Chocolatiers who want to distinguish themselves label their chocolate bars ‘bean to bar‘. Is it just another marketing trick of smart chocolate companies or does it really represent a high-quality and sustainable product. And is ‘bean to bar’ chocolate per definition organic?
In this post I will explain the trade model behind bean to bar. I will also highlight two chocolatiers I know well: from Italy (Amedei*), and from France (Puyricard). They both produce high-quality and sustainable bean-to-bar chocolate. In a separate post you can read the great story of To’ak Chocolate, a luxury brand organically produced with the very rare variety of Arriba cacao called Nacional cocoa.
The Ecuadorian company To’ak Chocolate, founded in 2013 by Jerry Toth and Carl Schweizer, is a luxury brand producing and selling organic Fair Trade chocolate.
To’ak’s mission is to change the way we consume chocolate. It also is one of the most expensive chocolates in the world.
As we will see in this article, bean to bar does not (yet) have a protected definition like ‘organic’ has. You still need to know more about the chocolate factory producing the product. That is if you want to determine whether they sell and make the bean to bar chocolate really with high-quality cacao. And are using sustainable processing methods.
There are many traditional global chocolate companies that own or work directly with chocolate farms. They control the entire production chain, from cacao farm to chocolate shop, in order to mass-produce their chocolate. They may technically be ‘bean to bar’. However, with their mass production and profit-oriented models, they normally do not use the label. The bars are rarely to the same exceptional standards as specialty chocolate.
But first: what is the difference between ‘bean to bar’, and such ‘specialty’ or ‘crafted’ chocolate? And why are chocolatiers so keen on using such labels?
The Chocolatier’s Way to Express Quality
There is no official definition for bean to bar chocolate. However, for some time now in general it refers to a trade model. It generally indicates that the chocolate company labeling their chocolate as bean to bar actually controls every stage. From harvesting the beans from the cacao tree (or buying Fair Trade cacao beans) to the creation of the bar. But does that mean the chocolate is high-quality? Or that it is organic? And have the chocolatiers sustainably sourced them?
Fine or specialty chocolate and cacao are terms chocolatiers use on their labels to refer to quality. But also here, there is not yet a clear industry-wide definition for these terms either.
Then there is the term craft chocolate. The definition hereof is even less clear than bean to bar and specialty cacao and chocolate.
So, organisations and chocolate brands use terms like ‘bean to bar’ or ‘specialty’ or ‘crafted’ when they want to highlight the quality of their products. And that they care about quality, sustainability, and transparency.
Bean to Bar as a Chocolatiers-led Movement
Bean to bar can is also a movement responding to social, economic, and transparent concerns. Making sure the cacao beans used for the chocolate come from one place only. Therefore called ‘single origin’ chocolate. Fair trade practices also play a role here. As you see in the case of To’ak Chocolate.
Chocolatiers believe bean to bar trade models can support them in this. It enables traceability which helps them to be aware of the chocolate origin, production and chocolate processing practices. It ensures that chocolate companies and chocolatiers follow best practices. And that they understand how their partners in the supply chain treat their workers.
So reading the lable is not enough. You still need to know more about the chocolatier or chocolate company. Especially of you want to know whether they actually using sustainable production methods, using (organic or fair trade) cacao and more. The companies mentioned in this post are – like To’ak Chocolate – some of world’s best chocolatiers offering the best chocolate to us chocoholics.
The next question is whether eating bean to bar chocolate is also good for you and your health?
The Health Benefits of Eating Bean to Bar Chocolate
In addition to bean to bar using a sustainable sourcing, processing and retail model, there is more good news for chocolate lovers. There is also the advantage that bean to bar chocolate is also good for you. Especially the health benefits of eating dark chocolate or even drinking hot cocoa are well-known.
Chocolate supposedly is one of the foods that are good for your heart. It is not only dark chocolate being healthy. Also the there are benefits of eating milk and white chocolate.
People all around the globe are turning towards specialty and artisanal products. Whether it is chocolate, coffee, cheese, or something else. People more and more want good food with a traceable origin.
Is bean of bar per definition organic? Not necessarily. Although most of the chocolate makers understand that getting their chocolate certified as ‘organic’ makes their products more attractive to a world becoming more and more aware of health aspects related to foods and drinks.
So what are some of the best examples of chocolate companies today producing high-quality, sustainable bean to bar chocolate?
Amedei, Italy’s Number One Artisan Chocolate Maker
Amedei* is an artisan chocolate manufacturing company in Pontedera in the Tuscany region of Italy. Many chocolate lovers claim that it is one of the finest chocolate producers in the world.
Their products range from bean to bar chocolate bars to truffles and pralines. Their award-winning chocolate bars use single origin and single variety cacao beans.
One of their products, Amedei Porcelana*, is one of world’s most expensive chocolate products. They obtain the cacao for the chocolate from a Venezuelan region called Chuao.
The name porcelana comes from the fact that the cacao beans used in the chocolates are translucent in color due to the genetically pure strain of criollo. This is a bean comes from Venezuela. This is one of the most expensive chocolates and they sell for close to $100 per bar.
