Guelaguetza

Last weekend, Richard and I took a wonderful trip down to LA. And like we usually do, we incorporated chocolate into the trip in a variety of ways. First of all, we brought chocolate to share with our friends and family. (Everyone’s favorite was the Venezuela from John Nanci’s beans!)

One of the other ways we incorporated chocolate into our trip was by visiting local phenomenon, Guelaguetza Restaurante. This is the most authentically Oaxacan spot I’ve experienced since spending a summer in Oaxaca, Mexico itself. They serve tlayudas, mole, and mezcal, among other southern Mexican delicacies.

Guelaguetza or Fiesta de los Lunes del Cerro, is the name of an annual festival celebrating the diversity of communities and cultures in the state of Oaxaca. You can read more about it here, here, and aquí. When I lived in Oaxaca in 2005, I actually was able to attend the celebrations with my parents and my friend, Medina. It was a spectacular show of dancing and ceremony. Here’s what one of the colorful dances looked like on stage:

Guelaguetza

Guelaguetza

When Richard and I visited Guelaguetza, the restaurant in LA, it looked a little different, but the colors, the sounds, and the smells were very similar. Most of the restaurant guests were speaking in Spanish and we heard a lively rendition of “Felix Cumpleaños” as we walked in. The decor has a bright and traditionally Oaxacan look, with an open view of the tortillas being made in the kitchen and shelves full of Oaxacan treats, pottery, and utensils for sale.

And of course, we spotted the chocolate!

Mexican chocolate and molinillo

Mexican chocolate and molinillo

They sell a variety of products, but we came for the chocolate (and the delicious hot atole). When we later shared the chocolate with our chocolate-making friends, the taste brought back one of my favorite chocolate memories. It looks like a hockey puck and requires a knife to break it into pieces. The texture is very grainy, though in a way that’s different from Taza’s texture. Taza seems to include chunks of cocoa nibs, while the largest particle size of this chocolate came in the form of sugar. We crunched on the sugar crystals with each bite. And the flavor includes strong notes of cinnamon, nuts, and other spices, as some of these ingredients are actually ground down with the nibs and included in the chocolate.

Though it isn’t what we’d call “modern chocolate,” it is a delicious and memory-inducing version of Mexican chocolate that I love returning to.

What’s your guilty pleasure in the chocolate world? Maybe it isn’t the highest quality single origin bean-to-bar maker’s award-winning bar. Maybe it’s something you sneak on the side when no one’s looking!

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Thanksgiving Chocolate Tasting

Last weekend, we were thankful to have Richard’s parents in town to celebrate Thanksgiving. For the occasion, we hosted a true blind chocolate tasting adventure. We pulled out Eagranie Yuh’s The Chocolate Tasting Kit (Tasting Kits), Richard conducted a dramatic reading of the instructions, and we handed out pads of paper and pens. I noted the order of the chocolates and cut the bars into small pieces, then tried to forget which was which as I passed them around. The other 5 tasters were completely blind.

We tasted 13 chocolate bars (avoiding any flavored chocolate) and surprisingly, there were no truly clear winners. We are amazed by the variation of tastes and preferences among us!

Chocolate tasting

Dan & Sarah tasting chocolate

A few tidbits of learning we are taking away from this experience:

  • Thirteen is probably too many chocolates to provide detailed tasting notes on each all at once. Eight would have been a better number
  • Chocolate smell fatigue happened around bar 6 or 7, when all the bars started to smell very similar.
  • We are not very good at describing the appearance of small pieces of bars – they were either dark or light brown and either shiny or not shiny. We could not come up with many more descriptors.
  • The sheer difference between the taste of chocolate when it first enters our mouth and when it melts away is astonishing. We noted some that shifted from fruity to astringent or from buttery caramel to toasty.
  • Each of us used a slightly different overall ranking system. Some ranked 1-13; others high, medium and low; others with an A-D scale, and others with words like “meh,” “yum,” and “no.” In the future, we may encourage a single scale for the overall ranking, in order to evaluate them at the end!
  • We all had very different opinions, so the notes below are an amalgamation, not an average. We also tended to get harsher over time – perhaps because of our dislike of higher percentages or perhaps because of our gained knowledge as we moved through the tasting.
  • None of us are professional chocolate tasters. We all really enjoyed the experience and took it seriously while having fun (it’s basically required to have fun when tasting chocolate)! Don’t take our opinions as facts – rather as impressions of the chocolate we tasted under the circumstances in which we tasted it.

