Q: Let's assume you were new to the world of fine chocolate and so far used to the omnipresent sweet confectionary: how would you go about distinguishing good from bad chocolate?
Vera: It’s a process and it takes practice to "educate" your taste buds.
When someone is accustomed to random milk chocolate - which in fact is largely sugar called chocolate - it will be hard initially to get off the sugar and taste cacao. I would start with a lower percentage dark chocolate, but one that already gives you a full vivid flavour specturm. Like our Beni Wild 66%.
I understand that many people find comfort in the familiar and we have all been made familiar with excessively sweet taste sensations by the industrial confectionary industry. Let me repeat once more that what is called chocolate in the supermarket is largely white sugar with cheap fats and a tiny bit of very bad quality cocoa. If you get a darker bar from the same bad quality cocoa it will taste bitter and pretty awful. So it's no wonder most people shy away from high cocoa percentages because they have learned that cocoa is bitter. Good cacao is not bitter.
Next you need to distinguish whether the chocolate is bad because of the bean quality or because it’s badly crafted.
Q: How can you tell that?
Jan: There is no way to make good chocolate out of lousy beans, but bad makers can certainly ruin a good bean. Check the ingredient list, for example. Lecithin is added to change the texture, or viscosity, of a chocolate, so that it can be produced faster. Vanilla or vanillin aroma is used in many chocolates to cover bitterness that comes from bad quality and terrible treatment of the beans. Good beans well treated do not require any additives. By nature, cacao is exceptionally complex in its aromas.
Most industrial chocolate originates from monoculture plantations. At Original Beans we source our cocoas where they naturally grow, in their unique regional terroirs. Often by tradition, local growers know best when to harvest and how to ferment and dry their rare cacaos. We help them with our knowhow, and together we create beans which are the very best in the world.
Once you have a such an exceptionally tasty bean, the art of manufacture is the art of doing less. Gentle roasting, fine grinding, careful conching.
In contrast, the beans for any standard supermarket chocolate get inadequately treated on the farm, and then in the factory they do all the intensive tricks: burning the beans instead of roasting them to cover defective flavours. Intense conching removes any defects, but also removes all characteristics of that bean. Add loads of sugar, (artificial) vanilla, milk powder and nuts, and you get what our kids are taught to know as chocolate. You can hear, I find this not only untasteful, but also unethical.