Words by Dr. Lily Kelting; Illustration by Samia Singh
As someone who has been researching and writing about the cocoa and chocolate industry professionally for over 20 years, and has worked at all levels of the industry from farmers in over a dozen countries to very small craft/artisan chocolate makers to industrial giants, I have to disagree with other commenters who state their belief this is a well-researched piece.
Not only are there are a number of outright factual errors in the piece, it is clear that the author, who does a doctorate degree and should know better, did not do sufficient research to make some of the assertions she has made, or provide citations for or links to assertions that I, and others with in-depth knowledge of the sector, will find problematic.
One example is the lack of links to the Direct Cacao organization’s website or Facebook group. A quick look indicates both are moribund ... and have not seen any activity since at least 2014.
Another example is asserting “child labour lawsuits that seem to plague the craft chocolate industry.” There is no plague of child labor lawsuits targeting craft chocolate – the lawsuits, at least those in the US – are all trying to hold to account the largest players in the industry. I would really be interested to know more about the alleged plague of child labor lawsuits against craft chocolate makers.
The final example (writing a detailed rebuttal in a comments section is not the best way to go about it) is the statement that Barry Callebaut supplies beans to Tony’s Chocolonely. In actual fact, Tony’s maintains a separate bean supply chain and Barry Callebaut processes those beans, which end-products are then shipped to other companies to be deposited into hars.
Cocoa and chocolate are complex and complicated topics and deserve more detailed, nuanced, and objective coverage than was shown, in my opinion, in this article. If anyone at vittles is interested they can contact me (Clay Gordon) via my website, TheChocolateLife.com.
Thank you for sharing your knowledge of Bean to Bar. Having lived in San Francisco and now in Portland along with being a food entrepreneur gave me an interesting perspective into the world of chocolate. I knew the Scharffen Berger chocolate founders - Robert and John and what made the chocolate so unique was the identification of the place the cacao beans originated and being able to see the chocolate being made from bean to bar in Berkeley. For artisan chocolate bar brands, location is now de rigeur but in the late 90s/early oughts, it was not. In Portland, an Ecuadorian native Sebastian now brings the beans (vanilla and cacao) back from farmers he knows in Ecuador and makes the chocolate. He makes the best vanilla extract I have ever used as a professional baker and the chocolate is heavenly. Fair trade has also been trying to level the playing field and raise the price for the farmers and their workers to have living wage but, that end up adding cost. More brands are increasingly working at collapsing the supply chain and working directly with cooperatives or farmers so, they can pay the farmer and not the middle man/distributors while also improving quality. Chocolate has long since moved from a ritualistic crop or form of money for the Aztecs to a form of exploitation. Hopefully, consumers will increasingly become aware of what's behind the chocolate brand, who is growing it, and how it is grown so, we can enjoy all parts of the chocolate trade for years to come.
Great web site you have here..The clearness in your post is simply nice. Wonderful information and quality article.
More than happy to recommend and get people to binge on the best chocolates.
Your review is vicariously enjoyable! I have never met dark chocolate that I wouldn’t eat, so I enjoyed your subjective standards.
All great choices and I would love to see a list of some smaller bean to bar companies.
An interesting article but frustrating in its errors, omissions, lack of research and ultimately lack of balance. To tackle just one point. Those without knowledge of how and where cacao beans are grown, and how chocolate is made (ie many), would be forgiven for thinking the term 'bean to bar' means nothing after reading this. That's not only untrue but a terrible shame. Of course, the term 'bean to bar' has been misappropriated in some quarters, just as greenwashing has made it difficult for consumers to gauge which products are truly environmentally friendly. But it is illogical to suggest that all bars labelled 'bean to bar' have no merit. The article fails to mention the growing number of craft chocolate makers who do work closely with cacao farmers at origin, and pay them living ages (thus the comparatively high price of craft chocolate, which the author seems surprised by). The article offers no guidance (or encouragement) about how consumers might peer beneath the 'bean to bar' claim to determine the extent which the chocolate is ethically produced. And to deter chocolate lovers from reaching for truly ethically made 'bean to bar' or better still 'tree to bar' chocolate, instead of industrially produced bars, does a disservice to cacao producers and consumers trying to make educated choices.
