8 February 2017

Bean to bar chocolate: what is it really?

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Most of our visitors will have heard of the term bean to bar. But what does it really mean?

The term in itself isn’t that hard ‘from bean to bar’ – so if we look at those words, we can imagine it means…chocolate made, from cocoa beans, into chocolate bars…quite simple really. But that includes every single chocolate there is, right? Yes indeed!

The first difference: who makes the chocolate.

Take the chocolatier at your local shopping centre, where you get those wonderful pralines, and sometimes some chocolate bars as well. The chocolatier will most of the time work with ready-to-use couverture chocolate from the big chocolate companies like Callebaut or Valrhona. These huge companies buy the cocoa, roast it, grind it. They make the cocoa into chocolate.

This means the chocolatier doesn’t work with cocoa beans. Which doesn’t mean the work of a chocolatier can’t be beautiful. Melting the chocolate and tempering it, make all kind of wonderful shapes, combine with great ingredients – very much a craft. But…not bean to bar, because this chocolatier won’t have any cocoa beans in his workplace. He uses chocolate, to make things made out of chocolate.

The bean to bar chocolatemaker

So a bean to bar chocolatemaker is someone responsible for buying the cocoa beans, roasting them, grinding them, adding some sugar, putting the chocolate in a form. All in all: he (the company) makes the chocolate, all by themsleves.

The term is mainly used for smaller makers. Yes, the big factories like Callebaut also buy the beans, and make some of the chocolate (even though they also cooperate with other companies). But that’s something different. A billion dollar company, making chocolate in all kinds of shapes, which you can find in the supermarket under all kind of brand names. That’s not really what ‘bean to bar’ is about.

The bean to bar movement

great taste awards 3 sterren winnaar chocoladeDe rise of ‘bean to bar’ chocoalte is for many people about smaller makers doing things themselves, and doing things differently. They go, sometimes even from their garage, to start to make cocoa into chocolate. They find out how to roast, at which temperate, how to grind, for how long, and all that with all the different kinds and origins of cocoa.

There are some pretty generally shared values involved:

  • The origin of the cocoa. The origin (terroir) has a huge amount of influence on the taste. Almost all makers will tell you where the cocoa is from, and often also which cocoa farmer or cooperation they got it from. Many will also be able to tell you transparently about the price they paid for it.
  • The quality of the cocoa. On the world market the biggest share of cocoa is known as ‘bulk cocoa. It is seen as a commodity. A product paid for per ton, with quality only a minor influence – you can mask that with addition to the chocolate anyway… For bean to bar chocolatemakers the quality of the cocoa is pretty essential. How the cocoa grows, how it is fermented and dried. It is a big influence on taste, so they care, and so should any chocolate lover.
  • The list of ingrediënts is short. Lots of bean to bar chocolatebars only contain cocoa and sugar. Often cocoa butter is added, but that’s it – most of the times. Ofcourse there are exceptions – Zotter likes to add a pinch of salt, (real) vanille is an addition that can interact nicely with cocoa flavor. But it’s different from the supermarkets where fake vanilline and other ingredients are added. Also: you will see that ‘bean to bar’ makers on average generally use way less sugar from what you might be used to in supermarkets.
  • Direct trade. The chocolatemakers like to get the cocoa directly (or more directly) from the farm or cooperation. And visits the farmers as well. Or, like for example Amma, Marou or Madécasse – make chocolate in the country the cocoa comes from – in direct contact with cocoa farmers. In the bean to bar world direct & transparant trade is a great goal a lot of people really focus on. Short chains, more money to the cocoa, it’s a simple idea and it can actually work.

Do we only sell bean to bar chocolate?

Almost all the chocolates we sell are made by the maker mentioned on the package. From bean to bar. There are a few exceptions. Brands who do great great work, have great great chocolate – but the chocolate is made not in their own factory but elsewhere. It’s not ‘bean to bar’ in the most strict sense but anyone who blames them for it doesn’t really know what ‘bean to bar’ is (or should be) about.

Original Beans for example, a great company, they mean a lot to the cocoa

original beans chocolade logo

farmers and nature. And really, they do a lot – check their website. With that they also buy the beans, and develop recipes for the chocolate. They do this in the factory of and in cooperation with Felchlin, a company in Switserland. That’s why, while Original Beans is located in Amsterdam, on the bar is mentioned it’s made somewhere else. Not ‘bean to bar’ in that they do all the steps themselves but the important things: sourcing the cocoa, paying a fair prices, doing a lot of great work for the environment and making the chocolate recipes they do themselves. We really don’t care if the chocolate is made on the machines of Felchlin or wherever.

Another example is Akesson’s. Bertil Akesson has his own cocoa estates, amongst others in Madagaskar. He also has his own brand of chocolate, and with great chocolates too. Ofcourse the cocoa of his own plantations is used, and he helps create the recipes. But making the cocoa into (wonderful) chocolate isn’t done by him, but in France – at several of the best makers France has to offer, including Francois Pralus. And that’s how the chocolate won a lot of prices, the 100% is even one of the most popular in our webstore.

Friis Holm started a

chocolademaker Friis Holm met cacao

bit liek that. He made the recipes with the french master Bonnat and his bars – world famous – where also made at the Bonnat factory. Nowadays he has his own chocolate factory in his home country Denmark. And his bars still win a lot of competitions. And yes, now it totally ‘bean to bar’ by Friis Holm.

We just like to emphasize: where the chocolate is made isn’t really the decisive factor in if the chocolate is great or not. Even if it’s not bean to bar in the strictest sense. We do think it’s important people are open about it. So you can always easily find out where the chocolate has been made.

And ofcourse, the most important: that the principles of the bean to bar movement are followed. Great cocoa, a good price, direct trade, thinking about the environment as well, tranparency and finally.. excellent taste.

Want to try bean to bar chocolate? See our nice packages (with discount) or look around in our assortment.  

Questions? Do contact us! we respond to every email.

Want to read on? Find an interesting article about Bean to Bar at37chocolates.

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