There’s been much in the media these days about bean-to-bar chocolate makers. Is the whole movement an over-priced scam or the savior of an industry? From our perspective, the blossoming of bean-to-bar artisans over the last 15 years has been both an exciting and essential catalyst in a category that was, at best, insipid.
Think back to the days when the domestic industry was a virtual duopoly and chocolate was a one-dimensional flavor with no perceptible differentiation. The growth of bean-to-bar makers has given birth to an incredible diversity of styles and taste, shifting the emphasis from “bulk beans” and efficient processing to “fine flavor” beans crafted with care. In the new model, sourcing exceptional cacao becomes a mantra. And, it’s this focus on sourcing that has important inherent benefits stretching well beyond our palates.
Perhaps the most transformative aspect of the bean-to-bar movement is the shift to direct (or, if not direct, then more transparent) relationships with growers, facilitating the exchange of knowledge and technology while improving whole communities through a more equitable split of profits. The ripple effect extends even farther. New growing regions and nearly extinct strains of cacao have been re-discovered and are being nurtured and protected for the future--particularly important in the face of climate change and the growing threat of devastating pests and diseases already impacting harvests, not to mention crucial for a diversity of flavor. And, the destruction of fragile equatorial ecosystems where cacao is grown is slowing because bean-to-bar artisans are encouraging sustainable practices and offering growers a profitable alternative to crops that require rainforest devastation.
In an industry long known for exploitation, these are significant changes. But, in the end, the proof of the value of the bean-to-bar movement is on the tongue. Does careful sourcing and craftsmanship, designed to unlock the flavors of a particular bean and place throughout the process, result in better chocolate? Explore, discover and taste…then make your own decision.