When we think about dark chocolate benefits we have a tendency to think about our health; we agree with that, in fact, we have written about it here and here, and we plan to continue expanding on those health benefits. However, making dark chocolate benefits the person who makes it. We applied a concept that one of our members uses in his personal life, and that is experimenting with the things that the customer will use. We want to get in-depth knowledge about the product, go through all the different aspects of the client experience, but also through the process of making the product. So we had the unique opportunity to make bean-to-bar chocolate in Miami, and we want to tell that story.
The masters of this dark chocolate making and tasting workshop were Maria Fernanda Di Giacobbe from Cacao de Origen and Chloe Doutre-Roussel, famous author and chocolate connoisseur from FCCI; what an opportunity we had. The event took place in Obra Table Kitchen in Miami, a restaurant lead by world-renowned chef Carlos Garcia who was present during the 2-day course. At this time we started to think that additional dark chocolate benefits include meeting personalities within the bean-to-bar chocolate world, but also meet new people inside the culinary field, as well as someone that has the same interests, for example, passion for bean-to-bar dark chocolate, motivation to make something from scratch, making craft food, high-quality products, and a healthy lifestyle.
The first day included a story-telling session of Maria Fernanda's experiences with bean-to-bar chocolate, as well as her in-depth knowledge about cacao, especially from Venezuela. She explained how this type of dark chocolate benefits entire communities that depend on fine flavor cacao, as well as on artisan goods making. They are all trying to, not only survive but thrive in the problematic cacao industry and Venezuelan economy. We chatted from the first Venezuelan-made chocolates "El Indio" and "La India," to El Rey one of the first companies to use the cacao origin and % in their labels. Also, the Franceschi family one of the first ones with the three-to-bar concept and also making chocolate in the cacao country of origin with native cacao, to the expansion of these concepts to other Latin American countries Ecuador, Perú and Colombia. It was fascinating to realize or refresh that CHUAO, a small town on the coast of Venezuela is the ONLY place in the world with the appellation of origin for cacao. One of the reasons that explain why this is so difficult to obtain is the non-standardized way of harvesting the cacao, fermenting it, drying, and storing. People from Chuao have been doing the same "non-standard" ways through all these steps for centuries. To describe just a few: what is the right time to harvest cacao pods? Well, if you ask different people in different regions, they will say something distinctive. Even if you ask many people in the same area, the answer is complicated. Yet, if you ask somebody in the same plantation, they might use different tips like "percussing" the pod, "cutting" the peel with your nail and see the yellow color underneath. This makes it difficult within the craft chocolate world to determine quality cacaos, BUT also it's what makes it so exciting, challenging, and unique. Through these stories we saw, felt, smell and tasted 5 different cacao varieties (4 Venezuelan and 1 Belize) and we worked from the bean to eventually make chocolate.
She mentioned that she associates the cacao pod and bean and its colors with the people of the region. For example, "Sur del Lago" and "Porcelana" cacao bean (criollos) are white the same way the Venezuelan Andes people have lighter skin; also, East Venezuelan cacaos (Trinitarios) are darker the same way the "Orientales" look. Therefore, another dark chocolate benefit is that if you know about the cacao beans origins, flavors, and even "personalities," it might tell you a lot about the people from those regions.
While we were chatting about all these exciting stories, we were divided into groups so we can work a different cacao bean. We performed cacao bean grading as per the FCCI protocol. This process allows the maker to assess the quality and know, before buying, what chocolate she can make. We then roasted the beans, then manually peeled them or winnowed to prepare them for grinding. After grinding them we tasted and determined the different profiles, and as a group decided to make chocolate with two of the five beans available... Wow! Dark chocolate benefits teamwork too, who would have thought that. Finally, toward the end of the day, we left the two beans selected, Chuao (sweeter) and Belize (citric) in the small refiners, approximately 400-500 grams of seeds for each. We left them refining for the rest of the day and night to achieve the "right" particle size.... the smell was already making us dream of the chocolate bars the next day.
The second part of this article will be published soon...
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Ramon E Martinez