Jeff Stern

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"Fine or Flavor" Cacao versus Bulk Cacao

user image 2011-07-25
By: Jeff Stern
Posted in:


Richard Foley
07/30/11 23:55:33 @richard-foley:
Well, I continue to learn, and can't wait to make these determinations myself in the Qzina Chocolate Institute in Irvine. We are well on our way now to opening our test bean to bar institute. Where we will be able to produce 25 to 50 lb test samples using some of the worlds finest cacao beans. I hope I can count on you all to help me through this adventure and assist me in sourcing and testing beans that in your opinion are the finest. We will certainly have plent of opinions to debate, and plenty of finished chocolate samples to enjoy. I am hoping for a January 2012 sartup of the first bean to bar open test kitchen in America, and invite all to share in the experience.
antonino allegra
07/27/11 15:15:31 @antonino-allegra:

Hi Jeff, thanks to bring up discussion like that. I'm a chocolatier turned chocolate maker and my whole life i have always looked into the depth of the product i work with.

Knowing that there is people with a lot of experience and willing to share the knowledge, makes my research for the perfect beans a bit easier. i am at the moment working with Organic beans from Peru', Ecuador, Dominic Republic and Ghana. i have just received my Roaster and can't wait to get going....

I believe that the more i know the better i can understand how to use those precious beans.

I hope you keep on posting information about beans and quality so i can gain more knowledge about it.

brian horsley
07/26/11 13:51:56 @brian-horsley:

thanks jeff. i think you can put any cacao variety on any other variety as rootstock and to my knowledge and it will not affect the flavor of the beans produced. although if you allow flowering or fruiting below the graft line you can easily hibridize the production on the upper part of the tree.

I would be interested to try real nacional beans and/or chocolate from ecuador. our beans from my project in peru are genetically tested and confirmed absolutely pure nacional, but as you note we have to structure our project very carefully to ensure that the farmer receives a price commensurate with the decreased production from not growing ccn51.

How can I get some of your chocolate? do you have an affiliate in guayaquil who could send me some via encomienda on Transporte Cifa to Piura?


Jeff Stern
07/26/11 13:38:59 @jeff-stern:

kudos brian, everything you say I must agree with. CCN-51 are not bad, but as you say just don't have the good qualities that might be described as "fine flavor." at least none of what I have tasted coming out of Ecuador.

You are also correct about the CCN-51 problem and mixing here in Ecuador with nacional. There should be a premium for Nacional beans and there isn't one. Industry and government are making an effort to stop mixing, but it's probably more half-hearted than anything, and yes, I have heard too about Ecuador potentially losing its status as a fine flavor cacao producer because of all the problems-mixing, poor fermentation, etc.

On the other hand there are a handful of people who are growing pure nacional beans here, though on CCN-51 rootstock-but the flavor is pure nacional, and much better than any CCN-51. Hopefully these people can continue to push for recognition and the premium that nacional beans deserve.

brian horsley
07/26/11 13:26:09 @brian-horsley:

hi Jim and Jeff, a perspective from peru - I agree that its kind of a shame but fine is subjective because taste is subjective. It may be possible to define what negatives DIS-qualify a cacao from being fine (very high astringency, high bitter, any kind of problem or inadequacy in post-harvest processing, etc) but the positives that do make something are too personal.

On CCN-51 for example, much of the recent Cacao / Choc Salon in Peru was taken up with the ccn wars, both pro and anti people speaking in its favor or not. I consider this ridiculous because economically, ccn already won the war and will be the dominant crop in peru within 10 years, it just produces too well. Also, the head of Pronatec peru pronounced it a fine/flavor cacao in his public presentation, and they are the no.1 exporter here. so it will dominate and that's the fact. I will say that the bars pronatec produces with the beans are awful, but a lot of that has to do with incosistent and inadequate post-harvest. I personally think that ccn51 are not bad beans, i can process them well and remove all the negatives, but there's no particular fine flavor component inside those beans. they just don't have much fruity/nutty in them chemically, and no floral at all. so they are what they are in my opinion, a good filler / mixer, a good choice for conventional chocolates, an economic boon for many farmers, but not a fine/flavor cacao bean. just my opinion.

the beans i export and the chocolate made from them are definitely fine/flavor by any standard and by the proclomation of everyone that has ever tried it. and I think whats important is to create spaces in the market for those products that are artisan / heirloom / special etc. so that genetic diversity in cacao is not lost. We in the south american industry must find profitable, fair ways to serve the needs of the farmer, consumer, and our businesses while protecting diversity and heirloom varieties.

