Ask the Alchemist #155


What would you say is the most sought after type of bean right now between Criollo and Trinitario? Also, where would be the best country to source these beans from?

This is sort of a trick question.  I am pretty sure it was not meant that way, but it is one nonetheless.  It makes too many wrong assumptions.  “do you still kick your dog?”  How do you even answer that if you never kicked your dog or don’t even own one?  In court, I think it is called asking a leading question and they are not allowed for a reason.  They introduce bias.

And the answers, when given are not at all useful.  But I’ll do it to try and make the point.

The first part is easy.  Criollo is by far the most sought after type of bean.  And except from an idle curiosity point of view, I have no clue why you are asking.   Why do you care?

It is sought after because people think it is inherently better.  And because it is the least common.  Pretty much pure supply and demand mentality.  The really funny part about though is that as soon as it becomes readily available, the desire to have it drops.

Many of the beans I carry from Peru are Criollo.  And sure, they sell fine.   But they sell well despite being Criollo, not because they are Criollo.   “Criollo” makes the first sale.  The taste and quality keep people coming back.  The Oro Verde  is a nice fruity beans that is clean and chocolatey.  And it is Criollo.  Those that buy it because it is Criollo are often surprised that ‘it isn’t any different’ from any other fruity bean that is clean and chocolatey.  What I mean by that is that they have put the Criollo up on a pedestal and are disappointed that being Criollo does not in and of itself make it special.  .

It is ‘special’ because the farmers took care harvesting it.

It is special because it was fermented well and evenly.

It is special because it was handled well from start to finish and had good potential to start with.

It is not special because it is Criollo.

It is special because it’s natural potential was cultivated and realized.

And those that taste it expecting something different (I’m never sure what they are expecting) are invariable disappointed, and 9 times out of 10 tell themselves the story that ‘it must not REALLY” be Criollo and continue on with their holy grail search.  They have introduced bias into their evaluation because of false, unfounded expectations.

And speaking of holy grails.  Let’s talk Criollo Porcelana.  That rare of the rare, super special of the special.  There is rarely a week that goes by that I don’t get asked if I can get some.  Hugely sought after.

About 6 weeks ago the question stopped coming in.  Why?  I am carrying Porcelana.  And it had VERY brisk sales for about 2 weeks…..and now I still have a couple hundred pounds selling at a moderate pace.  Why?

Once something is found, quest finished, end of story.  Why?

Because although it is a nice bean, people have found that other beans are more to their liking.  Being called Porcelana may even have worked against it, setting expectations so high that no bean, no matter how good, could attain the god like status it was granted because of it’s name.  A real pity too as it is a nice bean.

Ok, I’ve beat that horse quite enough I think.  Next question.

Where?  Which country?

The semi sarcastic yet very real answer is those countries that have Criollo.  That would be the Americas.  The issue here is again it is the wrong question.  “Countries” don’t make a bean good or bad.  Genetics, handling, farms, weather, fermentation, drying, people etc make a bean good or bad and that is independent of country.

Maybe the better question is ‘how do I find good Criollo?’ And better yet, ‘How do I find good cocoa beans?’

The short answer is there is no one answer.

I evaluate dozens if not hundreds of beans a year.  I don’t evaluate them on their pedigree, country or certifications.  Sure, those many come into play AFTER I determine if it is a good bean, but that is it.

I make chocolate from the samples and evaluate them.  Blind.  If they pass muster, then I look at those other very important pieces of data and weigh if they are worth offering to you. Are they organic?  Are they fairly traded?

The key here is that a beans quality and taste are what are important to me.  Not it’s ‘type’.

And so I recommend the same to you.  Don’t look for a type. Don’t look for a country.  Look for a cocoa bean that makes a chocolate that you love.

Keep an open mind.   Look and taste different beans.  Evaluate them for what they are, not what you want them to be.  And should you determine you don’t like one, for heaven’s sake don’t write off any entire country or type.  It makes as much sense never dating another person with brown hair that is from Chicago because you once didn’t get along with a brown haired person from Chicago.

That pretty much sums it up.

Don’t discriminate.  Don’t prejudge.  Keep an open mind.

Those are good life rule and work very well for chocolate too.

3 Comments