And now, the bars we tasted and what we thought… enjoy, pick up some bars, and let us know what you think, too!

Christopher Elbow 63% with roasted cocoa nibs

  1. Where did we get it: we picked this one up on a trip to Kansas City where we visited the shop and tried some very tasty chocolates
  2. How did it rank: 2 high, 1 medium, 3 low
  3. Some notes: bland taste, earthy and nutty, crunchy bits

Ikea’s dark chocolate bar

  1. Where did we get it: we bought this for comparison recently to remind us of commercial chocolate flavor and texture
  2. How did it rank: 2 high, 3 medium, 1 low
  3. Some notes: sweet, almost milky, hot chocolate, coffee finish

Lillie Belle’s 65% Whiskey in the Bar

  1. Where did we get it: we picked this up at Cacao in Portland a couple months ago
  2. How did it rank: 1 high, 3 medium, 2 low
  3. Some notes: faint flavor, caramel, dull, dry/bitter finish

Cocanu’s 68% Abeja: dark chocolate, baked milk, and bee pollen

  1. Where did we get it: visiting Sebastian in Portland a couple months ago
  2. How did it rank: 3 high, 2 medium, 1 low
  3. Some notes: slightly grainy, melted quickly, creamy molasses

Root Chocolate 70% Madagascar

  1. Where did we get it: we made it!
  2. How did it rank: 4 high, 1 medium, 1 low
  3. Some notes: fruit and citrus, nutty smell, raisin, dry but lingering flavor, complex

Dave Huston’ 70% Upala, Costa Rica

  1. Where did we get it: visiting with our buddy a few weeks ago
  2. How did it rank: 1 high, 1 medium, 4 low
  3. Some notes: smells fruity, bold flavors, burnt ending, pirate, smoky

Root Chocolate 70% Siriana, Costa Rica

  1. Where did we get it: we made it!
  2. How did it rank: 1 high, 1 medium, 4 low
  3. Some notes: sharp, tart, very dry and astringent, roasted, cocoa powdery

Root Chocolate 70% Oko Caribe, Dominican Republic

  1. Where did we get it: this was our first batch in the Premier Wonder Grinder!
  2. How did it rank: 3 high, 3 medium, 0 low
  3. Some notes: lots of flavors, milky, dairy, roasted marshmallow, earthy

Taza’s 70% Cacao Puro

  1. Where did we get it: we bought a mixed flavor pack at Cacao in Portland a couple months ago, I’ve been wanting to try Taza for a long time, since one of my favorite memories with chocolate was eating Mayordomo (a very similar style) in Oaxaca, Mexico
  2. How did it rank: 2 high, 2 medium, 2 low
  3. Some notes: granules – polarizing, sweet buttery flavor

Castronovo 72% Criollo+Trinitario, Sierra Nevada, Colombia

  1. Where did we get it: I bought it at The Chocolate Garage during my first visit many months ago. We intend to go back and taste more chocolate there soon!
  2. How did it rank: 3 high, 2 medium, 1 low
  3. Some notes: spices, buttery, toasted cream, black tea, not exciting, caramel

Root Chocolate 75% Venezuela

  1. Where did we get it: we roasted the beans with John Nanci in Oregon, then we made it!
  2. How did it rank: 2 high, 3 medium, 1 low
  3. Some notes: generic, almond, plastic, intense deep chocolate

Root Chocolate 85% Madagascar

  1. Where did we get it: we made it!
  2. How did it rank: 1 high, 3 medium, 2 low
  3. Some notes: hard, tangy, acidic, chemical burnt, slightly grainy

Taza’s 85% Super Dark

  1. Where did we get it: we bought a mixed flavor pack at Cacao in Portland a couple months ago, I’ve been wanting to try Taza for a long time, since one of my favorite memories with chocolate was eating Mayordomo (a very similar style) in Oaxaca, Mexico
  2. How did it rank: 0 high, 1 medium, 4 low
  3. Some notes: coffee, spicy, bitter finish, smell like dairy

Matching the Roast

Last month, we visited John Nanci, the Chocolate Alchemist in Oregon. It was a lot of fun and we learned a ton about his process, ingredients, and recommendations!

