I had the opportunity to sample an organic cacao bean the other day. It was from one of the other cocoa bean sellers on the web (no I won’t name names) and I was thrilled to have the chance to evaluate someone else’s stock. It was not Criollo (a hybrid from what I could tell), but it was organic. Well, that thrill ended almost as soon as I opened the sample bag. These smelled like someone had sprayed old wine in the bag. It was so sour. Talk about first impressions. Well I continued on, trying to give this bean a fair chance, especially because I had heard such good things about it. I peeled a few, noting the interesting purple interior (and oddly one light tan one) and tasted them. Ack! Again sour. On top of that they were waxy, and terribly astringent with an aftertaste that just would not go away. And other people liked these and ate them as “health snacks”. Huh? To be completely fair, I went ahead and roasted them up. I nib (remember that term from a while back?) all of my samples roasted so they are on an even playing field. I popped them into my sample roaster, and turned on the heat. 100 F, 200 F, waiting for the “brownie” smell, and only getting hot sourness. 250 F, still nothing. 300 F. Sourness was going away, but no odor of chocolate at all. Finally a few beans started cracking at 325 F, a bit higher than “normal”. That usually occurs at 300 to 310. I turned off the heat, let them completely cool and tried one. Most of the sourness had disappeared (thankfully) but nothing had taken its place. It was just this rather bland, cocoa-less, astringent “nut”, with a “offness” that made me want to rinse my mouth out. Unfortunately, that did not help, and 10 minutes later I was still tasting it.
My conclusion: Organic is not everything, nor does it guarantee anything taste wise. I will continue to carry my “transitionally organic” Barinas cocoa beans, and look for other organic and Fair Trade cocoa beans, but I won’t buy them or sell them if I don’t consider them good quality. You have my promise on that! After all, Chocolate Alchemy is about making something that sets your taste buds dancing and excites your senses. Alchemists of old may have been trying to make gold from lead. We are making chocolate from cocoa beans, but they knew enough not to try and make gold from manure.
If in doubt about a cocoa bean’s flavor (especially if no description is given), ask for a sample. I will send out samples if you are having trouble deciding between a couple of different cocoa beans. I see no reason other sellers would not do the same.