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 - http://www.thechocolatelife.com/clay/
updated by @clay: 01/10/16 10:24:04PM