Bean to Bar, and the meaning behind it

When we communicate our chocolate’s value proposition, one of the terms we use is Bean to Bar.  Being craft chocolate makers so heavily involved with the weight and intricacies of daily production, it’s easy to forget that many consumers still don’t fully understand the depth of information contained in that loaded term.  Actually, it’s not forgetting; we don’t often have the opportunity or the universal platform to dive deep and explain Bean to Bar’s complexity, nuance, and real-life implications.

We are not the only ones in the fine chocolate value chain who struggle with clarity and communication.  Writer Sharon Terenzi regularly examines all things chocolate and recognized in a recent Chocolate Journalist article and blog post that, “mass-produced chocolate is now speaking the same language of craft chocolate, slimming the perceptive gap between the two products.”  To address the growing confusion, fine chocolate’s trade association FCIA (Fine Chocolate Industry Association) has created an online Fine Chocolate Glossary of Terms to establish a common language and enhance communication among fine chocolate stakeholders and with the public.  The Chocolate Glossary will launch with initial terms by year end 2022, and it will grow as members and subject matter experts author definitions and the volunteer group is able to publish them.

As members of the FCIA we volunteered to define a glossary term, and we were given Bean to Bar.  We now have the opportunity and the platform, and we are happy to dive deep.

Bean to Bar, the approach

“Bean to Bar” is an approach to making chocolate that communicates added value and a focus on maximizing the natural flavors inherent in the cacao bean.   This description recognizes the main ingredient, the transformation processes, and the end product, placing significant value on each factor which contributes to the resulting chocolate.

Although the process of making chocolate is complex, Bean to Bar is generally accepted as a short-hand term for high-quality chocolate with a focus on flavor, crafted by a maker who starts manufacturing with the actual, value-added bean.

The only ingredients necessary to craft chocolate are cacao beans and sweetener.  Food science writer Harold McGee relates in his book On Food and Cooking: the Science and Lore of the Kitchen that, “the transformation of the fresh cacao bean into a finished chocolate is an intriguing collaboration… cacao farmers and chocolate manufacturers develop its potential… manufacturers grind the beans, add sugar, and then physically work the mixture to refine its flavor and create a silken texture.”

The US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) defines “sweet chocolate” as the food prepared by “mixing and grinding chocolate liquor with one or more optional nutritive carbohydrate sweeteners…”  Chocolate liquor is further defined as the crushed cacao bean.

Bean & Origin

The cacao bean is the seed of the cacao fruit that grows on tropical trees along the equator.  Generally, cacao beans consist of about 50% fat (cocoa butter) and the remainder is proteins, nutrients, starches, minerals and water.  There are more than 600 different flavor compounds (odor-active) naturally present in cacao beans.  It is important to understand the vast flavor potential of cacao because there are many stakeholders, factors and steps throughout the chocolate making process that impact chocolate’s final flavor expression.

The Bean to Bar process recognizes that cacao farmers and producers at origin have the ability to significantly impact the flavor and quality of their beans, the essential ingredient of chocolate.  Factors including plant genetics, environment or terroir, farming and labor practices, post-harvest fermentation and drying practices, and quality standards all contribute to the flavor potential and ethics of the cacao bean.  Cacao produced with increased attention and added value commands a higher price than bulk cacao traded in the commodity market.  Different combinations of the factors in varying degrees yield cacao with different natural flavor characteristics, and there are a variety of cacao farmers, producers and models around the world.

Flavors & Ingredients

The chocolate maker manages the next steps in the process and determines how chocolate is crafted and expressed.  The maker controls chocolate expression through ingredient selection, manufacturing processes, messaging, food packaging and delivery.

Cacao flavor potential and quality as well as Transparency and Traceability are particularly important to Bean to Bar makers in varying degrees.  In the Chocolate Glossary the FCIA has defined Traceability as, “the physical map of the trading process from (cacao) grower to chocolate maker,” and Transparency as, “the willingness to share the map.”

Makers typically use craft or small batch manufacturing methods (as opposed to large, industrial-scale) to highlight the unique flavor nuances in the bean and control the bean’s expression.  If makers have beans that are of inferior flavor quality, it is difficult to mask the defects in the Bean to Bar chocolate making process.

Bean to Bar makers typically use minimal ingredients to craft chocolate so that they can highlight the natural flavor notes within the bean.  Some makers only use cacao beans and sweetener (cane sugar, honey, etc.) to craft bars.  Others add additional cocoa butter (either bulk deodorized, natural or our approach of same single origin as the bean) or other fat to enhance the tasting experience and/or make the chocolate more workable with kitchen equipment.  Just like wine and coffee naturally have intrinsic flavors and tasting notes, so does chemically-complex chocolate, with a variety of expressions.

Makers may also add other ingredients or inclusions to their chocolate (coffee, dairy milk, plant-based milk, fruits, nuts, etc.).  The combination of naturally-present chocolate flavor notes and other ingredients can complement and amplify flavors and craft entirely new tasting experiences.

