Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Organic cacao from the Philippines that makes delicious chocolate

Have you tasted chocolate made from cocoa beans that are grown in the Philippines? I hadn't, until recently when I received some samples of both organic, and non-organic single origin cocoa beans of Philippine origin. I also received fresh coconut oil and a sample of coconut sugar also grown in the same region of the Philippines.

The organic Philippine cocoa beans, nibs and liquor comes from Davao del Norte, a province in the Davao region of the country. The cacao was planted by cooperative members and individual farmers organized into a corporation, which processes the beans by fermenting, drying and in some cases grinding them. The beans are Trinitario type and are certified organic by Control Union, with USDA, EU and JAS certification. Also, the corporation is a member of the Rainforest Alliance.

The organic cocoa beans were some of the largest beans I've seen. The picture to the right shows just how much bigger the organic cocoa beans from the Philippines were (they are the bottom beans in the picture on the right) compared to some fine quality Brazil beans (on top in the picture) that I had on hand.  They were so large, in fact, that I was able to hand-shell the beans myself in no time at all.

When I tasted the Philippine organic beans against several other cocoa beans of different origins, I found them mild, less acidic, and less citrus fruity. Overall, the flavour was nice and the beans easy to palate on their own.

Once made into chocolate, the Philippine beans produced a lovely chocolate with a sweetness that was surprising. It was the sweetness of light cream and yet tasted of aged butter all at the same time. The chocolate also had hints of coconut and banana, and some animal/farm-life character, with some dried fruit, prune and raisin taste. The chocolate also made me think of coffee - although a mild cup with milk (not bold and black espresso). There was a mild roast flavour (that had everything to do with my roast - fairly light at 25 minutes at 325º F).  And overall, I found very little acidity in the beans and the resulting chocolate had no astringency.

It would be a great base to pair with anything - perhaps coffee, and with salt for a 'sweet and salty' combination. I also think, because of the low acidity, it would have made a lovely 85% dark chocolate and perhaps a good 100% dark chocolate (although this is just speculation since I didn't test it) because of the low acidity and mild flavour profile.

If a chocolate maker wanted to have single-estate grown beans, that is a possibility. Use the contact information at the end of this post to make this request.

The non-organic cocoa nibs (broken and shelled raw cocoa bean pieces) that I tried were also of Trinitario-type (with a few stray Criollo beans) from Davao del Sur, which is directly South-West of Davao del Norte where the organic beans were grown. These beans also had low acidity and were quite nice. They tasted wonderfully when roughly ground with no sugar added.

I did make chocolate from the nibs, but used the coconut sugar sample that I also received with the cocoa beans, instead of cane sugar (as I did with the organic beans), so it is a bit harder to speak to the flavour, since the coconut sugar was the predominant flavour. But overall, I found the flavour powerful (in a good way) and also had flavour tones of coffee and cocoa (see pic right of the chocolate).

I also received organic coconut sugar from the Philippines, as I mentioned above, which came from Panabo, Davao del Norte.  It was great because it was dry enough to use in the chocolate refiner. It has a slightly bitter taste (compared to cane sugar), which contributed to the boldness of the dark chocolate flavour.

Since I use a lot of coconut sugar on a regular basis, I could compare this sample to others. I found this to have a fairly strong coconut flavour compared to some store-bought coconut sugars, but certainly a wonderful sugar to use in a coconut-flavoured chocolate bar, and in a chocolate bar where a slight brown-sugar/molasses flavour is desired. In truth, if I made chocolate with this sugar again, I might make a 60% to 65% dark chocolate, or perhaps a bean-to-bar milk chocolate with a caramel crunch or cinnamon-cookie flavour. Also, this coconut sugar would be wonderful for baking in oatmeal cookies, banana bread or coffee cake as a healthier replacement for regular cane sugar or commercial brown sugar.

The virgin coconut oil came from Padada, Davao del Sur and is considered 'fresh' since the oil is packaged within 48 hours of harvesting the fruit. It is fair trade certified as well as Control-Union certified with USDA, EU, Japan and Korea. It certainly has a strong coconut flavour, but a lovely appearance and worked well with chocolate.  I'd recommend using it for a meltaway milk chocolate truffle, or in chocolate bark with intended coconut flavour, such as coconut bark or coconut truffles, bars, icy squares, etc. That way, you won't need to add coconut flavour, just the oil will be enough flavouring and topped with shredded coconut. 

I'd also recommend combining the oil with a semi-sweet chocolate for a less-potent combination. I made meltaway truffles with the 70% dark chocolate that I had made from the coconut sugar and Philippine Davao del Sur beans (see pics on right). But realized the combination was a bit too bitter, so I would increase the sugar in the chocolate next time to make a semi-sweet for a meltaway truffle combination that everyone would love.

