GRAN COUVA, TRINIDAD
These are very special beans! Grown, harvested, fermented in the fertile "chocolate soil" of the Gran Couva region of Trinidad. This region plays a very important part in modern chocolate because it is here that the second most prevalent strain, Trinitario, was born. It was the result of a mid 15th century weather event, or perhaps a pest infestation or mold. Something devastated the cacao on the island. Here is where the story gets a little sordid. All of the cacao trees where dead but for a rugged, masculine Forestaro tree that had, several years before noticed the petite and fragile Criollo tree. He always hid his affection for the sweet little tree as cross varietal interest was quite frowned upon in those days. During the devastation, Forestaro seemed to lean over Criollo, as if to protect her from that which was killing all the trees around them. It was then that Criollo realized her long kept, secret feelings for him were not unrequited!and dried but the Montserrat Cocoa Farmer's Co-operative Society
This disruptive event rolled through the island was a game changer. It resulted in an environment where a love affair between two arboreal miscreants could blossom. It is a little hazy, what happened next but the fruit of their love became what is known as the Trinitario strain of cacao.
My good friend Gino and I went to Trinidad and located these beans and Gino organized the first shipment of fine cacao directly from Trinidad to the USA! You ate it here first!
Earthy, with black olive notes. The flavors release with an effect not unlike a truffle, filling not just your mouth but your whole face with flavor. I don't know how else to explain it. It is as though the lengthy flavor profile permeates your entire head with delicious aromatics on the exhale. If you eat more, you will dream the flavor.
Riding a motorcycle through the jungles of Southern Cajamarca, Peru with a brass knuckle dagger in one hand and a pocket full of cash to pay the cocoa farmers is about as direct trade as you can get. It is no picnic getting beans from remote canyons that feed the Amazon but we did! I went to Peru last June and we are finally able to offer the bounty!
Our Cajamarca bar may be the best chocolate we have made. The terroir represented is that of a secluded canyon where the Pure National variety grows at a higher altitude than cacao is supposed to grow. The years of undisturbed, undiluted agriculture has manifested itself in a cacao that has a unique flavor profile and a silky texture that is about as good as it gets. The toasty carmel notes on the front end brighten up the darkest of days while the soft tannins offered by the white beans found in the pods, gently reign in the flavors with the loving authority of a mama goose. This is not a wild free-for-all explosion of flavor but a sophisticated, humorous assemblage of light, dancing acids, vanilla and carmel.
These storied beans have been made into chocolate before but only in Europe. We are among a small number of American craft chocolate makers who are privileged to work with them as our stock is from the first shipment of these beans to the US for production. I think we did the farmers justice as our chocolate attempts to showcase the hard source side work in the flavor profile. The ease at which this chocolate melts on your tongue is in complete contrast with the gargantuan journey this cacao endured to get to that point. I hope you agree!
I have gone to visit several cacao farmers but I have only ever had one come to Portland to visit me! Vicente Norero, who runs Camino Verde in Baloa, Ecuador is one of the guys who is really pushing source side efforts to a new level. He has been working on his fermentation technique using practices common in wine making but nonexistent in cacao … until now. I almost had it, too! We were at a bar in Portland together after a few rounds, and he got a mad genius twinkle in his eye. He started to explain his secret technique to me in a heavy accent and good but not great English. I was nodding and smiling with crooked eyes as he asked the bartender for a paper and a pen. I knew I wasn't going to be able to retain any info from what he was saying so I was hatching a plan to pocket the document he was drafting. It looked like a cross between a hieroglyph, a ransom note and a math problem. When he finally finished, he looked up at me like a wolf that just had his first bite of something real good. Something he had just hunted down and killed. Vicente, practically drooling, tore the paper into little bits and dropped it in the trash behind the bar. That is specific as I can get about his technique. The chocolate will fill in the details.
The Ecuadorian cacao represents some of the most forward thinking growers and source side processors. Source side processing includes harvesting, fermenting and drying. Because cacao has not ever really had the attention given to it, at an artisenal level, fermentation and drying techniques did not matter as much as speed. Because large chocolate producers are driven more by consistency in flavor, they tend to stomp most of the flavor out of the cacao and manufacture a flavor using a variety of ingredients that you would never find in Nanna's cupboard. There was no reason to waste time experimenting with fermentation.
Enter Vicente! Like a winemaker, he stops the fermentation and kicks off a more controlled fermentation. His vision is large!
If chocolate were music, this chocolate would be solid baseline. The hue is almost aubergine, making it the darkest colored chocolate we make. The flavors are concentrated and extra big because of the low butter content in these beans. The chocolate is thick and dark and beautiful with a floral canopy that carries the whole symphony of flavor, the way a million balloons carry a field of wild flowers. Notes of cinnamon.
SAMBIRANO VALLEY, MADAGASCAR
Our Madagascar chocolate is made from the first bean we really invested in. Bertil Akesson has developed his family's cocoa plantation, setting the bar high for fine cacao growers around the world. It might be the most popular single origin bean in the craft chocolate word. His cacao is dried in the hot sun, sealing volatiles in the bean, giving it a citric dried fruit flavor that has become the taste of Madagascar chocolate.
Tasting Notes: This chocolate is acidic and bright with identifiable raison and dried cherry notes.