We love “bean to bar”. We consider ourselves a bean-to-bar chocolate maker. But what is it exactly, beyond a buzzword you may have heard here and there?
There is a wide range of interpretations on what it means to be bean-to-bar. The most common acceptance is a chocolatier who makes his or her chocolates from the cacao beans. To understand why this is special, you need to understand first how the vast majority of the chocolate world functions today.
Chocolatiers are the craftsmen who make and sell chocolate creations (chocolate bonbons, also known as pralines). The current practice for most of these artisans is to purchase chocolate from chocolate makers. For them, chocolate is a raw material essential for their creation. In the same way that a great baker will look to purchase the best flour to make his or her bread, a great chocolatier will put the same attention to sourcing chocolate, as it is the key ingredient.
The expertise of the chocolatiers lies in the techniques to create desirable, unique end-products. It is a long journey to master the basic techniques to be able to make chocolate creations, and it is a lifelong quest to create outstanding, chocolate bonbons that will be loved throughout generations. If you show this praline to a Belgian chocolate lover, chances are that he will recognize the iconic Manon praline by Leonidas… Because this journey can be a consuming one, it is very natural that chocolatiers will narrow their focus on the creation of pralines and rely on their trusted brands for supplying chocolate as an ingredient.
However, some chocolatiers chose to go deeper into the product they make, and master the key ingredient, chocolate. This resonates with some Michelin-starred chefs who chose to cultivate their own lands to master the production of some of their ingredients. Not everyone has to do it, but they deserve a thumbs up for the integrity in their approach. Chef Alain Passard, the famous chef of the 3-star restaurant l’Arpege (Paris, France) invested in his own gardens to grow his vegetables.
Bean-to-bar chocolatiers are the ones who will also make their own chocolate. They are the first-line advocates for a bar of chocolate made with care at every step. This pursuit of integrity is a noble quest, and we love all bean-to-bar chocolatiers for relaying this message to more consumers. At The Cocoa Project, we are bean-to-bar, in the sense that we control each parameter of the chocolate-making process, from bean to bar. We know exactly from which farms our beans come from. We chose the fermentation protocol of our cacao beans, the roasting temperature of our cocoa nibs, and we developed unique chocolate recipes.
Let me pause here to clarify that in my opinion, there is no right or wrong way to do this, and not one is better than the other. Not every chocolatier has to be a bean-to-bar. In my humble opinion, what matters is to focus on what you love and care about. Caring about the quality of your star ingredient, wanting to be sure that it is sourced in a sustainable way, and that the farmers have been fairly compensated for their work is a concern that we share. Choosing a reliable supplier for your chocolate that will demonstrate to you that your ingredient has been made the proper way is also a way to care.
Chocolate making is also a long journey, it takes decades of expertise and research, trials and errors to develop a bar of good chocolate. Chocolate making requires machinery, precision, and Gricha often says, a bit of art. Chocolate making is closer to winemaking than biscuit manufacturing. The reason for that is that chocolate and wine are made from fruits, and each fruit will taste uniquely, whereas flour and milk will taste more consistently. Decades ago, our first attempt at fermentation gave us some vinegar-tasting chocolates… Sometimes bean-to-bar chocolate is the right product that just doesn’t taste right…
In the end, it is just a matter of choice. The bean-to-bar chocolatiers will choose to allocate focus on the taste of their chocolate as an ingredient. Other chocolatiers will choose to find a trustable chocolate maker in order to focus on their expertise, which is creating pralines and other chocolate products. At The Cocoa Project, we are happy to see developments in both directions. To us, they reflect a larger movement of caring – caring about the quality and sustainability of chocolate and chocolate creations.
There are many chocolatiers to meet. Some iconic figures, some newcomers, some bean-to-bar, some traditional, some disruptively unconventional… All of them are passionate. We encourage everyone to try their creations and enjoy the various expressions of chocolate. To learn more about the garden of Alain Passard – http://www.alain-passard.com/en/