chocolate judge Andrew Baker looks at the thriving bean-to-bar movement across the pond. A sort of chocolate travel guide through the U.K., From Bean to Bar focuses on the small makers helping to revolutionize the chocolate industry and create the finest quality products in the process. With sharp wit and storytelling flair, Baker takes the reader through a dozen regions, spotlighting each area’s chocolatiers and bean-to-bar makers and providing valuable visitor information. If you’re planning a trip through Britain, this book is a must-have companion.
10. Making Chocolate: From Bean to Bar to S’more: A Cookbook, Dandelion Chocolate (2017)
If you’ve been aching to try your hand at bean-to-bar chocolate making, this guide from San Francisco’s revered single-origin maker Dandelion Chocolate is required reading. They take you behind the scenes of their small San Francisco factory to teach you the tricks and tools of the trade, including how to source beans and why a hair dryer may come in handy in your kitchen. Along with detailed steps on crafting your own bars from scratch, Making Chocolate includes 30 recipes from Dandelion’s esteemed pastry kitchen. (Pro tip: Go straight to their chocolate chip cookie recipe: It’s to die for.)