Part 3: Fact Checking Georg Bernardini's "Chocolate - The Reference Standard"

Clay Gordon
02/27/16 15:41:22
1,680 posts

Part 1 can be found  here.  Part 2 can be found  here.  

Note : When in Amsterdam for CHOCOA in early February, I spoke with someone who knows chocolate quite well, is a native German speaker with a very good command of English, and who is familiar with both the most recent German and the English–language versions of TRS. I was told that many of the factual flaws I point out in the English–language version are present in the most recent German-language version, and that at least some of the poor quality of the English–language translations can be traced to the original German: It’s just not that well written to begin with.

A Raw Deal

I have eaten a lot of brands of “raw” chocolate and, like Bernardini, find most of it to be unsatisfying. I don’t eat chocolate primarily for its health benefits and I tend not to eat things I don’t like the taste of just because of health benefit claims.

Those who follow TheChocolateLife know that I am skeptical of many if not most of the claims concerning raw chocolate. One reason (apart from the fact that the claims are not backed up by any reputable science) is that there is no definition for what is raw and what is not: There is even disagreement among the raw food community about what it means. I have seen temperatures as low as 40C suggested as the upper bound for being raw, though the most widely–accepted figure I have heard is 118F (48.7C).

Furthermore, there are no legal definitions in food law as to what constitutes raw. There is a legal definition in the US for white chocolate ( CFR 21.163 .124), but no definition for raw anything. There is no definition for raw in European food regulations that I can find.

Given that there is a lack of agreement about what raw is and is not, and there are no legal definitions, it's somewhat surprising that Bernardini singles out one company above all others for “lying” about a product which does not fit a definition that does not exist. The question in my mind is, “Why this singular focus?”

Bernardini devotes four full pages of TRS to raw chocolate and superfood (pp102-105). In this discussion of raw he mentions two companies, Pacari and Pana. Of Pana he writes, “If the very likeable and successful Mr. Pana Barbounis from Pana Chocolates assures me that he manages this [staying under 116F], I have to believe him. He can’t prove it to me and as there is no legal regulation, he doesn’t need to prove it to anyone else. As I still believe in goodness and honesty in people, I also believe Mr Barbounis.”

But, on the prior page, he is much less forgiving in his analysis of Pacari.

Apparently Bernardini believes the claims of every so-called “raw” chocolate company in the world, except the “very likeable and successful Mr. Santiago Peralta from Pacari Chocolates.” If you read the section on raw chocolate closely, and then follow it up immediately by reading the section on Pacari, it is not difficult to come to the conclusion that Bernardini has a specific axe to grind with respect to Pacari. Especially when you read what he has to say about other raw chocolate companies and other Ecuadorian chocolate makers.

The Unconfirmed

I took the time to reach out and ask some of the companies listed as “Unconfirmed” with respect to their processing status. Rather than my defending the practices of any of them, I asked them to prepare a statement responding to what was written about them so you can judge what Bernardini has written against the statements I received.

I have not edited the responses [other than to remove unneeded spaces], so any misspellings and errors in grammar are in what I received. I have translated some terms, they appear within [square brackets].

In alphabetical order:

Contributor: Sam Giha

If I were to comment on Georg Bernardini's book I would actually say I like it, but I'm not quite sure it is actually a Referrence Book (unconfirmed). 

We purchased Georg Bernardini's book and find that the idea is a good one, but in line with what you mention, it could have been more thorough in order to leave out the unfortunate false rumors and rather offer verified information. We have always been "bean to bar" and not only that, but the beans we used have always been fermented and dryed by our team. We invested over a year of work with renown venezuelan specialist Gladys Ramos (mother of Guasare cacao) to find the right cacao and learn how to get them to be the best possible dry beans.

In our case he did write that he liked our chocolate and that was what I take from it, but since we have met and exchanged business cards, it was surprising that he didn't just call me and clear up his doubts to find that we are in fact "bean to bar" and even have two post harvest facilities to do our own post harvest process, so we more likely would be considered "tree to bar" because we work directly with small farmers picking our fruit and processing everything from there to get a prime bean that is later taken to our own factory to make our chocolate.

