Craft Bean-to-Bar Chocolate: FAQ
Answers to the Most Frequently Asked questions about bean-to-bar chocolate.
A chocolate maker is a professional who turns cacao beans into chocolate. The starting point of his/her job are cocoa beans sourced from producing countries all around the world. Once the beans reach the maker’s factory, they are processed through several machines (roaster, winnower, refiner, melangeur, etc.) and the chocolate bars are the result of this process, which can last several days. This is why their chocolate is also referred to as “bean-to-bar”.
Most chocolate companies on the market simply buy semi-finished products (couverture, cocoa nibs, cocoa powder, cocoa butter) from other companies to melt and mix them. But bean-to-bar means that the same company takes care of the entire process from the cocoa beans to the chocolate. The chocolate maker has a vision for the entire chocolate making process: he/she chooses the beans, the suppliers, the machines, the techniques, the temperatures, until the design of the mold and the style of the packaging. It’s a lot more effort than buying chocolate already made by someone else and melt it. Plus, bean-to-bar makers are known for choosing fine flavor cocoa beans sourced from ethical suppliers and paying a premium for the high-quality of their ingredients. This is why we like to reward such effort and carry in our assortment the best bean-to-bar chocolate brands on the market.
First, with industrial chocolate the list of ingredients tends to be long and full of questionable ingredients (a lot of sugar, artificial flavors and vegetable oils). With craft chocolate, the list is kept short with minimal and natural ingredients (often only cane sugar and cacao for a dark chocolate bar). Second, while industrial chocolate is made in large, automated and standardized factories, craft chocolate is made by artisans in small-scale operations. Machineries are kept to a minimum, with a lot of craftsmanship behind the scenes which makes the resulting chocolate even more special. Lastly, industrial chocolate companies use bulk cacao, which is cheap, with poor genetics and badly fermented. On the other hand, craft chocolate makers process the highest-quality cacao on the market to bring out the best flavors it has to offer and are willing to pay premium prices for it.
There are many ways in which cacao beans can reach the factories of craft chocolate makers: through importers, distributors, producers, cooperatives and even single farms. Craft chocolate makers focus on sourcing their cacao beans from trusted and reliable sources who can guarantee the wellbeing of their partnering farmers and above average prices for their hard work. Some well-known producers in the fine chocolate industry are Maya Mountain Cacao Company in Belize, Kokoa Kamili in Tanzania and Akesson’s in Madagascar. While this is usually referred to as “Direct Trade”, some companies are also Fair Trade certified, a third-party guarantee of the higher prices paid to cocoa farmers..
Tasting Notes indicate those flavors that are developed from the cacao during the chocolate making process. Whenever you find words like “raspberry, coffee, orange” written on a plain dark chocolate bar, these are not added ingredients, but the flavors that you might experience while tasting the chocolate. These tasting notes are written by the chocolate maker and should be taken more as an indication than an objective truth. Once you taste the chocolate, you will discover your own tasting notes.
Some craft chocolate is certified organic, while some other is not. This doesn’t mean that the chocolate not certified organic is full of chemicals or dangerous for the human body. Craft chocolate is made with cacao often sourced from small farmers who do not have the means to afford chemical fertilizers and pesticides. In fact, we could say that most of the fine cacao on the market is organic “by default”. Moreover, an organic certification is expensive for those farmers who live in a third-world countries. In the end, their cacao might be as “natural” as the cacao with an organic certification.
Some countries of origin are more famous for their fine flavor cocoa than others. However, this is not a good reason to avoid certain countries and prefer others based on popularity. Like not all wine made in Italy is going to be worth your money, even in the chocolate industry the country of origin doesn’t tell the full story. What matters are other factors like genetics, terroir, post-harvesting processes and the skills of the chocolate maker. Therefore, we suggest you give a chance to every country.
The cacao percentage on a chocolate bar is by no means an indication of quality. It simply states the quantity of cacao inside that bar, but doesn’t say anything about the quality of that cacao. Should the alcohol percentage on a bottle of wine be an indication of quality? Definitely not. The same way, the cacao percentage on a chocolate bar only helps you decide how sweet you prefer your chocolate.
Unless it has inclusions of grains, all craft chocolate is gluten-free. Some companies go as far as to be certified Gluten-Free, which means that in their factories no gluten is processed. The rest of the companies must include the “May include gluten” disclaimer on their packaging for law, even though no gluten product is included in the chocolate.
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