" A love story with cocoa that begins in the Dominican Republic...
Behind Encuentro is us, Candice & Antoine, great lovers of cocoa and chocolate!
Encuentro : "The Meeting" in Spanish
Our adventure began in 2008 in the Dominican Republic. During one year, we discover this magnificent country and its treasures...especially the cocoa!
In 2012, we decided to go back and create our first chocolate factory in Punta Cana in direct relation with the local cooperatives. Launched in only two months, the chocolate factory employs up to 15 people and is a real success. We receive more than 300 visitors a day. One year later, however, we were forced to abandon everything overnight, under threat, and return to France.
The idea of creating our bean to bar factory in France, in Paris where we live at the time, will never leave us. However, we had to wait a few years...
It is in October 2016 that we finally took the plunge, with two of us, without any other help than that of a bank that trusted us by granting us a loan. The decision was well thought out with now two little boys in the family. It will take us one year to set up the project. The Encuentro factory opened in Montreuil, near Paris, in a 20m2 space. Our first bars can finally be tasted!
The choice was made not to open a store in order to put all our energy into the production and quality of our chocolate, which we gradually distributed throughout France. The beginnings are difficult because it is complex to arrive in France in this very closed world of the chocolate, in autodidacts, without prestigious references. We believe in it and we are moving forward in spite of everything!
The recognition of our work will come gradually: Entry to the Culinary College of France on the recommendation of Alain Ducasse, Award of the discovery at the Salon du Chocolat 2018, Award of the "25 Best of the Best" in 2019, Prix Epicure d'Or 2019, 2020 and finally 2021! These awards allow us to finally make our bars known.
In 2019, we move (family and factory!) to Lille, our heart city, city of our meeting. A 3rd little boy, from Lille this time, will join the siblings a few weeks later!
November 2021, we move into an old spinning mill (after 9 months of work...) and can finally open our doors to you! This hundred year old place is huge, full of history. The history of a glorious past when the North was the jewel of the world textile industry. Today, we want to bring it back to life...differently!
Only 1% to 2% of chocolate makers make their chocolate in France. It is therefore a pride for us to bring back a rare know-how in our region and in France. Encuentro is now a team of 10 people passionate about cocoa and with the desire to make you travel with each square of chocolate.
We hope that our bars will surprise you!
Candice & Antoine"
Bean to bar chocolate, more than just chocolate!
What is bean to bar chocolate?
"from the bean to the bar"
Being a bean to bar chocolate maker means making chocolate directly from cocoa beans. This is our profession at Encuentro. We carry out the entire manufacturing process of our chocolate, without subcontracting a single step, in our factory in Lille. However, in France, a country with more than 3,000 chocolate makers, there are less than 2% of artisanal bean to bar chocolate makers (about sixty), the best known of which are Bonnat, Pralus, Bernachon, Ducasse. Great names that are part of our heritage! But, a drop of water in an ocean of chocolate...
The expression "bean to bar" appeared in the 2000s in the United States with the creation of the first independent micro factories. At the time, the machines were rare, often collector's items, old and bulky. The "bean to bar" will know a real boom with the invention of the first machines with reduced size and price around 2010.
The expression then becomes necessary to allow these new craftsmen "Chocolatier bean to bar" to distinguish themselves from the craftsman "Chocolatier fondur" who melts and works chocolate already made by the first; two totally different skills.
In France, to our knowledge, only the chocolate maker Jacques Genin in Paris presents himself transparently as a chocolate melter because he works with the chocolate of another. He then sublimates this chocolate with his creations.
But why would he want to distinguish himself? For two reasons:
> To indicate to the final customer that the artisanal chocolate maker masters the taste of the chocolate he proposes and that he did not buy it elsewhere, with an imposed recipe.
> to allow cocoa producers to know whether or not they can contact an artisan chocolatier to sell them their beans.
"Bean to bar" is therefore not originally a n-th marketing word to better sell chocolate...
Unfortunately its use is not (yet) regulated. Many brands are starting to use it to qualify their chocolate even though it is produced on an industrial scale with little traceability and transparency; and/or nobody has the know-how in their teams and the manufacturing is subcontracted. We ourselves are regularly contacted by brands in order to create their "bean to bar" chocolate bars that would be sold under their brand, without mentioning Encuentro. This is called white label production. This makes no sense here and is no longer called bean to bar! One only has to wonder who will be responsible in case of quality problems in the chocolate. At Encuentro, it's us! The "bean to bar" brands we are talking about here will turn to "their" master chocolate maker...