So you see, even with a website under construction, a simple phone call could have given an accurate reference about our company and our chocolate.

By the way, from 2013 we have had a plantation in Piura, eventhough the cacao wasn't ready for harvest. I don't believe owning the tree is what makes your chocolate from Tree to Bar.

I hope this answers the question.

Note: I visited the Cacaosuyo factory in July, 2015 and saw all of the equipment necessary to roast, grind, refine, conche, and deposit chocolate bars as well as many sacks of cocoa beans.

Chapon (Patrice Chapon)
Contributor: Patrice Chapon


Indeed, the book of Bernardini is a tissue of mensonge [lies].

He never came into my fabrique [factory].

[He] interviewed one of my ladies on an exhibition.

D'ailleurs [moreover] how can he write a book on as many chocolatiers in the world without validate their information and take time to meet the chocolatiers?

In addition, it mixes the chocolate that does not make their cocoa with other critère.

Gobino (Guido Gobino)
Contributor: Loredana Ligori


Note:  I visited the Gobino factory in Turin in October, 2015 and saw a complete bean-to-bar line in operation.

Contributor: Santiago Peralta

Pacari chocolates is a vertically integrated company working consistently from tree to bar in a cacao-growing country. We don't just buy cacao beans. We collaborate with farmers directly in farm management, genetic conservation and improvement, and we have a say in every aspect of production starting with the implementation of the organic agriculture methods that we have helped create with farmers all over Ecuador through intensive training and the personal involvement of our technical staff. We don't need to own farms, and we have never made such claims. What we have done is create sound socially and ecologically responsible agricultural systems involving not only cacao but other raw materials like the fruits we use in our flavored bars, which are all made in our factory not elsewhere. Pacari not only has helped create cooperatives of farmers, mostly women, who grow and harvest organic forgotten Andean crops uvillas [goldenberries] and harvest wild mortiños [blueberries], but has also helped them established a plant to process and dehydrate the fruit that we buy for our factory.

If Georg Bernardini had asked us about the way we work, we would have gladly furnished him the required information. Instead, he has chosen to rely on malicious hearsay from undisclosed sources. Georg Bernardini has only asked me personally about the making of our Raw chocolate. I have explained that it is minimally processed. He claims that we have not made this definition public. In fact, we have done it consistently in public presentations and on our packaging.

Our factory has been photographed and filmed for numerous publications and televised programs and visited by colleagues and journalists who have seen and experience every step of our work. Much of this information is public. In addition, all our production methods from farm to factory, have been audited by organic certifying organizations like BCS Oko-Garantie based in Germany. 

The day that I lose touch with the land and sit in an office and start ordering beans only from brokers over the phone, I will stop calling Pacari a tree to bar company.  But for as long as we function as an entirely hands on company with a direct involvement in every step of the production of our raw material, we will continue to define ourselves as a tree to bar company.  We have won that right since we started exporting our chocolate in 2008.

A Unique Point in Time

This is a unique point in history for food lovers of all flavors: This is not a modern craft chocolate movement. It’s not a renaissance or a rediscovery because chocolate as we know it is a product of the industrial revolution and before the industrial revolution there was no established history of connoisseurship in chocolate. Chocolate as we knew it is a product of the industrial revolution.

The craft chocolate “movement” is quite young. Arguably, we can pinpoint 1997 as the year it began, with the opening of Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker in Berkeley. Prior to roughly 20 years ago there was no tradition of connoisseurship and literary criticism about chocolate on a par with that for wines, beers, spirits, balsamic vinegars, olive oils, and cheeses, among other foods and beverages.

We are making up what it means to be a ‘modern’ ‘craft’ chocolate maker as we go. We are at the very beginning of trying to figure out what that means, trying to define chocolate on its own terms, not in comparison with something else.