Overall, my experience with the Philippine cocoa beans and cocoa nibs from Davao del Norte and Davao del Sur was very positive. I am really enjoying the chocolate bars I made from these beans (not all by myself, of course)! The organic bars are excellent to include in a tasting line-up, to show a mild-flavoured chocolate (compared to more acidic, fruity chocolates or nutty-flavoured ones). If you are a chocolate maker, and interested in buying these cacao beans and/or the coconut sugar and virgin coconut oil, contact:

JT SocEnt Ventures, Inc. 
297-B M. A. Reyes St.
Little Baguio, San Juan City 1500
E-mail:  jowelllt at (@) gmail.com

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

New Toronto-based subscription service is serving up sweet delights

Cacao Avenue is Toronto's newest monthly chocolate subscription and gift box service. Once subscribed, you receive a five-piece package of artisanal chocolate from the Toronto area. They send you or your gifted friend, business associate or loved one, a lovely package of fine chocolates that fit into a variety of chocolate taste categories.

The overall presentation is gorgeous. Beautiful, actually. Based on my experience with the subscription box I received last month, I think it is a really lovely gift to send to anyone, with a nice array of products.

Cacao Avenue's mission is to help people "reimagine" the way they eat and purchase artisan chocolate. "With every box, we want to share the finest chocolate creations made by chocolatiers who push the boundaries of their craft." They are creating monthly chocolate collections intended to delight and surprise chocolate lovers.

The monthly subscription costs $48 per box which is reduced to $45 and $43 if you pre-pay for three- or six-month subscription packages.

So what was inside? Here is the overview of my box sent at the end of last month:

Soul Chocolate
I've written about Soul Chocolate on this blog before, as one of Canada's newest chocolate makers. They make single origin chocolate in three flavours (currently), Venezuela, Papua New Guinea and Madagascar. In the Cacao Avenue box was a favourite of mine: the Madagascar bar. It is dark roasted and lightly fruity in flavour, with a citrus and berry taste that is common to cocoa beans from Madagascar.  Learn more on the Cacao Avenue website at: https://www.cacaoavenue.ca/pages/featuring.

CHOCOLATES x Brandon Olsen
Brandon Olsen uses bright colours and artistic flair to create truffles that truly surprise even the seasoned chocolate lover.  I was surprised by just how bright and colourful they were, even though the included card gave a hint of the brilliant colours to be found inside. These were the chocolate truffles featured:

Raspberry, Rose & Fennel - very delicious, a little bit sweet and some savoury with the rose and fennel.

Yuzu, Sake - the texturing on this chocolate is quite interesting - it is almost fury and very fun to look at. The flavours are subtle and meets a pure chocolate truffle standard.

Sherry, Milk Chocolate - the Sherry was also subtle, but a hint of alcohol still lingered in this delicious milk chocolate truffle.

Mary's Brigadeiro
Brigadeiros are Brazilian-style truffles, and I was quite impressed with the clean edges and attractiveness of these little balls of sweetness. The first one that I tasted was a dark chocolate - the 'Noir' - and it was like a big ball of fudge and sweet in an icing sugar way. The outer crispy layer of tiny rock-like candy was nice, texturally.  The other chocolate also had the appearance of a dark chocolate, and was rolled in longer chocolate candies.  But upon first taste, there was a milky creaminess that indicated milk chocolate (Mary's used 33% Belgium milk chocolate for this).  Again, it was very fudge-like.  When I was a child, I LOVED fudge, especially this kind of sweet fudge with crispy outer edges. And I think many adults would love this sweet and fudgy style of 'truffle' now (I am into less sweet things these days, but I certainly didn't mind eating these!). 

The caramel and vanilla bean were equally delicious. Read more about Mary's at: https://www.cacaoavenue.ca/pages/previous-features.

A stone-ground bean-to-bar chocolate maker based in Toronto, this chocolate is vegan, gluten-free, and soy-free, and is slightly gritty in texture, highlighting just the flavour of the cacao bean in its more natural form. The ChocoSol bar in my Cacao Avenue package featured vanilla and sea salt combined with 65% cacao, making for a sweet and delectable combination. The balance of vanilla was perfect, not too much flavour, but also not too little. A very good example of stone-ground chocolate. You can learn more about this chocolate maker on Cacao Avenue's website at: https://www.cacaoavenue.ca/pages/previous-features.

