Bean-to-Bar in Texas: A Comparison

There are several reasons why a shop owner would opt to be bean-to-bar, including economic and ethical motivations. (“Bean-To-Bar Chocolate Makers Dare To Bare How It’s Done”, 2013) Cameron Ring, co-owner of Dandelion Chocolate, argues that “Chocolate is one food where everyone is familiar with it, but it has this untold story,” and that he wants to tell that story. (“Bean-To-Bar…”, 2013) I wonder, though, how much of that story is fiction?

 

I decided to compare seven different bean-to-bar companies from Texas, sourced from a blog post on bean-to-bar chocolate makers in the U.S. (“183 Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Makers in the United States”, 2016). Note that I didn’t source much information from this casual, non-scholarly post besides the names of the chocolate makers which I then vetted. However, note that this information is copied (and reformatted for clarity and length) below.

 

I will keep a particular eye towards the story the companies tell about their products online, any fair trade, organic, and direct trade claims and certifications, and ingredients, if I can find them. I expect to see some instances where brands do not actually have a certain certification, but use language associated with it to suggest that they do, e.g. “We love organic ingredients”, but no suggestion of actually having an USDA Organic certification. I also plan to keep in mind the false dichotomies of food; in particular, Laudan’s essay on cultural modernism resonated with me: just because a food is unprocessed, doesn’t necessarily mean it is healthy or ethical or otherwise better than processed food.

 

Ceda Chocolate, Edinburg, Texas.

‘We make chocolate directly from the cacao bean in small batches. Our cacao comes from Ecuador and is single origin, fairly traded, and pesticide free.’

Facebook

(“183 Bean-to-Bar…”, 2016)

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According to the quotation above, Ceda Chocolate is “fairly traded”, which sounds similar to but is not exactly “fair trade”, which I found immediately interesting.

 

According to Purple Dot, a non-profit who claims its mission is “an economy that takes care of the things we value most – our world and the people who live in it”, fairly-traded is a term frequently used to refer to products that don’t have a Fairtrade certification but want to suggest that they have been traded in an ethical manner, and may be associated with organizations such as, World Fair Trade Organization – WFTO (www.wfto.com) or The British Association For Fair Trade Shops – BAFTS (www.bafts.org.uk) (purpledot.org). It’s important to note that Purple Dot is a British organization, and as we have covered in class, fair trade varies widely between the United States and United Kingdom.

 

The website for the brand said impressively little about the company: it did say that it was “craft” and the “First and only bean-to-bar craft chocolate maker in the RGV.”, but nothing else of its story, the location where its ingredients are sourced, or even what those ingredients are.

 

However, unlike its website, the wrappers for the chocolate bars had a lot more information: the wrapper makes the same claim about being the first and only chocolate maker in the RGV, which is the River Grande Valley in Texas, and also claims “Our Cacao is: – Single origin – Fairly traded – Pesticide free”, that the chocolate is “made by artisan hands”, and contains a “Go Texan” mark.

 

The “Go Texan” mark is actually a legitimate certification; companies can only put it on their products if they meet membership eligibility rules (gotexan.org). These rules seem fairly lax; the website only specifies that products must be grown or processed in Texas, and tiers of membership come at a price (gotexan.org).

 

Kiskadee Chocolates, Austin, Texas.

‘We make single-origin, organic chocolate in small batches… We use cacao that is purchased from around the world from farmers and farmer’s coops that are paid a fair wage. Kiskadee Chocolates produces bars, drinking chocolate, and brewing cacao.’

Twitter: kiskadeechoc Facebook

(“183 Bean-to-Bar…”, 2016)

kiskadee.jpg

Kiskadee Chocolates, a bean-to-bar chocolate maker named after the Kiskadee bird (facebook.com/pg/Kiskadeechocolates), surprisingly didn’t have a website. However, it does claims that those who they purchase cacao from are “paid a fair wage”, which like fairly traded is a term that sounds much like fair trade, but isn’t associated with the fair trade certification. (“183 Bean-to-Bar…”, 2016)

 

The wrappers claim they are “crafted from the bean”, as if other chocolate bars are not, so there was very little meaning in this phrase as an ethical claim. Finally, the facebook page for Kiskadee Chocolates claims that the bars are “made from organic and fair trade cacao”, but doesn’t list any certifications.

