Hello and good day!
A while back my brother had the opportunity to act as a chocolate tasting judge at a chocolate competition. It was an event put on by a big international chocolate show that decided to do subsidiary events in producer countries.
The main show was held in London, and in the year that my brother participated as a judge, the subsidiary event was held in Lima, Peru.The rule was that all chocolates in the competition needed to be made in Peru with Peruvian cacao.
That eliminated our chocolate from the running as our chocolate is manufactured in Switzerland using Peruvian cacao.
Over the course of two days, Brian and the other judges tasted roughly 100 different dark chocolates. They scored the chocolate on several metrics, some of which applied to flavor, and some of which applied to quality in manufacturing, with flavor being more heavily weighted.
The protocol was to taste the chocolate and enter scores by category into a computer system.After tasting, the judges cleansed their palates with water and polenta. Polenta and crackers are the foods generally used at chocolate tasting competitions for cleansing palates.
According to Brian, of the 100 he tasted, 2 or 3 were stellar. Roughly 70% were just average. They tasted like generic chocolate, not good or bad. Most of these were submitted by industrial Peruvian chocolate companies who make the chocolate sold in Peruvian grocery stores and bodegas.
And at the bottom of the heap, about 30% were inedible.
Unfortunately for the judges, when they got hit with one of the terrible chocolates, it blew out their palates and took them a long time to recover their tasting abilities. The stellar chocolates and the average chocolates both had similar manufacturing quality.
The key differentiator was the quality of the cacao.This encompasses both genetic superiority and post-harvest processing.
Almost all of the industrial chocolate in Peru is made using a strain of cacao called CCN-51. This is an industrial hybrid cacao known for its productivity, disease resistance, and absolute mediocrity in flavor.
CCN-51 is seen on a lot of small hold farms, but it is ubiquitous on the large plantations that grow in certain regions of Peru. Industrial chocolate companies buy a lot of cacao from these big plantations.
The plantations have standardized post-harvest processing that is just good enough to make an average chocolate if you dark roast it and add a bunch of vanilla.
On the low end, the problem was almost always post-harvest processing. This means fermentation and drying.
And there is simply no way to make a good, fine flavored dark chocolate, without high quality post-harvest processing. It cannot be done.
Most cacao farmers don't have the knowledge or financial wherewithal to do it right and the result was some very bad chocolate for my brother and the other judges to sample. At the end of both days, the judges craved meat and alcohol.
These were physical cravings, and my brother thinks that the cravings were the result of ingesting so much theobromine, a chemical compound similar to caffeine, that is found in cacao. The cravings were the same both days and could only be calmed with thick steaks and cocktails.
So here is the conclusion.
A big plantation works well economically for making a middle of the road, generic chocolate, the kind of dark chocolate most of us see in the grocery store.
Small hold cacao farmers get killed by selling into the middle of the road supply chain because they are required by market forces to sell at the same prices as the plantations, but without the same economies of scale.
However, when they try to do the post-harvest processing themselves and make their own chocolate, the results are mostly catastrophic because they don't have the knowledge or capital to do a good job.
Once in a while, 2 out of 100 times, cacao farmers put great cacao into the hands of an excellent and thoughtful chocolate maker and the results are phenomenal.
However, most of the small hold cacao farmers around the world, 98 out of 100, suffer and are searching for a better way. And chocolate lovers are deprived of potentially wonderful chocolate much of the time as well.
There is a better way to do this whole thing.
Centralized post-harvest processing and a great chocolate maker who respects high quality cacao and doesn't want to blast mediocre products into the world.
They're out there. There aren't many. I wish there were more.
You pair those two together and cut out all the middlemen so that cacao farmers can be paid a higher price while still delivering an affordable product.
The way to make progress in this industry is for chocolate lovers to do chocolate shopping with the right kinds of companies.
Thank you so much for your time today.
I hope that you have a truly blessed day!
Follow us on Instagram - @fortunatono4