An Emerging Sustainable Chocolate Landscape
By Alain d’Aboville with Cherrie Lo as contributing author
What is Happening With Chocolate?
The seemingly endless expansion of the chocolate shelves at your local food store is only the visible side of the deep metamorphosis happening to the aging chocolate industry.
Approximately five million tropical farmers, mostly in West Africa, produce over four and half million tons of cacao beans that are converted into an eighty-three billion dollar industry run by two dozen multinational companies. Since the 1980’s the “shareholder’s value” and profits of many of these businesses have multiplied, in some cases by a factor of thirty and even more while the amount paid to the farmers has been divided by a factor of up to three. Concurrently, global warming has made cacao farming more difficult and hazardous, diminishing further its appeal to the next generations. The alternative to this clearly un-sustainable status quo remains to be found. In today’s financialized world, one can only hope that consumers’ behavior will have an impact meaningful enough to save the cacao planet.
The book introduces the main factors involved in cacao farming and chocolate making and details how young “Chocolate hobbyists” and “bean to bar” makers, in the consuming regions as well as in the cacao producing ones, are trying to team-up with small farmers, mostly in South America and the Caribbean, to initiate a new and sustainable cacao industry. This burgeoning movement is trying to transform quality chocolate making into a specialty cottage industry. At the same time, some major industrial producers and International aid organizations which have been supporting farmers for decades without producing the needed outcome, seem to be adopting different tactics to reverse the negative price trend.
Written by a bean to bar maker based in the Caribbean, in association with a certified taster from the International Chocolate Awards, this book provides a thorough view of this new chocolate scene, focusing on the fine and specialty chocolate makers and their supply chain. The lead author, Alain d’Aboville, presents a dozen interviews of farmers and new chocolate makers from countries as diverse as Madagascar, Colombia, the Philippines and even Myanmar.
What You Will Learn
Learn more about the production and consumption of chocolate, where it comes from, and where it goes, along with the process of cacao farming and the different varieties of cacao pods.
Chocolate is not limited to just dark, milk, and a percentage on the packaging. Cacao beans have their own genetics, flavours, origins, and aromas that help make each chocolate bar unique.
Making chocolate requires some attention. Learn more about the certifications that some retailers and chocolatiers require from the cacao farmers, along with the prestigious awards afforded to those able to produce mesmerizing sensations.
Author Alain has been able to gather and share extensive interviews with 6 cacao farmers and 6 chocolate makers to better understand the thought that goes behind every chocolate bar.
Have you ever been curious about how chocolate is made? Learn the process of making a chocolate bar starting with cacao beans and all the way up to all of the materials and techniques needed.
Learn about the present and future scene for cacao farmers and chocolate makers, including chocolate home production, sales and marketing, and the consumption of chocolate.
What Readers Say
CacaoSource is amazing blend of knowledge, passion, experience, and suggestions for chocolatiers, cacao producers, and those who love this amazing product. The interviews are fascinating. Chocolate and cacao really can solve most of the world’s problems and this book is the perfect guide for anyone who really wants to know what is going on with the amazing world of chocolate!!
This book provides a rather exhaustive description of cacao and chocolate. The author manages to explain in layman’s terms the differences between the fruit’s varieties, the various diseases affecting cacao farming, the treatment realized at the farm, why Certifications are not really the answer to all our concerns etc… At the same the book brings you to the other side of the planet to meet ordinary people doing extraordinary things like resurrecting an old Mexican cacao variety in The Philippines or producing high quality chocolate in Jamaica. Finally, the co-author who is a professional chocolate taster gives a down to earth description of the chocolate Award process that leads to those little stickers we see on the good tablets.
This an enjoyable “infotainment” book that will make you think twice before buying industrial chocolate. A good read for your brain as well as your taste buds!
- The Big Picture
- Cacao Today
- Cacao Farming
- Fine Aroma vs Commodity
- Hybrids and Geographic Origins
- The Chocolate Players
- Making Chocolate
- Flavors and Aromas
- The New Chocolate Scene
- Cacao 2050
- Bertil Akesson, Akesson’s Organic – Bejofo, Madagascar
- Jean-Yves Branchard, Ananda Caocoa ― Yangon Myanmar
- Christopher Fadriga, Plantation De Sikwate ― The Philippines
- Monica Liliana, Mariana Cocoa Export ― Santander, Colombia
- Sanh, Markrin ― Chiang Mai, Thailand
- Charles Kerchner, Reserva Zorzal ― Dominican Republic
- Maxime Simard, Qantu ― Montréal, Canada
- Monica Liliana, Carlota Chocolate ― Santander, Colombia
- Antoine Maschi, Chocolat Encuentro ― Paris, France
- Ho, Immaim ― Chiang Mai, Thailand
- Nicholas St. Claire Davis, One One Cacao ― Jamaica
- Ben Rasmussen, Potomac Chocolate ― Woodbridge, Virginia, Usa
A Very Brief History of Chocolate
The cradle of cacao
Following various conflicting studies starting at the end of the nineteenth century, and in particular the extensive work by Russian botanist Nikolai Valivov and the Amazonian expedition of Trinidadian agronomist F.J. Pound in the late 1930’s, it is now confirmed that the cacao fruit originates from the upper reaches of the Amazon basin. Indeed, the most recent work on cacao DNA accomplished by scientists Claire Lanaud and Juan-Carlos Motomayor in the late 2000’s identified specific cacao varieties in the many valleys of the tributaries of the Amazon―in an area that covers parts of Peru, Ecuador and Western Colombia.
