Sampling fine chocolate mindfully can provide a wonderfully diverse experience in flavors and aromas. In the Utah Chocolate Society, we have had a long-standing tradition of discussing flavor notes with some descriptions that certainly sound like they would be off-putting, but adding a suffix of “but in a good way.”
In teaching a lot of people new to craft chocolate about the fun new world, this concept confuses some at first. As such, I provide examples, as I will here. Buckle up, because it is genuinely weird for the vast majority of people:
Years ago, after it was already discontinued, I had the good fortune of tasting a Domori (from Italy) bar using cocoa beans from Papua New Guinea. It still stands as what is probably the most dramatic flavor development I have experienced. It started out tasting/smelling like a pine forest…on fire. It had that sharp spruce-y, piney conifer needle twinge with clean mountain air AND smoke. But that isn’t development. I don’t remember all the steps in between, but I remember it finished like a light-colored pure clover honey. I don’t mean that garbage in your average grocery store, but the clover honey given me by a neighbor whose family farms clover honey from 3,000 hives in South Dakota. It was delicate and soft on the finish. The start-to-finish experience of that chocolate was immediately seared in my memory (at least the start and the finish if not the in-between).
Also from Domori, their long-running Javablond bar of days past tasted like raspberries…and dry-erase marker. Mind you, I didn’t get a Sharpie or Marks-A-Lot vibe from it. I got an Expo Dry Erase solvent characteristic from it, and it was exciting and intense. Again, this was in a good way. The raspberry was tart and beautiful. The marker was intoxicating.
Cocoa beans see a lot of variation from batch to batch, but another bar that I love for the wackiness of it is Amano’s (from Orem, Utah) Dos Rios bar using special beans from the Dominican Republic. And I have had raw beans that Art uses for that bar, so I can vouch for the flavors’ presence before roasting, and the fact that adding extra flavor ingredients is unnecessary. It tastes like dried blueberries, bergamot (sort of a peppery orange), and spices like nutmeg and cinnamon. It is wholly unique in the chocolate world – especially for the dried blueberry vibe. I have watched a lot of people wake up to the fascinating nature of craft chocolate with a piece of that bar in their hands and mouths.
Amedei’s (from Italy) Porcelana (particular beans from Venezuela) bar is an interesting one. Often, it can seem deceptively simple. It is roasty, smooth, vanilla’ed beautifully, and “chocolatey.” But when your palate is ready, and your soul is centered and conscience clear, you can get a delicate honey and roasted almond flavor from it. The bar absolutely whispers its character as opposed to the rest of the bars mentioned in this post. And it is awesome. Weirdly, I found it paired amazingly with Rogue River blue cheese (soaked in pear brandy), but you need about a 5-10:1 ratio of chocolate:cheese. This cheese? It is no wallflower! It slaps you around a little, but with that Porcelana, it is delightful. It makes me happy.
The reasons for the crazy range of aromas are manifold, and they reach back to the genetics of the tree, the soil, the climate, the local microbes affecting fermentation, and the conditions surrounding the fermentation-ending drying processes. And that is before the beans get onto a boat and the maker gets hands on them! Every producer will make a different bar from even the very same batch of beans.
This disparity, along with the changes from batch to batch, year to year, are why we chocolate geeks keep coming back. What will we find this time?
Keep exploring my friends! Stay Chocolate Fascinated!