We've just added two more selections from Mexico. More about that at the end.....First the wonderful segue question for those new beans.
Read time: 7 minutes
How should I roast cocoa beans from <insert origin> to best highlight their origin character?
This is a variation of “what do you think of beans from <insert origin>?” and is basically the wrong question to ask and assumes a number of things that are just not true.
Let me ask you, what do you think of American wines? What is the best way to bake Washington apples? How should I cook beef from Montana?
Do you see what I’m getting at? Where something is from has basically no effect on how you treat it in general or your basic opinion as to whether you like it or not. I mean, what does American wine taste like? That question is just so wrong. Is it red or white? It is red? Ok. Is it Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel or a blend? Were the grapes grown in the hills with a southern exposure in loamy soil or in the bottomlands in shale? Did the winemaker use natural yeasts, a house strain or some other cultivated strain? How ripe were the grapes? Did they ferment cool or warm?
All that variability makes liking a wine by its country of origin impossible.
Should those grapes above on the south hills be fermented on or off the skins? With or without natural yeast? What is the best temperature?
Again, they are the wrong questions when viewed from where the grapes are from.
Cocoa beans are absolutely no different for all the reasons I list above. So stop looking for the simple answers and simple correlations. The world is a wonderful and complex place. Revel in it.
Now this isn’t to say you can’t have preferences but they should be based on experience and empirical observation not pigeon holing. I DO tend to like Brazilian coffees. But not all. Generally speaking though I have found I like coffees that are sweet and nutty and of the Bourbon variety and there are a lot of those in Brazil. Likewise, I like many Sumatran coffees, but only when they are earthy and funky. But I also like funky ones from Indonesia. And by far, I am not a fan of many coffees out of Kenya, but it has little to do with them being from the country of Kenya so much as what tends to come out is very bright and acidic and that style is not to my liking. The one time I had a nutty Kenya coffee I thought it nice.
Do you see what I am doing there? I’ve learned what generally comes out of certain countries but it is the flavors I am focusing on and am more than willing try coffees from places that normally I strike out…..if the tasting notes indicate I might like it.
I have to be aware of this and not fall into the trap of saying “I like Brazilian coffee”.
Likewise, I tend to like my coffees roasted just to 2nd crack and with no oil showing. But it is NOT because that is the roast level I like but because that is where the beans I like best show their sweet and nutty character. Funky beans I tend (see my use of the word tend – it is ingrained NOT to generalize) to like a little darker, and throughout I have yet to taste a 3rd wave roast (that is super light) that I enjoyed, but again, not because it was light but the resulting coffees were too bright and acidic for my tastes.
So start thinking about cocoa the same way. What flavors do you like? How should you roast based on flavor profiles? What countries TEND to produce cocoa with this or that flavor?
And to bring that all home, two new beans from Mexico are now available – one from the Chiapas region and one from Tabasco……just like the other two we have had in for a few weeks. The massive catch is that they are pretty radically different and where they are similar is nothing more than coincidence and not correlation.
To show that off I’ve put together a special 4 pack of the for Mexican beans. (discounted 10% - and yes you can use the free shipping code if you go hunt it down and follow the rules – pro tip “search feature”)
- Almendra Blanca from the Chantalpa Tabasco region
- Criollos mix Chiapas from the Soconusco region
- Local variety mix from also from Tabasco, Chontalpa
- Amelonado Forastero from the Comalcalco of Tabasco
And I want to stress again you should watch out for false correlations. You will see most of these are higher on nut flavors. That does NOT mean Mexican beans are all nutty. It was just the luck of the draw here. What that DOES mean is due to the presence of nutty flavors you should not push these too hard in the Development phase nor take them too hot of that nut can turn bitter. To nail this idea down, this does not mean beans from Mexico should not be pushed hard in the Development phase, NUTTY beans can’t be pushed too hard.
Not clear? Send me a question and ask me to clarify specific points.
Most likely there will not be and Ask the Alchemist for the next two weeks as we will be filming for video and trying to suss out how to do a podcast (psst, we need and want your input).