There is vast flavor potential within cacao and chocolate, and a variety of graphical flavor wheels and maps are available to guide and help consumers connect taste with known flavors or experience.  We’ve found that Counter Culture Coffee’s Taster’s Flavor Wheel relates just as well for tasting chocolate.  We also like how this shows a shared relationship between two different food categories; again, just like coffee, chocolate also has intrinsic, naturally-present flavors.

Manufacturing & Maker

There are a variety of steps involved in Bean to Bar crafting and manufacturing.  Makers choose their processes and equipment based on their desire to develop flavors and operate their businesses, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach.  In food writer and chocolate taster Megan Giller’s book Bean To Bar Chocolate: America’s Chocolate Revolution, she explores many of the chocolate makers and their approaches to chocolate.  What is agreed upon is that the makers start with the physical bean and end with chocolate in bar form, and the flavor potential and added value in their cacao is paramount to their final expression of crafted chocolate.

At Goodnow Farms Chocolate, we start our chocolate making by sourcing at origin.  We have direct and on-going relationships with farmers and producers to understand farming and post-harvest practices and ensure we are aligned with ethical, environmental, fine flavor and high-quality standards.  Throughout the Americas we source from geographically centralized groups of small-holder farmers (ex: Impulsa Bacao in Boyaca, Colombia) as well and single-estate farms (ex: Costa Esmeraldas in Ecuador), and we pay a premium for their cacao, often 2-4 times the commodity price.

In our chocolate kitchen we employ the following steps to craft our single origin, 3-ingredient, Bean to Bar Chocolate.  For each single origin batch we hand sort our beans to remove defects (broken, conjoined, or moldy beans) and then roast small batches in our drum-roast oven.  Each bean origin has a specific roast profile to elicit the most flavor.  We winnow the beans to break off and remove the outer husk/shell and are left with the broken bean interiors or the cacao nibs.

We add the cacao nibs and sugar to large steel drum and granite stone melanguers, for the grinding, mixing and conching processes.  The heavy stone wheels grind the cacao and sugar so small that the individual particles cannot be detected by the taster’s tongue, and the final chocolate is smooth.  The rotating wheels also perform another operation called conching; the rotating wheels expose the mixture to air allowing volatile acids to dissipate and flavors to develop.  Like the roasting, each bean origin has a unique grind and conche profile to maximize bean flavor development- time, pressure, heat, speed and additional ingredients all impact the chocolate flavor, and this can take up to 5-6 days.

During this stage we take another step that is distinctive of our approach- we roast and grind additional cacao of that same origin, freshly press cocoa butter from it in a cocoa butter press and then add that supplemental, single origin cocoa butter to the same single origin chocolate grinding in the melanguer.  For our chocolate, this step is very important to enhance flavor expression and mouthfeel.

When grinding is complete, we strain/sift our chocolate through a fine-gauge mesh screen to ensure no tiny, crunchy solid particles remain.  We transfer the chocolate to a large tempering and molding machine that heats and cools the food to change its fat crystalline structure- this allows the chocolate to be solid at room temperature and to also “snap” when you break off a piece.

We mold our chocolate bars by hand- after depositing liquid chocolate into the molds, they cool in a blast chiller and we de-mold them onto large trays.  We individually hand-wrap each bar in a re-sealable sleeve and then encase it in a hard-stock paper envelope wrapper, which we designed to communicate our chocolate’s value proposition, including the words Bean to Bar.

History & Current Day

Scharffen Berger Chocolate popularized the term Bean to Bar in the mid 1990s with their radical, commercial approach in working with specific cacao bean origins/types to create unique and exciting chocolate flavor experiences.  Before that point some people and companies had indeed worked with specific cacao origins, but it was generally larger-scale companies, and access to high-quality and consistent beans was limited.  Changes like the internet and globalization, easier access to travel, more information and better communication really made the Bean to Bar movement possible and has allowed it to grow and evolve.

Craft and fine flavor chocolate makers have spent more than 25 years telling the Bean to Bar story.  They’ve been educating consumers that Bean to Bar chocolate can taste like the fruit that it comes from, and that it is a value-added food since what goes into it matters.  With time, the public’s awareness of and interest in chocolate has grown.  Following the SWEET INSIGHTS, Getting to Know Chocolate Consumers 2021 consumer survey the US National Confectioners Association (NCA) reported that 29% of consumers treat themselves with “Fine Chocolate” sometimes, and 5% say that it’s their “typical choice.”  The NCA also reported that 25% of all chocolate consumers have a preference for where cacao is sourced and that the traceability, transparency and sustainability are important in making a chocolate purchasing decision; 63% of consumers were interested in responsible labor practices, 59% desired sustainable sourcing, and 58% were interested in transparent production processes.

Larger, mass-market, industrial chocolate companies have noticed the fine chocolate market growth and have taken cues from the trend-setting craft market.  On some labels of industrial chocolate bars marketing messaging states “Bean to Bar.”  While all chocolate does come from a bean, these statements do not always align with the generally accepted, fine flavor and value-added sentiment of the craft and fine chocolate community.

For this reason and many more, FCIA members have joined together to clarify, define and communicate the unique, fine flavor, multi-stakeholder and multi-step value proposition contained within the shorthand term Bean to Bar, and we are pleased to share it with you.

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