So I find it completely incomprehensible that, at this point in time, anyone should be narrowly defining what “good” chocolate is or should be. The idea that so-called “two-ingredient” chocolate is the purest form of chocolate and should be elevated above all other forms—as Bernardini explicitly states—is not what we should be doing right now. It’s way too soon, in my opinion, for definitions whose boundaries are hard–edged either/or.

That said, authors are entitled to define terms as they want, even bucking industry norms (ref the discussion re: Sanchez and Hispaniola). We may not agree with those definitions, but we need to understand what they are and how they inform and guide the writing and editing processes. Which brings me back to an earlier observation, “How many people closely read anything other than the reviews?”

Bernardini writes on p100 and p107 that, in order to be considered a true Bean-to-Bar chocolate company, all processes—from roasting to depositing—must be performed in-house on equipment the company directly supervises and controls.

I strongly disagree.

Roasting and grinding at origin adds value, generating more income at origin than simply exporting cocoa beans as an agricultural commodity. Roasting and grinding at origin also reduces the carbon footprint of the chocolate as the company is not transporting excess water and shell (in many cases, about 25–30% of the gross weight of the whole beans). Cocoa liquor is also denser than beans and nib (more product in a container) and is not as subject to damage during shipment by insect infestations or mold and mildew.

In my opinion, as long as the roasting and grinding are personally supervised on-site by the company’s chocolate maker for every batch (the chocolate maker is not just phoning in orders) I have zero problem with a company saying that they work from beans as opposed to liquor.

I have similar thoughts on what it means to be a Tree-to-Bar chocolate maker. A strict literal definition requires that the chocolate maker own the farms on which the trees are planted (exposing the chocolate maker to accusations that they are imperialistic landowners exploiting their workers), the trees are grown, the pods are harvested, and the seeds which get turned into chocolate in a wholly–owned–and–operated factory are fermented and then dried.

But the strictly literal Tree–to–Bar definition overlooks the very real fact that many chocolate makers work very closely with the farmers and co-ops they source from. These chocolate makers provide technical assistance and training, access to markets, access to capital, and more. TCHO is an excellent example with their flavor labs and innovations in fermentation approaches, which I have personally seen in Perú in several locations. Pacari works similarly in Ecuador: These companies work directly with farmers on their farms, helping them to improve their farming techniques to increase yields, helping them to improve post–harvest processing techniques to improve quality, and then buy the cocoa from the farmers they work with. Are these chocolate makers not working from tree-to-bar? In my eyes they are. Do they have to own the land on which the trees are grown and employ hired labor to work the trees? In my eyes they do not.

Perhaps we should recognize that the problems might stem from the terms themselves?

Is “bean-to-bar” helpful? (After all, it was coined back in 1997, before anybody had any idea how the industry would evolve.) Does using it, and tree-to-bar, craft, and artisan, among other terms create more confusion than clarity? If we are having problems stuffing 100kg of industry into a 65kg jute sack, maybe the problem is the sack.

Do the problems lie in the narrowness of the definition of the categories and forcing companies into too–small, awkwardly–shaped pigeonholes? I submit that these are discussions worth having.

I advocate for being inclusive, not exclusive, for expanding the realm of what chocolate is and can aspire to be and not say definitively, “This is what good chocolate is (or how it has to be made) and everything else, ipso facto, is bad or wrong. At this point in history, strictly literal and narrow definitions are: Bad for chocolate, bad for cocoa farmers, bad for chocolate makers, and, ultimately, bad for consumers.

While Bernadini may think that the evidence presented in his book is unequivocal and that he is being “fair” by branding some companies with the label (Unconfirmed)—the reasoning is unconvincing to me, and tinged with bitterness, astringency, acidity, and, with respect to one particular company, Pacari, with surprising venom.

As I was finishing up part 2 I started receiving private, confidential emails from people around the world telling me that one particular company—Ecuador’s Pacari—was a complete and total fraud. They were not raw, they were not bean–to–bar, they hired out all their production, and they were not tree–to–bar. Following up on the claims presented in those emails is the reason this third part has been delayed.

