Chocolate like coffee

During my childhood, I believed all chocolate is the same. I knew milk chocolate is good, dark chocolate is awful and a white is even worse. And the best chocolate ever is with hazelnuts.

A special event in Prufrock. Cocoa Runners and James Hoffman giving a lecture and tasting session. I couldn't miss that.

The event involved theory and tasting. I was surprised from the very beginning. Swiss chocolate is bad, Belgium chocolate is even worse. White chocolate - 100% cocoa butter - is super tasty. Many similarities with coffee as well!

Multi-step processing, terroir, single plantation, flavour wheels, a chocolate tea made of cocoa shells (like cascara!).


1. Harvest - just like with coffee, cocoa beans are taken off the chocolate tree. The interesting thing is they grow out of the trunk. What's even more surprising, you can find many varieties on one tree!

2. Fermentation - assumed the most important step. Most flavours are developed.

3. Drying - the fermentation process leaves the cocoa beans with high moisture content. Sometimes it's sun-drying (like a natural process!). Sometimes with fire, which leaves a smoky taste (like yerba mate!).

4. Roasting - a coffee industry glorifies roasters, whereas in a chocolate industry it's almost neglected. Some people roast in 180 s, some in 35 min, some have no idea what the temperature roasting is. I expected a discussion about roasting profiles. Nowhere near enough.

Overroasted cocoa is bad. It's usually flavoured (Vanilla Latte from Starbucks, anyone?), think Lindt Orange or Chilli.

5. Winnowing - taking the shell off. I imagine this as if after roasting coffee, the beans were still covered in silverskin. Apparently, a cocoa shell is tougher to take off.

6. Grinding (conching) - the cocoa beans are ground. It takes hours and the longer conching, the smoother the chocolate. Usually about 50kg at a time. For milk chocolate, milk powder is added during this step.

7. Tempering and moulding - the chocolate is formed.

8. Wrapping - an important step. It's not processing, but a bar needs to be separated from oxygen. If done properly, shelf time is long. Safely a year, but consumable even after 10 years. So far, the best way to pack is by using bags like coffee roasters.

What is good chocolate?
It's easy to check. The high-quality chocolate has 3 ingredients. Only. Cocoa, cocoa butter and sugar. Milk chocolate can be considered a high-quality product. The difference is an addition of milk.

Sometimes you can find salt, especially in milk chocolate. Salt is known for amplifying other flavours. It makes your taste buds go crazy the first time you try.

Another flavour that comes into chocolate from outside is a coconut. Found in milk chocolate. Though still sticking to 4 ingredients. How? A coconut blossom sugar.

Back to a sensory approach. I realise I might be a bit limited due to my coffee focus. Fortunately, many coffee professionals think alike.

There is no official flavour wheel. Thus you can find plenty of them on the Internet.

Generally, it's not as detailed as in coffee. Spicy, fruity, floral descriptors are perfectly ok. Jasmine, citrus or raspberries are perceptible, but not much beyond.

Out of 10 different chocolates, quite often I noted things like: Jasmine, Citrus, Fruity, Acidic, Dry, Balanced, Bland, Light, Sweet, Coconut.

But most of them had strong earthy, roasty flavours. Sometimes chemical. All considered severe defects in coffee. They are clearly unpleasant.

Chocolate people feel good about them as if they were natural. I'm not impressed with big flavours accompanied by big defects. Chocolate flavour wheels are full of earthy, chemical, roasted, medicinal descriptors. As if defects were expected. Or even not considered defects!

Coffee people have agreed chocolate involves some flavours considered defects in coffee. Nevertheless, I believe they can be decreased.

I can't help thinking about the old SCAA flavour wheel, the defect one in particular. It has taught us what we don't want to taste. I think chocolate needs the same.

The chocolate industry is about 30 years behind coffee. I hope research, a scientific approach and a bunch of enthusiasts can bring it to another level. Who knows, maybe one day it will be as exciting as coffee?
Title photo - Jan David Hanrath, CC 2.0
Middle photo - Miss_Yasmina, CC 2.0


Post a comment