July 16, 2014

Single Origin Chocolate

Over the last ten years we have experienced a push in the industry towards artisan and craft products in food and beverage production and sourcing. We are also seeing a push towards traceability from farm gate to café.

One of the key factors of this process is to first determine the country of origin of that product. The coffee industry has been all over this with a good understanding about the country of the sourced coffee bean, right down to the farm or estate where it has been grown.
The reasoning behind this was originally about understanding the different flavour characteristics of those countries; for example, a Papua New Guinea bean has more fruit flavours then, say, a Brazilian bean, and a Kenyan bean has dark chocolate characteristics. This practice of sourcing has also led to further understanding and engagement with the farmer and his beans. If a coffee roaster knows where the bean comes from, they can also look further at the buying arrangements with the farmer and set up exclusive sales agreements, cutting out middle men and also assisting in sustaining the growth of the farmer by setting purchase agreements around good fair trading practices.
The upshot from this today is if a punter goes into a café, they expect to see a single origin coffee on the beverage menu. The same is going to happen to the typical café hot chocolate; people want to know more about the flavour, not just the branding.
We asked our good friend Peter Mengler from Cravve Artisan Chocolates to help us in explaining a little about the chocolate process and what exciting new things are happening in his industry.
What we need to know about single origin chocolate!
The story of origin chocolate starts with the bean; cocoa or cacao (Spanish term) originates from two varietals: Criollo from the upper Amazon near Peru and Ecuador; and Forastero from the lower Amazon (Brazil). A third variety evolved from the crossbreeding of Criollo and Forastero on the island of Trinidad, hence the name Trinitron.
Both Criollo and Trinitron are flavour beans and Forastero is a bulk bean – in coffee terms, Arabica and Robusta. Though two sub variates of Forastero, Amelonado and Amazon can be regarded as flavour beans.
From this base, the beans spread though Mesoamerica over the centuries, before being discovered by Columbus in Veracruz, Mexico … and well, the rest is history.
The flavour profiles differ greatly. Criollo has a lower base chocolate flavour but a greater spectrum of floral, fruit and nut flavours; whereas Forastero has a big, rich chocolate base flavour, hence the reason it accounts for over 90% of world production.
As with coffee origins, chocolate is all about the influence of regional terrior on bean flavour profile. Let’s take a snapshot from the main cocoa growing regions of the world.
Flavour Profiles
Criollo: dominated by lower cocoa base flavour per se, but fruit and flowers galore (often soft dried bouquets – wild essences of banana, papaya, mango + more tropical, jungle fruits and orchids) undercut by earthen qualities (tobacco, mushroom, and wood)
Bolivia (varietal Amazonia): nuts ‘n honey, sparkling dark “brown fruit” (raisins, prunes, dates); good acidity and mildly condensed tannins create a somewhat austere package.
Venezuela: too variable to list, but you can expect fruits and nuts galore against a supreme chocolate backdrop.
Mexico: earthen (nuts, especially almonds), spices and herbs (licorice, clove, pepper), fruit and flowers (sometimes even Colombia-like marshmallow), light body, requires careful fermentation, processing and sugaring to mollify inherent acidity and bitterness.
Trinidad (the spiritual home of Trinitaro): highly variable across the spectrum marked by three general types: a) wood (cedar, spruce, immortelle aka “Madre de cacáo”) and spices (cinnamon, clove), b) grass and butter (including tobacco leaf / leather tannins, sometimes coconut); c) tropical citrus fruits (often reds like sour cherry).
Java: low cocoa essence gives way to natural, faint caramel-cream underneath smoked-leather tones and nut-skins, complemented by subtle citrus and spice – a combination that cuts incredibly well with milk chocolate (though in some regions highly acidic).
Ivory Coast, Africa: dominant earthen flavours, classic cocoa, coconut, tobacco-spice. Mostly bulk-grade Forastero, reliable, simple, and bold – used mainly as a foundation for blends favoured by the big lolly makers.
To realise these flavours, all of the above beans first need to go through a 3-7 day ferment, where 30% of the final flavour develops. The beans can then be washed or left un-washed and sun dried, with a final stage of grading and bagging.
The next stage is where the chocolate maker comes in, starting with roasting at temperatures between 100°C – 160°C and roast time between 15-70 minutes. These temperatures are usually lower and longer than coffee, as a reflection of the larger mass size of the bean. With cocoa beans there is only first crack, and no second crack.
Again as a general guide, another 30% of flavour is developed – with lower roasts more acidic and fruity and higher roasts more nutty and sweeter.
Once cooled and winnowed to remove the husk, it’s on to the final stages of grinding, refining and conche. The grind reduces the nibs to a thick, aromatic paste, whereby the aromatic bitterness can be removed with time and temperature. For some beans, a process of dry conching is used for the bulk of the bitterness or other un-desirable flavour components – where the paste undergoes vigorous agitation under heat at varied lengths of time, determined by the organoleptic profile the chocolate maker desires.
The smooth, buttery texture of chocolate is produced in the refining stage, whereby the crystal size of cocoa is reduced in the case of fine chocolate to 15 – 20 micron. The human palate detects grittiness to about 50 micron. Old style granite stone melangers are the favourite machines for small bean to bar chocolate makers, with large lolly makers opting for continuous machine processes like ball mills. Both machines plus numerous others have their pros and cons.
The best chocolate makers maintain an open mind to all machines with the bean dictating which process works best in the flavour and textural development, be it at considerable capital cost.
Now, on to the final stage for the chocolate maker, I should quickly explain the difference between chocolate maker and chocolatier. The chocolate maker takes beans and processes them into chocolate. The chocolatier takes the chocolate, melts it down, tempers and creates all sorts of wondrous confectionery … not unlike the relationship between roaster and barista.
Now conching: the small crystals developed in refining are now coated in cocoa butter under agitation. The application of agitation, heat and time in this stage also determines the final flavours. The conching process continues for anywhere between a few hours and 3 – 4 days. It’s here that the final bitterness of the cocoa bean is removed to reveal the glorious flavours discussed earlier in this article, for us to savour.
Single origin chocolate is not new; it’s been around since chocolate discovery, but what is new is people’s interest in discovering the real joys of the chocolate flavour journey. So if you are a café that wants to stay ahead of the pack, it’s time to do some research on your hot chocolate menu and get some original flavour going this winter.
Thanks to Peter Mengler, Cravve Artisan Chocolate.

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