Friday, February 24, 2017

Four Venezuelan Cocoa Beans: A Review of the Beans and the Resulting Chocolate


I was recently sent samples of Venezuelan cocoa beans by a supplier: Casa Franceschi. The company is dedicated to the production and commercialization of cacao beans from Venezuela since 1830. They pay careful attention to harvesting and post-harvesting methods in order to "seize the best flavors from the best genetics." Casa Franceschi exports cocoa beans from several regions in Venezuela, and other countries. They sent me four featured origins all from Venezuela, including: Ocumare, Patanemo, Piaora and Sur del Lago.

In order to review these beans, I had to make chocolate! I hand shelled all four batches (I have a winnower now to remove the shells, but hand shelling teaches a lot about the beans), and then I made four different single origin 70% dark chocolate bar batches out of all the beans. The chocolate has now aged by a few weeks and been moulded into bars. So I can spend a little time reflecting on these beans and sharing the results with you and my fellow chocolate makers who are interested in offering Venezuelan origin chocolate, or selling cacao beans for eating or brewing.


Admittedly, I refined for only 24 hours, until the chocolate was smooth and very palatable. I did not conche or extend refining time because I had four origins to deal with, and needed to focus my time on my current line-up of products, but I found little acidity to worry about in all four origins, and thus 24 hours seemed to be enough to get a good idea of how these beans taste in chocolate form.

Overall, I quite liked the results of all four origins. I couldn't pick a favourite, although at first I was leaning towards the Patanemo chocolate for its fruitiness, but then I became quite attached to the bold and complex flavour of the resulting Ocumare origin chocolate, even though the beans were slightly troublesome to sort. I loved the Piaora beans - they were very big, easy to shell (by hand and with the winnower) and quite tasty.  The beans were all similar in some ways, meaning there is a nice low acidity level, some fruitiness to each bean (Ocumare falling more on the nutty side, and having slightly more balance in acidity). There was only slight colour variations with Patanemo having the lightest and most unique colour. Any one would be a good addition to a product line and a great representation of Venezuelan chocolate.

My review on each bean, how it was to work with, and the resulting chocolate that I made from each type of bean is organized into the chart below. I've included some of the information provided to me as well, including bean type, fermentation, etc.

Origin
Bean type + fermentation
Review of beans
Review of Taste
Ocumare de la Costa, North Central Region
Trinitario with “light Criollo blood”, Fine Premium F1, Controlled Fermentation
 
Tough to shell (slightly sticky shells), quite a bit of sorting required.
Makes a very complex and lovely chocolate, but the bean can be a little harsh on the palate to consume directly, compared to the others. Ideal when made into chocolate, but perhaps not ideal to sell as an eating bean.
Balanced-if-slightly-high acidity, unique and interesting flavour, boldest of the four origins in such a good way. Perhaps a little nutty and earthy, a dark caramel taste, and definitely some fruit taste, citrus and orange with some berry - the fruit shows up especially after tasting the Piaora.
Patanemo, North Coastal Region
Trinitario with “light Criollo blood”,  Fine Premium F1, Controlled Fermentation
Easy to work with, most palatable bean if packaging for consumption as is, in whole bean or nib form (for sprinkling on food, etc.). Would also be good as a brewing bean.
Strongest fruit flavour of all four origins. Bright, full of berry and red fruit, while a little astringent. Reminds me a little of that fruity-yet-astringent Guatemala bean that has been making the rounds in craft chocolate recently, but this is much more pleasant on the palate. It is quite enjoyable.


Piaora, Amazonas, North Southern Region, isolated community, can only harvest 6 mo’s a year.
‘Wild Cacao’, Trinitario, F1, Natural Fermentation
Beautiful beans. Large, easy to shell. Palatable, but just a little harsh at first - makes an interesting chocolate though. So perhaps not ideal for selling as nibs or for brewing.
Possibly the most neutral flavour, yet some citrus and cocoa powder flavour, but all creamy in texture. Other than a general citrus/lemon taste from the mild acidity, no other fruit flavours, just earthy, woody and wonderfully powerful.
Sur del Lago, Merida – South Western Region
Trinitario Cacao with “high Criollo blood”, Natural Fermentation, Fine Premium F1 type
Very easy to shell (shells released easily), many large beans, but careful sorting was required.  The remaining beans were quite tasty on their own, very palatable for eating as is.
Bold flavour, perhaps some astringency at first taste, but certainly interesting with lingering fruit and acidity. Creamy chocolate taste on the finish.