I also want to encourage people to watch my interview with Shawn Askinosie for his views on how he approaches some of these issues. Take special note of this use of the word “mutuality.” https://youtu.be/fcDItaCGYKg
That was an AMAZING article. Thank you for your research and insight. As a POC bakery owner in the west, I care about my chocolate sourcing and you worded my ambivalent thoughts on most chocolates in mainstream food world very succinctly.
What a well-researched piece. It has got so many of us thinking. Was not aware of the Indian brands mentioned and will surely check them out. Do not mind too much if whites are running the show, as long as their employees enjoy a fair share of the profits. Your link with colonialism and Bean to Bar chocolates is stark and so true. We are in the new world of market colonialism, where the leaders of these countries are also complicit in the colonising, as are the market leaders.
In my opinion, Askinosie Chocolate is an example where progress is being made through a direct trade approach, https://askinosie.com/pages/direct-trade, regardless of what their packaging looks like. Consider also the fact that Shawn Askinosie was an amicus party on the recent US Supreme Court case on child slave labor in the chocolate industry.
Very interesting, it makes me think about where the chocolate I eat is coming from.
This is so interesting. Thank you! I didn't know about the burgeoning bean or tree to bar chocolate making movement in India. Soklet sounds like the real deal! Have you heard of Divine Chocolate? Their set up is pretty unique in that the chocolate is sourced from a cocoa growers cooperative in Ghana, called Kwapakoku, who are also the majority shareholder of Divine, so the farmers gain most of the profits from the chocolate sales. This seems to be a model worth replicating but I haven't heard of any other chocolate companies doing it...
Really enjoyed reading this and agree with you about the issue with bean to bar marketing and how it tends to minimise the critical role played by the farmers who grow and process the beans.
I've enjoyed really wonderful tree to bar chocolate in Grenada, and in Vietnam, but as you say, these are the exceptions rather than the rule when it comes to the entire process happening in the country of origin of the beans.
I'm excited to learn from you that India has a strong nascent movement towards farm to bar, and that the results are good. Hopefully this trend will continue and grow in more cocoa-producing countries.
- A well written comprehensive piece
- Markets in the global south have to develop consumption patterns strong enough to sustain “made at origin” craft chocolate makers, these issues are usually far bigger than chocolate. Ghana has made great steps in improving equitability by banning the export of cacao beans and exporting only value added cacao products.
- the Bamboo shoot bar by Naviluna is indeed a parody
- 20 year old migrants who are full tax paying residents of their adopted country can’t be termed “expats” just because they’re white
- Jane Mason left the company 5 years ago.
- It’s all about the fermentation!
Wonderful piece. I remember an interview about 40 years ago with militant vegetarians (decades before vegans) and one insisted that chocolate tasted like shit. Only carob for him.
Wonderfully thought out, researched and written piece. I learned so much and will share it. Thank you!
Wonderfully written piece with some amazing illustrations. Though I must say that you are in significant company when it comes to seeking and finding great Bean to Bar brands in the country and seeking them out. There is undoubtedly some great work happening in the space.
As a very close follower of the stories of David at Naviluna and the team at Mason & Co, I have seen first hand the amount of challenges they face in keeping the business going and to make people understand the value of what they are creating. And while knowledge is key in the process and that begins with the label, I feel the way we tell these stories around Bean to Bar and the amount of attention they get for the same needs to improve too. While the undertones of our colonial past with white owners of these brands are something I feel very differently about, either way, I feel these are important steps towards a better world of fair chocolate making practices and really hoping the revolution catches on across the world.
There is a brand called Marou (https://marouchocolate.com) in Vietnam that is doing some very special work in the space too and I think you would enjoy their story and product too if you could get your hands on it!