New Definitions for a New Year

Clay Gordon
01/17/15 12:11:55
1,680 posts

It Occurred To Me Many Times, In 2014 ...

... that maybe we were having arguments about things that really weren't the argument we should be having, still. What is the definition of bean-to-bar? Really? What does it mean to be a Craft chocolate maker? While these definitions may be important to a very small percentage of chocolate enthusiasts, 90+ percent of people who eat chocolate don't care and get easily bored and, in the end, get pushed away from wanting to learn to appreciate fine flavor chocolate.

For that reason, I started using the following definitions over the course of 2014 when talking and writing about chocolate and intend to do so moving forward. Let me know what you think.

What It Means To Be Bean-To-Bar

I hate the phrase bean-to-bar because the discussion centers around what really constitutes working from the bean really means. For some people (most, I think), it means owning all the equipment and personally doing all the work on the equpiment you own. Many people have problems with the TCHO approach where they send their chocolate maker to origin to personally oversee the roasting and grinding and then finish the chocolate in their factory. How could that possibly be "bean-to-bar" when roasting is done thousands of miles away on someone else's equipment?

I personally don't see any problems with a chocolate maker calling themselves "bean-to-bar" as long as they are transparent about what they are really doing and they personally oversee every step of the process from roasting to conching and don't just phone it in. I can also make the argument that it returns more to the local community because the cost of roasting and grinding is captured locally, and I can also make the argument that transportation costs are lowered because the weight of what's being shipped is reduced by around 20%. So, by this definition, TCHO is positively bean-to-bar.

But what does this mean for industrial companies. Is Cargill bean-to-bar? Callebaut?

Here's where I want to shift the debate a bit. In my opinion, in order to call a chocolate maker "bean-to-bar" they must produce a retail bar under their own brand. Can you go to a Whole Foods and get a Cargill or ICAM/Agostoni-branded chocolate bar? Kakao Berlin? No? Then they are not bean-to-bar. This makes it very simple to know who is bean-to-bar ~~ focus on the output, not the input. By this definition, TCHO is positively bean-to-bar, as are Cluizel, Valrhona, Bonnat, Guittard, and many others. But Felchlin is not.

On the input side, I now preferentially use the phrase from-the-bean. A company can make chocolate starting from beans, starting from nibs (from nibs), or starting from liquor (from liquor), etc.

If you combine these two concepts then the confusion goes away, there's nothing to argue about, and we can get past it and on to things that really matter, like what does it taste like?

What It Means To Be A Craft/Artisan Chocolate Maker

I think most people equate craft/artisan with batch size and hand-made. The question is, at what batch size are you no longer a craft chocolate maker? Again, I now think that this is the wrong place to focus attention.

For me, the dividing line between being a craft chocolate maker and an industrial chocolate maker is when consistency and repeatability become the primary concerns. This is because it's also important for their customers. If the rheology of a chocolate changes from one shipment to the next it creates a major problem in recipes and tempering parameters change. Flavor differences are also problematic.

For a company like Valrhona, it's important that Manjari tastes like Manjari, even when the beans taste different from harvest-to-harvest and year-over-year. For their customers who use it to enrobe, they trust it to behave the same way day in and day out. Thus Valrhona uses blending among other techniques and a lot of complicated science to hit a specific flavor profile, within a narrow margin, batch after batch, year after year. And yes, it's easier to do it when working tonnes at a time instead of tens of kilos at  time.

Craft chocolate makers, on the other hand, are less concerned (if they are concerned at all) about consistency from batch to batch and more concerned about bringing out the essence of the bean (as they interpret it). Because their chocolate is not being used for industrial-scale enrobing (it's probably not used to enrobe at all), there is no need for consistent rheology. (However, consistent rheology would make tempering and molding a lot easier.)

However, being a "craft" chocolate maker does not mean it's okay to hide behind the fact that the chocolate is being made in small batches (and the essential nature of small batch manufacturing means each batch is different), to keep from having to learn the craft - the art and the science - of chocolate making.

To me, while a craft chocolate may not be striving for consistency from batch to batch, they should be able to pull it off, if asked. I personally don't buy into the notion that chocolate made from beans from the same lot should has to taste different from batch to batch. If a chocolate maker buys five tonnes of the same beans at the same time from the same harvest, they should be able to make chocolate that is substantially the same from all five tonnes of beans. The wine analogy is if wine from the same vineyard and winemaker would taste different from barrel to barrel (which could mean from one bottle to another in different cases). 

From this perspective it's much easier to tell who's a true craft chocolate maker and who's not. I also think it's possible for a chocolate maker to exist in both camps at the same time. Guittard is mostly an industrial chocolate maker - that's where most of their products and sales fit. With the E Guittard line? Possible to argue that they fit into the craft category. With the E Guittard line they are not only from-the-bean but they are also bean-to-bar because you can purchase E Guittard-branded bars at retail. They are not bean-to-bar for their industrial products.