 

However, I did find something very interesting on a British website that discusses different chocolatiers: “Initially Laura [the owner of Kiskadee Chocolates] set up making chocolate exclusively from ‘La Red’ cacao that was sourced from a co-operative in Dominican Republic which allowed more of the value of the chocolate to pass down to these growers so they can make a sustainable living from the crop.” When we discussed in class how to complicate the narrative that farmers are simply exploited, we discussed that one part of a potential solution was to work to make sure that farmers were making a higher wage, so this choice was definitely an ethical one, more impressive than having certifications that are fairly lax, or even worse, hinting at those certifications. The website did go on to say that new locations were later sourced from, but didn’t say much about whether they were ethical: “But lately a new, absolutely fabulous chocolate made from Puerto Rican beans from a family-run estate has been added to the collection and hopefully Laura will continue to make chocolate from origins and estates not often used.” Not unlike Ceda Chocolate, it is hard to know much about Kiskadee Chocolates.

 

Mahogany Chocolate, Lubbock, Texas.

‘We source our cacao from small farms in the Caribbean, Central and South America.’ Twitter: MahoganyChoco Facebook

(“183 Bean-to-Bar…”, 2016)

 

Mahogany Chocolate does not have much information available on their website; even less, arguably, than the previous two chocolate makers. I did notice that they offer classes which show consumers how their chocolate is made, that allows them to hear the story “behind the beans” (mahoganychocolate.com). While this kind of class is definitely likely to have a minimal (at least, local) impact, it is certainly a step in the right direction towards making consumers understand what they are purchasing and eating.

 

On a very different note, the term “Mahogany” is problematic: like some of the vintage advertisements we looked at in class, it seems to capitalizes on racist stereotypes.

 

SiriuS Chocolate, Austin, Texas.

Handmade, stone-ground, raw chocolate made with sustainably sourced cacao, coconut sugar, vanilla, and Himalayan Mineral Salt.

Twitter: siriuschocolate Facebook

(“183 Bean-to-Bar…”, 2016)

sirius.jpg

SiriuS chocolate makes three claims: about their values (particularly with regards to the environment, about paying farmers fairly, and about the ingredients.

 

Here is what the company says about its values: “SiriuS Chocolate is handmade in Austin, TX with the utmost respect for planet Earth. Sourced Sustainably from within healthy rainforest, SiriuS Chocolate supports biodiversity for future generations.” (siriuschocolate.com) This is certainly a large concern; many individuals care about the environment and of course, can exercise political power via their purchasing power. I thought it was surprising that more of the companies didn’t emphasize this value, especially since it is easy to associate cacao with being natural and wholesome since it does come from a plant and from the rainforest. The website for SiriuS chocolates argues that few people realize that cacao requires the shade of the rainforest to grow; I would argue this is very much not the case, and more companies should not just use imagery and language associated with the rainforest in order to sell chocolate, but to actually consider the ethical implications of the fact that cacao, of course, grows in the rainforest.

 

Relatedly, here is what the company says about farmers: “The growers are able to add value to the cacao in a co-operative processing center before selling it above Fair-Trade prices.” (siriuschocolate.com) It is unclear, like in many of the cases outlined so far, whether their chocolate is actually fair trade certified or whether they simply hope to suggest that (I doubt it is actually fair trade, since I suspect that they would say this outright if they could, and put the symbol for fair trade on their website as well.)

 

Finally, with respect to ingredients, SiriuS Chocolate emphasizes that ingredients are “raw”. However, it doesn’t focus very much on the ethical considerations of eating raw food, but rather, the health benefits, like serving as a source of iron, particularly helpful during menstruation, and helping the body process antioxidants and neurotransmitters like endorphins.

 

SRSLY Chocolate, Austin, Texas.

