The bean-to-bar movement started at the turn of the century in the US and it has finally reached Belgium. At the movement’s most ideal state, chocolate makers do everything themselves: from visiting the plantations, shipping the beans over and roasting and processing the chocolate. Mike & Becky buy their cocoa beans from single plantations in Belize, the Congo, the Dominican Republic, India and Peru. They trade mostly directly with the plantation, meaning that they buy straight from the plantation or cooperative; they pay above market value for the beans; and they do not work with plantations that employ children.
Whenever possible, Mike & Becky use organic cacao beans, sugar, cacao butter and milk powder to make their chocolate. Their chocolate does not contain vanilla, palm oil or soy lecithin, ingredients that they describe on their website as “nonsense”, used by big companies to “mask bad beans, cut costs or speed up the process”.
The bean-to-bar movement also consists of a supportive community of like-minded chocolate makers. The community helped Mike & Becky get on their feet: recommending good plantations to trade with and giving advice and encouragement when the going got tough. It was surprising to hear of such an open community, considering that they are all competitors. Not necessarily so, says Julia Mikerova, a.k.a. Mike: “There are infinite ways to work with cacao and the end result can be so different. Chocolate making is as much a science as it is an art, so there’s no point in being secretive about it.”
Julia and Björn are just as open, sharing their philosophy with customers and inviting them to see how their chocolate is made. They also sell other bean-to-bar chocolate. The ‘Salty-licious’ bars from the Grenada Chocolate Company particularly catches my eye, encased in orange packaging and a hand-painted sea-view on its cover. I am intrigued that an exotic island is producing its own chocolate. “This company ships its chocolate by sailboat to Amsterdam, and then it makes its way here by bike,” beams Björn in awe. “Every chocolate maker has its own story,” adds Julia, “we understand their stories, and the effort and the appreciation they put into it. We want to share this with our customers.”
The name ‘Mike & Becky’ is a clever play on the surnames of Julia and Björn, who are also wife and husband. As well as making chocolate, Mike & Becky serve hot chocolate and cakes. Their café-cum-chocolate factory is on Avenue Brugmann in Uccle, conveniently situated at the crossroads of trams and bus routes. Their hot chocolate is warm and soothing, not too sweet or milky, and the chocolate leaves its signature aftertaste.