Ask the Alchemist #88


I am intrigued with the different bean varieties and constantly like to experiment, I am intrigued by things like the Arriba Nacional bean and especially the porcelano one I have read so much about. Do you ever get beans that are at least close to what people would call true Nacional or beans with a mostly porcelano heritage? Which of the Venezuelan beans you sell are closest to porcelano? Or do you ever get any small quantities of true porcelano beans?

So funny about Porcelano. Please smile with me....you have been taken in by marketing and hype!! What I mean by this is that I have had Porcelano a few times....and in all cases but one it was BORING! Somehow, being rare makes people want it, and when people want it they start to justify why they want it, and determine it must be because it is fantastic when instead it is simply hard to grow and keep pure. Same with Nacional. I've found nothing any more or less special about it than they are hybrids.

In both cases they can be very good....but genetics is ONLY the starting point, and I've found, if anything, just means the fermenter has to know their business even better or they can ruin the potential that MIGHT be there. It's just like various bowyers looking for the holy grail of wood for their bow. English Yew. Because it was traditional. And was used to make the famous English longbow...and because it is R A R E. It's rare now because it is a slow growing, gnarly tree that often warps, and is native to one small area. It was common at the time when we didn't have a global market. Now it is. Supply vs. demand. And price is high because demand is high and supply is low. And the rub is this; if the person cutting it does not take care to dry it right, it's ruined. If it is not stored right, it is ruined. And if the bowyer doesn't know how to handle it, they can make a bow that will break in a few pulls. Now if each person in the line knows what they are doing, a strong, resilient bow can be made....but a strong, resilient bow can be made from LOTS of other much more common woods that are much more forgiving and won't break the bank if you mess up. Sounding at all familiar?

At the end of the day, trust your tastes and/or the tastes of the person you buy from.  Never buy or trust only on a what someone says a beans is or what piece of paper it has, as you very well might end up with a bean that tastes like that piece of paper!  I am going to go out on a limb here, and hope to not offend anyone.  I was told once by a cocoa supplier that Porcelano is like pieces of the cross or Noah's arc.  If every piece that was claimed to come from one of those was gathered together you could build 100 or 1000 of each.  Each and every person who has a piece might well believe it with all their heart what they are telling your is the truth, but that does make what they say the truth.  It only means they are not intentionally lying to you.  The same is true of Porcelano.  Just because someone says it is Porcelano does not make it true.  There is just too much out there if you see what I mean.  From what I've researched, the ONLY way to verify if it is Porcelano is with a DNA sequencing.  Yes, in that case it is a piece of paper, but it is paper based on defensible data.

So, yes. I've had it. Once it was good. Very good as a matter of fact. It tasted of cedar and sex. Seriously. And it was $30/lb. My cost. Every other time it was as bland as cardboard. And over $100/lb!!!! Sorry, no bean is worth that in my most humble opinion.

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