One of our favorite parts of the visit was roasting a batch of cocoa beans with him. Check out our previous posts on roasting here. We picked out the beans after sticking our heads in all of his big barrels of beans and smelling the wonderful scent of raw beans over and over again. I wish I could share smell through this post, because it’s incredible how different (and delicious) each barrel smells. We decided on the Venezuelan Carupano Corona, 2014 harvest, which has a savory, almost spicy scent.

In the meantime, John had turned on his homemade roaster to start heating it up.

John Nanci's homemade roaster

John Nanci’s homemade roaster

This incredible device has two coupling thermometers which show the temperature inside the cylindrical drum of beans and outside the drum, where the heat originates. He filled the canister with about 5 pounds of beans and when the roaster hit about 400 degrees, he put on his heat-protective gloves and lowered the drum into the roaster. He closed the top and we started to chat.

Let me set the scene… we’re in an open garage/workshop with a misty rain keeping the humidity high, though temperatures were likely in the mid-50s. Everything in the workshop smells like a part of the chocolate-making process: from raw beans to the brownie smell of roasting to the almost syrupy smell of undeodorized cocoa butter.

As as chatted, every once in a while, John would pause, waft some of the rising hot air from the roaster over toward him, and comment on the smell. He glanced, every once in a while, at the coupling thermometers to gauge the difference between the temperature inside the bean canister and outside in the roaster, but the majority of his conclusions about the progress of the roast happened through his nose. He got excited when the smell seemed to waft over to us suddenly, letting us know that this is typically the peak of the roasting process. Around that time, we lowered the temperature and eventually he turned the roaster off entirely as they continued to roast. And he pointed out again when the smell shifted from our noses to the back of our throat. That was when he recommended taking them out. He waited even a few more minutes before pulling out the drum, dumping it onto his cooling table, and aiming a fan at the beans.

He emphasized that, unlike coffee, cocoa beans have more forgiving roast potential. In other words, if you leave them in too long, they are less likely to become disgustingly over-roasted than coffee beans. In fact, he made sure to point out that it is difficult to over-roast cocoa beans.

To be honest, this whole process was like watching a magician at work. His enthusiasm was contagious and Richard and I understood the intent but couldn’t necessarily recreate the magic in our own noses and throats.

That’s why we decided to attempt to match the roast. So, we brought home those roasted beans as well as a few pounds of the same beans, unroasted. And over the weekend, we brought out a bottle of wine and the two batches of beans, and did our best to recreate the process. And – believe it or not – we’re not quite as good as the Alchemist himself!

Matching the roast tools

Matching the roast tools

We set the oven to 400 F and prepared to follow our noses. A few caveats before we get started:

  1. Unfortunately, we were both recovering from a cold, so our sense of smell wasn’t quite up to snuff.
  2. We used our relatively old oven, not a self-engineered roaster.
  3. The temperature in our apartment was in the high 60s and not at all humid, compared to John Nanci’s colder, humid garage.

In other words, we may have been doomed from the start! That said, we did take some of John’s advice very seriously, including the following seemingly logical advice:

  1. Stir the beans regularly. That could avoid “tipping.” Tipping is when the part of the bean touching the hot pan will roast faster (and potentially burn) than the rest of the bean. It develops an uneven roast and could add extra toasting flavors to the chocolate.
  2. His other brilliant advice wasn’t possible this time. He suggested doubling the pans, so there’s a more even distribution of heat on the bottom of the beans. However, we have exactly two pans and used them both for this roast, so we’ll need to try this next time.

