Monday, July 23, 2018

Horizontal chocolate tastings, Mexico-origin chocolate, and Goodnow Farms

According to the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI for short), a "horizontal tasting" is when you taste chocolate made from the "same primary raw material" (ref: Instagram, June 2018). An example would be the tasting event organized by the FCCI and Goodnow Farms in Massachusetts last month, where the event organizers lined up many chocolate bars made from the same coveted Ucayali River Cacao beans in Peru, but all made by different chocolate makers. This allows a taster to see how each chocolate maker has handled the beans, and to taste the different roast profiles, the methods of grinding and refining the chocolate, and the chosen textures of the chocolate to bring out subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) flavour differences from the same beans.

I can rarely conduct a horizontal tasting, because I live in Canada and so far from major city centres where I might get my hands on different brands of chocolate bars made with the same cocoa beans. But I do try to every now and then, particularly when I have been traveling or to chocolate festivals, or through online orders, such as Marou's and Indi Chocolate's Lam Dong origin bars pictured below:

Other times, I buy bars all made with cocoa beans grown in the same country, and I don't worry about whether or not it came from the same farm or co-op (i.e. the Dick Taylor bar pictured above is made from cocoa beans from the Tien Giang region of Vietnam) . This allows me to taste a range of chocolate from all over the country of origin, giving me some idea of the general tastes of the cacao of that country. For instance, all Spring and Summer, I've been tasting cacao (and making chocolate from it) from co-ops and single farms all over Colombia, and there are some consistent flavours: honey and panela flavours, some fruit but not strong, balanced acidity. Other flavours will be prominent one way or the other among samples, but in general these are the common notes I've found.

You can find these types of similarities among cacao of other countries as well: Ecuador often has nuts or floral notes, many Peru bars can have a mild flavour that is balanced, Venezuela with notes of cream, and Madagascar has citrus, red berries and sometimes raisin flavour notes.

But what about Mexico origin chocolate?
With Mexico origin chocolate, however, there has been little available in the craft chocolate industry until recently.  I have been working with some Mexican beans for some time, and I am still figuring out the flavours of these rather strong-tasting citrus-flavoured beans. The beans come from Hacienda Jesus Maria located near the Comalcalco city and the ancient Mayan Comalcalco archaeological site, in the larger region of Tabasco, Mexico. The flavours that I've found after numerous tastings and many batches of chocolate are: citrus, fruit, leather, tree-nuts including hazelnut, and grass or hay.

The owner of the Chocolate Project in Victoria, BC, tasted my Mexico origin chocolate and offered up flavour notes of "green grass, papaya, vegetation and a bit of leather". I personally, find it a very interesting taste combination that keeps you coming back for more out of curiosity, but certainly not something I would upfront introduce to someone with a palate for commercial sweet chocolate and vanilla-flavoured chocolate. It seems to suit the palate of someone who likes savory dishes and a lot of salt or lemon in their food and desserts.

The smell of the beans is quite different than any other cocoa bean that I work with: sharp, acidic, and very nutty. The colour is mixed between white Criollo beans and darker-shaded Trinitario-type beans. The resulting dark chocolate appears like a beautiful shade of milk chocolate, even though no milk is added to the bar, which completely contrasts the dark shades of my other chocolate bars, like my 70% Honduras bar, or the Ucayali Peru bar I occasionally offer on special edition.

So I've been wanting to know how other chocolate makers have treated these beans, and the resulting flavours of their chocolate, but finding others has not been an easy task. So I was super excited when I happened upon Goodnow Farms booth at the Northwest Chocolate Festival, and found their light-shaded 77% dark chocolate bar made from Mexican beans that Goodnow describes as Almendra Blanca or "white almond" cocoa beans, which produce a fantastically light shade of dark chocolate. I could clearly tell the beans were of the same region as mine came from. And in fact, I later learned that we get our beans from the same farm.

The light-shaded chocolate on top is Goodnow Farms'
Mexico 77% dark chocolate bar, the dark-shaded chocolate bar
underneath it is their Ucayali Peru dark chocolate bar. No milk was added to the Mexico bar
and it has a higher percentage of cacao solids, yet it looks like milk chocolate.