If you are interested in any of the Venezuelan cacao beans reviewed above, contact Pedro E. Rojas R. at projas (at) casafranceschi.com or visit www.casafranceschi.com for more information.  Casa Franceschi also supplies beans of other origins, including Ecuador, Peru and Costa Rica.
 
You can also taste chocolate made from some of these beans (Sur del Lago and Ocumare) made by award-winning chocolate makers, Franceschi Chocolate (http://www.franceschichocolate.com/en/).  They make a range of delicate and delicious 60% dark chocolates from a variety of Venezuelan origin beans.
 
Any questions or comments? Please feel free to add to the Comments below this post.  

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Brown Butter: The Flavour Taking Over American Chocolate

Brown butter chocolate bars seem to be popping up all over the place in the American craft chocolate industry lately. And I just want to say, after having tasted a few of them, I am all for this trend.

If you work with chocolate, you'll know that you can add a little oil or fat (such as coconut oil or olive oil) and temper it into chocolate to give the chocolate a softer, more melt-in-your-mouth texture. This technique can be used for chocolate chunks in ice cream, so they still melt in your mouth when frozen. With more oil added, you can get the texture of a meltaway truffle - basically the texture a Lindor Truffle centre. The oil also has a fairly long shelf life, which is why it is used instead of cream or fresh butter for store bought truffles.

Butteroil is the same. It has a long shelf life, and can therefore be incorporated into solid chocolate bars. And this is the ingredient used by some chocolate makers who are creating these delicious 'brown butter' bars. Pure butter would have too much cream in it and risk the shelf life (putting it at a month or so).  Another option is 'butter powder', which can be incorporated into chocolate, much like milk powder is to make a milk chocolate bar, which would make it less melty in texture, but still include the taste of real butter.


In the case of the chocolate bar that I tasted recently made by XOCOLATL de David, this 72% Cacao Ecuador origin chocolate bar was soft, and melty, and salty, and delicious. The XOCOLATL website tells us that the butter is cooked to remove the remaining liquids (cream) and also to "caramelize the remaining milk solids". This essentially leaves a butteroil that has a longer shelf life and can be incorporated into chocolate. It contributes the delectable melt-in-your-mouth feature of this chocolate bar, making it pretty much irresistible.


If you want to try other Brown Butter bars, check out Fruition Chocolate's 43% Brown Butter milk chocolate bar. This is the only milk chocolate bar that I have found in the 'brown butter' category. And given how long it has been since I tasted it, I suspect Fruition was the first to launch a brown butter chocolate bar.

Award-winning and California-based Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate just released a new 73% Brown Butter chocolate bar with nibs and sea salt. This bar is so new, in fact, it will start shipping on Monday! You can't go wrong with a Dick Taylor chocolate bar, so I am sure it will be fantastic.


And for those who want something in an affordable price range, while also being organic and fair trade, try the salt-ily delicious Alter Eco 70% Brown Butter chocolate bar. It has a melt-in-your-mouth texture that makes it sinfully delicious, and takes 70% dark chocolate to a new level.


Brown Butter Truffles Recipe

For a delicious sweet and savoury treat, try these Brown Butter dark chocolate truffles!

You need:
-8 oz semi-sweet chocolate (about 50% to 60% dark chocolate), chopped into 1/2" squares
-1/2 cup butter
-1/3 cup whipping cream
-cocoa powder for dusting (or melted, tempered chocolate for dipping)

Instructions:


  1. Place the chopped chocolate into a heatproof bowl and set aside.
  2. Place your butter in a small saucepan on the stovetop over medium heat.  Cook, stirring often until it boils and browns. Just when the butter begins to brown, remove from heat.
  3. Add the cream to the cooked butter, then place the pot back on the stovetop. Heat on medium-high until it just reaches the boiling point.
  4. Remove from heat and pour over chocolate.
  5. Stir the chocolate mixture until smooth, slowly and being mindful to keep the spoon on the bottom of the bowl to prevent excess air bubbles.
  6. Once smooth, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 8 hours or overnight to `set`.
  7. Once set, scoop out teaspoonfuls of chocolate truffle and roll between the palm of hands to form balls. Roll in cocoa powder to finish them, or dip in melted, tempered chocolate.
  8. Keep stored in an airtight container for up to 10 days or freeze.

