Chocolate P.R. — Around the World in 47 Bars
This month we add one more cacáo source to the map, heretofore untasted by just about, well, everyone: Puerto Rico. Dan Hankle of fincaChocolate introduces the premium market to this Caribbean island’s bounty (local barsmiths like Cortés, Jean Marie, Loizadark, et.al. rarely export).
O.W. Barrett wrote an article titled The Food Plants of Porto Rico in 1925 in which he dates the first attempts of cacáo cultivation there to 1626.
With reputed Criollo seeds transplanted from the State of Mérida in Venezuela, they had green pods with white cotyledons, rather homogenous / self-compatible.
By the end of the 17th century more from Venezuela arrived, specifically from Trujillo along Lake Maracaibo just north of Mérida, hybrids & a type Barrett listed as ‘Calabacillo’, a collection sporting red & green pods.
Those initial trees failed to establish any permanent production due to better opportunity costs from other crops – a tale eerily familiar to modern day competition from bananas, palm oil, & even rubber.
All’s not lost. The USDA station established during the 1930s in Mayaguez, P.R. today houses a diverse array, well-organized & true-to-type, from genebanks in Trinidad (CRC) & Costa Rica (CATIE), consisting of ICS & UF clones + a smattering of others. Recently it sent out a graduate researcher, Stephanie Cosme, to canvas the island. She returned with good news: upwards of 70% of her collections from small plots, backyards, & isolated pockets (typical of P.R. since it lacks any large-scale cacáo plantings) uncovered old, relatively homogeneous Criollo. Perhaps the descendants of those Venezuelans Barrett mentioned?
These naturalized Criollos supply real-world proof for what we wrote years ago in the C-spot Chocolate Atlas to dispel notions that Criollo is a temperamental diva that lacks the guts to withstand hardships — they clearly select well enough to survive for centuries on an island prone to winds & hurricanes sweeping thru the Caribbean.
Puerto Rico may well nurture varietal seclusion because, like neighboring Dominican Republic, it’s rather disease-free. It could serve as a lab for these & the USDA accessions to be planted with a strategic plan in mind instead of the jumbled “hodge-pods” that characterize cacáo groves around the world.
Special thanks to Drs. Lyndel Meinhardt & Brian Irish of the USDA / ARS in Beltsville, MD & Mayaguez, Puerto Rico for contributing information to this article.
The Top 100:
A dedicated C-spotter inquired as to the Top 100s. Whether 100% unsweetened chocolate or $100 bars of chocolate, we’re not quite sure, but here we are, come to aid those in need of choco-insight.
Knowing how chocolate gets touted as the panacea (even the Dark stuff contains that awful – and poisonous, if we’re to believe the latest data — catalytic converter sugar), the only real healthy chocolate would be the unadulterated 100% variety. This aligns with yet another connotation of what the ‘C’ in the C-spot stands for: the Roman numeral C that equals 100.
100% cacáo-content used to be a punishing percentage, enough to crush a (gender-unspecified) person’s testicles. But times change. Today’s barsmiths are smoothing the rough spots. (Either that or after being brutalized by consuming so many unsweetened 100s the gonads are now making a run for it.)
Whatever the cause, here’s our list of the all-time very best:
Pralus’ 100 – while scaling to the stratospheric heights in the ratings when it first came out, it has gotten kinda old & brassy. Or during off-season harvests an overly cocoa buttered flab-hag. Nowhere near current state of the art. Ditto Noir Infini from Cluizel. Still, for those wishing to wince over tart acids sunk into a cocoa butter bath, take the plunge… then immerse thyself into the calmer Madagascar 100 from newcomer The Chocolate Tree.
Dark… Darker… Darkest. Without any added sugar, this just shuts the lights off. Totally Darksome, to bring out the contrast of this cacáo’s intrinsic highlights. And yet incredibly easy on the pal (for palate). A bar for novices who wish to be instant purists.
Another 100 for nubies is Hoya Verde. A bit dulled for an unsweetened which makes it all the more approachable & palatable. Few 100s come this well-mannered — true to the character of this varietal & a tribute to Esmeraldas’ genetic structure.