The Horizontal Tasting: Two Chocolates, Same Cocoa Farm

When I tasted Goodnow Farms' bar on its own (without my Mexico Organic chocolate bar present in Seattle when I bought Goodnow's), the flavour notes seemed similar - some hay and leather, nuts, and curious bold acidic flavours of citrus. However, when I got this bar home, and again when I bought another one from The Chocolate Project in May, I had the opportunity to taste Goodnow's and mine side-by-side. At first, it was clear that the two bars are made from beans of the same farm. But by directly comparing the two, strong notes of hazelnut shined in the Goodnow Farms' bar. In fact, the hazelnut flavours in Goodnow Farms' bar was so pronounced, that it tasted like hazelnut butter had been added to the chocolate. Whereas mine had a much more upfront citrus punch with a little taste of fruit, and less hazelnut notes, which interestingly had seemed more prominent when tasted alone.

So you see, it was only the direct comparison tasting that truly showed the differences in flavour, which is all in how each chocolate maker has treated the beans, through roasting, refining, conching and aging of the chocolate. Also, there could be some differences if Goodnow's beans came from a different harvest time than mine did. And not to mention that Goodnow makes their bar with 77% cocoa solids, and mine has 70% cocoa, contributing to difference in flavour. They also (impressively) press their own cocoa butter from the same beans.

Interestingly, both Goodnow Farms and Ultimately Chocolate (that's me) make chocolate on actual farms. So perhaps there is a little earthiness, grass and hay in the air that influences the chocolate too :-). 

Something to ponder: Does the environment of the chocolate maker influence the
taste of the chocolate just as much as the terrior of the cocoa growing region?

And truly this 'horizontal tasting' opened my eyes to the amazing differences each chocolate maker can create when using the same beans. Although there can be similarities in the flavour notes, there are distinct and unique differences too that make a 'chocophile' like myself want to delve in and taste chocolate bars from every maker in the world, even when the beans come from the same place. Each maker has their own passion for chocolate, the tastes and flavour profiles, and applies their own unique process, creating something truly unique to their own brand. This is what I love about craft chocolate.

More about Goodnow Farms...
My experience with Goodnow Farms' chocolate has been amazing so far. In addition to the Almendra Blanca Mexico bar, I have tasted their Peru Ucayali chocolate bar, and a few others in Seattle at the Northwest Chocolate Festival last year. The quality is clearly quite good. They have also been winning an abundance of awards, and there was some buzz around their chocolate at the festival, so I was glad to have the opportunity to taste it.

Owner Tom Rogan and his wife Monica quit life in the city to move to Sudbury, MA to start up Goodnow Farms, while raising a young family. Tom sold his television production company (which produced Ace of Cakes, can you believe it?! That happened to be one of my favourite shows of all times, so much so that someone gave me the Ace of Cakes book and there happens to be a bio of Tom in it. So needless to say, I was super excited when I got to speak with him about his growing chocolate business for this blog!), and they dove head-first into making chocolate with direct trade cocoa beans on an 11-acre farm.

I highly recommend that you check out their chocolate. The Ucayali bar is delicious and just as interesting as the Mexico chocolate. They also offer a tasting flight of bars for $16.50 online: the Mexico, Guatamalen and the Nicaragua 77% dark chocolate bars.

You can learn more about Goodnow Farms Chocolate at If you are in Canada, The Chocolate Project in Victoria has a few bars in their stock and can ship by custom order.

Looking for other Mexico Origin Chocolate?

  • The Chocolate Project sent me French chocolate maker Bonnat's newest 65% dark milk bar made from a smoky, bold-tasting Mexican origin cocoa bean. I think I'll need to buy another one before I can write about it (I admit, I ate it too quickly!), but it was very interesting and worth a try, if you can get your hands on one. Check it out on Bonnat's website or visit to find out if they still have some left.

  • Godiva also has a Mexico origin bar, which is sold for $10 CAD at Chapters-Indigo in Canada. It is a bitter 68% dark chocolate, and it has butter oil (perhaps to soften the bitter edges) and "natural flavour" in it, which of course is reminiscent of vanilla. It's not bad when you need a quick dark chocolate fix, but is certainly not as interesting as the other Mexico origin bars that I have written about here.

Happy Chocolate Tasting everyone!