If you find other Brown Butter chocolate bars, or have a great recipe for brown butter and chocolate, tell us about it in the comments below! Or connect on Twitter (@ultimatelychoc), on Instagram (@ultimatelychocolate) or on Facebook.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Talk of the Town: Fruition Chocolate's Award-Winning Dark-Milk Chocolate Bars

All the talk in the craft chocolate industry these days is about Fruition Chocolate's two Dark Milk Chocolate bars: a Peru Origin 'Maranon Canyon' 68% Dark Milk chocolate bar, and the Hudson Valley Bourbon 61% Dark Milk chocolate bar.


These two chocolate bars were already causing a stir when I was at the Northwest Chocolate Festival in November, after they both won World Gold (for the Maranon) and World Silver (for the Bourbon) at the 2015 International Chocolate Awards. What's more, Fruition took home awards for both chocolate bars at the 2017 Good Food Awards just a few weeks ago. And a funny thing, I was just sitting down to taste these bars when I read about their Good Foods win.

If you read this blog often, you'll know that I am a big fan of dark-milk chocolate bars. I love the mix, particularly the enjoyment of a creamy milk chocolate with minimal sweetness (that means it's healthier, right?). Every dark-milk chocolate is different, and can range from 45% cocoa solids to about 70%. Many of the dark-milk chocolates that I have tasted recently have had about 50% cocoa solids, so Fruition's were a nice change with both bars having more than 60% cocoa content.

Now let's get to the taste. Fruition's Hudson Valley Bourbon Dark Milk has 61% cocoa solids and the ingredients include Bourbon. But I found there to be just a hint of bourbon taste, which for me, was perfect. I don't like a strong alcohol taste in chocolate, and this certainly offered a lovely flavour of  bourbon with no 'alcohol' flavour. I also found it had a pleasant light milky taste and a little sweetness, while still being a very dark milk chocolate. There were also woody tones and a caramel aftertaste (the package says caramel and oak, but before looking at the package tasting notes, it was simply 'woody' to me). Overall, this chocolate is quite something and one that is easy to go back to time and again.


Fruition's Maranon Canyon Dark Milk has 68% cocoa solids and is certainly one of the more bitter dark-milk chocolates that I've tasted. There is a sour cream taste, and that lovely creamy mouthfeel of high cocoa butter content. It features some of the wonderful flavours of the coveted pure Nacional-type cocoa beans from the Maranon Canyon, which are nicely featured because the chocolate does not include vanilla or any other flavours that might mask the bean taste. I really enjoyed this chocolate bar, for both the texture and the taste.

If you are interested in tasting either of these bars, check Fruition's website for more information and to buy online: http://www.tastefruition.com/. Fruition is located in Shokan, in the Catskill Mountains of New York, and founded by chocolate maker and confectioner Bryan Graham.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Sexy Hawaiian Chocolate



Chocolate from Hawaii is, well, let's face it, right sexy these days. I mean, isn't everyone who lives in Hawaii super hot to begin a with? Tanned all the time, wearing flowers about their necks and men in short-shorts.  Okay, I just aged myself with these stereotypes and by outing my love for Tom Selleck in Magnum P.I. But for a girl from the cold, cold Canadian north, where people walk around in parkas for half of the year, Hawaii seems like the sexiest place on earth. And in fact, Buzzfeed did name it The Sexiest State in 2013.

So 'The Aloha State' already had it going on when cacao really started sprouting commercially in Hawaii in the 1990s, and bean-to-bar chocolate makers started popping up on the islands in more recent years.

And then at the Seattle Craft Chocolate Maker's Unconference in November, I met Nat Blatter, Madre Chocolate's cofounder and 'Flavormeister', who was about the awesomest dude at the conference.

