Bean to Bar chocolate is one of the newest trends in the world of chocolate. you would have seen them increasingly on supermarket aisles. These days, it is exclusive bean to bar chocolate shops are not uncommon. So, what exactly is bean to bar chocolate? This post aims to answer some frequently asked questions about bean to bar chocolate.
In simple terms, a chocolate is termed as bean to bar chocolate when the manufacturer ensures that she controls the complete process of how the chocolate is made. A bean to bar chocolate maker is present in all the stages of chocolate making, right from roasting of the cocoa beans to grinding to conching and tempering of the chocolate and finally to setting it into moulds to make the bar of chocolate.
Traditional chocolate companies buy industrial chocolate (bulk chocolate, also called couverture), melt it and add their flavours and recipe to make chocolate. Some companies source intermediate cocoa products like cocoa liqour and cocoa butter to make their chocolate. An even smaller percentage buys cocoa beans (from many origin countries), blend and process them to make different recipes.
On the other hand, bean to bar chocolate manufacturers start right from the bean, often at the cocoa farm, to the final product – the chocolate. Most bean to bar chocolate makers either source their cocoa from a single farm or a small set of farms from a few origin countries. This allows them a degree of control over their supply chain which is impossible for the big chocolate companies to match.
What is different about the taste of bean to bar chocolate?
Cocoa beans have a natural flavour profile. Cocoa beans from different plantations of the world can impart a specific flavour to the final chocolate. This flavour profile comes from the soil type, climate, surrounding vegetation and post harvest handling of the cocoa pods and cocoa beans. Some of these flavours can be fruity (plum, apricot, berry), floral (honey), herbal, and woody, nutty and caramelic flavours.
For most of the big chocolate sellers, it is next to impossible to maintain this flavour profile in their final product. They consume hundreds of thousands of tonnes of cocoa beans from dozens of origin countries and thousands of farms. Oftentimes, they buy bulk chocolate or cocoa intermediate products (cocoa liqour, cocoa butter or even cocoa powder) from different vendors. These companies rely on economis of scale and maintaining the cocoa flavour identity cannot be achieved by them.
On the other hand, bean to bar chocolate makers process cocoa beans themselves instead of buying bulk chocolate or cocoa liqour and cocoa butter. They mostly work with small holder cocoa planters that produce fine or flavoured cocoa. Many bean to bar cocoa makers also ensure that their products are organic. Another school of (chocolate) thought promotes raw chocolate – chocolate that is additive free and contains just cocoa and sugar.
What is the social impact of bean to bar chocolate makers?
Bean to bar chocolate makers are also being increasingly preferred by consumers because of their positive impact on the cocoa sector. Cocoa is the main and the most expensive ingredient of any chocolate. Unfortunately, this price advantage never reaches most small holder cocoa planters who often receive less than 1% of the retail price of chocolate for their cocoa. The cocoa sector is also rife with allegations of child labour (watch a CNN documentary on child labour in the cocoa sector), slavery and unfavourable agricultural practices.
Many bean to bar chocolate makers work directly with planters. Because many middlemen are removed, bean to bar chocolate makers can provide a higher price to a planter. Also, bean to bar chocolate commands a premium in the market. A part of this premium gets passed to the planter and she remains incentivized to maintain the quality of her produce.
The percentage of fine cocoa beans as a percentage of the global crop is very insignificant. This gives the bean to bar chocolate maker, an added incentive to help the planter increase her produce. Many bean to bar chocolate makers help planters by sharing good agricultural practices like organic farming, inter-cropping, using shade trees etc.
Social impact of chocolate making has always been a reason behind the emergence of the bean to bar chocolate movement. All bean to bar chocolate makers should ensure that their cocoa is child labour and slavery free. Many indeed do. Given the control that bean to bar chocolate makers exert on their supply chain, they can ensure the overall development of the communities where their cocoa farms are located.
Why is bean to bar chocolate more expensive than normal chocolate?
Bean to bar chocolate tends to be much more expensive that normal chocolate because of the small scale of operation of bean to bar chocolate makers. Big chocolate makers buy a lot of cocoa. Much of their production processes are mechanized and use economies of scale to bring costs down. For many bean to bar chocolate makers, their chocolates are handmade.
The small scale of bean to bar chocolate makers gives them the ability to preserve the natural cocoa flavours originating from a particular plantation or origin. Bean to bar chocolate makers are tightly integrated with the cocoa plantation – the source of the primary product of chocolate. Hence, their chocolates are perceived to be better in taste and of a higher quality than bulk manufactured chocolates. This small scale and tight integration ensures a positive social impact on the cocoa planter and her community.
Another factor that adds to the cost of bean to bar chocolate is the excellent quality of the cocoa that most bean to bar chocolate makers work with. Bean to bar chocolate makers source fine quality cocoa that is rare and tends to be much more expensive than ordinary cocoa.
Many bean to bar chocolate makers ensure that the cocoa they use in their chocolates is child labour and slavery free. This increases the cost of production of cocoa. The producers of organic bean to bar chocolate also ensure that the cocoa farms do not use chemical fertilizers, insecticides or pesticides. This means that unlike bulk cocoa farms that use these chemical agricultural inputs, the yields of a cocoa farm can not go beyond a point. This also increases the per kilo cost of cocoa beans.
Bean to bar chocolate makers give their customers the assurance of complete integration with the supply chain of cocoa and small scale of operation to ensure quality. Given these advantages, chocolate connoisseurs are increasingly willing to pay the extra premium to ensure that what they are eating is of prime quality, distinctive taste and a socially responsible product.
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