Yes, there is such thing as the bean-to-bar movement! And though (to some), this may be your first time reading about it, #beantobar is gaining so much popularity not only among the professional chocolatiers and makers but also to avid chocolate consumers. Here are some answers to common questions regarding this.
So, what is bean-to-bar exactly?
Simply put, the chocolate makers are involved in every process of creating not just the bar but the actual chocolate. The traditional chocolatiers and confectioners very often buy chocolate couveture (ready-made chocolate) to use for their confections from a chocolate maker. A bean-to-bar company starts from the onset of sourcing their beans and going through each intricate steps in turning the fermented cacao beans into chocolate then to chocolate bars. This requires an artisanal process and chocolate bars are often made in smaller batches, unlike the mass-produced chocolate bars we grew up eating.
What is the process and how long does it take to finish?
The bean-to-bar process is similar for most chocolate makers from the fermentation of the cacao beans to drying to roasting to winnowing for grinding and then conching. According to Amano’s , the entire process can take up to a week for a batch. Much like wine, letting the chocolate rest for 3 weeks prior to using enhances its flavor.
What are the ingredients?
Like many craft products, recipes vary greatly from maker to maker. I have met a few makers who take pride in using 2 ingredients only, cacao and sugar. In essence, a dark chocolate is made up of these 2 ingredients however other makers add cocoa nibs, cocoa butter, milk, sugar and lecithin.
Does it taste better than the grocery store chocolates we’re used to eating?
First of all, taste is subjective. I believe that there is a kind of chocolate for everyone’s palette and there should not be any rules in enjoying them! If you like it, then it’s as good of a chocolate bar as others! In our recent trip to Seattle to attend the Northwest Chocolate festival, my husband blatantly told me that they all tasted the same to him. Chocolate, chocolato is just like tomato, tomato! As a chocolatier, I burst out laughing at his oversimplification, however, I cannot argue with its truth! Just don’t let a chocolate purist or fanatic hear this or you’ll get some scowling!
What I can tell you though is that chocolates are not created equal. The popular grocery store brands are mostly made of lower quality (and cheaper) cacao beans and mixed with many fillers to enhance the taste like vanilla, milk and other artificial flavorings.
What makes the bean-to-bar chocolate special is in its artisanal approach in making smaller batches of chocolate and its focus on quality over quantity. The trendy “single origin” chocolate celebrates the taste of a specific region’s cacao beans. Much like wine and coffee, the more you try bean-to-bar chocolates, the more you will be able to distinguish the differences of tastes and undertones. Some tastes smoky, others citrus-y and fruity and others smooth. And amidst the variety of these new bars, soon you will be able to discriminate between the ones you like and the ones you don’t.
Where can you buy them and why are they priced higher?
You would be surprised that my bean-to-bar curiosity got started when I saw an array of unfamiliar chocolate bar packs in a local grocery store. Wholefoods and Raleys have a very good selection of these bars. Aside from the grocery stores, if you’re lucky, you’ll have a local factory near you. For me, Dandelion in San Francisco is close enough to visit and experience. Otherwise, the internet is filled with shops that ships their products across the country.
Most bean-to-bars chocolates are priced at $6 or more per bar while some cost over $10. Like I’ve mentioned earlier, there is more focus on quality over quantity of these chocolates. Meaning, chocolate makers produce higher quality chocolate at a much slower rate than their traditional counterparts. Also much like coffee, there is a more conscious effort in focusing on sustainability and fair business practices. And all these come with a price tag.
How to pick a bean-to-bar chocolate?
Chocolate bars are made by either a chocolatier/confectioner or a chocolate maker. A chocolatier uses a ready-made couveture from a manufacturing company while chocolate maker makes their own chocolate from scratch. The best way to tell a bean-to-bar is by looking at the listed ingredients.
Since chocolatiers use a ready-made chocolate couveture, on the top of the listed ingredients will likely be dark chocolate. For the bean-to-bar makers, it will likely list cacao solids (or cacao mass) or chocolate liquor with cocoa butter.
My bean-to-bar chocolate journey officially started after tasting my first bite of Theo Chocolate. As many of you can relate, I have chocolate cravings every month. Usually, I opt for the familiar Kitkat or Ferrero Rocher, however, I noticed a whole shelf of chocolate bars with nice and trendy brand packaging. After my first taste of Theo’s 70% Salted Almond, I couldn’t understand how it tasted so different even compared to other premium brands I’ve had in the past. Different in a good way! Since then, I have stashes of various craft chocolates in our pantry.
Compound Chocolate vs Couveture Chocolate (or real chocolate)
As mentioned earlier, chocolates are not created equal. Bean-to-bar chocolates are made of chocolate couveture which consists of cocoa mass (or liquor) and cocoa butter primarily. A refined or processed cacao seed becomes 2 things: chocolate mass and cocoa butter. It is similar to making any nut-based butter; when you grind the nuts long enough, the fat starts to separate from the solid. What makes cocoa butter unique is that it melts at a body temperature. Thus the proverbial “melts in your mouth not in your hands” tagline.
Compound chocolate, on the other hand, is made from lesser quality cacao beans with another form of fat like vegetable shortening and sugar. Compound chocolate is much cheaper and is often used as an alternative to real chocolate in baking and enrobing.
Chocolate is changing.
Chocolate is changing and its changing for the better! The proliferation of bean-to-bar makers in the US is revolutionizing the chocolate culture in the country. On one end is the growing number of chocolate makers who not only offer high-quality chocolate bars but are also ethically-conscious makers. And on the other end, consumers are becoming more aware and demanding of both quality chocolate bars and of fair trade practices. In the past 2 decades, we have seen a massive change in the coffee culture not only in the US but the rest of the world. I believe that chocolate is changing at a rapid rate following the changes that occurred in the coffee industry. And with that, I am very excited!
I hope this FAQ gave you a better understanding of the #beantobar chocolate movement! Pictured below are some of my bean-to-bar favorites! Happy tasting!
Recommended reading The Chocolate Journalist
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