Bloomsbury’s, a boutique cafe in Dubai, uses Amedei chocolate to make the most expensive cupcake, the Golden Phoenix.
Chocolate truffles have long been recognized as some off the most luxurious delicacies in the world. They are expensive and highly sought after by some of the most notable chefs in the world.
Amedei Toscano Black combines three elements to create a luxurious delicacy that starts with truffles and Armand de Brignac champagne. Then it adds gold and Swarovski’s pricey crystals. Together, this combination creates a chocolate so rare, that they are sold at the famous Harrods department store and London Department store in Knightsbridge. you can buy these chocolates for around $300 per box.
The Story of Chocolatier Amedei
The Tuscan chocolate company Amedei was started in 1990 by Alessio and his sister Cecilia Tessieri. They had who had no prior chocolate making experience. The chocolatiers named their company in honor of their grandmother.
Their mission was to create the best possible chocolate on earth. The chocolatiers work under a strict corporate philosophy and insure fair conditions for their farmers.
Searching for sources in Ecuador, the Caribbean and elsewhere, in 2000 they found land in Venezuela with 200,000 Criollo trees. Alessio bought the exclusive rights.
At nearly $12 for 100-gram bar, Porcelana is made entirely from these Venezuelan Criollo beans. Only 3,000 kilograms are produced annually.
Besides the Porcelana, Amedei offers many other luxurious sweet and semi-sweet treats. Among these are five kinds of chocolate bars or tavolette; pralines with flavors like grappa, ginseng and rum; six kinds of truffles coated in smooth Amedei chocolate; miniature 30-gram boxes of dark or milk chocolate and Chuao*, which along with Porcelana, is made from exclusive Venezuelan beans.
For an even more exotic extravagance, Amedei offers ‘Cru’ This is a collection of six types of chocolates, each made from a different cocoa variety from places like Ecuador, Madagascar and Trinidad.
Cecilia runs the factory, which is located near Pisa. Alessio travels the world to find the best beans. For him its is very important to continue nurturing close relationships with the farms and villages Amedei sources from.
Amedei’s goal is not only to create an exclusive, organic product. They also want to ensure that farmers who grow the trees and harvest the beans work in fair working and living conditions.
Puyricard, the Story of a Passion for Chocolate
I got to know Puyricard chocolate from my many business travels to Aix-en-Provence. The hotel I always stayed in, 5-star Hôtel Le Pigonnet, in the first few years I came there always welcomed their guests with a treat for their hotel guests, the addictive Puyricard chocolates.
Now I live here 15 minutes from Aix-en-Provence, I buy my Puyricard ‘dosis’ in their shop in the middle of the old centre of Aix-en-Provence. Puyricard is actually a village north of Aix-en-Provence.
Puyricard is primarily the story of two young Belgian expatriates in Belgian Congo and their passion for chocolate. In 1960 Marie-Anne, who started work as a chocolatier’s apprentice and her husband Jean-Guy Roelandts, a mining engineer who started his own advertising company, founded their own chocolate factory in Léopoldville in Belgian Congo. Their first customers were diplomats. they bought Marie-Anne’s chocolates as luxury gifts for their foreign guests. Their clientele included the then-President Mobutu.
But, after the Congo achieved independence in 1960, the country (renamed Zaire, then eventually the Democratic Republic of Congo) began to slip into chaos. In 1967, just when their business was just beginning to take off, the couple were forced to leave the country. They chose the South of France and settled in the Aix-en-Provence region. They set up their first shop in an old factory for building materials on the Puyricard plateau. Just outside beautiful Aix-en-Provence. They loved it so much that that they even adopted Puyricard as the brand name for their business.
The rest is history. Marie-Anne and Jean-Guy turned Puyricard into a strong and well-known French chocolate brand. Even though chocolate is not really a gastronomic tradition in Provence either, where the local palate prefers candied fruit and other sweetmeats.
Puyricard’s Master Chocolatier
Now it is their son Tanguy, himself a Master Chocolatier, who heads the family business. He regularly travels around the countries of the equatorial region in search of new flavours. He has in-depth knowledge of the different varieties of cocoa beans, the regions where they are grown and their characteristics.
Like a wine cellar master, Tanguy together with Michel Pabariello works with “pure origin” cocoa beans and personally blends the carefully chosen vintages which will be used to create Puyricard chocolates.
Today the business has expanded exponentially, with a network of stores in South East France, as well as Toulouse and Paris, selling some 100 different types of chocolates.
Most of them are moulded chocolates with fillings of ganache, praline, caramel or liqueur. Selected celebrity chocs are decorated with specks of 24 carat gold (pictured top left). In a nod to provençal culture, Puyricard also produces the classic Aix speciality, the calisson.
Puyricard doesn’t just make individual chocolates: you’ll also see various limited edition delicacies, chocolate sculptures and photos of the famous choc frocks made by Puyricard and other master-chocolatiers for France’s Salons du Chocolat fashion shows. At the end there’s more tastings – so make sure you bring a good appetite.
Ordering chocolate by mail is tricky, since the Puyricard products are made with fresh ingredients and have an estimated shelf life of just three weeks. However, American readers might be interested in Puyricard Signature, a site which claims to be able to speed newly-made chocs to its members.