I am constantly on a quest, often travelling deep into the jungle, seeking out the long forgotten flavours of the world’s great single estate cacaos.
The best ingredients make the best flavours, so the type of cacao you use determines the quality and flavour of your chocolate. All my beans are fine heirloom varieties, grown traditionally under shade trees by small holders.
We call them single estate cacaos because each one has its own character and charisma born of its genetics, soil and climate. They are like fine wines. Don’t be misled by chocolates talking about single origin cacaos. That is as useful as saying wine from France! Taste the the incredible differences in My Discovery Tasting Box or Wonders of the World Tasting Box.
VARIETIES OF CACAO
There are three main varieties of cocoa bean: Criollo, Forastero and Trinitario. Which type of cacao you use determines the quality and flavour of your chocolate. It is the first choice the chocolatier makes.
I use Criollo and Trinitario cacaos, which are fine, aromatic varieties and make up about 15% of the world’s production They are the old varieties with the interesting flavours and aromas and less acidity. The beans on my farm El Tesoro are Criollo and just over the mountain is the legendary Chuao co-operative.
These fine beans types have a lower yield and are more susceptibale to disease than
More than 80% of the world’s chocolate is Forastero. These are hardy, high yielding cacaos that give a classic chocolate taste, but tend to be rather bland, or at their worst acidic. Most of this type of cacao comes from mono crop plantations in Ghana and the Ivory coast. The trees are grown out in the sun and typically rely on chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
All my beans come from small holder properties, growing fine cacaos in the traditional way together with other crops under shade trees. This promotes biodiversity and soil fertility, so removing the need for chemical fertilizers. It also has a greater potential for the long-term storage of greenhouse gases in branches, roots and surrounding vegetation.
SINGLE ESTATE CACAOS
We call our beans single estate cacaos, because they are grown in one place in such a way that they have a common flavour profile. It does not mean that they are grown by individual farmers. That would be impossible because the farmers growing these types of cacao usually farm very small areas.
Single estate cacaos are typically grown by groups of small farmers growing the same variety of beans, in the same soil and climatic conditions. This means the beans all have the same flavours. Then they join together often in co-operatives to do all the post-harvest fermenting and drying together. This means these crucial steps are standardised and done to a much higher standard than would be possible individually.
For me, making chocolate is all about rediscovering the real taste, textures and life-giving properties of a food that has been revered for thousands of years, but has somehow lost its way in the modern, commercial market. Every month people send me samples of beans to have a look at, but the real fun is in heading off into the jungles of the world.
I have treasured memories associated with each bean. Some are of the adventures on the road, many are of the people who grow them, but always they are of those heart stopping moments of discovery and delight when I first taste them.
Estate: Chulucanas | Country: Peru | Bean type: Criollo | Notes: raisins & plums
Peru holds a special place in my heart. Aside from being the first country I visited in South America, it’s home to a remarkable bean from Chulucanas, a native Piura criollo bean.
It is a distinctive white colour and much prized among craft chocolate makers. You’ll taste its beautiful notes of raisins and plums. We only ever give them a very light roast to protect these delicate flavours.
They are grown by the Norandino co-operative in the Morropan province. None of our beans are grown using chemicals, but this one is actually certified organic.
This single estate 70% dark chocolate is one of my finest. Because of its fruity notes I also use it in Hazelnut Raisin and it makes incredible deserts, particularly when they have a fruit element to them.
Rio Caribe Cacao
Estate: Rio Caribe | Country: Venezuela | Bean type: Trinitario | Notes: coffee, nutty
Rio Caribe is a king among cacaos. It is an exceptionally fine Trinitario bean, and has really unusual levels of depth and complexity. Its nutty coffee notes unfold slowly and stay with you long after you have eaten the chocolate.
It is one of the beans I use most often, not just for its iconic single estate dark bar, but to make Milk of the Gods and the Chef’s Drops that Ottolenghi uses to make his brownies. It pairs perfectly with cognacs, rums and whiskies. So much to experiment with.
Rio Caribe lies at the end of my favourite road trip, which runs ten hours east from Caracas along the magical Caribbean coast to the Paria peninsula and the sleepy fishing port of Rio Caribe from which it takes its name. This is the Chocolate Coast.
Carenero Superior Cacao
Estate: Carenero | Country: Venezuela | Bean type: Trinitario | Notes: coffee, nutty
This was one of the original three amigos. This, Rio Caribe and Chulucanas were my first three cacaos.
These fine Trinitario beans come from Barlovento which means ‘windward’ and refers to a coastal stretch of Venezuela east of Caracas where the humid winds blow continuously onto the land. Carenero refers to the port it was once shipped from and Superior to the quality of the beans.
I use it to make one of my best loved 100% cacao cylinders with notes of nut and spice. It is full bodied with a strong chocolaty taste and so perfect for cooking as it really carries its flavour.