Members of the Olmec civilization (1500 to 400 BC) were eating cacao beans as fresh fruits. In their exchanges with the Mayas and Aztecs from Central America, they brought the fruit to the isthmus region. Probably by letting the beans self-ferment, the Mayas discovered that once fermented, dried, and crushed cacao was a potent complement to their diet. Because of its relative rarity and therefore cost, and the many positive effects attributed to its consumption, consuming cacao beans quickly became a social status as well as a religious ritual. It also became a form of currency as Mayan and Aztec farmers paid their taxes to the King in cacao beans. The Aztec Emperor Montezuma was an enormous consumer of the Xocolat drink, claiming it provided him with immeasurable strength in the battlefield and with his many wives. The drink was a sort of cacao bean stew with chili pepper, spices, and corn flour, very different from the sweet chocolate hot milk drink consumed today.
Starting the globalization of cacao
In 1520, Christopher Columbus had the first European encounter with cacao while on a river in Central America (in what is now Honduras, or possibly Nicaragua). But it was not until 1585 that the first commercial cacao cargo arrived in Spain. Spanish monks, the scientists of their time, were tasked to adapt the chocolate drink recipe to Spanish taste. They discarded the chili pepper, added cinnamon, nutmeg, clover, and sugar cane. Over the next century, cacao became a popular drink in Andalusia and, gradually, in other parts of Europe.
Cacao was introduced in France by Louis XIII’s Spanish-born wife, Anne of Austria, in 1615; and a Frenchman opened the first “chocolate tavern” in London in 1650. In 1659, the French King gave the monopoly of making chocolate in France to Monsieur Caillou, who became the first European chocolatier on the continent. After a quarter century, his shop near the river Seine in central Paris next to the Saint Germain L’Auxerrois Church, had many competitors (it no longer exists). By then, chocolate had acquired the reputation to be an aphrodisiac, and eighteenth century French culture and art is replete with sexy and erotic references to chocolate consumption.
Louis XVI’s Austrian wife, Marie-Antoinette, came to Versailles with her own chocolatier who pushed the chocolate recipe further by adding orange blossom, cream, vanilla and other aromatics. In 1776, Frenchman Mr. Doret invented a hydraulic grinder to quickly reduce large quantities of cacao beans into a paste. This drastically reduced chocolate production costs and allowed a wider distribution of the product. By the end of the eighteenth century, every European country was producing chocolate and adapting it to regional tastes.
Towards mass consumption
Until 1828 chocolate remained a drink, and a rather fatty one, because of the high percentage of cacao butter in the bean. Then the Dutch chemist Coenraad Van Houten designed a process using a hydraulic press to extract the butter from the cacao paste. What was left could be blown into powder and easily melted with liquids. This was a breakthrough that allowed making “cleaner” chocolate drinks. It also made it possible to produce solid chocolate by incorporating cacao butter into the chocolate paste, alongside sugar. These new chocolate solids were initially exclusively sold to royal courts. Less than twenty years later (1847) the British company Fry and Sons offered solid chocolate to the public. The “chocolate bar” was born, starting the industrial era of chocolate. Simultaneously in Switzerland, Henri Nestlé developed a process to produce dried powered milk, which could then be added to the chocolate paste to produce the famed Swiss milk chocolate, Chocolat au Lait; and Rodolphe Lindt invented the modern conche, a machine for mixing chocolate sugar and dried milk to produce extremely smooth chocolate.
In 1893, American Milton Hershey discovered European chocolate making equipment at the Chicago World’s Fair and quickly started producing consumer accessible milk chocolate near his former caramel manufacturing facility in Pennsylvania.
Chocolate completed its mass appeal by being distributed to soldiers on both sides of the WWI conflict in Europe. It was deemed so important that during the Second World War nearly one hundred percent of the American production of chocolate was requisitioned for the Army.
By Cherrie Lo
What is a good chocolate?