What I can say is that the people making the accusations have been unwilling or unable to provide any substantiating evidence to back up their claims and/or to introduce me to the representatives of companies they cite to whom I can talk to corroborate their claims.

Therefore, I have to treat those communications as hearsay, rumor, and innuendo sent to me to enlist my support in discrediting a single company: Pacari. More disturbingly, I have learned that I am not alone in having been approached.

I am not implying that Bernardini is in anyway involved in this.

What I am saying is that some people who contacted me cited my giving Pacari the benefit of the doubt in the first parts of my review of TRS as the reason for getting in touch with me. They felt compelled to share with me information about Pacari’s business practices. There was no mention of Cacaosuyo or Chapon or any of the other companies who were bestowed with an (Unconfirmed) status. Just Pacari. Which raised my suspicions, and my hackles.

The politics of cocoa and chocolate in Ecuador are hard for an outsider to comprehend, but it is a real shame that some in Ecuador feel compelled to reach outside of Ecuador to get people to choose sides. This is just sad. It’s sad for the reputation of Ecuadorian cacao. It’s sad for the reputations of Ecuadorian chocolate makers. It’s sad for chocolate lovers who appreciate Ecuadorian cacao and chocolate. And it has to stop, right now, for the good of the chocolate industry worldwide.

To everyone who wrote to me, if you have actual evidence to back up your claims, disclose it publicly so the claims can be independently corroborated. If your claims turn out to be true, I will be the first to acknowledge that I was wrong. But I will not be a party to presenting innuendo as fact.

In Conclusion ...

I have been accused—by readers of my review of TRS—of being a fanboy for this company or that one, and that the primary motivation, if not sole motivation, for writing my review of TRS was to take down the author.

Anybody who has knows me, and my work in chocolate since 1998, knows that if I am a fanboy of anything, I am a fanboy of and for good chocolate. If I write about a company or a chocolate it is not because I am paid, it is because of my honest opinions of the product and the people involved. I do get paid by companies (my consulting clients), but I only work with people and companies I trust and believe in. My opinions are not for sale. I am not going to sacrifice my credibility and reputation for a few bucks.

My motivation in writing my review of TRS was that I was astonished that a book with so many factual errors and inconsistencies in it thought to title itself The Reference Standard.

I am appalled that a book that is ostensibly about chocolate appreciation and connoisseurship contains sentences of such arrogant disdain as (p854): “It is not reprehensible on principle, when manufacturers use natural flavorings.” Reprehensible is defined as “deserving censure or condemnation.” Really? Wow. I am so happy to know that chocolate makers and confectioners don’t deserve to be censured or condemned in principle for using natural flavorings. Thanks for giving them your permission!

I am mystified how, on the one hand, that the author can rant on about how bad lecithin is at every opportunity and yet still give a five-pod rating to a subsidiary of Japan’s Meiji where, in his review of the company’s single-origin bars (p142 – the very first review in the book) he lists the ingredients: cocoa liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, and soya-lecithin.

I am similarly mystified that a book dedicated to “The best chocolates and pralines in the world” [cover copy] would spend even a quarter–page on mass-market chocolates given a zero-pod rating. Those are certainly products I would gladly forego [more cover copy].

I am stunned that an entire subcontinent—Central America—can be overlooked during editing and fact checking (pp32-36) in the discussion about cocoa aromas [flavors].

IS there value in reading TRS? I have to give it a qualified yes. TRS is a compendium of hundreds of companies (not all of whom are still in business) and products (not all of which are still available and that you can taste) that can serve as an introduction and guide to the glorious variety that is chocolate ... coupled with one person’s highly–personal opinions, some recent, some not so recent, about many of the products listed.

What TRS i s not is reliable when it comes to presenting facts, and it presents opinion as gospel. If it is the reference standard, then that standard has been set very low.

clay -

updated by @clay: 10/17/23 09:54:58


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