Chocolate has been a part of our national appetite for more than a hundred years, but not all chocolate is equal. Bean to bar chocolate makers are finding that America craves the rich flavors, natural and organic ingredients, as well as the health benefits that are lost in mass-produced chocolate. The term “from bean to bar” refers to the precise process of hand-sorting the cacao beans, roasting them, shelling the nibs, grinding the nibs into liquid, tempering the bars, and finally, wrapping the final chocolate output by hand. This is done in small batches with only the addition of natural ingredients, as opposed to large-scale production, which uses additives, preservatives and less actual chocolate. These small, often family-run operations, can now be found in every region of the US. Should you travel near these locations, consider adding the value luxury experience of hand crafted chocolate to your trip.
Northeast: Taza Chocolate
Taza Chocolate is located just outside of Boston, in Somerville, Massachusetts, but the inspiration for their chocolate is from south of the border, in the heart of Mexico. Taza’s founder, Alex Whitmore, discovered stone ground chocolate in Oaxaca and came back to the United States, making Mexican-style dark chocolate his specialty. Whitmore learned how to hand carve the millstones that grind the cacao, making each bar a true labor of love. Tours of the Taza factory are available Tuesday through Sunday.
Mid-Atlantic: Escazú Artisan Chocolates
Escazú, in Raleigh, North Carolina offers seven artisan chocolate bar flavors and a variety of handmade truffles as well. In October of 2011, Hallot Parson, owner of Escazú, added a hot chocolate bar to his retail store. He researched ancient hot chocolate recipes and even consulted the first written recipe, dated in 1644. Hot chocolate didn’t contain dairy back then, so the four different recipes Parson offers are dairy free, each one combining a blend of flavors such as cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, and chile. The retail store and hot chocolate bar are open Tuesday through Sunday. Regularly scheduled tours of the Escazú factory have been suspended, but private tours can be arranged with advance notice.
Cacao only grows in regions within 10 degrees latitude north and south of the Equator, where there is little seasonal change. The biggest exporters of cacao are Central and South America and Africa. The only place in the United States with cacao production is Hawaii.
South: Olive & Sinclair Chocolate Co.
Olive & Sinclair has created a uniquely southern line of chocolate in Nashville, Tennessee. Their chocolate bars are made with brown sugar instead of white sugar, the first mark that sets them apart. In addition to their hand crafted chocolate bars, owner, Scott Witherow, partnered with a local smokehouse to come up with Smoked Nib Brittle – a chocolate brittle made from smoked cacao nibs. Witherow then decided to age cacao nibs in bourbon barrels to see what else he could come up with. When he turned them into Bourbon Nib Brittle, it was a huge hit, flying off the shelves as fast as they could make it. Tours are available on Fridays at 4:30pm.
Midwest: Askinosie Chocolate
Have you heard of Chocolate University? In Springfield, Missouri, Shawn Askinosie, former attorney and owner of Askinosie Chocolate, started Chocolate University in the neighborhood schools surrounding his chocolate shop as a way to teach kids about entrepreneurship, direct trade and sustainability. Proceeds from Askinosie’s factory tours fund this program. In addition to their chocolate bars, Askinosie also makes its own chocolate hazelnut spread. Tours are available on Tuesdays at 3pm.
West: Amano Artisan Chocolate
Making fine chocolate is not something to be rushed. Amano’s process involves letting the chocolate rest for up to three weeks, allowing the flavors to develop and blend into a chocolate bar you’ll want to savor as long as you can. Amano’s chocolate is also made in Utah – 40 miles from Salt Lake City, at an elevation of 4,441 feet above sea level, meaning that Amano makes chocolate at one of the highest altitudes in the world. Factory store is open Monday through Saturday. Tours are available at certain times of the year.
Northwest: Theo Chocolate
Theo is where you’ll find small batch confections in Seattle. With flavors like Toasted Coconut, Cherry & Almond, Chai Tea, and Mint Chocolate, you might want to pick up more than one. Theo also has a line of cream ganache and caramel confections. Like many bean to bar chocolate makers, Theo is committed to sustainable and fair-trade practices. This means they work to ensure the cacao growers are paid fairly and that cacao growing and harvesting processes are environmentally friendly. Tours are available daily Monday through Sunday.
Pacific Islands: Madre Chocolate
Madre has an advantage in chocolate making because cacao grows in Hawaii. So, Madre produces chocolate from beans grown at home. Madre not only produces mouth-watering chocolate flavors such as Strawberry Guava, Hibiscus, and Hawaiian Passion fruit but they also sell a bean to bar chocolate making kit that will provide you with everything you need to make chocolate at home. If you want to learn more about chocolate making, Madre also offers classes that give you the opportunity to learn the process and make your own chocolate to take home. Farm to Factory tours and Chocolate Making classes are available by pre-registration only.
All photos courtesy author except Taza (Snowpea&bokchoi Flickr CC), Askinsoie (EverJean Flickr CC), Theo (cheeseslave Flickr CC), Amano (EverJean Flickr CC), Madre (Bytemarks Flickr CC)