Why Is Artisan Chocolate Made Bean-to-Bar More Expensive?

Most of us are used to paying pocket change for a bar of chocolate. So it can be a shock when we find out the price of artisanal chocolate made bean-to-bar

Is there gold leaf running through its veins, like in some bottles of vodka? Or maybe it comes with a diamond ring? That’s quite a step up from the prizes we used to find in our cereal boxes!

All joking aside, there are three practical reasons that bean-to-bar chocolate costs more, and, in my opinion, three reasons that it tastes better too.

Bean to bar chocolate | Cocoa Box

1. Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Uses Higher-Quality Ingredients?

Within the global market, cocoa beans are divided into two categories: bulk and fine flavour. Bulk beans are what’s used to make candy we might guzzle around the holidays or drink in instant hot chocolate. It’s cheap and often consists of cocoa beans that haven’t always been fermented or dried properly. Sometimes they’re even mouldy or rotten.

Many times the beans themselves are fine, but they’re a genetic variety chosen for high yields, not flavour. The most infamous one is called CCN-51, which some chocolate experts have said tastes “dirty and undesirable.” Just a handful of giant, international companies buy this enormous supply of bulk beans and make the world’s supply of chocolate with them. 

Fine flavour beans, on the other hand, are what bean-to-bar makers use, and they focus on bringing out the inherently delicious flavours of the beans. These beans have been fermented and dried carefully and stored well. For example, Spencer Cocoa sources its beans from the village of Malekula in Vanuatu.

Beyond the cocoa, bean-to-bar chocolate takes care with other ingredients, sourcing higher-quality sugar (often organic cane sugar), often locally made inclusions like nuts and dried fruit, and other delicacies.

Australian bean-to-bar chocolate factory tours

2. Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Means It’s Carefully Made From Scratch

The big chocolate companies we mentioned above make chocolate from scratch, but with an eye on consistency. They churn out billions of bars each year that taste exactly the same, and have maximized their factories for efficiency, not quality.

Meanwhile, bean-to-bar chocolate makers start from scratch in a true sense of the word. They focus on quality and flavour, using skill and artistry to create their chocolate.

They start with whole cocoa beans, which they roast, crack open, and remove the nibs. Then they grind them in a machine called a melangeur until they become silky smooth, adding sugar and other ingredients along the way. Last, they temper the chocolate, raising and lowering the temperature in a particular way, as they look for a particular kind of shine and crystal, then form it into bars. (Check out a full explanation of the process in more detail here.)

I’m always amazed by the beautiful, personally designed packaging, which adds another layer of value. For example, Zokoko’s Goddess Milk could be framed and placed on the wall after you’re finished luxuriating over the bar itself.

cocoa farmer drying cocoa beans

3. Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Is Committed to Paying Farmers Fairly

It’s hard work to grow and harvest cacao. The plant, which likes tropical weather and grows 20 degrees above and below the Equator in a band around the world, can be finicky. Plus each cacao pod needs to be plucked off the tree and split open by hand (the safest way is with a machete — yes, a machete!). Then farmers scoop out the beans and the white pulp surrounding them, again by hand. When they’ve piled enough of the fresh beans, they’ll transport it to a nearby area to ferment under banana leaves or in wooden boxes for several days, then lay it out under the sun to dry.

Unfortunately, if their beans are characterized as “bulk,” farmers will only make a tiny amount of money for this labour. As I write in my book, Bean-to-Bar Chocolate: America’s Craft Chocolate Revolution, think $1.09AUD per pound of beans.

Bean-to-bar makers, however, want to pay farmers fairly for their hard work and develop relationships with them. They see the work cocoa farmers do as integral to making good chocolate, and they want to partner with them rather than simply buy beans for very little money. For example, Spencer Cocoa’s Luke Spencer visits the two or three families he works within the village of Malekula two times per year, in order to be more involved with the whole process.

Bean-to-bar makers often pay much more than the bulk market, and they call their partnerships something entirely different, from direct trade to transparent trade to, in Bahen & Co’s case, grower direct. “Grower direct means that the money we pay stays in the grower’s pocket,” the company writes on its website, rather than going to a fair-trade certification bureaucracy or some other place far away from the farmers it works with. “The fact is that the average price we pay for cacao very significantly exceeds the pricing levels dictated by the existing certified schemes.”

world map of chocolate

What’s Most Important To You?

It’s clear these three categories overlap, but whenever I chat with people about chocolate, one of them emerges as the most vital to that person. Many place the strong principles and sustainability of these types of companies as their top priority and are willing to pay more for it.

Other folks believe that the higher-quality beans and sugar give bean-to-bar chocolate its shine, while still others think it’s the makers’ care and attention in creating it from scratch.

In my opinion, they blend together to make a triumvirate of ethics and taste. Which is the most important to you?

Megan Giller is an award-winning food writer and the author of Bean-to-Bar Chocolate: America’s Craft Chocolate Revolution. She also hosts luxury chocolate-tasting events, teaches classes at the Institute of Culinary Education and other locales, and judges at chocolate competitions. 

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