15 Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Makers
Whether you prefer chocolate bars with 56%, 70%, 80%, 82%, or even 90% cacao, there are real bean-to-bar chocolate makers who understand and strive to provide a pure chocolate experience for those of us who still love to rip open a chocolate bar when the craving hits.
A real chocolate maker produces chocolate from raw cacao beans and goes through eight (8) processes (along with many subprocesses) – selecting, roasting, winnowing, refining, milling, conching, tempering, and molding – to make a rich, earthy bar with very subtle flavors of nuts or fruits: Remember that. There’s a test at the end of this post.
Each process serves a purpose starting with the selection of the most important ingredient: the cacao beans, all of which must be sorted, fermented, dried, and then roasted, which reduces the moisture content of the bean and loosens the husk from the nib. The beans are cooled, then cracked into small pieces (the nib) to allow for the separation of the husk from the nib in the winnowing process. In the refining process, the nibs are ground and a sweetener (usually sugar but sometimes honey) is added and blended.
To give the chocolate a smooth mouth feel, the sweetened refined cacao must be milled which entails grinding the coarse chocolate mass into a smooth paste. Conching involves stirring and aerating the warm chocolate which allows the flavor to develop and give the chocolate a glossy, silky smooth appearance. The chocolate has to rest before being tempered (where the temperature is manipulated to make sure there are not too many cocoa butter crystals that would make a bar soft and dull) before being poured into molds. Once cooled, the bars are wrapped and often boxed to protect the finished product.
Over the past several years, many bean-to-bar chocolate makers have emerged and here are 15 worth trying:
Askinosie Chocolate: Criminal defense lawyer turned chocolate maker Shawn Askinosie makes incredible chocolate but he’s also committed to fairness, sustainability, minimal environmental impact, and community enhancement. It’s not enough for him to make a quality chocolate; he has to make it in such a way that the more you learn about it, the better you feel about eating chocolate, Askinosie makes more than 25 chocolate bars and many other chocolate products. Most bars are 3 ounces, named after the area in which the cacao beans were grown – Philippines, Tanzania, Honduras, and Ecuador – and sell for $8.50 with free shipping for all orders of $50 or more. www.askinosie.com
Dandelion Chocolate: San Francisco-based Dandelion Chocolate suggests that all visitors to their store do three things: taste the chocolate (made only with cacao beans and pure cane sugar), talk with the chocolate maker, and eat a treat. But, if you aren’t able to visit the store, order the 2 ounce bars made with cacao beans from Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Madagascar for $8-$12 each or a 3 bar tasting set for $20. www.dandelionchocolate.com
Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate: Small batch bean-to-bar chocolate maker, Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate (named after the founders: Adam Dick and Dustin Taylor) in Eureka, California uses cacao beans from Belize, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, and Madagascar along with pure cane sugar to make some of the most exquisite chocolate bars available in strengths of 72%, 74%, and 76%. Each 2 ounce bar is a work of art (for the eyes and the tongue) and sells for $8.50. Also available are bars with chopped figs, coconut caramelized in maple syrup, and Fleur de Sel. www.dicktaylorchocolate.com
Escazú Artisan Chocolates: Seven years ago (2008), Excazu Artisan Chocolates started making bean-to-bar confections in Raleigh, North Carolina and serving them up in their retail store. Sourcing beans from Costa Rica, Venezuela, and Peru, Escazú Artisan Chocolates makes bars with strengths of 60%, 65%, and 74% and either keeps it simple with a single origin artisan bar or spices it up by adding roasted cacao nibs, sea salt, a dusting of chipotle chile for a hint of smoke and spice, or pumpkin seeds and a hint of mild guajillo chile pepper. Goat milk is added to one bar to give it a rich creamy texture and tangy finish. Each 80 gram (2.8 ounces) bar is $6.50 – $6.99. www.escazuchocolates.com
French Broad Chocolates: Based in Ashville, North Carolina, French Broad Chocolates has a chocolate making factory, a separate chocolate lounge (every town should have a chocolate lounge), and a chocolate boutique called Chocolate+Milk (which has an extraordinary selection of chocolates). With sourced beans from Nicaragua, Peru, and Costa Rica, French Broad Chocolates makes both single origin bars and bars with almonds, salt, and even a dark milk chocolate bar (45%) for those who haven’t yet converted to dark chocolate. They also make a malted milk chocolate bar made with barley malt (which is sourced from a local malt house, Riverbend Malt) and a high cacao mass (dark milk) at 45%, which makes this bar stand apart from others. Each 60 gram bar (2.1 ounces) sells for $7. www.frenchbroadchocolates.com
Fresco Chocolate: The word “fresco” is Italian for “fresh.” It’s how chocolate should be although the whole idea of fresh chocolate is a relatively new concept for those raised in the past half century. Lynden, Washington-based Fresco Chocolate uses three ingredients to make their chocolate: cacao beans, pure cane sugar, and cocoa butter (which comes from the cacao bean).
