Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Cacao Break

Tea drinking and tea thinking has been more stressful for me than needed lately so I thought I would take a break tonight and write about simpler tasting pleasures which must strictly be enjoyed in the present. With tasting sheng,  one inevitably thinks past the present to how your future self will enjoy the future aged state of a sheng.  One's brain can get tied up in knots.

Every other week I buy stacks of dark chocolate ranging from 75% to 88% cacao.  Normally I buy the usual suspects- single origin bars that are surprisingly good for being three to five dollars.  Sigh. Back in 2003 - 2004 before my first pu-erh craze, I used to regularly enjoy the king of chocolates Chuao and the queen- the ever delicate and ever floral Porcelana from a Tuscan outfit called Amedei. Just like Chen Sheng Tea Factory in LBZ,  Amedei wrought exclusive control over beans from Chuao -a coastal town in Venezuela.  Amedei successfully kicked french chocolate maker Valrhona out of Chuao in a rather nasty price war pushing Chuao beans to a world record $9 a kilo from $1.5 per kilo.  Of course Amedei easily passes this surcharge onto the ever-willing end consumer.  For a decade now I have been satisfying myself with what I can find in the neighborhood markets.  To be fair, Berkeley supermarkets carry a most respectable gift-worthy selection of dark chocolates and no one need be ashamed of consuming such solidly produced chocolate bars. 

Out of the six bars this week, the clear winner was the odd bar out- the Taza 80% which exploded in my mouth full of jammy fruity high notes.  Unlike all other Western chocolate bar makers,  Taza does not conch their chocolate.  Conching is a process where by you slowly beat the crap out of the cacao paste to give the resulting chocolate a silky texture. But this process generates heat which also mellows out the paste by removing the acetic acid left over from less than perfect bean fermentation.  Italian bars from Cuba Venchi are incredibly low acid nutty productions with a silky smooth texture because they conch more than 72 hours where as mass producer Hershey's will conch for 12 hours but compensate for poor bean quality with diabetic amounts of sugar.  Just as in puerh, there are many industry post-processing and manipulation tricks to cover up any flaws of the source material.  

In order to skip conching, you really need the highest levels of bean quality. While the texture of Taza bars are gritty,  they preserve the original fruity taste of the bean.  The ancient Maya certainly never conched and we're lucky an American bean-to-bar producer took the more difficult road to produce such a chocolate bar.  I rarely eat more than a few squares of any bar leaving the rest for my husband but you can see that I had to control myself to leave two squares to enjoy tomorrow.

When a shu is rather ho-hum, I  enjoy it with a good dark chocolate bar and sometimes a few bacon bits to great effect. When a chocolate bar is ho-hum, I just make hot chocolate out of it.  Bad bars don't hang around for years taunting me with it's plantation mediocrity highlighting my bad selection prowess. I'd like to stabilize my pu-erh collecting and drinking to where I enjoy moderately good teas for daily drinking and save special cakes for special occasions.   But I still have a steep steep sheng tasting curve to overcome.


  1. Too funny... I also am obsessed with, personally studied, cacao from the late 90s (following a baking apprenticeship), even culminating with a course at Valrhona in the mid 00s.

    Blah, blah, blah, all that to say... It is nice to read again about Porcelana, Chuao, etc! Were you also part of the 70% tasting club?

    Have you tried Potomac yet? Or, Raaka?

    Taza's factory was only 2 miles from where I just lived. it will be the one thing I miss about the area. :)

  2. Skipping roasting! That's one upsmanship for Raaka over Taza. Thanks for the leads as I no longer keep up with the chocolate world. I'll look for it this weekend. Truthfully all the talk of artisanal handcrafting and such makes me a bit tired. I guess proof will be in the bar.