This process seemed to happen at full speed, as I was taking notes, flipping beans, checking the clock, sniffing to the point of hyperventilating, tasting hot beans, tasting pre-roasted beans, and hand-winnowing as we went. Whew! Here’s the run down…

We flipped the beans after 5 minutes and at 10 minutes, we started hearing the snapping in the oven and the smell of brownies pervaded the apartment. The taste of the beans at that point was still quite raw and chalky, but the cocoa mass felt softer than a fully raw bean.

We dropped the temperature to 250 at 10 minutes and by 12 minutes, it smelled like dark brownies and we started to get the sense in the back of our throats. We reasoned that they couldn’t possibly be done yet, and took John Nanci’s words to heart… it’s very difficult to over-roast cocoa beans.

At 14 minutes, we flipped them again and at 20 minutes tasted a second time. This time, they tasted bland, almost nutty, without much flavor development.

At 22 minutes, we pulled them out and did a full flip of the beans with a spatula rather that stirring them around in the oven (Richard advised me that I wasn’t flipping quite right, so this would be a more robust flipping system). We compared the taste to John’s beans at this point (starting to get giddy eating so many beans) and noted that ours tasted chocolatey and rich but the texture still felt raw – hard and not crunchy yet.

At 26 minutes we pulled out a really bad bean that tasted underfermented; not particularly helpful in our comparison. A minute later, we found a good one that tasted pretty toasty and nutty. We compared it to John Nanci’s beans and noted that his had more flavor at the end, almost caramelly.

At 28 minutes, we pulled out the tray to flip and put it back in 2 minutes later. As I flipped, Richard tasted and at exactly 31 minutes, we pulled out all the beans determining them definitely done, if not overdone!

We quickly used Richard’s brilliant newly engineered cooling system for about 15 minutes until they felt very cool.

Roasted bean cooler

Roasted bean cooler

And the result – our beans definitely taste different than John Nanci’s beans. Ours taste a little over-roasted and slightly bitter at the end, while John’s beans have that caramel finish. Whew, we’ll try again next time!

Any suggestions from the audience on how you train your nose for the perfect roast?

Chocolate Labels, Part 1

“Organic”

“Local”

“Single Origin”

“Fair Trade”

“Rainforest Alliance”

“UTZ”

“Direct Trade”

What do these all mean and which ones should you pay attention to when you’re choosing your chocolate? Good question! Some relate to labor practices, others relate to the environmental circumstances surrounding the farming.

Here at Root Chocolate, we’ve discussed where cacao farmers fit into the picture, the complications of importing cocoa beans, the benefits of slowing down our interaction with food, and the importance of supply chain, and the relevance of genetics. Now let’s talk about the external certifications that can factor into your decisions around chocolate purchases and consumption.

I’m not going to claim that one certification is better than another or that any one of these means your chocolate is sustainably produced and sourced, but let’s go into what each of them mean.

Organic

“The organic standards describe the specific requirements that must be verified by a USDA-accredited certifying agent before products can be labeled USDA organic. Overall, organic operations must demonstrate that they are protecting natural resources, conserving biodiversity, and using only approved substances.” Read more about the definition on the National Organic Program page of the USDA.

There are quite a few regulations involved in obtaining and maintaining this certification, including fees, inspections, and a waiting period, among others. The processes can be onerous for very small family farms, which is where most fine chocolate is grown. That said, many small farms refrain from using expensive pesticides and are considered “de facto” organic, even if they do not have official certification.

Learn more about organic chocolate and organic processes here:

Local

Eating local chocolate is a difficult concept for those of us who do not live within 20 degrees of the equator. Cocoa beans traditionally come from tropical places close to the equator. The only US state that naturally produces cacao is Hawaii. For chocolate to truly be local, its beans must grow in the same place as the chocolate production, which would all be the same place as the consumer taking that delicious bite of chocolate. You can find truly local chocolate at a few places, including the following:

Alternatively, you can buy chocolate from local chocolate-makers, even though the cocoa beans may come from halfway around the world. For example, if you live in Portland, Oregon, buy local chocolate from Cocanu, Woodblock, Treehouse Chocolate, Pitch Dark, or Mana Chocolate.