A good chocolate is a combination of many characteristics and specificities, and like all human activities includes some subjectivity. For a chocolate to be “good” it should meet the following criteria:
- Look/Appearance: Shows a natural and even shine on the surface
- Sound: Breaks with a crisp and sharp snap sound, confirming a perfect tempering
- Smell: Delivers a rich, multi-layered, complex aroma
- Touch/Texture―(melt/mouth-feel): Melts on the palate smoothly (unless it’s a stone-grounded chocolate bar designed to have a sandy texture)
- Flavors/Aftertaste: Lingering pleasant aromatic sensations on the palate, or an evolving and long flavor journey
- No Flaws: No detectable aromatic defects such as cheesy sensations (due to over fermenting), no fungi scents (due to molding), no burnt notes (due to over roasting), etc.
Cacao beans have diversified flavor profiles depending on their variety and origin or terroir. The aromas of the resulting chocolate are also impacted by the competence and skills of the chocolate maker at every step of the chocolate making process. However, flavor similarities can be found for each major cacao growing country. Here are the common aromatic profiles of the some of the major places of origin:
- Venezuela – Chuao: molasses, dried raisin
- Colombia: sugary, sweet candy, very mild and light
- Peru: maple, butterscotch, prune
- Ecuador: blueberry, blackcurrant, treacle
- Dominican Republic: fig, raisins, nutmeg, cinnamon
- Grenada: muscovado sugar, blackberry
- Papua New Guinea: earthy spices, smoky
- Madagascar: citrusy fruity, earthy
- Ghana: one-dimensional flavor, single tone of chocolatey.
Tasting chocolate is usually a fun exercise, yet it requires different levels of sensitive judgment and techniques. Having said that, believing in their instinct is the surest way for tasters to really know that piece of chocolate in front of them.
There are a few things to take into consideration before tasting:
The night before tasting
Avoid alcohol, it makes you feel tired the next day and leaves you less focused.
Avoid a big dinner, a full stomach lowers the quality of rest, hence makes you less energetic the next day.
Go to bed early and have a good rest. A clearer mind and well-rested body makes you calmer, more sensitive, and aware of your palate sensations. It improves the connection between your palate and your brain, turns your feelings and sensations into a solid judgment and activates the memory associations in your brain.
On the tasting day
Avoid coffee and any foods with a strong taste, as it affects your palate sensitivity and hijacks your gustative senses.
Have a proper meal but not a very full stomach―you don’t want to feel too hungry during any delicious tasting sessions.
Be natural. Perfume, nail polish, any scented, after-shave or hand moisturizer will affect your aroma sensations when tasting the piece of chocolate at your fingertips, and it also affects other tasters’ aroma detection in the same room.
A scent-free environment is the best condition for chocolate tasting. Allow the room to have fresh air flowing in and out.
The best temperature for storing chocolate is 60° – 68° F or 16° – 20° C. Try to enjoy the chocolate in an ambient temperature not higher than 22° C or 70° F, to avoid chocolate getting soft or melting.
Water: Have a bottle of water readily accessible – either still water or sparkling water, depending on your personal preference. Personally, I prefer sparkling water as I think the bubbles carry away any leftover taste from my palate.
Polenta: Polenta is made from grinding corn into flour. It has a rich yellow, yolk-like color, and has a slightly sweet flavor.
Warm polenta paste is an effective palate cleanser popular in the chocolate-tasting world. Its soft, thick and slow running paste-like texture has the magic to rub any leftover taste and carry it away from your palate. Note that texture of the polenta soup is very important, if the polenta is too runny, it won’t be able to “rub” your taste buds and carry away your leftover tastes. If it’s too solid, you will then need to mash it and it won’t do the job effectively. Every little detail counts.
Apples & French Baguette: Though apples and French baguettes have their own subtle aroma and taste, in the award judging session, a lot of time these are used as palate cleansers. It’s because the subtle sweetness of an apple slice can clear away and replace any unpleasant chocolate flavors on your palate; while a thin slice of French baguette has the function of neutralizing the acidity and bitterness on the palate, and give you a fresh new start to carry-on tasting.
Writing down tasting notes is important. You will have different experiences throughout the tasting journey; it’s always good to record them, compare notes with other tasters, or to compare with your own tasting notes when you try the same chocolate again few days later.
I normally write down my notes in my chocolate tasting notebook. There are also professional chocolate tasting notebooks you can purchase as well.
The five senses of tasting
Chocolate tasting is all about sensations―from your eyes, ears, nose, palates and to your brain.
Look: Look thoroughly at the chocolate to see if it has a shiny or matte color, any white traces masking on the outer (sugar blooming), and if there are any air holes. Well-tempered chocolate will give a natural shine to the bar. If there are any white color lines on the surface which look like a mold―it might not necessarily be mold, but more likely sugar bloomed (sugar inside the chocolate got bloom and flowed on top due to poor tempering process and wrong temperature during storage).
