That I love books is obvious, but those who know me personally will be more than aware that I am quite capable of eating my own body weight in chocolate too. When lovely Vanessa Aboagye from Midas got in touch to see if I fancied a copy of From Bean to Bar: A Chocolate Lover’s Guide to Britain by Andrew Baker, in return for an honest review, I thought all my Christmases had arrived at once. My enormous thanks to her for sending me a copy.
From Bean to Bar: A Chocolate Lover’s Guide to Britain
Chocolate arouses greater passion in its fans than any other food, and chocolate-making is one of the most exciting and dynamic areas in Britain’s burgeoning artisan food scene. This book is a celebration of chocolate-making in this country, designed to locate and bring to a wider audience the fascinating people making good chocolate in the right way.
Arranged geographically in a dozen regional chapters, each one is centred on a local hero but also casts light on other chocolatiers and bean-to-bar makers in their area. A profile of the area and its most characterful artisans is backed up in each chapter by a locator map and data on transport links, supplier websites and other foodie points of interest.
Part travelogue and part biography, always informative and entertaining, there will be practical information that readers can use to make their way around Britain, tasting as they go, or to order lovely chocolate from their armchair while reading about the people who make it.
Among the people and places to be included are Duffy Sheardown, a former Formula One racing engineer who makes bars of chocolate in a shed in Cleethorpes that are prized by chocolate connoisseurs all over the world; Willie Harcourt-Cooze, a glamorous globetrotter who grows cocoa in Venezuala and makes chocolate in Uff culme, Devon (sold in Waitrose); and the passionate young women of Dormouse, who from tiny premises in Manchester are winning international accolades.
My Review of From Bean to Bar: A Chocolate Lover’s Guide to Britain
A chocolate lover’s delight!
Until I attuned myself to the author’s style in From Bean to Bar, I initially felt quite affronted by his somewhat derogatory attitude to what he calls the ‘mass-produced rubbish’ so many of us consume and can afford. Much as I loved the descriptions of all of the chocolates Andrew Baker recommended, when I looked some of them up online I’m afraid the prices of some products made my eyes water, never mind my taste buds! To be fair, there is a range of prices but many were, sadly, beyond my purse. However, Andrew Baker redeemed himself at a stroke when he referred to his ‘fussy, elitist eye’ and because of his frequently tongue in cheek, self-deprecating and often hilarious style, I quickly forgave him; especially when he referred to a town not far from where I live as ‘a combination of the picturesque and the bland’ because if he had described that perfectly, he was probably right about other elements too! In fact, once I realised that even if chocolate is a weighty subject for him, he doesn’t take himself too seriously I found myself laughing aloud at Andrew Baker’s comments and quips so that I was royally entertained.
Consequently, from a slightly uncertain start, I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed From Bean to Bar. It’s a super book filled with everything a chocolate lover, a traveller, an historian, a sociologist and a general reader could wish for. The glorious colour images had me almost weeping with desire. It was as much as I could do on occasion to restrain from licking the pages. Turn to page 174 if you get your hands on a copy of From Bean to Bar where a box of Chococo chocolates fills the page, for example, and I defy you not to want to rip out the images and stuff them in your mouth.
I thought the way From Bean to Bar was set out was a triumph. It’s perfectly possible to read it in the order presented, though you might prefer to head straight to your local area to see what is on offer. Or maybe you would prefer to travel from Scotland and travel south meandering across areas that take your fancy? What ever route through the book you choose, each section reveals background information both about the area and its links to chocolate, directing you to places where you can buy, get involved with, taste or simply drool over chocolate, but more importantly, it introduces the people who are passionate about chocolate, working as ethically and authentically as they can, to provide the highest quality products possible. It’s in amongst these people where the real joy of the book lies. Often it was as if I were reading about a cast of characters from Dickens, whether I was encountering a mention of Bob who keeps the bees whose honey goes into some of the featured products, or the ‘curly-mopped, bespectacled’ Mikey or the ex-car fettler Duffy, each one of these vivid, almost obsessed, individuals added interest at every level. I loved seeing their photos and reading their stories. That said, the person I enjoyed meeting most was the author himself. There are so many aspects of From Bean to Bar that reveal the man behind the book that I ended my read feeling I’d discovered a man I would like very much indeed in real life. Andrew Baker has a wicked sense of humour and an appealing, lively writing style.
There’s so much to learn, as well as be entertained by, in From Bean to Bar. Web addresses lead the reader to online shops and the excellent geographical descriptions enable a traveler to visit the UK and beyond without ever leaving their armchairs. I really liked tasting notes in each section and the dedicated notes explaining how to taste chocolate properly – normally being of the type Andrew Baker describes at the start of this section – but you’ll have to read the book to see what that is!
From Bean to Bar feels for me as if Andrew Baker has written it how Paddington Bear would have written a book about marmalade – with true passion and joy in his subject. From Bean to Bar is quirky, witty, individual, thoroughly entertaining and a true celebration of chocolate. I really enjoyed reading it and Andrew Baker has inspired me to broaden my chocolate horizons and visit some of shops and places described to try as many new types of chocolate as I can. Chocolate, a book and travel – what could be better than that?
About Andrew Baker
Andrew Baker is well known in chocolate circles for writing on the subject and is often called upon to judge international chocolate competitions. A long-established journalist, he is Features Editor of the Telegraph Weekend sections and author of Where Am I and Who’s Winning? (Random House). The son of the late, much-loved newsreader Richard Baker, Andrew is an experienced radio broadcaster for Radio Five Live and presents regular podcasts for the Telegraph. Andrew lives in London.
You can follow Andrew Baker on Twitter @ccAndrewBaker