Source: Madre Chocolate's Instagram @madrechocolate

Nat was walking around with a backpack filled with rare cocoa beans (soooo totally sexy to a choco-geek like me), and offering up some to taste at random.  I was one of these lucky people who tasted the rare beans, while chatting with him in the lunch line one day at the conference. Not only is his chocolate - fully made in Hawaii for several years now - award-winning and delicious, but Madre Chocolate is committed to helping cacao farmers improve their processing techniques and thereby improve their lives by boosting the price of their cocoa beans. If you follow Madre Chocolate on Instagram (@madrechocolate), you'll see that Nat is always traveling around the world, visiting cacao farms and contributing to the overall growth of the craft chocolate industry.

Adding to the sexiness of Hawaiian chocolate, Manoa's Hilo Hawaii Island 70% dark chocolate bar has a totally sexy flavour. It's all honey-like in taste. In fact, two Hawaii-origin chocolate bars that I tasted, from both Manoa Chocolate and Puna Chocolate Company, were just dripping with the taste of sensual honey.  Manoa's Hilo bar was more like a dark honey-molasses mix with floral overtones, whereas Puna's Hilo District (Mahilani Estate) 70% dark chocolate bar was like light, warm honey with dark cocoa and strong floral notes. And the Manoa 50% dark-milk chocolate bar was all warm milk and honey in my mouth. Puna's 50% dark-milk had a malt and milky-cream flavour with low acidity. Again, sexy stuff.

Many of the Hawaiian chocolate makers also offer chocolate made from cocoa beans grown in other regions of the world.  Partially because Hawaii doesn't yet produce enough cacao to meet their needs, and partially because craft chocolate makers love to explore chocolate of different origins. I've tasted several of Madre Chocolate's single origin chocolate bars over the last few years, but at the Northwest Chocolate Festival, I picked up their 81% Guatemala bar.  This bold-flavoured chocolate was full of blackberry and red grape skin flavour, with an astringency and upfront bitterness that was certainly hard-hitting.

Manoa's Single Estate Ecuador (Costa Esmeraldas) 70% dark chocolate bar made with cacao harvested in January & February of 2016, was intriguing. It was very full of flavour, with low acidity and strong floral notes, with perhaps aloe, some roasted nuts with the slightest bitter aftertaste of walnut. Unique and surprising, and certainly mysterious. Super sexy chocolate.



There are several more chocolate makers from Hawaii, all making delectable chocolate, and I intend to write about them all, just as soon as I can get my hands on them. But for now, if you want to explore your sensual side with Hawaiian chocolate, look to the chocolate makers and bars that I mentioned above. Or better yet, get your sexy on and visit Hawaii this winter.  Attend one of Madre's chocolate-making classes or visit a cacao plantation. Maybe Nat will be there handing out cocoa beans from his backpack.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

DAR Chocolate: Bean to Bar Chocolate in Denver, Colorado

Gila and Joel Dar learned the craft of chocolate making in Costa Rica, while living there on the Caribbean coast a few years back. Many of us chocolate makers taste chocolate here in North America and are inspired to create our own. And others, the lucky ones like Gila and Joel, are inspired directly by the cacao - a key ingredient in chocolate - while visiting or living in the countries that produce cacao and its resulting cocoa beans.

They now use the skills they learned in Costa Rica to make chocolate from bean-to-bar in Denver, Colorado. They focus on crafting single-origin chocolate, with a line-up of bars made from cocoa beans grown in different countries, including Costa Rica.

The chocolate bar that I tasted last week was a 72% dark chocolate made from 'Camino Verde' Ecuadorian beans. It is sweetened with coconut sugar. So it has a slightly bitter taste, as is the case with many chocolates made with coconut sugar. And it has hints of nuts, some walnut and pecan, a slight black liquorice taste, and to me, an upfront taste of baked coconut. The chocolate has a nice smooth texture and thin shape, ideal for a refined chocolate tasting.

Gila and Joel chose coconut sugar for a variety of reasons, but nostalgia is a big part of that choice. When they lived in Costa Rica, a friend of theirs was extracting coconut oil in his backyard, with an open fire. That memory is brought on by the smoky notes of coconut sugar in their dark chocolate.

They are also using coconut sugar as an alternative sugar, with a lower glycemic index to cane sugar, to make their chocolate healthier. Many chocolate makers are using coconut sugar these days as a way of reducing the blood sugar spike we experience from cane sugar. It does change the chocolate flavour in some ways, often with the effect that brown sugar would have when replacing white cane sugar - slightly more bitter in taste. It also often leaves behind a coconut flavour in chocolate. As people switch, many are becoming used to this taste. Others using coconut sugar include Hexx Chocolate of Las Vegas and the Chocolate Alchemist.

