What is bean-to-bar chocolate?

Bean-to-bar chocolate is our passion here at Bean Bar You, but what does ‘bean-to-bar’ really mean?

  • According to Wikipedia, “they process cocoa beans into a product in-house, rather than merely melting chocolate from another manufacturer. Some are large companies that own the entire process for economic reasons; others aim to control the whole process to improve quality, working conditions, or environmental impact”
  • According to the blog ‘37Chocolates.com’ “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.”
  • Chocolate blogger ‘Chocolate Noise’ says “Artisans have started making their own chocolate and overseeing the entire process…to bring out intense flavour notes.” And “chocolate made from scratch in small batches by artisans who buy, roast, and grind the beans themselves”

As you can see, there are many different definitions, so we’ll try to give you a flavour what bean-to-bar means to us.

All chocolate goes from cocoa bean to chocolate bar in some way. We think the unique aspect of bean-to-bar chocolate is that the process occurs under the care of one person or small group. These chocolate makers purchase raw cocoa beans from around the world. They then take these raw beans and they roast them, crack them, winnow them (remove the shell), grind them, mix them, mould them, and finally, wrap them.

Chocolate makers are different to chocolatiers. Most of the handmade chocolate bars and truffles that you buy in shops or at markets are made by chocolatiers. Chocolatiers buy chocolate that has been made by someone else (often known as couverture chocolate) and turn it into amazing chocolate products. Sometimes this will be as simple as remoulding and packaging, but often they are adding flavours, or making chocolate products such as truffles or easter eggs. Chocolatiers are highly skilled – working with chocolate requires technical and creative talent. In addition, the range of couverture chocolate available is vast and chocolatiers are increasingly using couverture chocolate that is fair trade, organic, etc.  Chocolatiers are no better or worse than bean-to-bar chocolate makers, they are just different.

Cadbury’s buy beans, are they bean-to-bar? While some (very) big chocolate companies do buy cocoa beans and make their own chocolate, there is not ‘one person or a small group’ responsible for the final product, so we don’t consider that ‘bean to bar’, although we acknowledge that it many be more accurate to differentiate them by calling small group producers ‘craft bean-to-bar chocolate makers’. More difficult is when someone who started out as a very small batch, bean-to-bar chocolate maker becomes successful and moves to large scale production. Are they still bean-to-bar, or have they become commercial? There is no easy answer and we take it on a case by case basis.

Does bean-to-bar mean single origin? Some people suggest that bean-to-bar chocolate should also be single origin. Just like wine, where cocoa beans are grown influences the flavour of the resulting chocolate. Single-origin chocolate allows the flavours of the beans from a specific location to shine through. This is similar to wine, and although there are many great wines from single vineyard crops, there are also some wonderful blends, and we believe the same of bean-to-bar chocolate. Having said that, many of our bean-to-bar chocolates are single origin.

So for us, bean-to-bar chocolate is made by only a few people who oversee the whole process – from raw cocoa bean to final chocolate bar. But we know that there are lots of different views, and we’d love to hear from you if you have a different definition!