Review Guide
Experiencing Chocolate
Labeling Craft Makers

Craft of Bean to Bar Project



8. “Bean to Bar” is often used as a quality indicator for fine chocolate even though there are many bean-to-bar makers with no real intuition or understanding for flavor or quality development.  Are there other models or examples of companies who are not fully bean to bar that interest you and why?

Candice Alstrom
No Answer Provided

David Arnold
Bean to Bar is no indication of quality and does not have a clear enough agreed upon definition. I would prefer to talk about talented [I want to say “artisan” but it too is used too broadly] chocolate makers who have the most control over the entire process. I also applaud larger companies that are willing to put their time, effort and funds creating fine chocolate.

Debbie Ceder
Dolfin, while concentrating mostly on flavored chocolates, is meticulous in the ingredients and flavors it produces (and its efforts are remarkable!).

Vic Ceder
"Bean to Bar" is, most certainly, the primary quality indicator.  I tried very hard to come up with a non-"Bean to Bar" chocolatier that I like, and only came up with Recchiuti.

There are only a few such companies of interest to me. I maintain a database of over 420 chocolate makers with the main focus on bean-to-bar makers. The companies that are not completely bean-to-bar I categorize as “Mixed” if they do some part of the process but not every step. Although they may produce some very good bars I have not yet experienced any “Mixed” companies that can compare to the best bean-to-bar companies. Almost all of my “Top Favorites” are bean-to-bar companies.

A few companies are even more difficult to categorize because their chocolate is made to their specifications, but it is produced using the equipment of another bean-to-bar company. I categorize these as “Other”. Among these “Other” makers I have enjoyed the Christophe Morel Fortunato #4 2011 bar, and the Friis Holm Johe 2011 bar. These two companies are hard for me to find, but I would like to try more of their chocolate.

I also keep a list of bars that I’m searching because they have been highly recommended. Even though they are fondeurs (to my knowledge) I would like to taste the Chapon Columbie, and the Idilio Origins Porcelana and Chuao bars.

Mark Xian
As noted earlier, some chocolatier boxers are phenomenal transformers that work from couverture. Masters of that craft includeTorreblanca, Catinari, Curley, Chaudun, & the Dubys

On the bar side, Bernard Castelain, a re-melter & moreover an ‘optimician’… not a bean-to-bar maker but a restoration artist, optimizing defiled or damaged goods (such as Cacao Barry couverture).

Tcho’s mobile units transported to the field & places in-between helps bring flavor awareness closer to the source, & their promotional materials tend toward the instructive in codifying the flavor of cacáo, delineating taste profiles built on the work of predecessors such as Richart (which has done similarly for the French market) & Domori (for genetics / varietals at large). 

Then there’s Vosges – a fine-chocolate fraud to rank right up there with the ear-wax sold by Godiva. Both have won their low-ratings the hard way. They earned them. 

As hard to swallow as this might sound sacrilegious, Vosges’ marketing & vogue flavorings (bacon; curry; goji; olives; black sesame seeds / wasabi; macha… all terribly executed for mediocre outcomes btw) rises to the level of fashion – haute chocolature -- which spurs interest in chocolate across the board that even serious barsmiths piggyback on. For that, Vosges deserves credit to add to the millions of dollars it banks in revenues. Sure, it all amounts to faux-French “oo-la-la”. But Americans, susceptible to such frou-frou, buy it up.

Scott of Dallas Food
Making chocolate is like sewing your own clothes: it's labor intensive, but doesn't mean the end result will look, fit, or wear better than something off the rack at the local department store.  The sad fact is that 9 out of 10 small bean-to-bar makers are charging two to three times Valrhona or Cluizel prices for chocolate that isn't even half as good.  For startups that don't have the experience, know-how, or capital to both source great cacao and make well-crafted chocolate, I think there's something to be said for specialization and division of labor--for example, just focusing on sourcing and then partnering with an established maker to manufacture the chocolate.  We've seen some of that in recent years (e.g., Felchlin manufacturing for Original Beans and Idilio, Pralus for Åkesson and Chuao Chocolatier, etc.), but there's no reason it couldn't be done on a smaller scale.

Chloe Doutre-Roussel
There are a lot of bean to bar brands run by people focused on fame or money or fun, or various of these criteria together- they do pay attention to quality and their chocolate reflects it- some brands start with a poor chocolate, it is just the beginning of a learning curve- but to improve you need to think, understand what you do, why, and try to find the optimal ways, in the context of your constraints, to get there, step by step- the people that do not pay attention to quality in every detail do not improve on the other hand you have people that cannot necessarily do all the bean to bar, but when they subcontract some steps (like cacao plantations, fermentation, drying , bean to bar) will have their own criteria, and quality control. They make a great chocolate, because they have the right attitude, even if they do not own every one of the steps.  Very good chocolates of people that do not make the bean to bar but source their own beans : Akesson, Original beans, Q chocolate

It is people, attitude and work that interests me, and often the chocolate reflects these values.

George Gensler
Chocolate makers who source their own beans, but depend on an established factory to convert the beans to chocolate may be playing it safe, but they usually produce good chocolate.  It’s important that chocolate makers understand their strengths and weaknesses and it’s interesting to see who they choose to process their beans.

