Sunday, June 10, 2018

I made five batches of chocolate with different percentages of cocoa solids from Ucayali River Cacao, and here is what I found...

There is one single origin cacao that has suddenly popped up everywhere during the last year: Ucayali River Cacao, coming from the Amazon, near Pucallpa, Peru. Chocolate makers are launching Ucayali origin bars at rapid speed, most staying within the 70% dark chocolate range, with just a few others venturing out beyond 70% cocoa solids.  Last year, only a small handful of makers were producing Ucayali bars, including Sirene Chocolate (called the Tingo Maria bar) and Letterpress (Ucayali 70%), both winning international awards for their bars.


See all those award stickers?
This origin - and the chocolate maker - is a winner!
Then this year, a slew of chocolate makers won Academy of Chocolate (AoC) awards in the 2018 competition, including Daniel Haran, owner of Chocolat Monarque in Montreal, who just won an Academy of Chocolate Gold for his 80% Ucayali bar.  Goodnow Farms won an AoC Silver medal for its 70% Ucayali bar, Coco Chocolate Company of Kingston, Ontario and Letterpress of California won 2018 AoC Bronze for their 70% Ucayali bars, as did Lemuel Chocolate, and I can't even keep track of all the other Ucayali River Cacao wins. I did not submit any of my Ucayali dark chocolate bar experiments, because they are not a part of my product line-up, but seeing the list of winners, I wished I had because the flavour of the beans stand out above many other cocoa bean origins.

Why are these cocoa beans so darn good?
Although regional factors affect the flavour, Ucayali River Cacao (URC) is an organization that lets the farmers do their farming thing, and URC takes care of the rest, so the cacao is treated with the same high quality fermentation and drying techniques across the board. A consistent product is produced from a naturally inconsistent bean.

URC works to produce the best cacao by picking up the wet beans from farmers in the region every 15 days, then centrally processing it for a consistent flavour and streamlined process. How does this help? Well, if each farmer were to try to ferment their own beans, the results could be less flavourful, because many small farmers do not have enough beans to fill a fermentation bin at once, and therefore optimal temperatures can not be reached during fermentation for a good flavour profile. In addition, fermentation and drying are additional skills the farmer must learn, which reduces their time to concentrate on producing good cacao on the farm and increasing production. URC solves this problem for farmers. They also pay farmers a price higher than market value to encourage future efforts in farming.

Experimenting with the beans...
I bought a few 5kg bags of Ucayali River Cacao between last Fall and this winter, and spent months experimenting. The smell upon opening the bags was that of pure cacao heaven. Each raw cocoa bean has its own aroma when you open the bags, and the Ucayali River Cacao had a wonderful aroma unlike any I have smelled before. I had to stop myself from entirely immerging my head in the bag to get a long, wonderful whiff.

The beans were beautiful, and nearly no strange bits in them. They were easy to sort and lovely to work with. Having heard of the amazing flavours of this cacao, and based on the appearance, a simple cut test and the smell, I decided to apply a very light roast to all the beans. I really wanted the bean flavours to shine through from my first experiments.


I made a 70% dark chocolate immediately, and added a solid amount of cocoa butter just to ensure I made the same recipe as a few other experimental origin chocolate bars that I had on hand, in order to get a good origin taste comparison. As chocolate makers, we all have our own 'cocoa butter philosophy' and I like the original French-style creamy mouth-feel for a 70% chocolate bar (although my philosophy on cocoa butter is dependent on the cocoa bean itself - after experimenting, if an exceptional bean shines, I usually try a second batch with no or less cocoa butter to feature more of the bean favours).  In this 70% bar, where I applied a light roast, the fruity flavours were quite noticeable, with a lemon tang and strong cocoa notes, and some woody undertones. At 70% cocoa solids, it was certainly packed with a flavour punch.

I then made a 100% with no cocoa butter added, just the beans refined for 2 days in the stone melangeur.  It was a beautiful unsweetened chocolate, with mild flavours of fruit (cherry and perhaps tangerine), strong woody notes, and some bold - yet not overpowering - acidity. The flavour reminded me of a rustic wood cabin on a sunny day.

I followed that with a batch of 85% Ucayali dark chocolate with 5% cocoa butter, and immediately followed that with a 90% Ucayali dark chocolate with 10% cocoa butter. My reasoning was that a bean with a lot of acidity might need a little more cocoa butter at a high percentage in order to calm down the acidity a bit, and give the taster a more enjoyable experience with less sugar. As many regular chocolate tasters reduce sugar from their diets, and turn to 90% and above dark chocolate, it can be difficult to find bars that are not so extreme and bitter in flavour. I wondered if the Ucayali could be a good option at a high percentage for someone new to bitter chocolate.

So if you've been following closely...
...you'll know that both the 85% and the 90% dark chocolate bars contained 80% beans, but simply contained varying amounts of cocoa butter and sugar. And I tell you, I was surprised by how different they turned out in favour!

The 90% was elegant, mild in flavour, creamy in texture and overall had that delicate feel of a Porcelana or Soma's CSB Chama bar, but with some after taste of fruit flavours and woody notes. The added cocoa butter really softened the edges, giving the chocolate a palatability of something a little sweeter than the average 90% bar. However, it was less interesting than the 85%, which offered a bold fruitiness and strong notes of citrus acidity that hit the palate upfront, with mild cedar and wood notes also rounding out the flavour. 



The 100% dark chocolate bar was a good solid-tasting unsweetened bar, which could have stood up to some of the best 100% dark bars on the market, BUT also oddly less interesting than the 85% and 90% bars. What I learned from the 100% was that the Ucayali River cocoa beans really shine when a little sugar is added to highlight the flavour. As chocolate makers, we are continually pushing the limits, but we must remember that sugar has always been used as a way to highlight cocoa bean flavours, and not be afraid to use a little more if it enhances the experience of the chocolate by the greatest number of people.


Finally I made a milk chocolate bar....
I also decided to make a 68% dark-milk chocolate bar, which had only 13% sugar in it. I figured it would highlight the flavours of the bean, while introducing a nice melt-in-your-mouth feature to the chocolate. The result was a very delicate, creamy milk chocolate, with not a strong 'terrior' flavour of the cocoa bean. The delicate nature of it was quite nice, and could be addictive, but I wondered if a 50 to 60%, light on the cocoa butter and strong on the beans, might have been a better composition.

This 68% Ucayali milk chocolate bar was more dark than milk,
but with a delicate creamy mouthfeel and taste.

So what did I learn...
I learned that a little sugar goes a long way when it comes to some beans. These beans are truly flavourful because they have been treated just right, and they taste great on their own, and made into a very dark and unsweetened chocolate, but their flavours truly shine when a little sugar is added, about 15% to 30%. With that, the chocolate comes alive and really begins to tell its story.


Find Ucayali origin chocolate bars and beans near you...
You can find Ucayali River Cacao origin chocolate bars all throughout North America now, so just check the website of the producers for a chocolate maker in your area, at: https://ucayalirivercacao.wordpress.com/

Check out an event by the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI) taking place in Canton, MA on June 19th: https://www.instagram.com/p/BjYAoD8DQLG/?utm_source=ig_share_sheet&igshid=tog4eodt36we You can taste Goodnow Farms Ucayali chocolate bar, and other makers' Ucayali bars, along with beer pairings, and meet the maker of Goodnow Farms.


Learn more about the Ucayali River in Peru at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ucayali_River and this wonderful region that grows some of the best cacao in the world.

Buy the beans from Juan Gonzalez from the Mexican Arabica Bean Company in Toronto: https://www.mabco.ca/.

The Ucayali beans...roasted.

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