Single Origin

Single origin chocolate is another label that you may find on your favorite chocolate bar. This means that the cocoa beans that constitute the bar you’re eating all come from the same country. They may even come from the same region or co-op or farm, but those parts are not guaranteed. Remember that the genetics vary even within the same cocoa pod? Well, there’s also wide variety among beans from a single country, not to mention region.

Valhrona made this concept popular more than two decades ago. The trend is still going strong! In fact, one of our favorite chocolate-makers, Dandelion, makes purely single origin bars. The logic behind single origin bars comes from the concept of terrior, borrowed from the wine industry. Beans take on a flavor based on the environment in which they grew, fermented, and dried.

Learn more about single origin chocolate here:

Look for Chocolate Labels, Part 2, coming out later this week, where we’ll go into depth about Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, UTZ, and Direct Trade!

Venezuelan batch

Last week, we made a batch of chocolate from some very special beans. They are Carupano Corona from Venezuela, 2014. The Chocolate Alchemist describes them as “Criollo/Trinitario with clove and soft fruity high notes and very low bitterness.”

And the exciting part – John Nanci roasted them right there in his workshop with us watching (and smelling) on! In his homemade roaster with temperature gauges inside the drum roaster and in the oven itself, these beans smelled amazing. I’ll write another post just on his roasting style and tricks, but for now, suffice it to say that it was quite an experience!

John Nanci's homemade roaster

John Nanci’s homemade roaster

With these beans that Richard describes as spiced, we’ve made our most recent batch of chocolate. Since we brought them back from Oregon in our suitcases (we’re shocked that TSA did not even double check our bags full of cocoa beans), they had almost 5 days to cool after being roasted in Eugene. We used the winnower Richard has been working on (guest post to come soon) with a slightly lower vacuum power and ended up with an incredibly 80% yield of nibs! We did a little hand sorting after roasting, which resulted in this beautiful picture (if I do say so myself!).

Venezuelan cocoa nibs

Venezuelan cocoa nibs

We put the 802 grams of nibs into the Premier Wonder Grinder at 7:45pm on Wednesday night and added 283 grams of sugar as soon as the nibs had taken their liquid form. Thanks for the advice in your comments, Dave and Olivier and Ritual Chocolate! The grinder ran overnight, smelling delicious and creating that white noise that puts us to sleep.

Thursday evening, we added the two new ingredients – soy lecithin (0.9 grams) and cocoa butter (50 grams) – and waited another hour and a half before pulling out the chocolate to temper. With these ingredients, our final chocolate is 75% cocoa mass + cocoa butter, assuming a 50% cocoa butter content in the beans themselves. See more on our two new ingredients here.

Venezuelan chocolate liquor - yum!

Venezuelan chocolate liquor – yum!

Tempering is now the trickiest part. I brought the temperature up to 128 in the microwave, then lowered it to 122 by stirring continuously before pouring it onto our tempering table. I agitated the liquor (which was quite liquidy) for maybe 5-10 minutes while it dropped in temperature. It dropped to 82 on the tempering table and I raised it quickly to 90 with just a few seconds in the microwave. Then, I poured the liquor out into the molds, filling them faster than we’ve done before and shaking them by hand to raise all the tiny air bubbles.

bloomed Venezuelan chocolate

bloomed Venezuelan chocolate

The final product – 947 grams of 75% Venezuelan chocolate! The final taste is amazing – almost savory with the fruity spicey flavor of the beans coming through and the mellow earthy tones from the cocoa butter. The texture is crisp and smooth – no grains and with a solid break. Visually is where we’re still having issues. As I mentioned earlier in the week, the lecithin and cocoa butter did not prevent the white swirls of fat bloom from occurring. I felt great about getting the temperatures right the first time.

Final Venezuelan chocolate

A challenge to the small scale chocolate makers of the world… what do you recommend? The one who provides the tip(s) that results in successfully tempered and bloom-less chocolate gets a prize!*

*exact prize TBD, but it might just be a shipped sample of our finished chocolate of your choice!