Region: Alto Beni
Type: Heirloom Cacao Project, #1
Certifications: Direct Trade
There we go, another chocolate has pushed out someone in my Top 5. The last time I felt this was when a Nigerian prince told me someone left me $2 million and all I had to do was buy some cocoa. That is a joke. Well, kind of. The Nigerian cocoa is totally true. There was no mention of $2M and there was no scam. I really should stop and get back to talking about this cocoa that is blowing me away. As I was saying, the last time I had a cocoa make such an impression was with the fruitcake laden Nigeria Akwa Ibom in 2017. This is an excerpt from that write up.
"....smells of cinnamon and damson plums. I'm not sure I have tasted a chocolate with more clear chocolate flavor. This is the flavor you grew up with (but better!)......super sweet toffee, cinnamon and baked fruits. Fruitcake even. There is a clean bitterness of browned (not brown) sugar that offsets the sweetness with near perfection. The acidity is a middle level malic, soft yet present. Astringency is muted, giving just enough body to round out the flavor."
This one starts out strong with raisin, cinnamon and rich chocolate in the nose. It repeatedly had me salivating in anticipation. The very first bite was incredibly and deeply sweet, almost verging on too much panella like sweetness. After that first rush there is a tangy but subdued tropical fruit flavor melding with dark rum. There is a perfect amount of bitterness (tannins) and astringency (dried orange zest) for structure. I'm left with a contradictory impression of dutched cocoa, chewy dried fruit and supple full grain leather and lots of soft savory nuts. I don't know how that is possible but there you go. And lest I forget to mention it, the chocolate flavor is simply delectable.
As a reminder, this is at 80% and I can see this going both higher (90%?, I've never liked 100% so I can't speak to that) and lower since it has such a wide array of flavors to pull from. It would punch through in a lovely fashion in milk chocolate.
These are out of the Alto Beni region of Bolivia. I find it terribly interesting how different the flavor profiles are given similar genetics but different cultivation and fermentation procedures. When I asked about the background of this cocoa, this story unfolded. I really supporting this and I hope you do too.
"I was running a B2B project in 2009 to develop fine flavor cacao protocols for boutique chocolate in Denmark. To get there we started from the ground and built a state of the art cacao centre in 2009 (Flor de Cacao) and worked only with selected producers in Alto Beni. The first production was right away successful in Paris at the International Cocoa Awards. In 2014 our Alto Beni cacao reached HCP (Heirloom Cacao Project) status.
"Unfortunately we had to shut down Flor de Cacao in 2015 due to lack of funding, high cocoa prices and production collapse caused by Monilla. The plant went into dormancy for 8 years. Last year I was able to reopen the plant and renew the contacts to the farmers, some already over 70 years old.
"The genetic cacao pool in Alto Beni, based on old trinitario varieties, has been continuously evolved since the 70'ties as many farmers believed that only a seed can produce a tree. In Peru and Ecuador CCN51 clones became the panacea. In Alto Beni, entirely unnoticed from International Aid projects, the people and their organizations overcame the Monilla crisis applying a local selection process of local elite varieties. The cacao you have is the result of the efforts to preserve genetic diversity thanks to the persistence of smallholder farmers in Alto Beni.
"Our best farmer, Felix Paredes (74) has selected 8 well producing local clones for his 3 hectare farm. This year I have made a special edition of Felix Paredes cacao that will be presented through HCP for its upcoming 10th anniversary in 2024."
Profile Drum Roasting: There is a finesse here and you should not quite take that to mean delicate. Really, words are not the best medium for conveying how to roast. The profile I used for this is 16:30/19:30/23:30 @ 251 F or in slope notation, 8.3/6.7/4.8 @ 251 F. What you should pull out of this is that you should not come in hot and heavy but steady and in control so you can slow it down as it requires. 3 minutes in the development phase to bring out the chocolate without turning the nut notes too bitter. After that, you want to turn the roast down quite a bit. A classic default profile is often 10/8/6. This is 8.3/6.7/4.8 meaning you are finishing this roast a bit slower and you need to do this too keep the EOR temperature from getting too high. Much beyond the low 250s and you court bitter nut notes Slow and steady wins the race. But I want to caution about just doing 'long and low' as seems to be a thing. If you do that you run the pretty high risk of not developing the flavors that are there and in that case you could well be left with the dreaded boring chocolate.
Behmor: Due to the cold start of the the Behmor, you can just set it on the 1 lb setting with 2.5 lb of cocoa and go. When you begin getting aromatic notes, somewhere around 4 minutes left (14 minutes elapsed of the 18 minute start) drop the power to P3 (50% power) and continue roasting for about another 6-8 minutes, waiting for the aroma to either decrease or get sharp. This is all of course if you don't have a thermocouple in the beans (Modifying your Behmor) If you have that you can follow the profiles above.
Oven Roasting: I've been experimenting a lot recently with a less fussy way to oven roast and I find this procedure works pretty well. It is moderately predictable, repeatable and although not as dynamic and controllable as a drum roaster, does a good job. You will need an IR thermometer. Roast 2 lb of beans. Preheat your over to 350 F. Place your cocoa beans in a single layer on a baking sheet and into the oven. Stir the beans at 5 minutes and check the temperature. Continue roasting until the surface temperature reads 205-215 F (it may well vary across the beans). At that point, turn your oven down 10-15 F above your target EOR, in this case 250 + ~10 = 260 and continue to roast, stirring every 5 minutes until approximately 250 F. Again, there will be variation but the beauty of this method is having turned the oven down it is difficult to over roast. If you do find your roast is progressing too fast, adjust accordingly, starting at 325 F and/or changing your target to 255 F. Overall you may well roast 30-40 minutes. The important part here is to get good momentum going in a hot oven and then basically coasting to finish.