What is Bean-to-Bar Chocolate? (1/2)

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Ideas are a funny thing. I had planned on writing this post last week until I accepted that I could not finalize the second edition of my book, write a blog post in French, working on this article in English, and enjoying spring break with my oldest daughter. Nope. So I updated the book and had fun with my girl, while I witnessed two articles being published on the very topic I was planning to tackle here, namely: what exactly is bean-to-bar chocolate?

Bean-to-bar is a term I used in many, if not all, of my videos, but its use is currently not regulated in the US. As I understand it, a bean-to-bar manufacturer oversees the chocolate production chain, from sourcing the beans to making the actual bars. Some may argue that a bean-to-bar chocolate-maker has to produce chocolate in small batches but there is no reason, in my mind, why the term should be associated with a specific production scale.

A bean-to-bar chocolate-maker will therefore be responsible for sourcing the beans before processing them through each of the following steps:

  • Sorting
  • Roasting
  • Cracking
  • Winnowing
  • Grinding
  • Conching
  • Tempering
  • Molding

If that sounds like a lot of work, it is because it is. The whole process takes days and when people ask me if I ever feel like making chocolate, all I have to do is referring them through each of these steps to help them understand that my answer is a big “no”.

The next question would be: how do you recognize a bean-to-bar chocolate? My answer: by checking the list of ingredients. A bean-to-bar chocolate bar will most likely list “cacao”, “cocoa”, or “cocoa beans” as its main ingredient. I took a picture of two ingredient lists on two different bean-to-bar chocolate labels so you could see yourself.

This is what you’ll find on the side of a piece of Woodblock Chocolate.

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And here is the list of ingredients on a bar made my Map Chocolate:

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OK, but isn’t all chocolate made from cacao beans? Technically, yes, but, it is not always made by the company whose name appears on the bar. As I mentioned in a previous post, a chocolatier uses already-made chocolate, typically referred to “couverture chocolate”, to use in his or her chocolate creations. I like to say that chocolate-makers express their personality by making chocolate and chocolatiers by making chocolate confections.

To spot a bar made my chocolatier, look for information on the wrapper. For example, CHUAO decided to claim its chocolatier status by indicating it on its wrappers.

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Other times, you’ll have to do a little more work to determine whether the bar is made by a chocolatier or not. If the company uses couverture chocolate in its bars, it will likely NOT list “cacao” or “cocoa” in its list of ingredients but “dark chocolate” or “milk chocolate” as a first ingredient.

Now comes the trickier part. Some makers actually make chocolate from a product called “cocoa mass” or “cocoa liquor”, which is what you call cocoa after it has been ground and melted.

The whole idea of using cacao liquor to make chocolate is very puzzling to me. How do you become a liquor processor? Where do you find these companies? How do you ship that liquid product to a maker? If you have an answer, please feel free to chime in.

Identifying a maker that uses cocoa liquor can be easy, as you will see on this ingredient label.

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Other times, you will have to study the label a little more closely. Check this label of Moonstruck Chocolate, for example. The first ingredient on the bar is “dark chocolate”, which is described to us as a mixture of “unsweetened chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, and soy lecithin”. My interpretation of the label is that the chocolate is made in-house from cocoa liquor that has been melted and molded, mixed with the additional ingredients. In other words, the company probably has not sourced, roasted, cracked, sorted, winnowed, and ground the cacao itself.

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Phew. Who knew interpreting a label could be that hard?

I hope this post helped you understand how to identify a bean-to-bar chocolate. Let me know of your questions or comments – I’d love to hear from you.

You can read the second part of the article here.

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16 thoughts on “What is Bean-to-Bar Chocolate? (1/2)

  1. I have been having the same doubts, lately!
    What I learned is that we must not have preconceptions against the fact whether a chocolate is from bean-to-bar or from a premade couverture.
    Even if my palate now has gotten much more demanding after trying the bean-to-bar chocolate bars, few others using couverture are doing well both with the ingredients and the taste.
    The points remain only two, in my opinion:
    1) the company should disclose (at least on their website and via social media) the raw material from which their activity starts inside the factory;
    2) the definition of “artisan chocolate” urges clearance. What does “artisan, craft, handmade chocolate” mean?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello Estelle! Great article! I’m really enjoying the blog posts by the different chocolate bloggers lately on defining “bean to bar.” It’s an important discussion for us as a chocolate community to have (discussion, not argument.) I’m a bean to bar chocolate maker and spend time every day explaining to people what it is that we do. I love educating people about craft chocolate and chocolate in general. In my opinion using couverture is not classified as bean to bar but, as you said, on the chocolatier side of things. Is this a bad thing? Definitely not! There are many very talented chocolatiers out there created awesome tastes and designs. I do think it is important, though, to make the distinction because it is so much more work that goes into chocolate making. I’m not sure there will ever be an official title for bean to bar chocolate. Look at coffee for instance. Craft Coffee is also known as specialty coffee, 3rd wave coffee, or craft coffee. And this is ok! I think it is just important that we as chocolate makers, and lovers educate others about chocolate and then leave it up to them to enjoy it however they like. If they like a chocolatiers creation better than a bean to bar chocolate then that is their own personal experience.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. How do you classify someone who sources cacoa nibs and cocoa butter to make chocolate, but doesn’t participate in the roasting , winnowing etc?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Gary, that’s an excellent question. Eclat Chocolate belongs to this category: the company sources the beans but does not roast and grind them in house. I think it’s fair to refer to such companies as chocolatiers.

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  4. Hi, Estelle! Actually for us it is big question what to write on the label cacao beans or cacao liquor. We work from beans but according Russian food standarts cacao beans have cacao shells. So, we should write on our packages cocoa liquor or cacao mass. In English part of our label we can write cacao beans, but it will cause a lot of questions from consumers, even Russian ones who knows both languages. As result we decided to write cocoa liquor, not beans.

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  5. This reminds me a lot of what we see with Coffee, with so many quality roasters around today. Many of them source quality beans themselves, roast them in house, and sell them to the consumer fresh after roasting, which makes quite a difference v.s. say Folgers.
    I wonder if the artisan/bean-to-bar chocolate makers would benefit from partnering more and more with these sort of coffee roasters, e.g. by selling each other’s products in each other’s stores. There is a lot of overlap in the concept behind the products. There are so many quality coffee roasters/shops these days (at least in many US cities), and much of the customer base is likely to understand and appreciate the significance of bean to bar. No doubt many people have thought of this before, but I don’t recall seeing chocolates much in coffee roasters, and I’ve been to many!
    Maybe for clarity, artisan bean to bar producers could add a short ‘subtext’ under ‘Bean-To-Bar’ — eg “Made 100% in-house from beans that we source”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment. You bring up such good points and I love that you make the analogy with Folgers! I use the same at almost all my tastings. As far as partnerships are concerned, several coffee shops do carry bean-to-bar but I do find the selection to sometimes be random. One notable exception is Philter Coffee, my local coffee shop. They have a really nice selection but the owner told me he can’t even get more because he’s limited by space. That’s a real issue with a lot of shops, especially in large cities, where you have to choose between adding a seat or a shelf. That said, my whole chocolate journey started at a coffee shop so, yes, it’s happening!

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  6. […] If you love baking but are new to the craft chocolate scene bean-to-bar is when makers get cocoa beans (often through direct trade with the farmers that grow the cacao) and then the maker completes the whole process from roasting the beans all the way through the several steps needed to turn it into chocolate which they then temper and use to make their chocolate bars and baking chips, etc out of it. (For a good blog read specifically on what  bean-to-bar is, check out this one by Estelle Tracy of 37 Chocolates).   […]

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