*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
Hi! This second post is a short intro into Indonesian cacao beans and the industry. Lee McCoy from Chocolatiers has written up a nice post on Indonesian Cacao History, as well as reviewing Pipiltin Cocoa chocolate bars (the 84% Pidie Jaya bar and the 73% Bali).
Indonesian cacao beans
Indonesia is huge! It has over 17.000 islands (I’ve been to, like, eight or nine), three time zones, and various environmental factors (terroir) that would impact the final flavour of a chocolate bar. Maybe it’s the designer/IA in me, but it does drive me nuts when I see classifications that put Indonesia and Java at the same level; that’s like having the U.S and Alaska, or Germany and Bavaria, on the same hierarchical level.
I mentioned in my previous post that cacao is farmed all over Indonesia but 75% of that is in Sulawesi and the bean variety is mostly forastero, with some criollo grown in Java and trinitario in Bali. Bean variety x different terroirs x process variables = can’t put a label on the characteristics of Indonesian cacao beans. What’s clear though, from multiple online sources, Indonesian cacao aren’t regarded as high-quality beans. In fact, they mostly go into what’s called “filler chocolate” which goes into industrial chocolate products, and has various other ingredients mixed in to stabilise and mask flavours.
I’ll share with you the two main patterns of local farmers/smallholders processing Indonesian cacao beans, which attributes to the “low quality” status it has in the global market:
- Unfermented cacao beans: fermentation is a typically 5-7 day process to bring out the best flavours of the bean. During fermentation, a few things happen: the sugars in the cacao beans are broken down into alcohol (and acids) and carbon dioxide, and the tannins are lowered (or removed). Tannins add an astringent flavour to the final chocolate product; this means that with unfermented beans, in the later stages of the process, lots of sugar and other additives need to be added to mask the astringency. Amano Chocolate have a great post on cacao bean fermentation on their blog, if you’re interested in finding out more. Indonesian cacao farmers don’t typically ferment their beans; partly due to the fact that the large-scale companies pay similar prices for fermented and non-fermented beans. The practice of fermenting the cacao beans is being introduced and farmers/smallholders being educated on its benefits.
- Drying method: in tropical climates where humidity reaches 80-90%, it’s challenging to dry the beans properly. Some Indonesian farmers have taken to drying the beans over fire, coconut husks, etc which imparts a distinctive smoky flavour. This is perceived to be a flaw and the smoky flavour is later masked by adding other ingredients during the grinding and conching process. Some chocolate makers seek out this smoky flavour of the beans, though, and develop recipes to make the smoky flavour a feature, e.g. the Bonnat Java bar we reviewed below is smoky and very lovely.
I believe that yes, bean type plays a role in the flavour quality of the final chocolate product, but there’s plenty of room for good experimenting (to develop delicious new recipes) along the tree-to-bar process. One of the best bars I’ve had, that has won awards for fine chocolate, is made of the forastero strain, which, if you believe everything you read, is not as good as criollo and trinitario. Saying that, there’s plenty of room to make mistakes too. It’s all up to the ingenuity of the chocolate maker, to make a product that does justice to the materials and pleases our palates.
The bean variety and the terroir (a set of environmental factors: natural and human elements) so varied that I think it’d be easier to map the various cacao bean flavour profiles on a spectrum, with individual flavour profile “cards” similar to the chocolate bar flavour profile “card” I illustrated below. I’m hoping that sometime in the not-too-distant future, after doing multiple tastings, further reading and conversations with chocolate makers/experts, I’ll be able to make such a map. Since my annual trip to Indonesia is coming up, I’m hoping to visit some cacao farms as well : )
See you in Part 3!
Next in the series, I’ll be tasting and reviewing some of the fine chocolate bars made with Indonesian cacao beans (mostly from Java and Bali) that were created by non-Indonesian fine chocolate makers, like Akesson’s, Bonnat and Chocolarder. Make sure you don’t miss it by subscribing to this blog via the form at the footer of this page; you’ll be updated whenever a new post is published.