What is small batch bean-to-bar chocolate?
Bean-to-bar chocolate makers take cacao beans, make chocolate, and create the chocolate bars and products you and I know and love. That’s different from a chocolatier who takes already-made chocolate and turns it into delicious confections.
Bean to bar chocolate, or craft chocolate, is just what the name implies; when a chocolate maker creates a bar of chocolate from the fermented and dried cocoa beans they have received from the farmer. The ‘craft’ the chocolate bar right there and not surprisingly perhaps, this is where the art and the skill of the makers really shines.
We call it ‘small batch’ because that’s what it is. This specialist chocolate is produced in small quantities which gives results that can’t be replicated on a grand ‘supermarket’ scale.
the difference between his small batch bean to bar craft chocolate and the mass-produced bean to bar chocolate. Both are still technically ‘bean to bar’ products, but the mass-produced versions have nowhere near the quality or flavor as a small batch bean to bar.
Imagine only ever having sipped your go-to sauvignon blanc without having tasted one from a different vineyard, or a different country? What about sampling a Pinot Noir or a Riesling from a particularly good vintage? Just like wine, like coffee and artisan beers, there is a whole world of chocolate flavor out there to be enjoyed.
Until recently it was thought that there are three main varieties of cocoa beans: forastero, criollo and trinitario. In short everything from Mexico to Venezuela was thought of criollo, anything on the other side of the amazonas was foreign or forastero and then they created an hybrid in Trinidad y Tobago called Trinitario. However recent genetic studies have shown that there are at least 10 distinctly different cacao types with many subvarieties. Only Criollo stands as such. The mass-produced chocolate we see on the supermarket shelves is likely to have been made from Amelonado beans 80-90% of the world’s cocoa is made from this variety as it’s cheap and reliable to grow, whilst criollo is the rarest and most expensive type of cocoa, highly prized amongst those in the know. Trinitario is a hybrid, combining the hardiness and high yield of forastero and the refined taste of criollo.
If the beans are not overroasted it is possible to taste the complex flavors; think fruity or floral, spicy, nutty or even earthy. Simply using a rare bean variety does not necessarily guarantee a spectacular product and the reverse is also true. There are some exceptional makers out there who, using the finest quality yet ‘common’ forastero bean, can produce amazing chocolate.
The earth, the climate, and the surrounding vegetation all contribute to the flavor foundation of a cocoa bean. And when we consider the origins of the beans; far flung places including South America, Africa it’s easy to see how the beans could end up tasting a little different, even if they were of the same strain.
Just like the wine example we just used, ‘single estate’ cacaos have their own unique flavor, imprinted from their strain, influenced by their soil and climate and then brought to life in clever ways by the chocolate maker.
The processing of the beans is also critical to the final taste and texture of the chocolate and the craft chocolate makers of a bean to bar product control each step; their attention to detail is staggering. The cracking and de-shelling, the roasting time and temperature, grinding, conching and tempering all contribute to that special small batch bean to bar uniqueness.
The batch size
Industrial chocolate can only be achieved in large quantities if huge quantities of differing cacao are mixed to be standardized and then with the use of vanilla smoothened in taste. Small batches do exactly the opposite. They select only those beans that belong together in quality and taste and then it is the chocolate makers task to bring out the best flavor of these beans
small batch bean to bar craft chocolate consisting of only cocoa and sugar. That’s it. Although, some high quality, complementary flavors have been blended together with the cocoa and sugar – just for extra interest lack of preservatives, artificial flavorings, stabilizers, vegetable fat or glucose, all the ingredients that give supermarket chocolate its shelf life
you won’t necessarily see a Fair Trade logo. Choosing a bean to bar product usually means you’re going a step further than Fair Trade to something called Direct Trade. Direct Trade is a relatively new concept and represents a ‘direct’ relationship between the chocolate makers and the cacao farmers. The bean to bar craft chocolate makers go straight to the source of their cacao, build relationships with the growers, often helping them with education, buildings or medical supplies. And they pay them well…even more, that would be required via an official Fair Trade arrangement.
Taking Care of the environment
Deforestation is one of the major issues with cacao. It is not enough to have "organic" cacao as this label only certifies that the cacao doesn't contain any pesticides. This is important! But we need to go a step further and look for companies who actively seek to shade-grown cacao in agroforestry systems and that do not incrust themselves in National Parks
Art in the packaging
While art and chocolate may seem an unexpected pairing, both require curiosity, ingenuity, tenacity, and craft. We believe in full, extraordinary lives that extend beyond a traditional art career and enjoy the collaboration between our studios and the kitchen.
Creating a bar that remains cool on display and yet melts in your mouth is a mix of science and art. First, the cocoa beans are roasted. The slow heat releases a dark sweet smell and the shells are removed. The nibs, the inside of the beans, are then ground into a dark brown paste known as cocoa liquor. Some of this liquor is pressed to extract cocoa butter.
The final chocolate mix which contains cocoa liquor, sugar (milk), and cacao butter, is blended to a consistency where the particles of cocoa and sugar are too small for the tongue to detect. It is then repeatedly warmed and cooled. The finished bar should meld just under body temperature. Finally, it is molded into a bar, wrapped and packed for sale
Enjoy your bar!