Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Fresco Part 3: Cocoa Roasting

Did you know that chocolate can be classified into 'roast' categories, much like coffee? Dark roast, medium roast, and light roast are all terms that can apply to chocolate because cocoa beans - the primary ingredient in chocolate - undergo a roasting process. Although we don't see this on most chocolate packaging now, we certainly could in future.

Some people don't believe in roasting cocoa beans at all before making chocolate with them. Thus, the 'raw chocolate' trend emerged a few years ago. And it can be argued that only a handful of chocolate makers successfully make good tasting raw chocolate.

Others believe that roasting is simply necessity.  Bacteria, bugs, and other nasty contaminants that  can rest on the cocoa beans during fermentation and transport can be effectively destroyed through the roasting process.

Finally, there are those fine chocolate makers and chocolate enthusiasts who believe that the roast has an astounding affect on flavour, and that every cocoa bean type and origin should have a 'perfect' roast level, one that highlights the true flavours of the beans.

Rob Anderson, owner of Fresco Chocolate, conducts different roasting tests and releases his chocolate bars with a variety of roast levels, so that the consumer can taste the difference. He categorizes each batch into three groups: 'light', 'medium' and 'dark'.  I tasted two different origins of chocolate by Fresco, each made with different roasts.  The first was a Peru (San Martin) 70% chocolate made with a light roast, and with a dark roast. The second was the Papua New Guinea origin of chocolate, made with light, medium and dark.  Below are my notes on how each roast level affected the flavour of the chocolate.

Peru San Martin 70% Dark Chocolate, Recipe 225 (light roast, medium conche) and Recipe 226 (dark roast, medium conche):

Both chocolate bars, the light and dark roast, have a milky colour with a slight tobacco or smoke in the aroma, but a taste of roast in the flavour, even the 'light roast' chocolate. The texture is fairly smooth, and there is a soft creaminess to them. The overall flavour has a pleasantly bitter cocoa and roast taste, with some grape and plum flavour.

And although similar, there was a clear difference between the dark and light roasts. The dark roast brought out a deeper plum and grape fruit flavour, but in the light roast it was more of a sour grape flavour, brighter and more acidic.

Papua New Guinea 69% Dark Chocolate, Recipe 219 (light roast, medium conche), Recipe 222 (light roast, unconched), Recipe 220 (medium roast, medium conche) and Recipe 221 (dark roast, medium conche):


This flight of chocolate bars was very interesting.  A distinct - but not overwhelming - smoke flavour was upfront, which opened up to fruit flavours.

In the dark roast chocolate, the smoke flavour was less detectable, coming off more as a woody roast flavour mixed with tropical fruit. In the medium roast, the smoke flavour was quite sharp and there was a robust tropical fruit flavour with pronounced acidity. So the darker roast seems to have mellowed the chocolate and blended the flavours, making it slightly easier on the palate and certainly less astringent. 

In both the conched and unconched versions of the Papau New Guinea lightly roasted chocolates, there is a strong upfront smoke flavour, which opens to a purple grape flavour combined with tropical fruit flavours as it melts.

What did I learn about the 'roast'?

What this taught me is that fine chocolate makers do not have an easy job.  If the goal is to make the best tasting chocolate possible, then seemingly endless testing must be done to find the perfect roast for the beans being worked with. They must ask: should I highlight bold flavours, or subdue acidic ones? Will a heavy roast flavour compliment this bean's flavour, or is a light roast preferable?

Chocolate making is all about creation, artistry and seeking perfection. And chocolate tasting is all about identifying what steps the chocolate maker has undertaken to create what you are tasting, and deciding if you like what they've done. Fresco certainly gives the taster an opportunity palate train, to learn and become better tasters.

Coming up tomorrow: Cacao harvest year and its influence on chocolate flavour.

Read about how 'conching' affects chocolate flavour here.
Read the introduction to this series on Fresco chocolate here.


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