The Golden Apple Confectionary Inc.
The Crème Brûlée white chocolate bar featured by Cacao Avenue was similar to the Soma roasted bunny that I've mentioned on this blog before. The top layer of the white chocolate is toasted by torch and has the wonderful taste of roasted marshmallows, or like that top caramelized sugar layer on Crème Brulee. It is a wonderful white chocolate experience that everyone should taste! Learn more about Stephanie Cart, the chocolatier on Cacao Avenue's website: https://www.cacaoavenue.ca/pages/featuring.

Cocoa Beans: Where it all begins
Since the cocoa bean is the main component of fine chocolate, Cacao Avenue has included a small packet of cocoa beans, so you can smell, taste and experience them, and appreciate all the steps that turn those bitter beans into wonderful chocolate.

To learn more about Cacao Avenue, or sign up for a monthly subscription, visit the website at: www.cacaoavenue.ca.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Chocolate Maker Unconference and The Northwest Chocolate Festival

I am freshly back from Seattle where I attended the chocolate maker Unconference and the larger Northwest Chocolate Festival.  I am a little tired, but so inspired by the stories of other chocolate makers and industry professionals that I met while on my travels.

These are (nearly) all of the craft, bean-to-bar chocolates that I brought back from Seattle!
What a haul!

The chocolate maker Unconference was a two-day event where chocolate makers, suppliers, impassioned chocolate writers and researchers, and even a few cacao farmers, came together to learn from each other. It was a beautifully open-concept, where we decided as a group, what topics to discuss based on a sticky-note voting system. And in each session throughout the day, brought together small, medium, and in some cases, large chocolate makers to learn from each other. What I learned is that everyone approaches chocolate making differently, and can all learn from each other, whether they have been doing this job for a while and have scaled up to larger factories and equipment, or if they're making their second batch of chocolate with equipment designed for a small workshop.

I joined a few sessions where I knew I could learn, and then on the second day, I joined a few where I knew I could be helpful.  The conference format encouraged open discussion and the 'Law of Two Feet', where you could walk from session to session and join in when you like, in order to find the right topic that was helpful or interesting to you.  Many people used this 'law' and were able to pick and choose based on the conversations going on at any given moment. If some groups of people felt their needs were not being met, they would break off into smaller workgroups and discuss something that could be more helpful to their own chocolate business.

Chocolate makers could also bring their chocolate for a massive chocolate sampling session, and if they liked, get feedback from other chocolate makers on their bars.

My overall experience at this conference reiterated my sentiments in the article I recently wrote for Archive, a Canadian-focused magazine, where, based on my discussions with many new Canadian chocolate makers, I found them to be collaborating, rather than fiercely competing with each other. This is a great way to learn and grow together, and help fuel awareness of the bean-to-bar industry within Canada.  I saw the same thing at this conference among American chocolate makers, and bean-to-bar chocolate makers from all over the world.

At the Northwest Chocolate Festival, the sampling was out of this world. Whether you are a chocolate maker looking for inspiration from new textures, origins or inclusion bars, or if you are just a person who loves chocolate, this is the event for you! I must have tasted more than 50 samples of chocolate on Saturday alone, and then I purchased my weight in the delicious stuff. I bought a few Christmas gifts too, and sat in several sessions that were designed for both the general public to learn about chocolate and confection making, as well as for the chocolate maker to help with sourcing cacao, equipment and other needs.

My weekend ended at a fun Saturday night party, with trapeze-style dance artists, another chocolate tasting, an awards ceremony, DJ, and a final trek to a Seattle-based ginger beer bar with my new industry friends. On Sunday, the chocolate-tasting and fun continued for Seattle residents at the Northwest Chocolate Fest, while I flew back to Toronto to stay with a friend, and then made the long 7-hour drive back to Manitoulin Island. 
I even picked up two huge bags of cocoa beans along the way, from my friend Juan Gonzalez, of the Mexican Arabica Bean Company in Toronto.

Overall it was worth the travel time and the expense.  I learned a lot, made new friends and had the opportunity to meet many people in person with whom I've spoken only over the phone or through social media in the past.

If you are considering attending either the Unconference or the Northwest Chocolate Festival, visit the festival website is: http://www.nwchocolate.com/.

If you have any questions about the festival or event, or met me at the event and want to connect, feel free to e-mail me at info (at) ultimatelychocolate.com.

Below are some pictures I took over the weekend. Enjoy!

Fun new packaging idea designed by students and showcased
by their teacher at the Unconference during a packaging discussion.
One of the nicest couples in chocolate: Erik and Ariane Hansen
from DesBarres Chocolate in Uxbridge, Ontario.

