Stone Ground Chocolate...it may not be smooth but can still be tasty
To me, Soma is a chocolate brand that is known for its smooth texture and refined, superior taste. So when I recently visited Toronto and Soma's cafe and chocolate shop in person, I was surprised to see a new chocolate bar that they call “Old School”, which is definitely not smooth and not refined. The taste, however, is still superior.
Soma’s "Old School" chocolate bar is crumbly, sweet and high in cocoa content since it is made of only two ingredients: sugar and roasted cacao nibs. The nibs, which are simply the roasted beans crumbled up into small pieces, are high quality Trinitario beans and come from Papua New Guinea, a small independent state in the southwestern Pacific Ocean that also grows coffee and tea, in addition to cacao1.
Soma's packaging also tells us that the chocolate will have a texture almost like a cookie, and they delivered on that promise. After the first bite and initial shock at just how crunchy this chocolate was, I quickly became accustomed to it and enjoyed the roasted cacao flavour combined with the crunchy, sugary taste.
To me, this concept is very interesting. I love reading about how chocolate was made nearly two centuries ago, when the only tools a chocolate maker had to grind the cacao beans were made of stone. So eating a gritty chocolate bar like this allows me to imagine what it must have been like in the days when chocolate was first introduced to Europe, then eventually North America (before Van Houten came along in 18282 and invented the hydraulic press to separate the butter from the cacao, or Fry, who mixed the cocoa butter with cocoa solids and sugar to create a "melt-in-your-mouth treat"3, or Rudolphe Lindt who invented conching to refine chocolate and give it an extra-smooth texture4 like the Lindt Excellence chocolate bars that exist today).
Taza, another bean-to-bar chocolate maker from Somerville, Massachusetts, has made the art of perfecting 'stone ground chocolate' its mission. I have only tasted Taza's 80% bar, which was definitely bitter and a little harder to digest than Soma's because of its high cacao content, but I am itching to taste their other flavours. Taza takes old world chocolate to a new world level by focusing on organic beans and making their chocolate gluten, dairy and soy-free.
This gritty, stone ground chocolate trend seems to go against the progress that chocolatiers have been working toward for the last 100 years, which is to use advanced technology to create a smoother chocolate. But as it turns out, all that work to refine the chocolate potentially takes away all of the good stuff that cacao has (like the flavanols and antioxidants that protect us from heart disease and cancers), so a new crop of craft chocolate makers has popped up who make chocolate with traditional techniques. By grinding the beans with stone, as was done in the old days, chocolate makers preserve the true flavour of the cacao and its important health benefits.
If you want to learn more about Soma's "Old School" chocolate, and also about their microbatch, bean-to-bar chocolate, check out their product guide online at: http://www.somachocolate.com/pdf_files/SOMA%20product%20list.pdf. Page 3 has information on the "Old School" bar.
To learn more about Taza's products and their chocolate-making process, visit: http://www.tazachocolate.com/OurProcess.
3 ref: Carol Off, "Bitter Chocolate; Investigating the Dark Side of the World's Most Seductive Sweet", Vintage Canada Edition, 2007 (Pg. 50).