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What is Bean-to-Bar Chocolate? (And why it’s Totally Worth the Money)

First of all, welcome to Chocexchange and thanks for clicking over to our blog!

If you consider yourself a chocolate connoisseur you won’t be disappointed with our selection. Over the coming weeks we’ll be adding to our inventory, holding cool workshops and of course, publishing lots more articles that will (hopefully) leave you feeling like you’ve stumbled across the greatest chocolate focused website in the universe.

This inaugural post however, is for the newbs, those of you who have no idea what bean-to-bar chocolate is, but would like to learn more. We don’t want to take up any more of your time than we have too and there’s lots of explaining to do. So let’s go ahead and dive right in:

The bean-to-bar movement – and it is a movement – emerged out of the ashes of the Great Recession when many people were either laid off from or became disillusioned with their jobs. As the movement evolved and the industry grew it became populated by more than just ex-bankers, lawyers and MFA’s. This diverse group of entrepreneurs now includes Silicon Valley geeks, award winning pastry chefs, at-risk Vancouver women, & twenty-somethings galore.

Today, there are well over a hundred bean-to-bar makers in Canada and the United States alone, with many more scattered around the world. Depending on how well equipped they are, bean-to-bar makers can operate out of large factories or small apartment kitchens. No matter their background, the chocolate making process remains more of less the same.

The craft of making chocolate begins with a cacao bean…

That’s harvested by a farmer.

Actually, most mass produced chocolate is harvested by a child, but bean-to-bar makers are very particular about where they source their beans. Once the relationship between maker and farmer has been forged and a fair price negotiated, the farmer then ferments and dries the beans before shipping them off to the maker. Makers then roast, crack, sort, winnow, grind, conche, temper and finally wrap the bars.

Roast. This is done using everything from conventional kitchen ovens to coffee roasters to a simple pan on a stove. There’s no standard temperature and roasting time. This means that beans from the same origin can have vastly different flavour profiles from maker to maker.

Crack. Each cacao bean is cracked to expose the nibs inside. This is insanely important. Why? Well, it’s the nibs that will eventually become chocolate!

Sort. The cracked cacao beans need to be sorted into nibs and inedible shell. This is a near-coma inducing, laborious and boring task that’s often done by hand.

Winnow. Next, the unwanted papery shell needs to be removed, leaving behind only the central, solid part of the bean. It’s another part of the process where makers have the tendency to lose the will to live.

Grind. The cacao nibs are mixed with sugar and ground into itty bitty little particles. This results in a cacao “liquor” that won’t get you drunk, but is as smooth and silky as the pectoral muscles of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime.

Conch. Some makers are masochists and add an extra step(!) by using machines to smooth the chocolate out even more.

Temper. The chocolate must be heated and cooled in a controlled manner so that special crystals, called Form V, are produced. Tempering involves a combination of polymorphous crystallization, thermodynamics, Ostwald’s Rule and non-Newtonian flow characteristics. Basically, when done properly tempering ensures chocolate has a nice snap, sheen and will melt where it’s supposed to; in your mouth, not in your hand.

Warp. Last, but not least, comes the packaging. Some makers like Twenty-Four Blackbirds opt for plain kraft paper while using a printer you’d expect to find in your grandmother’s closet. Others, like Omnom use packaging to display their cultural heritage and visually tell their story.

Still need convincing that bean-to-bar chocolate is more like fine wine than candy? Pete Wells, one of the most respected food critics in the world, wrote for the New York Times, “Turning these beans into chocolate, they [makers] try to bring out the distinctive voice of the variety and the place where it grew. A harmonious unity is the goal of traditional, blended chocolate; you get the whole orchestra at once. With these single-origin or single-estate bars, you can hear the clarinets and French horns.”

So ya, the bars on Chocexchange might cost upwards of $10…but they’re totally worth it!

 

Industrial Chocolate Bean-to-Bar Chocolate
Farmers aren’t paid fair wages Farmers are often paid more than fair-trade prices
Farmers = children Close personal relationship between farmers and makers. The entire community benefits.
Low quality beans High quality beans that are carefully fermented and dried to bring out the unique flavours inherent to each variety.
Very little actual cacao used. Hershey bars only have 11 percent! Typically 70% or more pure cocoa per bar.
Packed with additives and other fillers Two ingredients: cacao beans and cane sugar. Sometimes makers will add an inclusion such as sea salt or nuts.
Wrapped by the millions by machines in massive factories before being shipped worldwide Bars are often wrapped by hand and meticulously designed. Even the paper is carefully chosen and usually 100% recycled.

 

 

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