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Hot Chocolate, Nature + Nurture

Hot Chocolate, Nature + Nurture


Hello and good day!

I've always wondered if we could win a hot chocolate contest with our hot chocolate mix.

It might be fun to pursue, but I reckon it would take too much time with not enough of a tangible benefit.

If you ever come through Issaquah, WA, we give away free hot chocolate all day every day in our shops and you can try one for yourself.

The other day, we had a lovely young couple come into our shop. The young man was carrying an armload of our hot chocolate mix bags.

"You must really like our hot chocolate," I said.

"We do. We love it. We're giving it to a bunch of people as gifts," he said.

"You've made it at home before?" I asked.

"We make it all the time," said the wife.

"If you don't mind me asking, how did you find out about us?" I asked.

"It's a good little story," said the husband.

"Yeah. We have a friend who is a total hot chocolate snob. He collects hot chocolates from all over the world. When I say he is a snob, believe me, he is a real snob. Anyway, he saw you out on the street with your free hot chocolate sign one day and he stopped in. He really liked it, and he bought a bag to take home," said the wife.

"One night, he invited a group of us friends over to do a blind taste testing of hot chocolates. It was a lot of fun. We scored each of the samples on a scoresheet that he made up. Yours was one of the entrants," said the husband.

"How'd we do?" I asked.

"It was an absolute blowout. Every single person rated yours the best by far. We've been hooked since then," said the husband.

"That's great news!" I said.

"What I love is that we can actually taste all of the flavor notes in your hot chocolate. With the rest, even though they were good, they all tasted kind of the same," said the wife.

My brother Brian has an expression that he likes to use.

It ain't bragging if you've done it.

I don't care for this expression, and I've jokingly requested that my brother cease using it going forward.

It's entirely imprecise. Of course it's still bragging if you've done it.

If you haven't done it, what is there to brag about?

He'll ignore me though.

A younger brother rarely wins an argument.

I don't mention the conversation with our customers to brag (alright, maybe a little bit).

I'd like to use it as a launch pad for a brief discussion about hot chocolate.

In this discussion, we'll also have the chance to analyze an age-old topic, nature vs. nurture.

Let's start with genetics.

Every chocolate product inherently has to contend with the genetics of the cacao used. In this sense, the optimal flavor potential of any cacao-based product is predetermined.

If everything in the supply chain is perfect, you can realize the full potential.

Some cacao varieties are more delicious than others because their DNA makes them that way. All things being equal, cacao with better genetics will win a taste test.

That's a question of nature.

70% of the world's cacao comes from two countries in West Africa and the cacao variety is more or less homogenous. The variety has been bred for disease resistance and yield, not flavor.

Before you even get into nurture, there is already a distinct flavor disadvantage when you put most other hot chocolates up against ours.

Here is something interesting.

Genetics are not the result of our effort. We deserve no credit for it.

We had no hand whatsoever in writing the genetic code of the cacao we use in all of our chocolate. It was a pre-existing condition, and we were lucky to accidentally stumble upon it.

We can however pat ourselves on the backs for post-harvest processing, the beginning of nurture.

It is an objective statement of fact that we are one of the most meticulous companies in the world when it comes to post harvest processing.

This process matters a great deal.

When you have a superior genetic variety and you process it well, you compound the advantage.

I don't have space here to linger on all that goes into post-harvest processing.

I'd like to move on to the difference between hot chocolate and hot cocoa.

Most of the hot cocoa that you can buy in the store is made with alkalized cocoa powder. Let's consider the "cocoa powder" part of this terminology first.

Take a look at the photo above.

What you see is fermented cacao in our pre-dry processing stage.

We allow cacao to rest in a cool, shaded area, and we move the cacao around on a timed schedule before putting it under the sun to dry.

Airing out cacao in this way before drying allows acidity to dissipate.

Cacao seeds are roughly half vegetable fat. The fat is called cocoa butter.

Cocoa butter is a byproduct of producing cocoa powder and has wide application in the manufacture of cosmetics.

Actually, it might be more accurate to say that cocoa powder is a byproduct of cocoa butter.

Cocoa butter can be pressed out of a cacao seed the same way coconut oil can be pressed out of a coconut or olive oil can be pressed out of an olive.

There are huge and powerful industrial machines that press out awesome quantities of cocoa butter.

What remains is the fatless portion of the cacao seed and this is called cocoa mass. Cocoa mass is then pulverized into cocoa powder, which is the principal ingredient in many chocolate flavored products.

There are a lot of practical benefits to working with fat stripped cocoa powder rather than whole cacao.

And there are several severe drawbacks as well, especially pertaining to flavor. These severe drawbacks allowed us to clean sweep the hot chocolate blind taste test that our customers told us about.

I am running out of space today and will have to continue with this theme tomorrow.

But I want to leave you with two additional facts to consider.

First, stripping the fat out of cacao makes it much less flavorful. As with most food items, a lot of flavor resides in the fat. When you take out the natural fat, replacement fat usually needs to be added back, in the form of oils or dairy.

Second, most cocoa powder is washed in an alkaline solution to make cacao's pH less acidic. This is frequently referred to as "dutching" cocoa powder.

As referenced above, cacao fermentation creates a lot of acidity.

If you are post-harvest processing cacao primarily for industrial cocoa butter extraction, shoddy fermentation could create unbearable levels of acidity.

Dutching makes cocoa powder palatable so that it can be used in baking, hot cocoa, and other industrial food concoctions, hot fudge and chocolate milk being a couple of examples.

It also gives cocoa powder a generic, alkaline solution flavor that masks the natural notes of the cacao.

Ok, that's it for now. More to come tomorrow.

By the way, our hot chocolate mix is available on our website.

Look for Javier's Hot Chocolate. It's named after our chocolatier, Javier Valencia.

Thank you so much for time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!


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