As for Ecuador, taking aside any natural peruvian distaste for our northern neighbor which i don't share, almost all the industry types and internationally knowledgeable people I have met said that ecuadorean beans in general are no longer fine / flavor, due to being almost 100% ccn51 and poor post harvest practices. Even some folks from Anecacao have admitted to me that Ecuadorean cacao is in a bad situation. all the Ecuadorean derived chocolate i have tasted has been pretty mediocre in taste, although often very well produced, and in line with the ccn flavor profile. so i think it will take a lot of work from people like Jeff to help Ecuador reclaim its rightful place in the fine cacao world. I sure wish i could try some of your chocolate!! I know that really good beans must still exist there, and be processed really well, i just can't get them here in peru.

I can say that Peru as a nation and our cacao/chocolate industry are focused on overtaking Ecuador and Venezuela as the world leader in fine cacao/chocolate and we have the people and genetics to do it , but it will be a lot of work and many years to get there. and even if we do the majority of our output will be ccn or other (in my opinion) conventional non-fine beans, but hopefully well processed and well made into chocolate!


Jeff Stern
07/25/11 16:55:04 @jeff-stern:
Jim, I am also truly delighted that I can get someone else riled up about this issue. There are so few people out there who really care about stuff like this-when it is actually important and needs to be brought to the consumer's attention. Also, while my piece may have sounded a bit editorial, that's not my intention; it was mostly a recap of the ICCO's study, which I will cite here... . Again, I am glad it got your attention and I hope we can get some more useful discussion going around this issue!
Jeff Stern
07/25/11 16:48:27 @jeff-stern:

Definitely would have to agree, there is nobody out there with the knowledge or criteria to establish exactly what is fine flavor cacao. No one, no organization, no individual can define what is fine cacao; therefore, it's still pretty much a subjective naming and one that should be taken with a grain of salt-because nobody has the knowledge. Thus, all the more important to know your grower and the product he produces. You can take great beans, ferment them improperly, and create what should have been "fine" flavor into a bulk grade or poor grade cacao. You can take average beans, treat them with the utmost care, and still make a decent chocolate.

My discussion was not aimed at getting into the economic benefits CCN-51 might bestow on growers; that's for an entirely different discussion.

It is true however, that if you look at cacao as a commodity and what is graded as "fine or flavor" cacao, Ecuador is the world's biggest producer. Nonetheless, it's open to discussion whether or not what is coming out of Ecuador labeled "fine or flavor" cacao is really that great. That is up to each individual/company/organization/trader to decide-are they really getting fine flavor cacao when they buy or not? Again, I reiterate my point, thus all the more important that you truly know your source. I know for a fact that here, you can call up the Agriculture Ministry and tell them you need them to come out to your farm and grade you cacao for export, and they often say "too busy, what do you want me to put on it?' So it's just a rubber stamp at times; the farmer/exporter/whoever could be selling crap, and still get Ecuador's highest grading put on the certificate. Bottom line is, the industry is no transparent, there is little standardization and little accountability-at least in Ecuador.

07/25/11 16:14:57 @jim2:
Jeff,I read and re-read your comments several times. In conclusion, I was presented with a number of ways to indicate what is NOT fine or flavor cacau. Are you suggesting there are select individuals or organizations that posses the infinite knowledge required to discern "good" and "bad" Cacau. It seems to me that the definition of "good" or "bad" is subjective and depends on which end of the binoculars you are using. I'm persuaded that cacau beans selected by a chocolate chef may not be a prefered variety for the farmer. The CCN51 variety you referenced, although given a bad rep, has been responsible for saving the livelihood of many producers in your area.I think we have been down this road before and certainly agree that "measurable criteria have not been established" fact an accepted definition of FINE / FLAVOR Cacau does not exist. So let's cool it with the dissertations regarding who has the "BIGGEST AND BEST" and concentrate on bettering the ways Cacau is grown, processed and utilized.Jim Lucas