*updated* I edited Parts 1 and 2 of the series for better flow — Part 1 is introduction to chocolate, Part 2 is introduction to Indonesian cacao beans
So I fell into the chocolate hole over the 2015 Christmas holidays, when the Mast Brothers scandal hit the news. For those who missed it, Scott Craig from dallasfood.org wrote a 4-part report on his blog, accusing the Mast Brothers of remelting industrial chocolate into their bars, and how they claimed to have invented the process for small-scale bean-to-bar chocolate making. Quartz’s Deena Shanker followed up with her article “How the Mast Brothers Fooled the World into Buying Crappy Hipster Chocolate for $10 a bar”… I suggest to first start with Slate’s “Chocolate Experts Hate Mast Brothers” published in April 2015, then all of the above article, before finishing with Eater’s “What the Mast Brothers Scandal Tells Us About Ourselves”.
That, plus participating in the chocolate workshop at Belyzium Chocolate, piqued my interest in looking into Indonesian cacao beans. I’d read somewhere that apparently Indonesia is the world’s 3rd largest producer of chocolate, although mostly used as “filler chocolate” due to the low-quality of the beans. The Indonesian farmers do not ferment the cacao beans after harvesting, which definitely impact the final chocolate flavour, and the drying-cleaning-storing process is a challenge in a high-humidity tropical location like the Indonesian islands.
In addition, I’d never heard of a good Indonesian chocolate maker, and I’ve been disappointed by the Indonesian chocolate I tried (namely Chocodot and Chocolate Monggo, but maybe it’s time for a revisit, it’s been a couple of years). I read more and more on the topic, and found myself brainstorming and creating a story. Before I knew it, I had an outline for an Indonesian Chocolate series, which I’m really excited to be writing about.
Hey, if it keeps me eating chocolate, how can this be a bad thing? : )
Chocolate is a complex product; chocolate makers would say every step impacts the flavour of the final chocolate. With this Indonesian Chocolate series, I want to give a quick intro to chocolate (making and tasting), highlight Indonesia as a producer for cacao beans, the available on-the-market chocolate bars being made from Indonesian cacao beans, their varying flavours and quality, as well as introducing and reviewing the bean-to-bar Indonesian chocolate makers that I came across on my research.
I flexed my illustration muscles and drew my learnings (Diagram 01-02-03) from my online/desk research :)
Tree-to-bar chocolate. We start with the “tree to bean” process, which is simplified into 11-steps in the illustration below. Remember that every step of the process impacts the flavour of the end product, so as you read through the diagram, have a think of the effect the farmer who cultivates the cacao trees, the ship that brings it over, the climate where the steps happen, the additional ingredients, etc has on the flavour of the cacao beans, cocoa liquor and cocoa mass, and finally the chocolate.
Yes, criollo is the most fragile one to grow and is most prized due to its rareness and forastero is the most common with trinitario falling in between and Indonesia grows mostly the forastero variety. I purposely omitted statements about the cacao bean types and flavour; I think, just as the illustration shows, there are too many variables that impact chocolate flavour. Alan “Patric” McClure articulated the argument well in this blog post.
Chocolate companies/makers. The three types of chocolate “makers” (for lack of a better word).
- Type A: owns the farm, processes the cacao beans and produces chocolate bars and/or couverture, also called “tree-to-bar” companies. They basically own and control the entire process: from growing the cacao trees to processing the beans, to manufacturing chocolate products. Type A examples: Belyzium in Belize/Germany and Willie’s Cacao in Venezuela/UK.
- Type B: “bean-to-bar” guys, sources cacao beans from specific sources (that meet certain specifications, e.g organic) and processes the beans into chocolate bars, they can range from small, artisanal chocolate makers to huge companies providing couverture to Type C chocolatiers. Type B examples: Bonnat and Valrhona who do their own bars as well as couvertures for others, Dandelion Chocolate and Potomac Chocolate who are smaller scale chocolate makers doing their own artisanal bars. Wikipedia has a list of “bean-to-bar” chocolate makers over here.
- Type C: remelts industrial chocolate or craft couverture from other manufacturers, to create their own products. Type C examples: Dolfin Chocolates, Chocolate Monggo.
The Flavour Wheel
We may be eating the same thing but tasting them differently. The flavour wheel is a commonly accepted model to categorise aromas and flavours; Google the term and you’ll get flavour wheels for coffee, tea, whisky, chocolate, etc. This blog has a good write-up on whisky aromas and flavour wheels, and a great collection of flavour wheel diagrams.
Since I’ll be tasting and reviewing chocolate bars made out of Indonesian cacao beans, I thought the flavour wheel would make a good tool/template to guide our discussion and orientate our individual impressions of the chocolate bar flavours. I quickly drew up a simplified template for my friends and I to use during our upcoming chocolate tasting, based on the (reinvented) coffee flavour wheel.
I like the flavour wheel model because it helps shift the conversation from “Can you give me a chocolate bar with criollo beans because I heard they’re the best” to “I like dark milk chocolate bars with a nutty, smoky flavour and a long melt”, and a good chocolate shop owner/manager could recommend a bar or three for me.
I’ve reached this with my local wine and cheese shops; they know what I like and leave room for discovery, and I keep coming back. I miss this personal aspect when shopping in Indonesia since the shops are mostly chains now (also I’m never there long enough to develop relationships with shopkeepers the way I do in Berlin).
See you in Part 2!
Hope you enjoyed the first instalment of the Indonesian Chocolate series. I’d love to hear your comments and feedback, just scroll below to the comments area.