The long process of chocolate making begins on a tree in the tropics. Historically, the fruits have been harvested and processed in the country of origin before being sent abroad to be made into chocolate. But during the last couple of decades, some cacao producers have begun to keep more of the fruit’s final value in its country of origin. When a product says “tree to bar chocolate,” it implies that the chocolate maker had complete control over how their cacao was grown and processed, and that the chocolate was made in that same country of origin.
Similar to bean to bar chocolate, craft chocolate or single origin, tree to bar chocolate is an unregulated term with no set definition. Tree to bar chocolate companies can be vertically-integrated businesses based in a cacao-growing country, adding value to cacao that would otherwise be exported as a raw material. But due to that lack of a standard definition, what constitutes tree to bar chocolate may be different for each business.
For one tree to bar chocolate maker, owning their own cacao farm makes them tree to bar, while others claim the term thanks to close relationships with local cacao producers. The most important aspects of tree to bar chocolate are control and traceability, allowing makers to have a larger impact within the country of origin. Because there is no set definition of tree to bar chocolate, there are a multitude of ways to start such a business.
Cacaoteca is a tree to bar chocolate brand from the Dominican Republic. From their farm in northern Dominican Republic, Cacaoteca collects their own cacao and that of nearby farmers to process locally. The cacao then travels south to the capital city of Santo Domingo to be made into chocolate, keeping all the fruit’s value within the Dominican Republic. A more contentious example of tree to bar chocolate making is Akesson's Chocolate. The founder and owner of Akesson’s owns cacao & pepper plantations in Brazil, Indonesia, Madagascar. His plantations have supplied cacao for his own brand of chocolate, as well as to chocolate makers around the world, for well over a decade. Akesson’s is a vertically-integrated tree to bar chocolate company in so far as he owns each aspect of the business, but he doesn’t make the chocolate himself. He contracts out the chocolate making to Europe, where the cacao is shipped and processed into chocolate, though he has complete control over the plantations and where the chocolate is made.