Roasted cocoa beans

“Bean to bar” is among the lesser-known, but still popular, phrases in the foodie lexicon. For most, it’s the equivalent of an exquisite, controlled farm-to-table production process in the chocolate world. In that specific application of the term, it follows the cocoa bean from the farm. The bean starts with drying. After it is shelled, the inside nib is taken to a lab-like kitchen where those inner goodies are mixed with raw cocoa butter and sugar to make sumptuous craft chocolates.

For others, “bean to bar” is a come-hither headline that leads the inquisitive culinary explorer to a class where the hands-on experience of making (and later eating) chocolate is a multi-hour learning session. In such workshops from New York to the southern regions of Peru, the do’s and don’ts of chocolate making are explored, including how to carefully remove the outer part of the cocoa bean (known as cascara, which makes a wonderful tea) and devise the formula/ratio of bean to sugar and cocoa butter to suit individual tastes. Hence, when you see a chocolate bar in your local gourmet shop that says 70%, it means it’s 70% cocoa bean with the remaining 30% made up of sugar and cocoa butter.

In the bean to bar workshop, the class hits the pause button before actual production. The process of making artisan chocolate—be it a small batch for a class of 20 students, or for a large order—is a lengthy one that tempers the ingredients in a melangeur or similar commercial machine. Those in the workshop are given silicone molds, perfectly melted chocolate, and mix-ins to allow each student to create his or her final artistry.

With an emphasis on growing veggies at indoors, brewing your own beer, distilling booze and other home food factories, making your own chocolates appears to be lagging. With shrinking global supply chains, there certainly is a wide range of choices when it comes to cocoa beans, cocoa butter and sugars of every vintage (raw, refined, organic, etc.…) The issue is the lack of popularly-priced home chocolate tempering appliances. Smaller versions of a traditional melangeur run more than $350 with industrial-sized models running well over $1,000.

Following the model of such entrepreneurs as PicoBrew make sense for the home craft chocolate market. Any easy-to-use machine where the ingredients come in “kits” would be an idea for the novice chocolatier. Brands such as Nestle, Hershey, Ghirardelli and others could create kits (bean, cocoa butter, sugar) that carry their signature flavor and communities of chocoholics could share their magic recipes.

The global chocolate market is work more than $98 billion, so there’ s little fear the home market will cause the Belgian economy to suffer. As a foodtech trend, the home chocolate market appears to be a large, untapped opportunity.

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Allen Weiner is an Austin-based freelance writer focusing on applications of new technology in the areas of food, media and education. In his 17-year career as a vice president and analyst with Gartner, Inc., the world’s largest IT research and advisory firm, Allen was a frequent speaker at company and industry events as well as one of the most-quoted analysts in the area of new media. With an extensive background in publishing and publishing technology, Allen is noted as the founder of The Gate (sfgate.com), the nation’s first daily newspaper on the web. Born in Philadelphia, Allen is a graduate of Muhlenberg College and Temple University.