Listen: This matters as well for a chocolate bar. Correctly tempered chocolate stored at a preferable “chocolate temperature” between 57° – 65° F (14° and 20° C) will produce a clear snap sound when you break it. Put the chocolate next to your ear and break a piece into two and listen for the sharp snap sound. It’s even louder than breaking a biscuit!
Smell: Hold your breath, put the chocolate in your hand. Put your nose into your cupped hands and take a deep breath. The first aroma you inhale is the most organic aroma of the chocolate itself.
Touch: Dark chocolate starts to melt at around 95° F or 35° C (milk chocolate at 82° F or 28° C). Use your finger to touch the chocolate piece and see if there’s a greasy feel―low quality chocolate made with added vegetable fat would give you such a lubricious feeling, while craft chocolate (without added fat but only cacao butter) will get your fingers dirty as it melts together with the cacao mass.
Put a small piece of chocolate on your palate and let your body heat melt it naturally. You can use your teeth to break down chocolate into small pieces and then let it melt on your palate, but do not munch and swallow it right away, as you will not be able to taste fully by doing so.
Some chocolates take longer to melt than others due to their fat content and the cacao mass content.
Is it a slow melt? Does it melt smoothly? Is it a buttery, sugary, or a rubbery melt? It’s all about the texture and mouthfeel.
Taste: Finally, it comes to the most exciting yet difficult part of tasting, as it usually results in the most diversified answers from different people among these five senses.
Everyone has different sensations; some people are more sensitive to fruit flavors, while others might be more sensitive to natural flavors (woody, earthy, leathery, grassy etc.). There’s no absolute right or wrong; the more you taste and train your palate to associate with your brain, the better your sensitivity and accuracy at defining tasting notes. This will lead to more accurate, precise and understandable flavor descriptions. It is important to build a reference system in your brain to link the sensation with a word recognizable by everyone.
The Tasting Flavor Chart
Using a flavor chart is helpful to guide you in identifying the flavors you’ve discovered on your palate, and it also trains the connection between your palate sensation and your memories of the flavor in your brain.
There are different tasting flavor charts in the market, from flavor maps divided into color zones to flavor profile colored wheels, to fill-in charts that divide tasting from a variety of categories.
To train your palate professionally and to learn about cacao history, chocolate knowledge and tasting skills, The Institute of Chocolate & Cacao Tasting offers one of the most recognized chocolate tasting course across 7 countries including New York, London, Peru and Hong Kong.
The institute was founded by three chocolate leading voices around the world – ICA Award Director Martin Christy from UK, Chocolate/ Tea Taster and Sommelier Monica Meschini from Italy, and the Chef, Restaurateur and Book Author Maricel Presilla from USA.
The IICCT, a U.K. Accredited learning center, the Institute offers three courses in advance levels of «Certificate in Chocolate Tasting». They methodically go through different aspects of cacao & chocolate – from cacao varieties through to chocolate production methods. Throughout the gastronomic sensations training, the courses educate the student’s chocolate palate and guide her/him through to gain a real appreciation of the fine chocolate bar tasting.
About the Author
After a career as a management consultant and executive, mostly in Europe, in 2010 Alain started working for the US State Department in cacao producing countries such as Bolivia and the Dominican Republic. This allowed him to further his passion for chocolate and start producing his own bars. He perfected his chocolate making skills in 2014 by attending a specialized course at the University of the West Indies in Port of Spain (Trinidad). He also started giving presentations and speeches on chocolate in the US, in France, the Dominican Republic and even in Afghanistan during his last posting for the US Government.
Alain is currently working with a land owner in Puerto Rico to create a cacao plantation of high-quality beans. He also participates in building a small chocolate factory in Port au Prince (Haiti) with an existing Haitian cacao exporter. Alain has a significant audience on social media as well as online at cacaoauthority.com
Cherrie became a certified chocolate taster of the International Institute of Chocolate and Cacao Tasting in 2016. Cherrie is a Hong Kong born Branding and Marketing professional in the chocolate and confectionary industry. She worked close to a decade with artisan chocolate companies, chocolate schools and international chocolate brands, such as Vero Chocolates and Pierre Hermé Paris, before moving to London to continue her chocolate journey.
Cherrie is a recognized member and a Grand Jury member and Chocolate Judge for various international competitions, such as the “Academy of Chocolate Awards”, “International Chocolate Awards” and “Great Taste Awards”. She repeatedly appeared on local and national TV Stations and magazines in Asia over the last decade.
Loyal to her Asian background, she hopes to introduce many major world-wide chocolate brands to Hong Kong and China. Similarly, she’s looking for ways to introduce international chocolatiers to the many amazing Asian ingredients and flavors.