First off, I am moving Ask the Alchemist to Thursdays. Next, I have a very limited supply of Venezuelan Chuao (3 bags) available for wholesale only, by the bag.
Finally, on to our question.
As I've discovered chocolate is so surprisingly similar to coffee in that I'm finding beans from different regions taste differently. Also the different levels of cocoa butter. What if I find a bean I love for my recipe and the roasts are varied or I can't get that particular bean anymore?
We live in such a homogenous world. Or maybe we strive for homogeneity. Or it’s a result of a world market and huge production lines. I’m really not sure. But regardless, we seem to expect products to always be the same…except when we don’t.
What I mean by that last statement is the crux of the answer and maybe even the crux of the question. Cocoa is a crop. No two crops are ever the same. Ever. Sometimes the differences are insignificant. Sometimes they aren’t (insignificant). The best example of this to me is grapes and wine. Virtually no one expects wines to be the same year to year. They have vintages. Some years are good. Some are great. Even the poor years, most good winemakers can make a reasonable wine (assuming the grapes are actually good). And no one is upset at the wine maker when a wine changes subtlety year to year. If anything, it’s like a new car. Wow, a new model that is different and exciting.
That is how artisan chocolate (and make no mistake, if you are making your own chocolate, it is artisan chocolate and you an artisan) should be. And your job, as a chocolate artisan, is to educate your customer base that you are not the chocolate equivalent of Mondovi wine – drinkable but the same from year to year, blended and standardized to mediocrity. Basically you are not Hershey or Callebaut or Ghirardelli (thank goodness) and chocolate can and does change year to year and it is to embraced, not worried over or criticized.
Now sure, you would not want to start your chocolate line with something like the Chuao I just put up. But it’s absolutely PERFECT for a small, artisan LIMITED RELEASE chocolate. Something special. As for the rest, it’s why I put years on all my beans. So you can tell them apart. Every so often a review changes very little because a given origin is that consistent (Ghana, Peru and Conacado are good examples) but they are different year to year.
In a word, promote the difference, don’t hide it or try to minimize it.
I will admit I am spinning this up a little. But just a little. I’m very serious that we should not be expecting our chocolate not to change. We are not Kraft or Bud or Mondovi or Pepsi and personally I don’t want to be. But from a practical standpoint, there is something to be taken from these giants – and that is blending. They blend to the lowest common factor and blend out everything special about their product. There is nothing wrong with picking 2 or 3 origins and blending those into your own signature creation. If the worst was to happen, and a cocoa bean does indeed become not available, you are not totally out of luck. In all likelihood you will be able to find another bean to take its place without totally changing the taste profile of your chocolate. Let’s learn from the giants, but not emulate them or become them. Nearly all good French Bordeaux are blends. But it’s intent. They are blending to create the best product they can, not to make the most consistent product they can. It’s all about intent.
That reminds me of a quote I have always loved.
“Remember who you wanted to be when you were a child”
Why are you making chocolate? Just to make a living or to make something special? Both have their place, but which drives you? I’ll leave you to answer that yourself and make your own connections as to what I have written. Remember who you wanted to be!