Maricel Presilla
Labels are labels and believing in a label blindly is a lazy habit that a lot of us have and need to shed. First of all you need to taste the chocolate critically, particularly if the label reeks of hyperbole and grandiosity. Saying a chocolate is tree-to-bar or bean-to-bar means that an extraordinary effort has been made to create that bar. It means the chocolate maker has had direct access to the source of his cacao. Tree-to-bar is a concept that Mott Green popularized with his Grenada experiment. He is there in Grenada manning the show at his Grenada Chocolate Company. In the case of Santiago Peralta of Pacari Chocolate, there is also a direct connection with the land. Santiago has a direct link with the source of his cacao. He doesn’t own a farm but he goes to the farms often and not just to buy cacao but also to train farmers in organic and biodynamic agriculture; he knows every tree. In a way Santiago’s operation is tree-to-bar. If an American company based in the U.S. has a similar intimate contact with a farm and has access to every step of the process from harvest, fermentation to drying, it could also be tree-to-bar. Very few actually have that direct contact though. Visiting a farm once doesn’t cut it. It is when you are there many times, when you are sleeping in the farmer’s house and you have an ongoing connection that we can speak of direct trade. I am not speaking about a chocolate maker going on a one-time tour of farms paid for by a particular government. You might come back with a cacao deal, but you saw the farm only once. But to many people, however, even that fleeting experience is used as an argument to label a factory a tree-to-bar operation; just because the chocolate maker saw the cacao trees once. Obviously, there are varying models of interaction with different worth and validity, but it all boils down to the level of intimacy that the chocolate maker has had with the source of his cacao. And that is what we are talking about right now in Direct Cacao. This is a newly created organization. It was conceived in London, but it was launched in Honduras. A group of us went to Honduras to put together a new model of interaction between chocolate makers and farmers that could become an alternative to fair trade. We defined the idea behind Direct Cacao carefully. We have members who are not owners of farms but who make great chocolate and have a direct relationship with cacao farmers and the cacao they buy. Other members have less of a hands-on approach, but still care for the cacao they buy. And then there are people who do a good job sourcing cacao and yet do not have a factory. And we know lots of great brands that do not have factories, but do have contact with farmers or good intermediaries, and they work directly with a reputable factory. This company could be Bonnat, Felchlin, or Pralus. So what do you call the chocolate makers without factories? We need to find a name to distinguish them from those who do have factories. Labels are labels. But it is very important for me to know who is making the chocolate at his own factory (there are not too many female chocolate makers, that is why I said “his” factory). It is very important for me to know that. When Felchlin makes the chocolate for a second party I want to know. I would like Felchlin or Bonnat to be mentioned. How long do people in the chocolate business spend in the factory that makes their chocolate? Are they there every step of the way when the chocolate is being made? I don’t think so. It doesn’t make sense, but there has to be a distinction between them and chocolate makers who own their own factories and have a hands-on experience. This distinction is not disclosed in labels because there are no regulations. Is there a distinction between someone sitting in an office in France and picking up the phone to call a broker and saying,  “get me a container” of this cacao from this particular source and a company who send their own trained buyers to the field? Or do you have buyers who really understand origins? These are charged questions because there are many interpretations and many models of interaction. If you don’t buy your cacao directly, what you want are people who are honest and who care about every step of the cacao chain. Good intermediaries know their sources. They travel to farms, and they spend time with the farmers.

In general what we want is more disclosure and we’re putting pressure so that companies begin to explore these direct connections. To belong to Direct Cacao, a chocolate maker would need to prove that they travel to a cacao producing country and that they are familiar with the farmer and the cacao they buy. Also, if you don’t own a factory, you need to prove that you have an intimate connection with the person who makes the chocolate for you. So that would be the ideal situation in an ideal world and all that information should be on the packaging. As consumers become more savvy, they will realize that just because a company’s name is on the package it doesn’t mean that this company actually made the chocolate. But consumers also need to know that even in that raw category of factory-less chocolate makers, there are people who are really fantastic and who really care and who make an effort to be connected.

Alex Rast
Mikkel Friis-Holm is the one who's been the most exciting. He's got some excellent and distinctive bars, produced for him by the equally excellent Bonnat, which yet retain the distinctive style of their creator, and he takes an active role in the creation process, guiding sourcing and process decisions, not simply providing a spec to a manufacturer and telling them to go off and make it.

Richard Vaughan
There are some chocolate makers who carefully oversee the chocolate making process with some or all of the production cycle being subcontracted, and I find these potentially interesting as well. Some quality makers in this category include Åkesson's, Idilio, and Original Beans.

Ian Whitaker
As you say, “made from bean to bar” does not indicate the quality of a chocolate. It is only a term to explain that a chocolate bar was made in-house, starting with the beans.
This term is used regardless of whether the cocoa butter used to make the chocolate was processed from the beans in-house, or by a third party.

The World Chocolate Awards evaluates chocolate that meets two criteria: first, it must be made without substitute ingredients; second, the chocolate must be unique to the brand who sells it.
Those two criteria being satisfied, the World Chocolate Awards is concerned with recognising the best tasting chocolate in the world: a chocolate is included or excluded based on its taste. To discriminate against a unique, fine chocolate because of the brand name on the packet is not something we find justifiable. There are numerous unique chocolates which are made by some of the world’s best cacaofèviers for another brand to sell.
Our approach is to present information to the reader, in a way that allows the reader to be as selective as they wish. So they can narrow down their reading to chocolate made from bean to bar, for example. We clearly identify for the reader when a brand is a cacaofèvier and when it is not.