Ask Matt: What IS bean to bar chocolate, really?

“Ask Matt Caputo” is an ongoing feature where Matt answers commonly asked questions from the market. This week, he discusses the true meaning of bean to bar or craft chocolate.

Caputos Chocolate Tasting SmallQ: How would you define bean-to-bar chocolate and what sort of flavors can we expect from craft chocolate? Do you recommend any coffee and chocolate pairings?

A: This is an important and somewhat nebulous terminology that is often abused. My definition is fairly straight forward. To be bean to bar the chocolate bar must be produced from raw cacao beans all the way through each production step at a factory owned by the brand in question.

Q: How is it different from the mass produced chocolate we all grew up eating?

A: Bean to bar should not necessarily be equated to good. There are more bean to bar chocolate makers producing terrible product than there are making great chocolate. Sure most of the elite brands are bean to bar, but not all. Bean to bar should simply indicate you are talking to the artist in the flesh. Doesn’t mean you will like their art. Unfortunately, there are so many brands that lie or at the very least stretch the truth about their bean to bar status. So many.

What I think you are trying to get at with what makes bean to bar chocolate better than big chocolate we all grew up with is this: it should be about highlighting cacao beans of excellent provenance. Big producers do not. They use very poor beans and then use techniques (“dark” roast aka burned) and ingredients (too much extra cocoa butter and loads of vanilla) to create a flavor, rather than coaxing the flavor intrinsic to the beans out.

Just like wine is about honoring very special grapes grown in very special areas, so is chocolate with cacao beans. Most large chocolate producers make what I like to refer to as “vanilla flavored candy.” Despite meeting certain technicalities of being called dark chocolate, I think it should be illegal to call it the same as what most bean to bar chocolate makers are doing.

Q: Do you recommend any coffee and chocolate pairings?

A: Absolutely. My primary recommendation is do not pair a coffee made with specialty beans and roasted responsibly with “vanilla flavored candy.” Likewise, do not pair chocolate made with excellent cacao with coffee exhibiting symptoms of having been roasted on the surface of the sun. Beyond this, I do have some experience, but need to conduct more research! I will say since the two are such a natural fit the results of using my rule of thumb regarding matching the quality of the two have always been really enjoyable.

PSST! Want to know more? Join us at an Intro to Fine Chocolate class!

Disclaimer: While Matt Caputo is a Certified Cheese Professional and specialty food fanatic, he is not a medical professional, doctor, or certified nutritionist. Please consult with your doctor or other qualified health care professional before making any healthcare decisions, diagnostics or treatment decisions based on Matt’s answers.

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