What Is Bean To Bar Chocolate

Sequence of 12 photos that teach the process to make homemade chocolate

Chocolate is a billion-dollar industry, but consumers often do not know where their chocolate comes from. As consumers become more aware of the unethical sourcing practices of mass-producing chocolate makers, the demand for transparency increases.

That’s where bean to bar chocolate makers come in. Consumers want to purchase chocolate that is ethically sourced and good for them, and the bean to bar chocolate process offers the transparency they are looking for as chocolate makers work to improve the openness of the supply chain and ensure farmers are paid a fair wage.

So what makes bean to bar chocolate so special? Keep reading to learn more.

What does bean to bar mean?

What is bean to bar chocolate? The term “bean to bar” is a relatively new label that developed around 2005 as a way for chocolate makers to distinguish their products from both chocolatiers (those who pre-melt chocolate to make their confections) and mass chocolate producers.

In the bean to bar process, chocolate making starts with the cacao bean and ends with the finished chocolate bar. Bean to bar is often referred to as “small batch chocolate” because bean to bar chocolate makers purchase small amounts of ingredients to maintain tight quality control. Usually, one small-scale chocolate maker has control of every stage of chocolate making, unlike the automated processes of mass-produced chocolate brands.

How to make chocolate from bean to bar?

You might be wondering how to make chocolate bean to bar. Making refined, bean-to-bar chocolate consists of these nine steps:

  • Harvesting: Cacao beans are carefully harvested with a machete from football-shaped pods that grow on the trunks and branches of the cacao tree (Theobroma) in tropical climates.
  • Fermentation: Fermentation is a critical step for developing the natural flavor of the beans and occurs naturally over a period of two days to two weeks. The top layer of the beans is covered with banana leaves, which contain natural yeast and microorganisms that encourage the fermenting process.
  • Drying: Drying slowly brings out the best flavor. In most climates, the cacao beans can be sun-dried for one to two weeks before shipping. In wetter climates, cacao beans may be dried over an open fire.
  • Roasting: The process of roasting draws out the complex flavors in the cacao beans. Roasting reduces moisture content, kills any organisms still on the beans, and removes unpleasant acidic compounds created during the fermentation process. This process also helps separate the outer husk from the inner bean and makes cracking and winnowing easier. 
  • Cracking and winnowing: During this step, the pure cocoa pieces (and most valuable part) called nibs are separated from the useless shells either manually or with a machine.
  • Grinding: Cocoa nibs must be refined through the grinding process, where they are ground into a fine paste called chocolate liquor, or cocoa mass, which contains roughly equal portions of cocoa solids and cocoa butter.
  • Conching: Grinding and conching are sometimes combined with the use of a melangeur. During the conching stage, sugar, milk, vanilla and other ingredients are added. This step affects the final flavor of the chocolate and takes anywhere from two hours to three days. 
  • Tempering: During this step, the temperature of the chocolate is raised and lowered so that it forms into the right consistency. Without tempering, the chocolate will be dry and crumbly instead of glossy and smooth.
  • Molding and wrapping: After the tempering process, the melted chocolate is poured into a mold, and the final product is wrapped in foil or paper packaging to ensure it stays fresh.

Where is the world’s best bean to bar chocolate made?

Where is the world’s best bean to bar chocolate made? Why, America, of course. In the last decade, the number of bean-to-bar chocolate producers has jumped from five to over 250 in the United States alone.

Ethical and environmental concerns have driven this surge in bean-to-bar chocolate makers. These bean-to-bar chocolate makers focus their attention on the ethical origins of the cacao beans and often visit the farms where the beans are grown. They control every part of the chocolate-making process themselves.

The cacao supply chain is one of the biggest ethical concerns when it comes to chocolate making. Currently, the majority of cacao beans are sold as a commodity crop without regard to quality. Farmers have no incentive to produce higher-quality cacao beans because they are paid the same regardless of quality.

An alternative to the commodity system is the direct trade system where small-batch chocolate makers can purchase cacao beans directly from farmers or farmers’ cooperatives. Farmers receive significantly more for the cacao beans—anywhere from 50 to 300 percent more than for commodity cacao beans—and they are usually higher quality.

Knowing the origin of the chocolate lets you know something about its flavor. However, the label “single origin chocolate” is not as simple as it sounds. Single origin could mean the cacao beans were grown on a small farm, but it could also mean they come from a larger operation that grows a mix of high-quality and low-quality cacao beans. When buying single origin chocolate, look on the label for country and region, farm or estate and the genetic variety of the cacao.

Where to buy bean to bar chocolate?

Cococlectic sells chocolate bean to bar that is vegan, non-GMO, fair-trade and ethically sourced. They do not contain any soy, gluten, dairy or nut, but they may be produced in a facility that handles these ingredients. At Cococlectic, a different American small-batch bean-to-bar chocolate maker is featured each month. These chocolate makers are passionate about their trade and make chocolate bars from scratch using only three main ingredients: cacao beans, sugar and cocoa butter.

Cococlectic offers a variety of chocolates or gift boxes containing vegan chocolates. Sign up for a chocolate-of-the-month subscription club and join us for a free virtual chocolate tasting with our featured chocolate maker of the month.