The UK’s craft food and drink industry is having a moment. From beer to coffee to cider, more and more of us are looking to buy from small-scale producers, as we become increasingly interested in the stories behind the products we’re consuming.
One of the most exciting – and delicious – strands of the movement is bean to bar chocolate. It’s been around in the US for a while, but only took off in the UK fairly recently. Intrigued to find out more, journalist and chocolate expert Andrew Baker decided to embark on a tour of Britain’s artisan chocolate makers, translating his findings into a book: From Bean to Bar – A Chocolate Lover’s Guide to Britain. Here he gives us a sneak peek…
First thing’s first: why do we love chocolate so much?
There’s a wonderful chemical reaction that takes place with chocolate in the human body: proper chocolate melts at human body temperature. If you put a tiny square of chocolate on the palm of your hand it will gently melt, and if you put chocolate on your mouth it melts on your tongue. The chemicals in it are pleasure-giving – you get a lift, a stimulation, and it usually contains sugar as well which gives us an energy boost. And of course it tastes delicious. Chocolate naturally reacts with the body in a pleasurable way, it’s something we have pleasure in eating and something we have pleasure in giving. It’s nice to give a box of chocolates, and hopefully people will also think it’s nice to give a beautiful book about chocolate!
What is the bean to bar chocolate movement?
The phrase ‘bean to bar’ is a shorthand for people who are making chocolate in the right way. It’s where artisan makers usually working on a small scale make chocolate bars, doing every part of the process themselves – from the cocoa bean to the finished bar. They roast the beans, and work with the cocoa nibs (the bits that actually contain chocolate), then process those and get something called a cocoa liquor, which is then moulded into chocolate bars.
How does this process affect the taste?
People are taking a great deal of care with what they’re doing, and that’s reflected in the way the bar tastes. Working from bean to bar means you get to actually look at the beans and choose the best ones. You’re also using good quality sugar, in the right proportions. It’s also about the amount of cocoa solids in the bar – in something like a Dairy Milk, the amount of chocolate can be as low as 18-20 per cent, whereas in bean to bar chocolate it’s likely to be around 72 per cent.
Tell us about your book…
The idea was to do a guidebook to Britain that talks about places and people as well as chocolate. I visited artisan chocolate makers all over Britain from Cornwall right up to the Highlands of Scotland, North Wales and the far East Anglia. I visited a couple of makers in cities too, in London and Manchester, and I started my journey in Birmingham, which is where Cadbury’s do their work. I hope there’s something in the book for every chocolate lover. It’s a very bright, colourful and accessible book.
Which chocolate makers had particularly interesting stories?
There’s a guy called Pablo working in North Wales who makes chocolate bars called Forever Cacao, he’s the ultimate artisan chocolate bar maker. He works in a really remote farmhouse in North Wales, buying his cocoa in small quantities from Peru and making a few bars at a time. It’s all about the lifestyle for him: he’s very passionate about what he does, and he lives in a beautiful place with his family and enjoys the countryside. He’s managed to find a way of combining what he does with the kind of lifestyle he wants to live, which I found was often the case with small scale chocolate makers. It’s not necessarily an easy way to make a living but they’re really happy doing what they do, and that shows in the finished product.
Your book also looks at the history of chocolate in this country – can you tell us a bit about that?
Chocolate first came to this country in the 17th century as a kind of exotic hot drink. It was consumed in London coffee shops as a much stronger drink than the hot chocolate we drink today, made with hot water rather than with milk. It was spiced and had quite a kick – it probably tasted more like coffee than the cocoa we’re used to today. It was also used as a hangover cure for people leading rather wild lifestyles. People like the Quaker families were the first to formulate it into bars of chocolate that could be consumed as confectionary. Cadbury’s in Birmingham pioneered the industrialisation of chocolate in that sense – which has obviously been tremendously successful, but modern mass produced chocolate has a lot of sugar in it and not much in the way of chocolate. Nowadays people are looking for purer forms of chocolate with a higher cocoa content, so it’s kind of come full circle.
From Bean To Bar: A Chocolate Lover’s Guide to Britain by Andrew Baker is out now. AA Publishing, £15.99