Like many in the craft chocolate world, I've shied away from African cacao...except for bars made from Tanzania's Kakao Kamili beans.

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The Discovery of Marañón Cacao

In 2009, the chocolate world was rocked by the announcement that a rare strain of cacao had been found growing in a remote part of Peru. It wasn’t just that that particular variety--100% pure Naçional—was thought to be extinct.
The newfound trees were growing at a much higher altitude than was believed to support cacao cultivation. What’s so special about the Naçional bean, you ask? It’s an heirloom sub-type of Forastero (the family of cacao used primarily by industrial producers) that has evolved over the centuries into something truly yummy. Originally found only in Ecuador, pure Naçional was pretty much completely replaced by a modern clone selected for its disease resistance, not its flavor. Yet, tucked into a hidden mountain valley along the Marañón River in northern Peru was a stand of perfectly pure Naçional trees. Since their discovery, very few beans have been available, and only to a handful of artisan chocolatiers. We consider ourselves lucky to have two offerings on our Wall of Bars: Ritual Chocolate (Park City, UT) and Soma Chocolatemakers (Toronto, Canada). Come in and pick up one of these special bars and savor the unique flavor of Marañón cacao: intense, persistent and floral without any bitterness.

Fermentation Isn't Just for Wine

One of the most important steps in the long journey making chocolate from the bean is fermentation. And yet, it is perhaps the least understood and most capricious of all.

Once the fruit of the cacao tree ripens, the football-shaped pods are opened and the pulp-covered seeds are scooped out and placed in wooden “sweatboxes” or other types of containers. The hot, humid air is a target-rich environment for all sorts of naturally occurring yeast and bacteria. Almost immediately, they begin converting the sugary pulp into liquid. Their hard work raises the temperature of the beans, stopping germination and beginning a series of chemical changes that have a big impact on flavor. Proper fermentation removes astringent tannins and other bitter compounds while adding body and richness to the finished chocolate that can’t be created later in the process. Yet this critically important step is often poorly understood by farmers and under appreciated by industrial chocolatiers.

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February 10, 2016

Posted in Bean-to-Bar, Education, In the News, Tasting Notes

Developing a Palate for Chocolates

By Laura Levy Shatkin
Chicago Tribune

Chocolate tasting is not unlike wine tasting. Each type of chocolate bar contains its own set of flavor profiles. The flavors of the cacao bean, the source of all chocolate, can be influenced by a multitude of variables, such as topography, weather (e.g. rainfall, amount of sun, etc.), soil conditions (e.g. type, nutrient content, drainage properties, etc.), post-harvesting processing (fermenting, roasting, etc.) and, of course, genotypic properties. With so many variables affecting the flavor of just one chocolate bar, a tasting guide can be helpful. Whether buying bars to eat out of hand or use in baking, let these tasting notes be your guide. (The percentages with many of the bars represent the amount of cacao used.)

All brands are available for shipping through their respective websites. Many are also available at Cocoa & Co., 1651 N. Wells St., 312-624-8540,

Guayas River Basin, Ecuador 70%: Rich and deep in dusty cocoa flavors, with subtle notes of dark fruit and toffee and a floral aroma. Ultimate smooth melting, with lingering flavors.
Madagascar, Sambirano 70%: Racy flavors of green bananas and a hint of cherries; it’s a lively bar and lighter in color.

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