Chocoa Chocolate Tasting Session Notes
Posted in: Tasting Notes
I arrived in Amsterdam on the Wednesday of Chocoa and went directly from Centraal Station to the venue - the Beurs van Berlage.
My Thursday and Friday were spent moderating The Chocolate Makers Forum, and because I had taken on the moderator role, I told the organizers that I would be happy to jump in and take over tasting sessions if a presenter did not show up, but I did not want to commit to doing tastings of my own.
Somehow this was interpreted as my giving permission schedule tasting sessions for Saturday and on Sunday.
To make things even more fun, I did not learn about this until Friday after the Chocolate Makers Forum ended, when I just happened to pick up a copy of the program. Which is when I also learned the topic for my sessions:
How to taste the impact of soil conditions, climate, and the care and attention of the farmers and chocolate makers …
Really? Seriously? This was not a topic I would normally even begin to try to attempt without a lot of preparation and I would want a lot more than 45 minutes to present, especially when presenting to an audience of 100 non-professionals. And, of course, by the time I found out what I had been signed up for, it was impossible to change because it was in the printed program and on all the signage.
If I had the time to prepare, I would have liked to have worked with raw and roasted beans, liquor and chocolate, but I would still have started with an industrial chocolate. But, I had less than 24 hours to come up with an approach and find whatever I needed before the first tasting and no facilities to do anything from scratch.
So, what to do? Fortunately, I was at a chocolate festival … and one where, luckily for me, there were be a lot of raw cocoa beans, even if there were no roasted beans or liquors.
I decided to make my entry point into the session what I perceive to be the difference between craft chocolate makers and industrial chocolate makers. In my mind, industrial producers are defined by the requirement to be consistent and craft producers not so much. I seem them as the flip sides of a coin.
Using an unidentified dark chocolate from Callebaut - a Chocoa sponsor that sampled liberally so I was able to get my hands on many bars - I explained the process of how industrial chocolate makers can create chocolate with a consistent flavor profile despite the fact that the beans are an agricultural product and can vary. Through blending and the use of vanilla - which is a masking aroma - consistency is achieved, though at the expense of interesting varietal nuance in the beans.
From there I had the great good fortune to be able to taste some chocolates and the beans they were made from. I was able to sample a 100% Madgascar from Chocolats Madagascar/Chocolaterie Robert following it up immediately with the beans so that the audience could get a glimpse of the evolution of flavor from bean to chocolate - with both in their mouth at the same time.
I followed that combination up with two chocolates made from beans from Java. One was from Van Dender in Belgium and the other from Morin in France. Because I also had the (unroasted) beans - which were passed around in a bag - the audience got to smell and taste the beans and then taste the differences in the two chocolates which are actually quite different, with one preserving a strong smoky character that is common in Javanese beans (with smoke normally considered to be a defect) and the other with a more delicate smoky note. Two chocolate makers, each with their own aesthetic, producing recognizably different chocolates from the same beans.
[At this point I do need to give a shout out to Daarnhouwer – Albert and Maria – who graciously and unhesitatingly agreed to give me the beans from Madagascar and Java and the chocolates from Chocolaterie Robert, Van Dender, and Morin for me to use.]
As the beans and chocolates were being passed around I was able to talk a little bit about fermentation and drying and their contributions to flavor as well as take questions from the audience. I did get several really brilliant questions, including one from a teen who asked about the chemical neutralization of acidity which meant I could talk about Van Houten and a key Dutch innovation in chocolate making.
Regal Chocolate (Soklet) from India was offering two different ferments of the same bean with chocolate made from one of them, so that would have been an interesting choice, and Mava was offering beans from six different farms in Madagascar’s Sambirano Valley, none of them the two best-known - Millau or Akesson. One farm, Ottange, has flavors that remind me of the Madagascar chocolate I would have eaten when I first started out nearly 20 years ago.
It would have been really interesting to work with the beans from two or more of the farms (Mava had chocolate from these beans made by Chocolaterie Robert) and then to also taste beans and chocolate from Chocolaterie Robert made from beans from one of the two main sources. Throwing Valrhona’s Manjari into the mix would have been a real eye-opener, I think, as tasters I know claim that Manjari has drifted away from its original flavor profile.
I also know it would be interesting to work with Friis-Holm chocolate and the beans from Ingemann in Nicaragua. The double-turn and triple-turn Chuno for example would demonstrate the impact of fermentation on flavor, and there are other people working with Chuno to provide a counterpoint.
But I don’t know how interesting a deep dive into liquor tasting would be for a general audience and I certainly don’t know how I would accomplish for 100 people in only 45 minutes. I do know, after doing the tastings, that it is possible to introduce the concepts in an approachable and understandable way as long as both beans and chocolate can be tasted and compared.