Rant mode on.
Cocoa beans come in three primary varieties, Criollo, Trinatario, and Forastero. Presently the bulk workhorse chocolate that is grown and made into chocolate is Forastero. It is hearty and disease resistant. It is what is sold on the commodities market and what everyone has eaten and learned to love as chocolate. That goes from Hershey (thanks, no) to some rather good micro chocolate makers. One that comes to mind is Green and Black. I have commented elsewhere already that Forastero is akin in some ways to Robusta coffee beans, which has a rather bad (and disserved) reputation. Does that mean Forastero is that bad? No, definitely not. It can make some damn fine chocolate. You (or in this case, I) just have to search out a good source of Forastero. The one I presently have I choose from a number of options. It was the best of those options. It has a good hearty chocolate flavor, a very low mold and breakage count, was well fermented and was well stored.
Now, Criollo has a reputation of being the best. People seem to almost search it out like the Holy Grail of Chocolate, for no other reason than that others say it is the “best”. I have read all about it, tasted chocolate made from it a number of times and, well I have to say I was less than overwhelmed. Mind you, it was good chocolate. Quite delicate, flowery and with a nice chocolate flavor. From my taste, that was the problem. I like my chocolate strong, hearty and heady. The chocolate I mentioned about (Green and Black) is a mixture of all three types of chocolate and is a very nice balanced bar. Criollo (and often Trinatario) is usually referred to as a flavor bean. I am starting to think that this means it can add flavor and depth to your chocolate creation. Not that it is the only bean with flavor. There’s a difference there. A big difference.
Don’t get hung up on a name or idea. Try them all, mix them together, experiment, and make your own choices and decisions.
On a final note about cocoa bean prices. In general, you will find Criollo will be the most expensive. It is not terribly hearty. It is grown in relatively small quantities and demand is high (it is a nice flavor bean after all). Trinatario is a hybrid between Criollo and Forastero, and therefore has heartiness characteristic of both and prices according. Forastero is the easiest to grow and has the largest market, so naturally has the lowest price. Just try to remember this when you note the prices of various cocoa beans you may find around. The price heavily reflects how much is grown and how much is sold. When I get Criollo and Trinatario, they will be more expensive than my Forastero. How much? I don’t know yet and will not until I find a solid source. I expect to pay more and will have to sell for more to reflect that.
Am I Forastero fan? Yes. Is some of it bad? Yes, terrible. Is some of it good? Yes, quite good. It just takes looking harder for good Forastero than for good Criollo. Currently there are two other businesses selling cocoa beans on the internet. Stone & Giacomotto list both Criollo and Trinatario beans in stock. You can read about their experiences working with those beans. The other is out of stock at the moment. I’ll report on my own as I get some in stock and experiment.
Try them all, mix them, enjoy them!
Rant mode off.