What is bean-to-bar chocolate?

First of all, it is important to distinguish the differences between a chocolatier and a chocolate maker. The chocolatiers, or confectioners, create truffles and chocolate bonbons, inventing recipes and flavor combinations, but few know that they do not make their own chocolate. In fact, almost all chocolatiers and confectioners, here and elsewhere, buy what is known as couverture.

VALRHONA CHOCOLATE DROPS

VALRHONA CHOCOLATE DROPS / PHOTO CREDIT: VALRHONA

These are big blocks or small chocolate drops that chocolatiers and pastry chefs melt down to then create their chocolate treats. Much of their art lies in choosing the right couverture (percentage of cocoa, origin, etc.) to coordinate with the flavors of their ganaches and fillings.

CHOCOLATE BITES FROM CHOCOLATS DE CHLOÉ

CHOCOLATE BITES FROM CHOCOLATS DE CHLOÉ – Credit : Chocolats de Chloé

Many are familiar with chocolatiers, but bean-to-bar makers practice a less known trade. These chocolate makers follow the steps from A to Z of turning a cocoa bean into a chocolate bar, and they are far less common. This is a long and complex process that can take up to a week or more! A chocolate maker imports the cocoa beans, roasts them, grinds them, as well as winnows the beans (1), and then refines and conches (2). There is a large difference in equipment and know-how between a chocolate makers job and the chocolatier’s.

COCOA BEAN WINNOWER AT HUMMINGBIRD CHOCOLATE

COCOA BEAN WINNOWER AT HUMMINGBIRD CHOCOLATE

CONCH AT SIRENE CHOCOLATE

CONCH AT SIRENE CHOCOLATE – Credit Taylor Kennedy

Historically, in Europe, all chocolatiers manufactured their own chocolate from the bean, up until the 19th century. However, during industrialization, technical innovations, like those of Van Houten in Holland, paved the way for mass production of chocolate. Some companies, such as Cadbury and Fry, began manufacturing chocolate on a larger scale: it was the beginning of industrial production of chocolate.

Gradually, the chocolatiers began focusing on the preparation of chocolate bonbons by sourcing couverture chocolate from large-scale factories, rather than process raw material themselves: they thus obtained a quality chocolate and consistent flavour profile, and could concentrate on creating chocolate bonbons with all sorts of added flavors (3).

CHOCOLATE MAKING IN THE 18th CENTURY, IN THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF DIDEROT AND ALEMBERT (1752).

CHOCOLATE MAKING IN THE 18th CENTURY, IN THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF DIDEROT AND ALEMBERT (1752).

More recently, in the past twenty years, some people have begun the crazy journey of returning to the raw material, cocoa beans. Founded in 1996 in the United States, Scharffen Berger was one of the pioneering companies in the field (4). Closer to us, Soma (LIEN), founded in 2003 in Toronto, was also among the first to break into the market of bean-to-bar chocolate.

The explosion in the field of bean-to-bar, however, took place less than a decade ago. The appearance of affordable machinery allowed for the small scale processing of cocoa beans into chocolate. Now everyone can try to make chocolate at home with a small convection oven and conch. Most bean-to-bar chocolate makers on the market today started this way. This is the case with Palette de Bine, Hummingbird Chocolate or Chaleur B , to name a few that you may already know.

PALETTE DE BINE CHOCOLATE BAR

PALETTE DE BINE CHOCOLATE BAR – Credit Palette de Bine

(1) Winnowing: blow a current of air through the roasted cocoa in order to remove the skin from the beans.
(2) Conching: A conche is a surface scraping mixer and agitator that evenly distributes ingredients within chocolate, and may act as a 'polisher' of the particles >>> Jacques: Je ne sais pas pourquoi il ya des liens wiki ici…
(3) Coe, S. et M. Coe. (2007). The True History of Chocolate. Éd.: Thames & Hudson
(4) The business was sold to Hershey in 2005.

Direct trade

Cocoa beans are a publicly traded commodity, such as wheat, gold or oil? The price of a ton of cocoa is based on the calculation of supply and demand, and what can be sold in the next year. Everything is linked to global economic growth. Stockbrokers often make these calculations in London or New York and large multinationals generally sign contracts to buy several months in advance, when prices are at their lowest. (1)

COCOA BEANS. PHOTO CREDIT: TAYLOR KENNEDY.

COCOA BEANS. PHOTO CREDIT: TAYLOR KENNEDY.

Cocoa farmers rarely have a say in the process, even if they’re the ones that actually grow the cocoa. For them, this means that they have to work, harvest after harvest, with a large financial insecurity looming over them, since their salaries constantly fluctuate. One solution to this problem is for producers to obtain certification. The well-known ones are Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance and UTZ. These certifications are unfortunately very expensive, and the studies do not demonstrate that they allow producers to have better working or living conditions (2).

