Monday, May 18, 2015

SOMA released two luxury chocolate bars: one made from the coveted Porcelana beans, and the other a hybrid

A few weeks back, SOMA Chocolatemaker announced that they have gotten their hands on some of the infamous 'Porcelana' beans.  These highly coveted beans from Venezuela have been sought after by many chocolate makers for years. But they were just not available to buy.

'Porcelana' refers to the type of cocoa bean used to make chocolate. It is sought after by chocolate makers because of "its refined flavour profile, a perfect balance of acidity/fruit and lower levels of astringency and bitterness" (ref). Porcelana chocolate is considered to have a delicate flavour with mild nut, caramel and spice, but no one flavour is overwhelming, like in some origin chocolates.

The 'Porcelana' name comes from the colour of the unripe beans inside the cocoa pods, which are translucent-white, different from the brown colour of other cocoa varieties. The resulting chocolate made from these beans is still a brown colour, but even the darkest bars made from the beans look more like milk chocolate, than the dark chocolate that we are used to seeing.

Porcelana is a Criollo cacao type that grows only in one region in Venezuela - South of Lake Maracaibo. It is difficult to farm because it is fragile, and susceptible to disease and insects. So farmers began to grow other, sturdier varieties, which resulted in the very small supply we have today. But chocolate connoisseurs want more!  So in order to preserve pure Porcelana, a working plantation has been devoted to preserving pure Porcelana, as well as providing seedlings to farmers who want to try to farm it.

Soma received some pure Porcelana and a 'Porcelana Ocumare', a hybrid from a project called Criollo Santa Barbara (CSB), which, from what I understand is out of the preservation project. With that cacao, Soma made two bars: a Porcelana 75% chocolate bar, and a bar called the CSB Chama 70%.

I tasted the chocolate before I read Soma's informative blog post on how these two chocolate bars came to be.  I found I was having trouble distinguishing what made these two bars different from one another. They were very similar except for a slightly more cocoa-y flavour of the Porcelana, which could be explained by it being a 75%, instead if the 70% CSB. However, there was something a little...fruity, like the slight acidity of ripe berries in the Porcelana. Both bars were delicate like a nice cream (like half and half cream for coffee) flavour.

I could rarely taste the nuttiness that was promised on the package, but it was there and showed up more so in the Porcelana when I paired the two chocolates with an Alamos 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon (Argentina wine).  But it truly bothered me that I was not finding discernible differences between these chocolates.  I wondered if I had damaged my taste buds in some way?  But then I read Soma's article and felt better when they wrote: "The two bars sing a slightly different tune yet are clearly related." That was exactly what was confusing me. These are related. They are supposed to be similar.

Both chocolate bars are delicate, creamy and slightly nutty. Porcelana has an almost spice-like after taste. Because of the mild flavours of the two chocolate bars, I found I was drawn to the bolder flavoured Peru Nacional bar by Soma, which I also tasted (for the third time) at the same time. The Porcelana and CSB chocolates' mild flavours also highlighted the extreme nuttiness in Soma's Camino Verde Ecuador 70% bar (see notes on these chocolate bars below). But the Porcelana and CSB both grew on me over time, as I began to appreciate the creaminess and delicacy of this chocolate.

Traditionally very few chocolate makers have made Porcelana bars, but there are more available to taste these days. Namely, one by Italian chocolate maker, Amedei's Porcelana bar, is the most well-known world-wide and really had cornered the market for a long time. Rogue Chocolatier has a Porcelana bar ($18 U.S. for the 60 gram bar) that is renown within the U.S. craft chocolate arena. Also, Choklat in Calgary has made a Porcelana bar too.

You can buy Soma's Porcelana bar (for a very limited time) in either of their two Toronto locations or by e-mailing your order to them to be shipped to your door.  Learn more here:

Some tasting and product notes...

All four bars made by Soma (that I tasted  in the last two weeks) had the following ingredients:
Cacao beans, organic cane sugar and cacao butter (except for the Peru Nacional, which had just cacao beans and sugar; no added cacao butter).  Soma's bars all have a 'May contain' warning for trace amounts of nuts, dairy, soy and wheat.

SOMA's Porcelana 75%, Bean type: Criollo
This chocolate was delicate tasting with a lot of light cream flavour.  Some nuttiness and slight spice undertones. One might say this is a very relaxing taste, for times when you are in the mood for tea with cream and a little sugar.

SOMA's CSB Chama 70%, Bean type: Criollo
This delicate chocolate was sweeter than the Porcelana, but had the same very milky colour due to the translucent colour of the beans before fermentation and roasting (see the colour difference in the picture on the right - the CSB looks like milk chocolate compared to the other Peruvian 70% bar with it).  The flavour was creamy and lightly nutty and overall a very mild chocolate flavour.

SOMA's Peru Nacional 70%, Bean type: Nacional
This is an International award winner, and I can see why.  There is an upfront spice-like flavour that opens up to a delicate and sweet chocolate flavour, with a lingering cocoa and fruit taste. It has a bolder and more distinct flavour profile than Soma's two new Venezuelan bars: Porcelana and CSB. I wrote a little more about the Peru Nacional bar last Fall, just before it won it's grand award.

SOMA's Camino Verde Ecuador 70%, Bean type: Nacional
A heavy flavour of roasted nuts hit me upfront, particularly walnuts.  I almost wondered if it was made while Soma's flourless walnut cake was baking. There is still a delicate sweetness to the chocolate bar though.  Although not as enjoyable to me as the Peru Nacional, this one grew on me every day until I found myself very sad to be eating the last piece.


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