Obviously, all chocolate is produced from cocoa beans at some point! But in the bean to bar, there should be only one actor: the artisan, who integrates and masters all the know-how with passion, ethics and offers you "his" chocolate. There is an almost intimate significance to the use of the expression bean to bar. The bean to bar is not just a manufacturing process, it is a whole philosophy, a committed approach of the artisan.
In the end, real bean to bar chocolate has a unique taste that no industrial manufacturer can imitate. You will like it or not. There will be total transparency in the manufacturing and sourcing.
The three pillars of "bean to bar"
You now know what it is to be a bean to bar chocolate maker! The following is a detailed presentation of the three pillars that, in our opinion, structure the bean to bar: Know-how, Ethics & Passion. Pillars that hide strong values without which they could not exist: simplicity, transparency, commitment and pleasure of course!
1- Bean-to-bar chocolate maker: Technical know-how
Making bean-to-bar chocolate is not an easy task. It requires both mastering the secrets of the technical element that is chocolate and knowing the machines perfectly. On this point, we learn every day...often at our expense!
No school in France today will teach you how to become a bean-to-bar chocolatier. With Candice, we are self-taught. We acquired our know-how through several years of research, tests and tastings, first in the Dominican Republic, in Paris and then in Lille. Both engineers, we like to face complex challenges. Chocolate did not fail to present us with any!
Working the cocoa bean is a work of goldsmith that leads us to seek each time the profile of roasting (temperature, duration) and conching that will sublimate the beans we have in front of us and whose notes will immediately transport you thousands of miles away, to the heart of the plantations!
However, it would be a pity to devote so much energy to the manufacturing process and to try to discover its secrets on a daily basis if this were done without ever looking at the reality upstream, at the beginning: in the plantation with the producers.
2- Ethics & cocoa
At Encuentro, the ethical dimension, i.e. social and environmental, is at the heart of our project.
Here are some facts...
In 2016, 40% of the cocoa in Ivory Coast came from illegal plantations, created after deforestation and located in protected natural parks...(1)
Côte d'Ivoire produced 44% of the world's cocoa in 2017 (2).
The average salary of an Ivorian producer was 54c$ per day (3), which is about twice less than the local poverty line (4).
How can we remain indifferent to these alarming figures knowing that other producing countries have similar practices. And above all, what can we do at our level?
We ask ourselves this question every day.
Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana have since joined the Cocoa & Forest Initiative for deforestation-free cocoa in 2017 (5). Colombia joined them in July 2018 (6).
At Encuentro, we only work with "fine cocoa", i.e. high quality, fermented cocoa whose price is in no way linked to that of cocoa listed on the stock exchange. Thus, since 2017, we have paid an average of 3 times the stock market price and the idea of negotiating a rate has never crossed our minds. Paying a fair price then allows us to ensure that the producer is also fairly remunerated and can work sustainably on his plantation without cutting back on quality.
Uncommon Cacao, with whom we work today, was the first company to publish a transparency report on its activity and the fair remuneration of its producers and partners (6). We were among the first in Europe to work their beans from the Asochivite association in Guatemala. On February 22, 2018, we placed an order at a price of $7900 per ton when the stock market price was at $2145. In 2019, due to bad weather and a smaller crop, the price rose to $10,000 per ton (+26%). We bought cocoa at this price and even with the pride of being able to contribute to compensate in some way this bad year for the producers. We did not impact this increase on our shelf.
And this is where, from our point of view, the need for transparency comes into play in the field of chocolate, a field still too opaque and with a great culture of secrecy. How can we allow this young promising association and its 10 producers to continue to develop if we do not communicate about it and only write "Guatemala" on our packaging. Today, other bean to bar chocolate makers are going to discover Asochivite, maybe thanks to us, and that's good!
Exclusivity, secrecy on the long term, does not make sense in chocolate, it can only endanger the producers who then become dependent on a bean to bar chocolate maker or large exporters.
100% of our range is organic and certified (7). By conviction. The conviction that we need to eat healthier and that if we don't go organic, it will leave the door open to many abuses. It is true that a large part of fine cocoa is organic without being certified for one of two reasons: the high cost of organic certification, or fertilizers and pesticides "fortunately" too expensive for small producers. But how do you know? How do we get the producer to lean towards certification and not fertilizers when he can afford it?
We think it is our duty to show the producer that there is a market for a healthier and natural product while paying a fair price for it.
Participating in the development of new agroforestry projects including cocoa plantations is also part of the subjects that are close to our hearts. You can for example discover this fabulous project that we accompany on the Reunion Island.