Las Trincheras Cacao
Estate: Las Trincheras | Country: Venezuela | Bean type: Trinitario | Notes: smooth nutty
This Trinitario bean comes from a very old hacienda in Carabobo. I visited them many years ago and tried unsuccessfully to buy the beans. So it gives me great pleasure to be able to buy them now. They are exceptional and produce a bar with smooth nutty notes.
I started making chocolate with this bean for all the people who are starting their journey in dark chocolate. After we have given them the perfect light roast and a long, low temperature conche you are never left with any acidity. This is not to say that it is a light bean. Oddly it is hard to pair with other flavours because it tends to overpower anything you put it with.
The Hacienda has been helped by the Terra Viva Foundation, a non-governmental organisation that encourages sustainable development through environmental programmes. All farming methods are traditional and no chemicals are used.
Sur del Lago Cacao
Estate: Sur del Lago | Country: Venezuela | Bean type: Trinitario | Notes: smooth nutty
This fine, aromatic Trinitario bean is grown south of the Maracaibo Lake in Venezuela. I chose this bean to make my 100% cacao bar because it is exceptionally light and has low acidity.
We give it a very light roast and conche for never less than 3 weeks to remove any acidity. When the beans are fresh it can even be longer.
Estate: Sambirano | Country: Madagascar | Bean type: Trinitario | Notes: summer fruits
This beautiful chocolate is made from a Trinitario bean from the Bejofo Estate in the Sambirano Valley to the north west of Madagascar. It is certified organic.
Cacao arrived on the island as seedlings from Venezuela in 1920. Over the past 100 years it has developed its own highly distinctive flavour and has established a world wide reputation.
I describe it’s flavour notes as summer fruits – imagine you have a bowl of berries that you have given a quick squeese of lemon juice.
The beans produce a 71% dark chocolate bursting with juicy summer fruit notes. It is the chocolate I use for my dark sea salt caramel pearls because it cuts so perfectly through the sweetness of the caramel. Use its 100% cacao to make incredible truffles.
San Agustin Cacao
Estate: San Agustin | Country: Colombia | Bean type: Trinitario | Notes: honey, red fruits
Over the past years, thanks to my friend Marisol, I have tasted nearly 20 beans from different parts of Colombia. The quality and variety are exceptional, in fact there are very few countries in the world with such diversity.
This beautiful Trinitario beans comes from the ancient San Agustin district in the foothills of the Colombian Massifs.
What I find fascinating is that when you add different amounts of sugar to it, it reveals different flavour notes. In this 88% dark chocolate you catch the soft notes of cherries and damsons. In the 70% ou catch glimpses of red fruits but what strikes me more are the honey nutty notes.
Estate: Medellin | Country: Colombia | Bean type: Trinitario | Notes: honey, fruity
Cacao For Peace is an important movement in Colombia. Essentially by buying cacao there, you are supporting the farmers in their transition from growing coca. I have been doing this for many years.
On one bean trip, I went to meet the farmers in an area around El Amparo, a town known for its links with the ELN. There were slogans daubed all over the walls and signs of air strips deep in the countryside. When I got back to Bogota people were so astounded that I had gone there that I ended up being interviewed on their national television.
Medellin was one such area, much needing a new start. The beautiful Trinitario beans they are now growing there are perfect for my Hot Chocolate as they are non-acidic and full of flavour.
Estate: Surabaya| Country: Indonesia | Bean type: Forastero – Trinitario | Notes: caramel, toffee
Indonesia is the world’s third largest producer of cacao. Our Javan Dark Breaking beans are produced by a state owned plantation, who are the growers of the most sophisticated and fine flavoured beans produced there. These beans are born in the volcanic soils of Surabaya, towered over by the fearsomely beautiful and still active Mount Bromo.
They are the marmite of my beans. Love them or hate them. They have intense, brooding caramel toffee notes which really shine through in their 69% dark chocolate. I also use them to make my 54% milk chocolate, Milk of the Stars. People sometimes caramelise sugar to make milk chocolate – there’s no need to do that here because all that flavour is naturally in the cacao.
Estate: Baracoa | Country: Cuba | Bean type: Criollo | Notes: Honey
To my delight I found that Baracoa lies on the natural harbour of the Bay of Honey (Bahía de Miel). For years I had been describing the honeyed notes of this cacao, and then I discover that generations of Cubans before me must have been tasting the same beans in the same way. It’s poetic.
Baracoa is on the far eastern tip of Cuba, the first land Christopher Colombus set foot on after his first crossing of the Atlantic. He is said to have described it as the most beautiful place in the world, ‘I heard the birds sing that they will never leave this place.’
However it is in an area cursed with hurricanes, and in October 2016 Hurricane Matthew’s eye bulldozed right across Baracao, devastating homes, infrastructure and crops.