Real Love: One-of-a-kind chocolate bars begin with the bean

No two LoveBars are exactly alike. Wrapped in hand-painted designs by local artists, the single-origin bean bars are entirely crafted here in Philadelphia—from bean to bar. “We see the process through the whole way,” says Joe Bernstein, a partner in the company. “It’s more a labor of love.”

The idea for LoveBar was born in 2008, when founder Tegan Hagy, then working for the Food Trust, had the opportunity to attend Slow Food International’s bi-annual conference in Italy. There she met some cacao farmers from Tabasco, Mexico who had just experienced terrible flooding.

“I had spent the past five years of my life thinking about food access, thinking about sustainable food … living what I preached and really believing in it,” says Hagy, who has a degree in food anthropology. “I realized I had never really thought about chocolate. And that kind of blew my mind.”

After Italy, Hagy started learning about “bean-to-bar” chocolate. While there are other chocolatiers in Philadelphia, she found out they purchase chocolate then, melt it down to make bons bons; no one was connecting the chocolate process from grower to consumer. So, using her connection with the Tabasco farmers, Hagy went to Mexico and learned from a small-scale cacao grower how to make chocolate. Today, much of the chocolate for LoveBar comes from that organic farm.

When she returned to Philadelphia, Hagy and her friend Phillip Asbury, a visual artist, bought a grinder and started experimenting. “We would make chocolate in his little kitchen with these incredibly tiny, ridiculous machines, and wrap the bars and sell them in the galleries.”

This April, LoveBar will celebrate its third year as an incorporated business. Hagy has since upgraded her work space to a more spacious kitchen in the renovated Globe Dye Works building in Frankford. There she, Bernstein and their third partner, Rachael D’Angeli, hand-make the chocolate bars in micro-batches, working with only one bag of beans at a time to ensure freshness. When the Mexican chocolate is unavailable, Hagy will buy cacao from certified organic or Fair Trade co-ops with whom she’s directly communicated.

“We wanted to do something that we love,” says Hagy. “So it wasn’t a love story in the traditional sense, but a love story for really our city…we wanted to create something [for] everyone.”

LoveBar, $7-$9.50 at Capogiro (117 S. 20th St. and 3925 Walnut St. locations), Shane Confectionery (110 Market St.), Milk & Honey Market (4435 Baltimore Ave.), Pennsylvania General Store (Reading Terminal Market, 51 N. 12th St.), phillylovebar.com

Story by Liz Pacheco l Photos by Albert Yee