What It Means To Be A Single-Origin Chocolate

The phrase single-origin can be quite misleading. It can refer to a country, a growing region, or a single estate or farm. What does it mean to be single-origin Venezuela? All the beans come from somewhere in Venezuela (or maybe not, a lot of cross-border smuggling occurs), but where in Venezuela?  

So, about five years ago I started using just the word origin. The origin can be quite broad – Indonesia – or it can be quite narrow – Hacienda el Rosario (single-estate Venezuela) or Guasare (single varietal Venezuela). The specificity gets added on as a qualifier to the word origin. Let's drop the use of "single" because it can be used to confuse.

Also, for the record, an origin chocolate that uses cocoa butter in the recipe where the cocoa butter comes from a different origin may not be "single-origin." If I make chocolate from beans from around Lake Maracaibo and the cocoa butter is made from beans grown in Carenero, then the chocolate can be single-origin Venezuelan, but not single-origin Maracaibo (or Sur del Lago). If the beans are from Maracaibo and the butter from West Africa then it's not single-origin anything.

[ Edited on Dec 27, 2015 to fix typos and for clarity. ]

clay -

updated by @clay: 01/10/16 20:24:04
Clay Gordon
12/27/15 15:47:15
1,680 posts

So here's a question to consider after re-reading this and editing it for typos:

For me, the questions are about which parts of the process truly matter in the final product. Roasting? Check. Grinding, refining, and conching? Check.

Molding and putting it into wrappers/boxes? Maybe not so much. I agree that tempering is an important art to learn, but actually doing it myself when a contract manufacturer could do it better might be worth it.

This is what Scharffen Berger did for several years before they got bought to Hershey, at least for the small tasting squares. It made no economic sense for them to buy the (expensive) machines to wrap the squares so they shipped the chocolate across the country to NJ to a company who did that work for them. Did that make them any less of a "from-the-bean" or "bean-to-bar" chocolate maker?

I think not. What think you?


clay -
12/31/15 11:48:20
2 posts

Ok, so being new to the industry, was glad that I'm not the only one with questions about bean to bar.  In your opinion description, you say: "they must produce a retail bar under their own brand", but then also define the phrase "from the bean".  In my simplified view, the bean-to-bar defines that the maker gets the beans and produces the bar, but it seems like it's become quite ambiguous?  

When you mention the production of retail bar under their own brand, what is that opposed to?  Isn't that what most makers do, even if they just remelt someone elses product?

David Peterson
01/02/16 16:18:41
14 posts

I personally have found that the average person does not understand what bean-to-bar really means. Instead, I started using the phrase bean-to-chocolate, which was originally coined by Callebaut. It works and people seem to grasp the concept better. 

Clay Gordon
01/04/16 17:45:06
1,680 posts


Ok, so being new to the industry, was glad that I'm not the only one with questions about bean to bar.  In your opinion description, you say: "they must produce a retail bar under their own brand", but then also define the phrase "from the bean".  In my simplified view, the bean-to-bar defines that the maker gets the beans and produces the bar, but it seems like it's become quite ambiguous?   When you mention the production of retail bar under their own brand, what is that opposed to?  Isn't that what most makers do, even if they just remelt someone elses product?

In the simple view, Barry-Callebaut is a "bean-to-bar" maker because they do make chocolate bars. Huge ones that are mostly only used by remelters. Small from-the-bean makers who wish to differentiate themselves from industrial producers would have a problem calling B-C a "bean-to-bar" chocolate maker though they are in a literal sense. They make chocolate from cocoa beans and they mold chocolate bars.


From-the-bean clearly differentiates a remelter, who would be properly labeled "from-couverture."


By throwing the retail bar in their own label requirement in, you can say that a "bean-to-bar" chocolate maker starts with cocoa beans and ends up producing finished bars for retail sale. This disqualifies Barry-Callebaut (and, unfortunately Felchlin as well - which produces very fine bars for many companies under private-label contracts), but it means that companies like Guittard, Valrhona, and Cluizel, and many others who are also industrial-scale producers can be considered bean-to-bar.


The question is ... where do you want to draw the line? Purists will say that a "true" bean-to-bar chocolate maker must own all of the equipment and do all of the work in-house. I am less demanding because I can see a lot of value of roasting and liquor-making at origin. But to be considered bean-to-bar the chocolate maker would have to personally supervise every single roast and grind. If they just phoned it in, then they'd from a from-liquor chocolate maker.


Some companies, like Pralus and Scharffen Berger in the early days, only produce some of their bars. When I visited the Pralus factory I could only see wrapping machines for their 100gr bars, not the smaller tasting squares. Those were (at the time, I don't know the situation now), wrapped by someone else with special machinery.


Answers to questions about where to draw lines become even fuzzier if we want to start talking about the definitions of craft, or artisan, or micro-batch. In the end I think that these are nuances that are important to only small, but passionate, segments of the producer and consumer markets.


[Edited on Jan 5, 2016 for typos and grammar.]

clay -

updated by @clay: 01/10/16 20:26:06


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