Using beans sourced from the Dominican Republic, Madagascar, Peru, and Papua New Guinea, Fresco Chocolate not only makes the chocolate bars but also prints roasting (light, medium, or dark) and conching (none, subtle, medium, long) information on the box so the purchaser can learn about the processes that influence subtle differences in the flavor of chocolate. Each 1.6 – 1.8 ounce bar (45-50 grams) is $8-$12. www.frescochocolate.com
Fruition Chocolate Works: Just east of the Catskill Mountains in the small town of Shokan, New York is Fruition Chocolate Works, a small batch craft chocolate maker who uses fair trade organically grown cacao beans grown in Peru, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic. The chocolate maker’s core product line is 5 solid chocolate bars: Brown Butter Milk Chocolate, Dark Milk with Flor de Sal (56%), Hispaniola (68%), Maranón (76%), and a Rustic Crunch bar (70%) with cacao nibs, whole vanilla beans, and cinnamon. Each 60 gram (2.1 ounces) bar is $8.95-$12.95. www.tastefruition.com
Mast Brothers: One of the most well-known bean-to-bar chocolate makers began in 2007 in Brooklyn, New York with the simple idea of making bean-t0-bar chocolate with two ingredients: cacao beans (from Peru, the Dominican Republic, Papua New Guinea, Madagascar, and Belize) and pure cane sugar. Try the Origin collection: five 70 gram (2.5 ounces) bars: one made from cacao beans from each location and a bar made with a blend of cacao beans, for $45, shipping included. www.mastbrothers.com
Olive & Sinclair: Nashville, Tennessee is always in the foodie news these days, especially when the city has its own bean-to-bar chocolate maker in the heart of a city known for music. Founded in 2007, Olive & Sinclair was inspired by the southern propensity to stone ground certain foods – namely grits – and proceeded to use melanguers (stone mills) for cacao beans from Ghana and the Dominican Republic. Nine 2.75 ounce bars (including bars of 67% and 75%, bars with nibs, sea salt, salt and pepper, cinnamon, freshly roasted coffee, and white chocolate bars with 45% unrefined cocoa butter) are available for $6.99 each. A 1-pound bar of 67% baking chocolate is also offered at $25.99. www.oliveandsinclair.com
Patric Chocolate: Columbia, Missouri is the home of Patric Chocolate where sustainability influences decisions on every level from the lives of the cacao farmers to the impact the company makes on the environment. Farmers are paid fair trade or higher rates and only certified organic cane sugar, cocoa butter, and other ingredients (cinnamon, peanut butter, maple sugar, essential peppermint oil) are used. Cacao shells are donated to farmers to use as mulch, and packaging is made from 30% recycled post consumer fiber. Each 2.3 ounce bar in the permanent lineup – a 67% and 75% Madagascar Dark Chocolate, a 72% Mint Crunch, a 58% Dark Milk, a 74% In-Nib-itable, a 70% Signature Blend – sell for about $9 per bar. www.patric-chocolate.com
Potomac Chocolate: Washington, DC got their first bean-t0-bar chocolate maker when Ben Rasmussen got hooked on the subtle differences between cacao beans that greatly influence the flavor of a chocolate bar. Potomac Chocolate sources beans primarily from three areas: Costa Rica, Peru, and Venezuela and names each earthy rich tasting bar for the area in which the beans were grown. The cacao content ranges from 70% – 82%. Each 1.76 ounce bar – all of which have complex flavors that are rich, bold, and intensely chocolate – is $8 with free shipping on all orders over $50. www.potomacchcolate.com. These bars should be sold at every monument and museum gift shop in our capital.
Ritual Chocolate: Located in Park City, Utah, Ritual Chocolate uses only two ingredients to make their chocolate bars: cacao beans and pure cane sugar. Known for their single origin bars named for the location in which the cacao beans were grown: Balao, Ecuador (75% and 85%), Belize (75%), Madagascar (75%), Maranon, Peru (75%), and Costa Rica (75%), the company also makes bars with blended cacao beans, nibs, coffee, and Fleur de Sel. Each rich chocolate bar is wrapped in gold paper (makes you feel like Charlie Bucket from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when unwrapping the bar), is 1.5 ounces and costs $6.75 with free shipping on all orders over $50. www.ritualchocolate.com. Buy on-line but also worth a trip to Park City.
Rogue Chocolatier: A small, bean-to-bar manufactory in Three Rivers, Massachusetts (the south central part of the state), Rogue Chocolatier sources organic cacao beans from the Dominican Republic, Madagascar, Jamaica, and Venezuela and adds organic cane sugar to make some very special chocolate bars. The 2.1 ounce (60 grams) bars range from 70% – 80% and sell for $7.99 to $18 per bar (the $18 bar is made from the Porcelana cacao, a rare Venezuelan criollo variety). www.roguechocolatier.com. These are the most expensive bars on the list and hard to obtain because they sell out quickly (Formaggio Kitchen – www.formaggiokitchen.com has the Jamaica 75% bars in stock) but a new batch is expected in May, 2015.
Videri Chocolate Factory: Raleigh, North Carolina is the home of Videri Chocolate Factory – a factory and store that uses the finest organic cacao beans, cocoa butter, and organic cane sugar to make some truly extraordinary chocolate bars. My favorite: the 90% Ecuadorian Dark Chocolate bar which borders on being sublime. With just a pinch of sugar (2 grams per serving), the emphasis is on the cacao bean. Videri also makes a Classic Dark Chocolate bar (70%), a Dark Milk Chocolate bar with a 50% cocoa content, a Dark Chocolate bar with Sea Salt (70%), a Pink Peppercorn Chocolate Bar (70%), and a Peppermint Chocolate Bar (60%) during the holiday season and Blueberry and Dark Milk Chocolate in the Spring. Each 3 ounce box with 2 individually wrapped bars is $7.99 – $11.99. www.viderichocolatefactory.com
Woodblock Chocolate: A bean-to-bar chocolate maker from Portland, Oregon – home of all things progressive – rounds out the list. Sourcing cacao beans from Trinidad, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Madagascar, Woodblock Chocolate makes a wide variety of bars with most having a 70% cacao content. Several have additions including Fleur de Sel, nibs, and toasted sesame seeds. Each .88 ounce bar (25 grams) looks like a rectangular block, tastes rich and decadent, and sells for about $4. www.woodblockchocolate.com