Something that’s quite unusual and confusing about the chocolate industry is that chocolate producers all have different techniques, and all start from different stages of the process. Most food and beverage producers - such as bakers, cheesemakers or brewers - start with raw ingredients and end with a finished product, but that’s often not the case with chocolate. At one end of the spectrum you’ve got chocolatiers, who generally start with finished chocolate in the form of couverture, which they melt down and transform into their own creations. Then at the other end of the spectrum you’ve got bean-to-bar (or even tree-to-bar) chocolate makers, who make chocolate from scratch, from the cacao bean. In between these two there are many other starting points in the process - some producers start with the cacao nibs (skipping the roasting, cracking and winnowing stage), others start with a cacao liquor (ground up nibs), and some even start with cocoa powder and cocoa butter (the separated fats and solids of the cacao nibs), using these to create what is usually described as ‘raw’ chocolate. This can be difficult for customers to understand, especially when there’s little to no information on the wrapper to differentiate between the many styles.
When you hear people talking about these different types of chocolate businesses, whether it be industry professionals or the media, they’ll often refer to all of them as ‘chocolate makers’. However at The Chocolate Bar we only really use that term to describe people who make chocolate from bean to bar and, as you’ve probably gathered by now, we only sell chocolate made by small-scale bean-to-bar chocolate makers. The occasional exception to this would be a ‘private label’ chocolate business, which is usually where a company outsources the chocolate making and focusses on the cacao sourcing, marketing, distribution etc. A high quality example of this would be Original Beans or Akessons.
Sometimes customers ask us if we can source a particular brand, or a producer might contact us directly and see whether we’re interested in their product, and if it doesn’t fit in with our focus on high quality, ethical and bean-to-bar chocolate, we explain that we won’t be able to stock it. This has the potential to come across as pedantic or cliquey, so we wanted to explain why that’s our chosen focus.
Firstly, it’s important to clarify that our primary concern is the quality, flavour and texture of chocolate, and this needs to be backed up by an ethical and fair business model. Whether or not the chocolate is made from bean to bar is a minor technicality, but it just so happens that - in our opinion - the highest quality and most delicious chocolate in the world is currently being made by bean-to-bar craft chocolate makers. If somebody gave us some of the best chocolate we’d ever tasted and it was made by a massive industrial chocolate maker, we would still consider stocking it, as long as it was ethically produced. It’s just unlikely that would ever happen, at least at the current time. One of the main reasons for this is that it would be difficult to replicate the level of quality we look for in a large industrial chocolate factory. As with any type of manufacturing and production, when you’re able to pay very close attention to small details, and when you create a product that is extremely time and labour intensive, the end result is almost always superior to a product made quickly and with minimal human involvement.
It’s that level of attention to detail and craftsmanship that attracts us to bean-to-bar craft chocolate, and the art of chocolate making is what we choose to promote. We love hearing about the unique techniques of chocolate makers - the way they figure out roasting profiles, the machinery they use to crack, winnow, grind and conche, the timings they prefer and their mastery of tempering. These details are often an extension of the chocolate maker’s personality, and help us to feel truly connected to the chocolate we choose to put in our bodies. All of this appeals to our extreme food-geekery, and as learning about this process is something new to most people, it’s one of the main things we enjoy talking about with our customers.
In summary, we’re not saying that bean-to-bar craft chocolate is the only good chocolate in the world and the only thing worth spending your money on. There are varying levels of quality and innovation in all areas of the chocolate industry, and there are certainly a lot of chocolatiers who we absolutely love. We choose to specialise in this area because it excites us the most, and because it’s generally where we find the highest quality, most advanced innovation and the strongest connection between consumer, producer and farmer. As well as bean-to-bar, we’re person-to-person advocates.