Okay, so the title might be a little click-batey, as you would need to try chocolate from all of the chocolate makers in Brussels to Make that determination… But we had the luck to stumble into Mike & Becky’s Chocolate shop which is a unique Chocolate maker in Brussels (and probably most of Belgium) as they are focused on “Bean-to-Bar” and “single-Origin” Chocolate. But let’s jump back to the origins of chocolate in Belgium, to give us a better sense of perspective.
Chocolate has been in Belgium since the 17th century when it was brought back from the “New World” (AKA Central/South America) by Spain. The first step to making chocolate popular in Europe was to add sugar cane to make it sweeter, this made it spread throughout Europe like wildfire among the wealthy, royal, and affluent (as it was expensive to transport across the ocean). As chocolate became popular so did some of the knockoffs using methods to stretch the limited supply. The Belgian authorities went a step further in the 19th century and separated Belgian chocolate from all the other chocolate in Europe and started setting standards (i.e such as cacao content, and manufacture location). The next step that cemented Belgian chocolate in its popular position was to start importing raw ingredients from a state-owned colony in massive quantities (See Belgian Congo, unfortunately, the source of human exploitation and abuse) which helped make chocolate more affordable and more accessible. Today Belgian Chocolate is known around the world for its high quality, but in most cases no longer sourced from single farms or regions, but from various commercialized sources around the world.
Bean-to-Bar is a movement in the chocolate world where beans are traced back to a single country, single region, or even single farm (I’m sure there are “single tree” bars). Bean-to-Bar chocolate makers often purchase directly from the farms/farmers as this is an easy way to get quality cacao and/or cacao of specific taste or heritage. This introduces a level of transparency and accountability which is often compared to single-origin coffee or fair-trade coffee. Single-origin chocolate also has flavor profiles that are often lost or stripped in more industrial chocolate processing. Bean-to-Bar manufacturing practices often include minimal and simple ingredients such as milk powder, beat sugar (or other sugar sources), and cocoa butter. This practice can keep the more complex flavor profiles along with differing roasting methods and other techniques that can make some of the final products taste significantly different, such as less bitter with more prevalent undertones!
This is in contrast to the traditional chocolate industry where beans are combined from multiple/unknown origins, often mixed with filler and other flavors to create a more standard and reproducible chocolate with a constant taste and melting point (which is a desirable trait for most chocolatiers). There are a few issues here, as this creates a race to the bottom on prices with no (or limited) regard for quality (this is part of the reason Belgian authorities set standards). This industrial chocolate is then sold to multiple companies and chocolate makers for various purposes such as use in a final product or baked in or repackaged for direct consumer sale.
Now I’m oversimplifying and generalizing here (I know, I know, poor journalistic practice) but the idea is to express the difference between an industrialized commercial process and a more handmade and tracked bean-to-bar process. All this is great, but I’m sure most of you are asking -> how does it taste? Short answer unique and layered (Haven’t you been listening!!) some bars are acquired tastes, but others are surprisingly smooth and sweet.
So huge shoutout to Björn from Mike & Becky (chocolate shop and cafe) for sending me down this path…. We walked into their store on a cool autumn afternoon (truthfully looking for a cafe to get some hot coffee and work on our laptop as we waited to check in), but ended up getting “THE Masterclass on Chocolate: Intro to the Bean-to-Bar World” (at least that’s what I’m calling it). This is what kicked off my research into this, now I have only scratched the surface, and have but a layman’s understanding but I am forever changed. Bjorn let us try their wide variety of chocolate bars with various percentages of cacao and even a single roasted cacao bean. We also tried other chocolate bars from around Europe, even some more unique bars from Ukraine with bee pollen.
Our favorite chocolate bar is the Macchiato which is a mix of chocolate and coffee from Wide Awake (I know, I hear you, “rants and raves about single origin chocolate with simple ingredients and his favorite bar is a mix of coffee and chocolate” laugh it up.
Highly recommend if you are in Brussels to stop by their shop...If you are not nearby, look around your own local community for Bean-to-Bar chocolate, we found a few places near us here in North Carolina that we are planning on trying soon.
Mike & Becky Website: https://mikeandbecky.be
Also checkout our YouTube video on our chocolate experience below: