The next time you bite into a piece of luscious chocolate, think about the long process from bean to bar
Savour the acidic top notes of tart raspberry intermingled with heady red wine. Enjoy the long finish, dancing through rich caramel into a festival of treacle. Experience the glory of terroir, as each mouthful conjures up images of lush, fertile, fruity soil.
A sample of cellar-talk, beside glasses of full bodied Merlot? Not a chance. Ah, then maybe it's coffee? After all, coffee connoisseurs are now obsessed with origin. That's true, but not in this case. Olive oil, bouncing with the flavour of the land? Nope. These are actually taster's notes for a bar of chocolate.
Dark chocolate from Madagascar made with single-origin, organic cacao beans, to be precise. Created by award-winning French chocolate house Pralus, this bar is made using only criollo beans.(Here's the whispered aside, so you can pretend to be a chocolate intellectual. The three main varieties of cacao beans are criollo, forastero and trinitario, of which the first is the most prized, since it's rare, temperamental and sophisticated. Forastero and trinitario, which are more conventionally chocolatey, accessible and simple are perfect for mass consumption. Think of them as the Ronan Keatings of the chocolate world. These are often the backbones of your supermarket bars. Then, there's the rare Crillio, reportedly just five per cent of all cacao beans produced worldwide. This bean's more of an Andrea Bocelli, backed by a chamber orchestra, with powerful lead notes followed by lingering echoes.)
A quick reading of tasting notes on Valrhona single-origin chocolates reveals that the beans of the Dominican Republic exude flavours of yellow fruit, followed by roasted almonds and freshly baked bread. Michel Cluizel dark chocolate bar, from the Maralumi plantation in Papua-New Guinea off the coast of Australia, has what its maker calls “fresh notes of green bananas and acidulated flavours of red currants prolonged by charming aromas of Havana tobacco leaves.”
Popular Barry Callebaut, a leading manufacturer of high quality chocolate, has 14 single-origin chocolates from regions including theCongo, the island of Sao Tome and Tanzania. Admittedly, it seems like sheer snobbery. Especially since the Ritz hotel has leapt into the fray, with a hot chocolate sommelier, making it so tempting to write off single-origin chocolate as yet another pursuit for people with too much time and money. (It doesn't help that Ritz has had a ‘tanning butler' to ensure clients turn just the right shade of baked pastry, and a fire butler to ensure their fuel's appropriately fragrant.)Yet, single-origin chocolate, which is — as the name suggests —chocolate made from beans sourced from a single plantation, area of country does make sense. Since cacao springs from the soil, it's only natural that every plant will exhibit characteristics of its terroir, or micro climate.
In today's world, rife with cheap mass produced rubbish, this demands accountability on the part of the producers. By listing the name of the plantations they use, they're open to investigation, on quality as well as on how they treat their workers.
Especially important, considering many of the best cacao beans come from the third world. (Ironically, a good number of them seem to be owned by companies in the first world.)As Author Maricel Presilla (The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao) insists, it isn't sufficient to applaud the café that makes your favourite fudge cake.
“To know chocolate, you must know that the candy in the box or the chef's creation on the plate begins with the bean, with the complex genetic profile of various cacao strains…”
When you eat chocolate, remember the life of the (often) beleaguered plantation worker as vividly as the face of that cute Italian chef. After all, it's a long process from bean to bar. It involves picking and sifting. Roasting and grinding. Extracting the very essence out of the land. It involves a chain of hard working, dedicated and talented people. It involves imagination.
Remember, the journey is as significant as the product.