The makers of Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate
win an award for best 'Inclusion' chocolate bar.
Making chocolate the traditional way,
a great way to demonstration chocolate's past,
so we can see how it has evolved and what it has become.
Beautiful displays of chocolate, like this one, were everywhere at the Northwest Chocolate Festival.
This chocolate is not American-made, but rather made in the country of origin (Philippines),
a way of bringing more money to the farmers and residents of cacao-growing regions.

Event attendees create art out of cocoa beans
when they need to take a break from chocolate tasting.
Beautiful displays of cacao and Mayan art and culture
at the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle.
Fresh cacao pods opened in a presentation on cacao,
 and chocolate's true origins.

Wine, port and spirits were also being sampled and paired
with chocolate in the designate 'bar' area.
The perfect afternoon delight.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Day 1 of The Chocolate Unconference: THE place to learn about making chocolate

Yesterday was a day of learning for me. It was all chocolate talk, all day long. And boy did I love it.

The Chocolate Unconference in Seattle is a place for chocolate makers to learn from each other, to discuss their challenges and successes, and openly talk shop. It is also a great place to put faces to names that have lingered around the industry for years, and meet the wonderful people behind the chocolate that many of us bean-to-bar enthusiasts love to eat.

Yesterday I spent the day meeting all sorts of people, from cocoa bean suppliers to chocolate curators to chocolate makers.  I also met several equipment makers and suppliers, and learned more in one day  about equipment needs for a chocolate maker than I ever expected to. With the guys from Tomric and Selmi reps, Cocoatown and Spectra all at one meeting table, how could I not learn a thing or two?

As I head into today, I will absorb as much as possible, and meet many more chocolate makers, and hopefully taste a lot of their fine chocolate in this morning's group chocolate tasting session (that's right folks, there is no better conference to be at!).

I will report back tomorrow, and tell you all about it, along with the great finds at the Northwest Chocolate Fest in Seattle! If you are in the Seattle area, and want to explore the world of bean-to-bar chocolate on Saturday or Sunday, check the website for ticket information: http://www.nwchocolate.com.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

100% Dark Chocolates that Surprised Me

There is an enormous difference between the taste of a cocoa bean, unsweetened and freshly shelled, to the taste of that same cocoa bean ground into chocolate liquor. For some reason, I find the beans more palatable than unsweetened chocolate. The unsweetened chocolate can often be acidic and bitter, and generally tough to get down. But of course, some cocoa beans are special. And some chocolate makers have the magic touch and know just what to do with 100% dark chocolate, to reduce that natural acidity.

After my first few attempts at eating 100% dark chocolate made with Madagascar beans, I decided that I would avoid those fruitier, more acidic type of 100% chocolates in the future. I found most Madagascar-origin chocolate bars 100% (and even with as low as 85% cocoa solids) too acidic to be enjoyable. For me, a Madagascar really shines at about 60% to 70% dark chocolate - the sweetness balances the acidity and brings out the lovely fruit flavours in the bean.

So when I headed into a tasting of 100% Chocolat Madagascar and Sirene's 100% Madagascar and 100% Ecuador chocolate bars, I was not all that excited. But upon first taste of each chocolate bar, I was pleasantly surprised.

Sirene's two chocolate bars were very mild. In fact, the Ecuador was one of the most pleasant 100% chocolate bars I have EVER tasted. It was almost sweet on its own with a light cream and nuttiness. And the Madagascar bar was not boldly acidic, as I expected it might be. I still wouldn't say it showcased an overly 'fruity' flavour, as we often think of Madagascar chocolate, but it certainly allowed the flavours to shine.

The Chocolat Madagascar brand's 100% dark chocolate was also not as bold a I thought it might be. There certainly was a bitter edge to it and a bit of an acidic bite, but it was milder than some 100% Madagascar chocolates that I've tasted in the past. I did enjoy each piece and its bitter cocoa and lightly acidic aftertaste.

This tasting taught me not to give up on specific types of chocolate, and showed me how each chocolate bar is always a surprise. So if you are like I was, and wary of some 100% dark chocolates, just dive in and you might be pleasantly surprised! And if you haven't tried any 100% dark chocolate bars before, I strongly suggest the Sirene Ecuador-Madagascar duo as an introduction to unsweetened fine chocolate. See the picture and caption below for more information on this chocolate bar.

I am now heading off to the Craft Chocolate Maker's Unconference and the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle for the remainder of the week! I can't wait to pick up more Sirene chocolate, along with a boatload of craft chocolate bars to tell you all about here on the blog! Have a great week folks!

These  two chocolate bars by Sirene are a great duo.
If you are new to 100% dark chocolate, they are nice and mild,
particularly the Ecuador chocolate bar - perfect to train your palate
and transition yourself to the boldness of 100% dark chocolate.
For more information, visit www.sirenechocolate.com.