DAR also offers a 90% dark Ecuador bar, as well as other origins in the 70% range, such as a 76% Costa Rica, 72% Vietnam and 72% Venezuela. A blend bar is also available, as well chocolate with inclusions. Buy these in a handful of local Denver stores or online at: http://www.darchocolate.com/shop.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Ultimate List of Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Makers in the UK : Craft Chocolate in Britain is at an all-time high


Bean-to-Bar chocolate or 'craft chocolate' has been steadily increasing the U.K. for some time now and it seems that all sorts of amazing chocolates are being launched, produced and celebrated regularly.  In fact, I wonder at times if it is out-shining the American craft chocolate movement, but yet I don't see the same number of articles about its seemingly rapid growth or status as a 'movement'. The Academy of Chocolate Awards and International Chocolate Awards seem to be growing steadily in popularity. And so, I think a list will help all those interested in tasting the amazing bean-to-bar chocolate coming out of the United Kingdom these days.

I have split the list of UK bean-to-bar chocolate makers it out into regions by country (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), but if this is somehow not a correct way to divide, please tell me in the comments below. I`ve been to the UK only once or twice, so my awareness of what is politically correct may be limited.

Only Northern Ireland is included below, since The Republic of Ireland is a part of Europe and will be included in a future list of European chocolate makers (description is needed for us North American folks who are regularly confused about which Ireland is being discussed).

This list is not yet complete, but I will add to it as I learn of others. Please feel free to add your favourites or your chocolate company in the Comments feature below, and I will update the list with them as soon as I can.

So let's enjoy some British chocolate!

British Bean-to-Bar Chocolate

England

Akesson's Chocolate (London, UK) - Delicious chocolate with many bars being made from tree-to-bar, since Bertil Akesson owns plantations in Madagascar, Brazil and Indonesia. This chocolate is a must-try! http://www.akessons-organic.com/

Artisan du Chocolat (London, UK) - Bars, truffles and other products made from bean to bar. Follow on Twitter at: @artisanchocolat  www.artisanduchocolat.com

Aztec Gold (Oxfordshire, UK) - Makes organic, raw, vegan, bean-to-bar chocolate bars. Follow on twitter: @AztecGoldChoco1 Website: www.aztecgoldchocolate.com

Beau Cacao (London, UK) - crafting chocolate from Malaysian cacao through direct sourcing of cocoa beans, to ensure 'full transparency' of their products and ethical practices in chocolate making. Currently offering dark chocolate bars in the 70% range made from single origin cacao. www.beaucacao.com

Blackboys Chocolate (Blackboys, East Sussex) - This chocolate maker is concerned about using organic and pesticide-free ingredients, as well as donating 5% of income to bumblebee conservation. Website: www.blackboyschocolate.com Twitter: @BlackboysChoc

Bullion Chocolate (Sheffield, South Yorkshire) - crafting single origin chocolate from bean to bar. Twitter: @OfficialBullion Website:  www.bullionchocolate.com

Damson Chocolate (Islington, London, UK) - Chocolate blogger, educator, and judge Dom Ramsey teamed up with chocolate enthusiast Tom Millson in early 2015 to create Damson Chocolate, after both had been experimenting with bean-to-bar chocolate making at home for some time. Already winning awards, Damson is producing interesting selections such as three different percentages of Buffalo milk chocolate bars with high cocoa solids, barrel-aged whisky milk chocolate, blended and origin dark chocolate bars.  Twitter: @damsonchocolate www.damsonchocolate.com

Doble Bignall (Cheltenham, UK) - making artisan, fair-trade, single-origin chocolate Follow on social media at: @DobleBignall Website: www.dobleandbignall.co.uk

Dormouse Chocolates (Manchester, UK) - "Manchester's first and only bean-to-bar chocolate maker." Also making bars and truffles with their "favourite single origin chocolate". Twitter @Dormousechocs www.dormousechocolates.co.uk