Fruition One Hundred Percent – the current state-of-the-art; head-on but not head-banging. Offers the illusion of 10 or even 15% sugar. In other words, comes replete with a genuine sweet spot. What 100 ever conjured that up? Leave it to culinary wizard Bryan Graham who has been knocking them out farther than a beast on steroids lately, breaking into the elite class of the Top 3 barsmiths in the Americas.
Whenever Domori finishes out of 1st place in any competition, especially to crude low-lights, we laugh (what are those handicapped committees thinking?). And while we ourselves debate some facets of Mack Domori’s IL100%Criollo, they’re just peccadillos to an otherwise sterling achievement. Likewise THE original chocolate baddass, his earlier Puro.
Massa Pura by Vestri – massive as in all cocoa mass but wielding the soft power of cacáo: pure, clean, & simple.
The buttered insights of Soma’s well-tempered Arcana 3-100 (3 refers to the triple-origin blend of D.R., Ghana, & Madagascar).
The now defunct Iara Pur (R.I.P.) by Coppeneur, an estate-grade chocolate whose cacáo was deracinated in favor of bananas (arrrgh) but prior to that produced an intimidating nut butter ‘man-dwich’. Aggressive flex, size & power of brute force with just enough inner-female – thanks to the cacáo strain & processing technique – to be ever-so-slightly sensitive. Not for the faint-hearted, & somewhat 1-dimensional – but what an irrefutable dimension: Canibalia. One bite of this & playing Dead Space video games felt relaxing.
Often 100%s amount to either a strength ‘n endurance test (just how much can the palate take) or a canceling / neutralizing process (the barsmith laboring to mitigate cacáo’s unsweetened chemical compounds, usually by larding on tons of cocoa butter). Marco Colzani at C-AMARO does it the old-skool way in his Ecuador 100: massaging & caressing the profile to sit bolt upright without fracturing a single taste-bud.
In the near future be on the lookout for another Top 100 which, from our sneak preview, could make for the best ever, perhaps even the Perfect Chocolate™, if, caveat emptor, properly handled.
Now for an update on the $100 Bar…
A few newsletters back we discussed how one of our stated objectives in 2009 to the Pearson Project that became Fortunato No. 4, was to be a part of the first $100 bar. To hasten that eventuality, while speaking on the keynote panel of the NW Chocolate Fest in 2012, we challenged North America’s arguably best barsmith to increase his benchmark to a trifling $25 only to be rebuffed by “the marketplace isn’t ready for it”.
Seems someone heard this & snickered “F that, I’ll see you & raise you 10 fold’.
Get ready for the $260 chocolate bar (a mere 50 grams, or less than 2 ounces. Just a little more than $5 per gram crumb).
Their ambition and audacity knows no bounds. The immersive website, the handcrafted slide-top box, & the enclosed tongs for handling the delicacy (nothing but the Spanish elm utilized for the fermentation cases shall come between chocolate ‘n tongue, in keeping with the terroir’s continuum) only partially inflates the US$260 per bar — a price based on a strict calculus of labor manhours. Nothing too ostentatious – like Alba truffles or edible gold leaf – overshadows the centerpiece. Even without the accessories, this is an indulgence by any standard.
Dylan sang, long after ‘the times they are achangin’, that ‘people are crazy / times are strange’.
W’all gone loco or somethin’?
Find out in this in-depth review on the $260 bar from TO’aK.
Millcreek Cacao Roasters, purveyors of Heirloom III from Ecuador, launched a Kickstarter campaign to develop an infusion method that requires specialized environment & architectural set-up. We tasted the prototypes which mesh flavorings effectively with their chocolate base, thanks to cacáo’s manifold & malleable properties (especially its readily absorbable lipids). So much so that the bars & the campaign are Kickstarter’s own Staff Pick. And for good reason: amazingly, Millcreek’s bars contain the essence without the substance of the infusions. Innovative & esoteric, ancient yet lightyears ahead of the pack. They merit support. ‘Tis the season. To give just click over to Millcreek’s Kickstarter Campaign.