3- Bean to bar chocolate maker : From passion to respect for cocoa
To be passionate...it may seem obvious! The fact is, being passionate necessarily induces the notion of respect for these beans that come to us from the ends of the earth and that we work on daily. Their history, their origin, their notes, their secrets, are as many elements which impassion us each day in our adventure.
Producing quality cocoa is a demanding and complex job that still pays too little to producers. We believe that it is our duty to do everything to sublimate this wonderful product. That's why we work with small quantities and with the simplest, most authentic recipe: organic cocoa beans, organic cane sugar and nothing else! With such a recipe we have no right to make mistakes. We do not add any extra cocoa butter, vanilla, salt or lecithin. We seek a pure, authentic taste and we adapt to each harvest, to each bean.
Passion, uniqueness, is finally what differentiates the artisan from the industrialist. Where the industrialist will try to obtain the same taste for each recipe, the artisanal bean to bar chocolate maker will adapt, search and offer the best his raw material has to offer.
And the pleasure in all this?
Finally, there is a key element that we have not mentioned and that has accompanied cocoa since its discovery more than 3000 years ago...pleasure! Even if it is full of meaning, tasting a chocolate must remain a moment of pleasure. It is with this philosophy in mind that we work our beans and create chocolates that give us pleasure and transport us.
We now hope that your next square of Encuentro chocolate will have more meaning and above all will bring you a lot of pleasure!
An artisanal bean to bar manufacturing
From the beans we receive to the bar, 7 steps are necessary to give our chocolate its unique smoothness and flavors.
Our secret: we take our time! This is the guarantee of an exceptional artisanal chocolate.
You can now come and buy your chocolate directly at the factory while watching the production!
1. Selection of the best beans
Making a bean to bar chocolate is working directly from beans that have been fermented and dried in their country of origin. They come to us in beautiful 70kg burlap bags.
Some beans may be too small, others may be stuck together during the drying process by pulp, or simply broken by the journey. So we sort all our beans by hand in order to put aside these unwanted beans.
And yes, at Encuentro we only keep the best beans!
In an artisanal bean-to-bar process, roasting is the crucial step from which the chocolatier will give a personality, a taste of his own to his chocolate. We roast our beans with a baker's oven which allows us to have a great precision and especially not to break the beans because they remain static.
It is during this stage that the flavor precursors created during fermentation will be transformed into aromas. There are thousands of flavors specific to each bean and its terroir. For each of our origins, we have therefore tested many roasting profiles before selecting the one that best reveals the fruity, chocolatey aromas of each bean.
3. Crushing and winnowing of the beans
Once the beans have been roasted, they are crushed and then passed through a machine that we have specifically created to separate the two elements that make up the bean: the pod and its husk.
By a game of aspiration and by relying on the difference in weight between these two elements, this machine allows us to recover on one side the pod that we use to make our delicious cocoa infusions and on the other side the nib that we use to make our chocolate.
4. Grinding & Conching
We work with an artisanal machine. Composed of two huge granite wheels of 50kg each rolling on a granite slab, our grinder will grind the cocoa nib for several days. The cane sugar is added after several hours of grinding, when the grue has given way to the cocoa paste also called cocoa liquor (100% chocolate in fact!).
The conching takes place in the last hours of the process. It allows by friction and stirring of the chocolate with the wheels to further develop these flavors and have a smoother texture.
5. Maturation of the chocolate
Once the chocolate is conched, we pour it into 5 kg bricks, pack it to avoid any contact with the air and store it for several months at room temperature. It is then untempered which explains the imperfect, mottled appearance of the chocolate in the photo.
During this maturation phase, the chocolate will evolve. The cocoa butter will migrate and gather in small balls (white spots). This will allow the tannins at the origin of many aromas to express themselves better for some, to disappear for others, and finally to give our chocolate all its roundness, its harmony to the tasting.
Once the maturation is over, we break these blocks with a hammer and chisel (and yes, a 5kg bar is hard ;). They are then melted to be tempered and poured into bars.
6. Tempering & molding
Cocoa butter is an exciting and complex element. It has five crystalline forms, only one of which will give the chocolate its shiny appearance, its crunchiness and its stability over time. The tempering machine makes it possible to achieve this by making the chocolate pass through a cycle of temperatures very precise and different according to the type of chocolate.
We can then mold the bars!
A badly tempered chocolate will quickly show white spots on the surface. Don't worry, it is still excellent! It is the cocoa butter that rises.
7. Packing by hand
Last but not least: packaging!
Each bar is checked and then packaged by hand, first in a golden aluminum foil and then in its final paper packaging. Having a 100% recyclable packaging is important in our approach.
This crucial step takes place directly after casting the bars in order to preserve all their aromas. So don't forget to smell your square before biting into it!
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