Duffy's (Cleethorpes, England) - "Single origin artisan chocolate bars made from cacao sourced from different regions all over the world." I've tasted two of Duffy's chocolate bars and they were excellent. Twitter: @duffyredstar  http://www.duffyschocolate.co.uk/

Ekuma Chocolate (London / Ecuador) - The web page is under construction, so waiting on more info for this listing now. Follow on Twitter: @EkumaChocolate Website: www.ekumachocolate.com

Hotel Chocolat - Not so sure this brand can be called 'craft chocolate' given the growth in size and popularity of Hotel Chocolat, but they still make chocolate from bean-to-bar that Brits seem to love. I dream of tasting it someday. http://www.hotelchocolat.com/uk @HotelChocolat

Hygge Chocolate (East, England) - Coming Autumn 2016: "Bean to bar chocolate maker from single origin sustainable cocoa beans". www.hyggechocolate.co.uk 

J. Cocoa "chocolate crafted in West Sussex from bean to bar stone ground and hand tempered" @JCocoaChocolate www.jcocoa.ca.uk

Land Chocolate (London, UK) - "Award-winning bean to bar chocolate in the heart of Bethnal Green." Twitter: @land_choc Website: www.landchocolate.com

Lucocoa Chocolate (London, UK) - Making bean to bar chocolate with no refined sugar in a variety of single origins,  as well as blonde chocolate and dark milk chocolate. Twitter:  Website: www.lucocoachocolate.com

Maza Chocolate (United Kingdom) - 'nutritious handmade chocolates sweetened naturally' with Palmyra nectar. www.mazachocolate.co.uk

Ottar Chocolate (Welbeck, Nottinghamshire, England) - Chocolatiers and pastry chefs who are now embarking on a bean-to-bar 'adventure'. www.ottarchocolate.com


Pump Street Bakery (Orford, Sufolk): Award-winning bean-to-bar chocolate, along with a rather famous bread and pastry shop. I have tasted this chocolate, and I LOVE it.  The quality is truly there. BBC Best Food Producer 2012. Twitter: @pumpstbakery www.pumpstreetbakery.com

Solkiki Chocolat (Dorset, UK) - Twitter: @SolkikiChocolat www.solkiki.co.uk

Tadzio Chocolate (London, England) - Bean-to-bar chocolate maker in London. Twitter & Instagram: @tadziochocolate www.facebook.com/TadzioChocolate


Willies Cacao (Devon, UK) - Both cacao farmer (in Venezuela) and chocolate maker in Devon, also sourcing beans from around the world.  I have tasted about three of this chocolate makers' bars, and I have enjoyed them thoroughly. We can purchase in Canada at www.latablette.ca. Follow on Twitter at: @WilliesCacao Website: www.williescacao.com

Rococo Chocolates (London, UK) - they own their own cocoa farm in northern Grenada and sell all sorts of luxury chocolates and chocolate bars, as well as chocolate-related items on their website. Follow on Twitter at: @rococochocs Website: www.rococochocolates.com

Wales 

Baravelli's (Conwy, Wales) - Bean to bar chocolatiers with "multi award winning confection" and a Twitter description that includes: "nice people" (I love that!). Making chocolate in the beautifule market town of Conwy, wales. www.baravellis.com or follow on Twitter at: @Baravellis

Forever Cacao This Welsh chocolate maker focuses on stone-ground, raw chocolate from Criollo beans of Peru. The chocolate is sweetened with organic coconut sugar, for maximum health benefits. Twitter: @ForeverCacao  Website: www.forevercacao.co.uk

Scotland

Chocolate Tree (Edinburgh, Scotland) - "Scottish craft chocolate made from bean to bar using premium heritage cacao from Madagascar, Peru and Venezuela." Also, cacao is directly traded. Milk chocolate, dark-milk chocolate, coconut milk chocolate (dairy free, no cane sugar) dark chocolate and 100% available.  Twitter: @ChocTree Web: www.choctree.co.uk

RavenFoodie (Glasgow, Scotland) - making luxury vegan chocolate in Scotland. Twitter: @RavenFoodie Website: www.ravenchocolate.co.uk

Northern Ireland

NearyNogs Stoneground Chocolate  - "N. Ireland's first Stone Ground Craft Chocolate Makers! Small-batch Bean to Nar Adventurers!" Website: www.nearynogs.com Instagram: @NearyNogsChocolate

 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Where is all the chocolate and cacao in Cuba?