Some responses to last month’s Newsletter:
The best newsletter yet. The editor’s pulpit on the C-spot™ is consistently witty, irreverent, ear-bending, sticky & dope, but this one was special…. so good it out meta-ed (& Metta-ed) all the meta-scryers & de-mystified. 10 on earfeel, 10 on mouthful. Grok on, Theobroman!
Love the dialogue between your Communications Director & the barsmith! I’m still laughing!
I enjoyed your take on the choco-fests & the overwhelming food drama. We’re in an age of Festivitus, where the only people making any money are the gatekeepers who organize the fest. I’m very empathetic to artisan food producers, especially chocolate makers, but I wonder how many would continue this mad occupation if offered a decent paying job.
Talk to Us
Lastly, a C-spotter notifies that a barsmith called the C-spot editor — not to his face but indirectly on some small forum — a “nimrod”. Ouch! Guess the guy still listens to Greenday. Well, at least he didn’t sink to monosyllabic levels, for which we are grateful. We could call him out as some “nimsack” & raise him to “nibblenuts” but we aim to be better than that.
the C-spot learned early on to avoid personal assassinations & only comment on the chocolate itself. Nonetheless barsmiths often pour their egos into their chocolate molds, so some reviews may be interpreted as personal attacks. We apologize in those cases & do all we can to clean up such ill-received references. Because, you know, we’re only human & the occasional sloppy occurs.
Another bean-to-bar-smith accused our (occasionally) humble publisher of being “a liar” about a certain flavor component to a specific bar of theirs which we discussed at length in a review after it was tested & analyzed (at our expense no less… the things we do for the choc community) only to eventually confess that the cacáo underwent “advanced fermentation”, then offered to send us free samples of a future release if we retracted / removed that aforementioned “lying” review. Our response: do you think we do this for free chocolate? We’re hardly that cheap. Y’all gotta offer a lot more to compromise our integrity. Just sayin’.
So instead of tit-for-tat, we invite anyone harboring grievances or even mere differences to engage in direct & substantive dialogue, fully transparent, person-to-person, as we’ve done consistently (to cite but one example, with Philipp Kauffmann of Original Beans). That way we all learn a bit & advance the cause while improving our lot & bettering our humanity.
Consider this a standing invitation. Our door is always open.
Brother can you spare me a bar… or 2?
Yeah, well, maybe 3. When in need, this loyal friend answers the call.
The cat won’t go out so look what the dog dragged in. The dog being ace chocolate-hound Der Schokoladentester aka Georg Bernardini who after carrying this latest haul stands as the truest Chocolate Warrior of them all. This amounts to a mere snack for him or a light app (as in appetizer) before he really uncracks the cargo for the main course.
Note that some stack 10 high & a few contain lab experiments / prototypes; neither a single duplicate in the entire inventory nor does this pic include the boxed-chocolate assortments + raw cacáo seeds (among the latter a super-special uniquity to be featured in an upcoming entry). In sum, over 100 barsmiths (roughly a third of the global total) adding up to 500+ units. Enough to fill a shop (hell, even the most “well-curated” chocolate retailers nowadays would raise their game with such a collection).
This snapshot goes out to all those who typically react to such online photos with “gee, I think I’ve eaten every one of those bars!” Take a closer look now. Really? If so then you’re probably, to very loosely paraphrase JFK, neglecting an important part of your life like your lover(s) & kids – or your homework & gaming / e-sports.
Anyone who correctly guesses the barsmith of the last box on the lower right, with an explanation of why it’s there (which also doubles as a hint), will win a free bar.
He’s back again… the Wild Man of Cacáo with more creations. Josef Zotter — chocolate miracle-worker…. & his daughter / able assistant Julia could be the pope
Batshit — a new exotic superfood or something… chocolate from Momotombo, Nicaragua
Castronovo scales the heights of Sierra Nevada – a mountain-grown cacáo at, reportedly, 6,000 feet / 1,800 meters altitude which places it amongst the highest on record
ATTN: Bargain Shoppers… TO’aK chocolate bar now on sale for $260 (oops, we already got to that)
Original Bean’s 40% Edel Weiss: Einstein applied to White Chocolate