I'm on a journey to explore the world of American craft chocolate

"We Were Doing Bean to Bar Before Bean to Bar Was Born"

When the Kitchn asked me recently to write a short story defining “bean to bar,” I thought it was going to be a piece of (chocolate) cake.

“All chocolate is technically bean to bar,” I started. Wait, no.

“Bean-to-bar chocolate is better,” I wrote. Scratch that.

I eventually settled on this: “Artisans have started making their own chocolate and overseeing the entire process…to bring out intense flavor notes.”

It’s strange, but there aren't standard definitions for basic terms like “bean to bar,” “artisan,” and “craft," legally and in common parlance.

This only got more confusing when I visited Valrhona recently. “Do you consider us bean to bar?” COO Anthony Valla asked me over a beautiful chocolate cake and a plate of chocolate cupcakes (my, how it’s dangerous to work in their offices!).

“Well, yeah,” I replied. “Of course.”

I’m sure y’all are already familiar with Valrhona, but in case you’re not, the French company has been around since the 1920s, and it’s become the gold standard for high-quality chocolate, in bar form but mostly for pastry chefs and chocolatiers. If they’re using Valrhona, you can almost guarantee that they know what they’re doing. The company even owns a few of its own plantations, so they can control every part of the process and make fabulous chocolate.

Famous chefs like Lincoln Carson with their hands dipped in chocolate, on the wall at Valrhona in Brooklyn

Famous chefs like Lincoln Carson with their hands dipped in chocolate, on the wall at Valrhona in Brooklyn

Anthony and I went back and forth and then forth and back about the differences between bean-to-bar companies and industrial companies. At what point is a company big enough to stop being considered “bean to bar”? Or does size have anything to do with it?

He had the last word, though, with this definitive statement: “We were doing bean to bar before bean to bar was born.”

Do you think he’s right? What does “bean to bar” mean to you?

I want to start a wiki here on Chocolate Noise where we can hammer out the definitions of these terms. It will all be under a Creative Commons license so that anyone who wants to can use the agreed-upon definitions, and I'll plan to publish them in my upcoming book, so that it represents everyone. But first I want to gauge interest. Tell me your definition of "bean to bar" on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!