I arrived back just yesterday from a week-long trip to Cuba. And if you know anything about me, or this blog, I usually travel for chocolate. But this was a family trip, so I went with the group on our tour destinations in Cuba. In fact, when booking the trip, Sunwing Vacations gave us a list of the tours we could take, and none of them included a trip to a cacao plantation (our resort was about 300 km away from the nearest one, so that was understandable). So we booked a 'Taste of Cuba' day trip, and I simply hoped that cacao would be a part of the foods that we explored.

When we arrived at the resort, I learned there was, in fact, an overnight trip to Baracoa, the region where cacao grows. But by then we had our plans made and I didn't want to make changes. I figured, surely if cacao grows in Cuba, there will be some chocolate or cocoa beans available at the tourist shops, especially since Holguin was close to Baracoa (comparative to the other destinations most people visit in Cuba). But I was very, very wrong.

The "Taste of Cuba" day trip had less to do with food than I thought. There was a moment, on a Cuban farm where I thought I saw some cacao cut open on a table with other regional foods. But as I got closer, I quickly realized it was another fruit that looked similar to cacao when cut open, called Guanàbana. Although I was disappointed it wasn`t cacao, I learned about a new fruit, and discovered how delicious Guanàbana is. The fruit flavour is so potent, it reminded me of the strength of flavor in Guava juice, but brighter and almost bolder, which was unexpected from a fruit so white in colour (I`ve tasted the white pulp from cacao and it was very mild in comparison to Guanàbana). The seeds were also black and only slightly smaller than cocoa beans, but apparently nothing is made from Guanàbana seeds (that I`ve learned anyway).

So back to Cuban cacao.... According to cubanagriculture.org, cacao entered Cuba in 1540, but didn't boom until the late 1770's. And by then, it had become the main drink for breakfast and other occasions. Cuban cacao production went up and down over the centuries and years since, but after the 1959 Cuban Revolution, cacao was included with new plants of development to improve the country`s agriculture. The best conditions for growing cacao are in the eastern provinces of Cuba, with Guantanamo and Baracoa bearing the best fruit. There is also a factory that makes chocolate in the same region.

Apparently there was Cuban cocoa liquor (solid, unsweetened chocolate) in the airport Duty Free store after check-in.  Unfortunately for me, I was stuck in a line-up for three hours to simply check-in, then immediately had to board the plane and had no time to visit the store.  Boy was I disappointed when I learned from the woman sitting near me that she had found some there. I almost offered her $100 Canadian for it, but thought the better of it. I'd best spend that money on Chocolat Chapon's, Willie's, or Pralus's Cuban-origin chocolate bars.

So based on my mistakes on seeking out Cuban cacao during my vacation, I can give you a little advice if you are also heading to Cuba, and on the path to find Cuban cacao or chocolate in Cuba.

Number One: Plan to visit Baracoa (and ask your travel agent directly, even if they send you a list of excursions off your resort that has no cacao included).

Number Two: Visit your Duty Free store after check in at the airport. There was some at the Holguin airport, and likely at other airports in Cuba as well, so just be sure to give yourself time to check.

Number Three: Get to the airport early. Like 6 hours early. Don`t take the Sunwing Vacation bus, or you may not arrive on time for your Sunwing flight. Seriously.

Number Four: Watch out for Scorpions. This has nothing to do with chocolate, but there was one in my bed. If you want to live to eat another chocolate bar, I highly recommend shaking out the sheets before going to sleep. The photo on the right is the dead-by-squishing scorpion that we found in the bed, after it bit my husband twice in the middle of the night. Sleep did not happen much after that. And thankfully my husband had no complications from the incident. The hotel staff said it doesn't happen often, but the surrounding woods makes it not uncommon to find scorpions on resort property. Don't let that deter you from visiting, but just be aware of such deadly little creatures while traveling to warm, tropical destinations.

If you have been to Cuba and explored Cuban cacao and chocolate, please share your experiences in the Comments section below. I'd love to learn more about other vacationers' experiences with finding chocolate and cacao in Cuba.

If you are traveling to Cuba some time soon, for cacao or just some fun in the sun, enjoy your trip!