Stone-ground chocolate handcrafted from organic and fair-trade cacao.

Twitter: SRSLYchocolate Facebook

(“183 Bean-to-Bar…”, 2016)

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I thought it was interesting that this brand had a similar name to the one preceding it (SiriuS sounds almost exactly like SRSLY when pronounced out loud, at least).

 

Funnily, the website focuses on the chocolate-making process: “To become chocolate, cacao must go through a dramatic transformation. Cacao is grown in lush forests and harvested. It is fermented and dried. It is cracked, winnowed and ground into the chocolate we know and love.” (srslychocolate.com) The company is taking advantage of the fact that the average consumer has not heard of terms like “winnow” and therefore, makes this chocolate seem particularly special. Of course, all chocolate is fermented, roasted, etc., but the website suggests that these processes are particular to SRSLY chocolate.

 

The website says nothing of certifications. It does list ingredients for select bars. For example, the 84% Cacao Bar, which is supposedly the company’s flagship bar (which may mean that it is the most popular). The only ingredients in this bar was organic and fair trade cacao and organic and fair trade sugar. This was far more impressive than any other ethical claim made by any company thus far.  

 

Sublime Chocolate, Allen, Texas.

A chocolate and coffee shop that handcrafts truffles, bonbons, ice cream, bean-to-bar chocolate tablets and tasting bars, and coffee drinks.

Twitter: Sublimechocolat Facebook

(“183 Bean-to-Bar…”, 2016)

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Sublime actually acknowledges that not all of its chocolate is bean-to-bar, which differentiates it from the others discussed thus far: only its tablets and tasting bars are bean-to-bar, whereas its other bars, truffles, and such are not. Sublime, like SRSLY, placed an emphasis on the process, discussing aspects of the process like roasting.   

 

This company places an emphasis on the locations from where the cocoa beans are sourced: it’s printed right on the packaging.

 

There wasn’t any information on certifications or ingredients.

 

Tejas Chocolate Craftory, Tomball, Texas.

‘We hand craft award winning chocolate using only premium cocoa beans sourced from cacao farms around the world.’

Twitter: TejasChocolate Facebook

(“183 Bean-to-Bar…”, 2016)

tejas.jpg

Only in Texas would there be such a thing as a half-chocolate company, half- barbecue restaurant! Some of the barbecue dishes even incorporate chocolate, particularly desserts such as the chocolate bread pudding with house Cajeta Caramel Sauce. (tejaschocolate.com)

 

Tejas Chocolate Craftory, like Sublime, places an emphasis on the locations from where the cocoa beans are sourced: it prints the location where the cocoa beans are sourced on the packaging as well as a scenic image from each location. Tejas also explicitly mentions having a mission like some of the other chocolate makers, particularly like SiriuS which talked about the environment. Tejas Chocolate Craftory claims to be part of a movement, citing the fact that nearly all chocolate is produced by a small handful of companies. Of course, since by this point it is clear that small chocolate-makers can still vary widely in terms of their ethical considerations (and how they communicate these concerns to others). Thus, simply not being part of that small handful of companies is a step in the right direction, it is no guarantee of ethical production.

 

While this website actually had far more information available than many of the others, I couldn’t find anything on certifications or ingredients here, either.

 

Go Texan. GO TEXAN Mark. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2017.

 

“Kiskadee Chocolate – Hand-Crafted in Austin, Texas, USA.” Chocolatiers. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2017.

 

Laudan, Rachel. “A plea for culinary modernism: why we should love new, fast, processed food.” Gastronomica 1.1 (2001): 36-44.

 

Shute, Nancy. “Bean-To-Bar Chocolate Makers Dare To Bare How It’s Done.” NPR. NPR, 14 Feb. 2013. Web. 05 May 2017.

 

“What is the difference between Fairtrade and fairly-traded?” Purple Dot. N.p., 08 May 2012. Web. 05 May 2017.
Wiley, Carol. “183 Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Makers In the United States.” Medium. N.p., 09 Dec. 2016. Web. 05 May 2017.

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