Direct trade is, in our opinion, a much more interesting way to buy cocoa beans for a bean-to-bar chocolate maker. What you need to know first is that direct trade is not a certification. There is more than one method of working. Each bean-to-bar chocolate maker will have a different relationship with the cocoa producers, and each situation will require a different approach. What unites all chocolate makers who work with direct trade is the philosophy behind it: the shortest and most transparent supply chain possible.

For bean-to-bar chocolate makers, direct trade means creating long-term relationships with cocoa producers. Working year after year with the same people in the same country gives chocolate makers the ability to do more than only be buyers. Shawn Askinosie, for example, from Askinosie Chocolate, demonstrates this well with his involvement in four cocoa producing communities. Every year he visits them, presents them with his business’ financial reports in their language, shares part of his profits with them and implements projects to help them beyond cocoa. For example, in Tanzania, his involvement has helped to build a drinking water well and a classroom. It is also in this same country that the Chocolate University takes place. Through this program, a dozen youths from Springfield (Missouri) receive a short training on business, chocolate making and cocoa. Afterwards, they fly down to Tanzania with Shawn Askinosie himself to work with producers and carry out projects to help them. Inspiring!

SHAWN ASKINOSIE AND VITALIANO, AN ECUADORIAN COCOA PRODUCER. PHOTO CREDIT: ASKINOSIE CHOCOLATE.

SHAWN ASKINOSIE AND VITALIANO, AN ECUADORIAN COCOA PRODUCER. PHOTO CREDIT: ASKINOSIE CHOCOLATE.

 

The producers, for their part, are more likely to grow a good quality cocoa. Bean-to-bar chocolate makers will of course benefit, but in the end, consumers will also benefit! Marou’s story perfectly illustrates this point. Shortly after they founded Marou, Samuel and Vincent realized that the quality of the cocoa from the producers, with whom they were doing business in the region of Dong Nai, was lacking. Rather than abandon these producers, they decided to create a crowd-funding project to build a cocoa fermentation and drying center. Experts in this field have also visited the site, which allowed producers to better understand these crucial steps for obtaining a good quality cocoa. It is the fruit of these efforts you can now taste in the award-winning Dong Nai bar!

DRYING OF COCOA IN DONG NAI. PHOTO CREDITS: MAROU.)

DRYING OF COCOA IN DONG NAI. PHOTO CREDITS: MAROU.)

 


 

(1) Ryan, O. (2012). Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Ed.: Zed Books.

(2) See Ryan (2012) above ; Cramer, C. et al. (2014), How to do (and how not to do) fieldwork on Fair Trade and rural poverty, Canadian Journal of Development Studies , p. 170-185. (LIEN : http://ftepr.org/wp-content/uploads/Cramer-et-al-How-to-do-fieldwork-CJDS-SI-2014.pdf); and Ramsey, D. (2013) How Fair is Fairtrade Chocolate ? (LIEN : http://www.chocablog.com/features/how-fair-is-fairtrade-chocolate/)

As you discovered in the previous two tabs, the fact that the chocolate we sell is bean-to-bar and that the maker works ethically is very important to us. However, there are now several bean-to-bar chocolate makers and the number is growing! Only seven or eight years ago, in North America they could be counted on one hand. Over the last decade, there has been an explosion, especially in the US, where the bean-to-bar movement saw a renaissance. Canada, Europe and the world are no exception. It can be a challenge for us to keep count, but we follow everything we can on social media and by going to various chocolate shows and conferences. We also have the great fortune of receiving chocolate in the mail from new makers from around the world wanting our opinions.

 

Our mission is to present the best chocolate made by the best chocolate makers, and this requires us to make choices. To get there, we taste a lot of different chocolates, some excellent, some not so successful. Unfortunately, some chocolate makers get their bars on the market before having completely mastered the chocolate manufacturing process. Even experienced chocolate makers are not shielded from less successful experiments. We have refused bars whose textures were too grainy, or whose aromas and flavors were not balanced. The good news is that the next tasting will perhaps offer a discovery of an unusual flavor and novice chocolatiers will in turn become experienced chocolatiers whose bars we will proudly present. Ultimately, we want to present only the best!

 

There are several excellent chocolates out there! To make good choices, we cannot limit ourselves to what we prefer. We want there to be something for everyone. Personally, I love fruity chocolates, but we can’t only offer you a shelf made with generally very fruity terroirs, like ones with cocoa from Madagascar, Peru and the Dominican Republic. We like to be able to offer a nice range of flavors and origins, highlighting both the cocoa beans and the chocolate makers. We offer chocolate for all kinds of tastes: dark, milk, white and with flavorings, because good chocolate is not only dark.

 

Often, we get our friends and clients to taste samples with us, and ask them to share their comments. This way, we get the “feedback” from people with different palates. It’s very important to us.