Across stretches of recorded history, chocolate was consumed primarily as a beverage, beginning in 3,500BCE at Santa Ana-La Florida, Zamora Chinchipe, along the eastern slopes of the Andes mountains. We know this from the vessels recovered by archaeologists examining remnants of the Mayo Chinchipe culture that indicate they prepared it as a draught, some sort of chicha (a fermented alcoholic chocolate / beer). Only with the twin engines of invention & industrialization in 1847 would Fry & Sons of England transform chocolate liquor into a solid eating bar.
In the last few weeks the C-spot™ has examined various chocolate beverages. First, in the now-conventional powder form of hot cocoa pressed by Mesocacao, a label (among others) restoring & reviving the fortunes of cacáo in the heartland from where it arguably rose to its zenith during pre-Columbian times in Mesoamerica. In this cocoa from Matalgalpa, Nicaragua, the crew at Mesocacao deliver a stout, Olmec-worthy brew that’ll have your taste-buds summoning their inner-warrior to face down the draught’s tannic force.
In contrast Choclo of Switzerland markets a soft drink, a carbonated cola containing cocoa extracts under the motto of “sparkling happiness”… on trend with “happy eggs” from free-range chickens.
This soda boasts a tremendous nose, quite the mix of vanilla-caramel hops, sweet sassafras, & old mahogany, in addition to licorice & molasses. Unfortunately the latter 2 dominate the tongue.
Categorize it as a fun fizz: Close to “the real thing” & yet… so far off.
Brazil’s Amma Chocolate, in a contrarian move to the above, plays with what traditionally serves as a drink in its home country — Theobroma grandiflorum, a genetic cousin of cacáo — & crafts it into a bar.
Cacáo comprises one of 22 species or so (15 of which are edible with Bicolor and Angustiflorium the other relatively well-known / cultivated members) belonging to the genus Theobroma. Hence the binomial, Theobroma cacao.
Grandiflorum, commonly known as capuaçu in Brazil, fruits to about the size of a cantaloupe &, like cacáo, contains seeds surrounded by a white sweet ‘n sour pulp. This pulp is what attracts Brazilians and is popular in juices, jams, pies & ice-creams.
Beyond mere flavor, Grandiflorum‘s pulp, seeds, & leaves have served medicinal functions for centuries in the Amazon basin among early Amerinds — the Waimiri, Atroari, Cabloclos & Tikuna. They used it particularly for gastrointestinal discomfort, giving birth, kidney infections, & even colon cancer.
Like Chocolo, Amma’s Grandiflorum bar also has freak funhouse fragrance, not dissimilar to T. cacao: nuts (Brazil nuts, of course + Venzy-like almonds & macs) up against a hard wood (really hard wood) softened incredibly by banana bubble gum & marshmallows, with taffy & cotton candy to follow. Stunning & staggering in range.
More incredible still, it all makes for an excruciatingly meek bar except for a pliable but indissoluble texture. Much of that due to this Grandiflorum’s obese formulation, measured by a CBS (Cocoa mass / Butter / Sugar ratio) of ~1:4:1. So much ultra-lush butter should obviously make for great White Chocolate.
Its overall docile nature reinforces cacáo’s place as the king of Theobromas.
On June 28, 2014 the Heirloom Cacao Preservation initiative (HCP) unveiled its 5th inductee at the FCIA gathering in NYC. HCP’s mission is to preserve & propagate the diamonds of cacáo – those cultivars endowed with special qualities, be they botanical, cultural, geographic, genetic &, of course, organoleptic (“flavor”).
Drum roll, please… and the inductee is Mindo from the Co-op Nueva Esperanz in Ecuador.
Archetypal Arriba flavor, big & bold for the semisweet range. A welcome addition to the Heirloom collection.
We have taken the liberty of reclassifying the cocoa bean to a cacáo nut.
Chocolate begins with cacáo seeds (oft-dubbed “Jungle M&Ms”) from zeppelin-shaped fruits referred to as “pods”. Botanists loosely categorize them an epigynous berry or pepo.
The fruit technically qualifies as an indehiscent fruit, defined as that which does not open at maturity but relies on predators (like man or monkey) to open it, or decay to release the seeds. That certainly describes cacáo.
A cacáo seed has the potential to germinate & propagate until the fermentation process kills that potential. Our standard nomenclature refers to the fermented cacáo seed as a “cocoa bean”, a poor term since a) “bean” is technically reserved for leguminous plants & b) the seeds of indehiscent fruits are commonly considered nuts rather than beans.
Cacáo ain’t pintos or garbanzos any more than chocolate is hummus.
The next linguistic challenge is that “cocoa nut” forms a homonym with “coconut”. This is a confusion we do not need.
To elevate cacáo to its proper place & extol the great efforts of growers / Bromans around the world, we’ll henceforth adopt the usage of “cacáo seeds” pre-fermentation & “cacáo nuts” post-fermentation.
For example, to use both terms in a sentence… “I love what you’ve done with the fermentation process giving us the best possible cacáo nuts from those lovely Arriba seeds!”
Reviews of the Month
♦ Little of note comes to us from Costa Rica (CR) in the premium chocolate sector. The combination of oddly unsatisfying terra (however diverse) & suspect genetics (due to the nearby CATIE seed bank & its intense breeding programs that favor cacáo designed for production & disease-resistance rather than Flavor). We keeping hearing about the “R Clonal Series” but so far any CR that grabs attention owes mostly to the workup of the maker’s mark. That is, the processing.
In 2 Grand Cru chocolates sourced from Finca Amistad in CR, Felchlin verges on reversing this trend. Amistad cultivates the R Series among its diverse cacáo plantings & these bars incorporate it, though only marginally.
The 70% Dark journeys to peach blossoms waiting to be crushed by falling timber in the rainforest while the Milk Chocolate oozes so much cream that it should come with a bra.
Next month we’ll feature chocolate directly from Amistad whose own proprietor grinds cacáo nuts into finished chocolate. (Next month is our summer newsletter break, though, so check the C-spot.com daily to stay in the loop.)
♦ Soma Chocolatemaker’s Little Big Man… a bucking stud.
♦ Duane Dove at Tobago Cocoa Estates complains about a parrot infestation. Maybe they flock to him because of his surname. Whatever the cause, his parrots have a birds’ eye view on a very good thing.
In another 2-bar set (comparing March and April productions) Duane restores the island’s cocoa rep & cred after it was vandalized by a candy giant.
♦ Bonnat’s Kaori — Brazilian cacáo, French craft, & Japanese name — adds up to a global baddass of a chocolate.
♦ And Jo Zander of Holy Cacao rises as David slaying the chocolate Goliaths with these 2 bars: Madagascar and Balao
Following the lead of the Parisians, our newsletter shutters for August & will resume in September. Ditto The Daily Review which will take off from mid-August until after Labor Day.