Understanding chocolate and cacao beans
- by Chocolat Céleste
Signature Flavor: like chocolate, like wine.
Like superb wine and premium olive oils, fine chocolates all carry a signature flavor. Their distinctive tastes start with the original ingredient: the cacao bean. Just as wine grapes vary by varietal, region of origin, harvesting methods and weather, so too do cacao beans.
Sommeliers study a wine's taste, smell and visual cues to identify its region, grape, barrel wood and year. Similarly, sophisticated connoisseurs of chocolate can identify country of origin, cacao tree type and processing methods; and can detect whether a chocolate comprises beans from a single estate ("terroir") or blends.
Cacao trees come in three varieties: the criollo, the trinitario and the forastero. Grown in Central America, the criollo represents five percent of world production—producing a rarified chocolate that Chocolat Céleste sources directly. Its cacao is fine and sweet, with complex flavor notes.
The forastero, grown largely in West Africa and South America, comprises 80 percent of world production and has a strong, bitter taste.
The trinitario, a flavorful hybrid that contains qualities of both trees, is grown throughout the world, producing 15 percent of world cacao output.
aroma of the rainforest
Cacao beans draw aroma and nuance from the bouquet of the environment in which they grow.
The cacao trees of South America flourish in the shade of native trees and rainforest. Flavorful rainforest fruits and vegetation return to rainforest soil, giving cacao beans grown there a richer, sweeter taste.
Laid by hand to dry on banana leaves that share their sweetness with the cacao, the cacao develops an even smoother taste, unmatched in the world.
African cacao grows in the sun, lending it a sharp bitter taste that complements recipes with strong flavors.
charactistics of a fine chocolate
Listen, smell, see, taste and feel. Chocolatiers know a fine chocolate by its characteristic “snap” when broken. The chocolate should appear smooth and slightly shiny. Its aroma should be full, but not too sweet. It should feel silky to the tongue, with no graininess. At room temperature, its flavor is at its fullest.
cocoa liquor content
Using time-tested, proprietary European techniques, raw cacao from the tropics is transformed into cocoa “liquor”—cocoa in its purest form.
The greater the cocoa content, the richer the flavor. Fine milk chocolates require a cocoa content of 30% or higher; we prefer 40% or above. The bittersweet European chocolate that we use comprises 52 to 70% cocoa liquor—enough for a rich, satisfying taste, but with enough Heartland whipping cream, butter and sugar to lend a sweet balance to the cocoa's natural sharpness.
the essential rainforest
Fine cacao needs healthy rainforests with varied plant life to help it withstand wind, heat and pests. Cacao's natural pollinators thrive only in the rainforest. Cacao trees yield the most when in their diverse natural habitat.
Some cacao growers in the Americas, along with the National Wildlife Federation and the Smithsonian, have discovered that by nurturing the conditions to grow the best cacao for chocolate, they help preserve some of the world's great rainforests as well as tropical wildlife.
chocolate and wine: the best of both worlds
CHOCOLAT + WINE = devine!
What happens when you pair the world's finest wines with the world's most heavenly chocolate? Pure bliss. Here, find some tips.
When choosing the right wine for your chocolate truffles (or vice versa!), it's a good idea to find spirits as sweet as the chocolate.
Try a muscat such as Moscato d'Asti.
Look for very sweet wines such as Ximenez sherry.
Try a merlot or a marsala (a long-forgotten wine making a comeback among chocolate lovers). With with fruit flavored truffles, try a muscat such as Elysium California Black.
Very dark chocolate
Try a cognac or armagnac. The full-bodied flavor will balance the chocolate's intensity.
(Tip: We recommend that you try port, particularly vintage port, sparingly. While often said to pair well with chocolate, it can be overpowered by the exceptionally high cocoa content of our premium chocolates.)
A note for fans of our Orange Blossom truffles with Grand Marnier: These resonate particularly well in pairings such as the Quady Essensia Orange Muscat, Bonny Doon's Framboise or with Banfi's Brachetto d'Acqui (the latter also pairs well with Coconut Crème truffles).