Taste Test

One Bean, Twelve Hands: We Try 6 Origin Chocolate Bars from All Around Europe, Made with South Cotabato Cacao

August 7, 2017

We’ve covered Moulinet Chocolat, the UK-based, (mostly) one-woman venture out to change the game for Philippine chocolate. Among Moulinet’s upcoming projects is the Origin Chocolate Tasting Set, a curated selection of fine origin chocolate bars from different parts of the world but made with Kablon Farms’ beans. Under founder and certified chocolate taster Estela Duque’s guidance, we held a tasting (here’s a quick rundown on the process) of six of the bars available, each made by chocolate makers from different countries in Europe—but all with one common denominator: the use of cacao beans from Kablon Farms in South Cotabato as a base.

As we’ve explored in our previous guide, origin chocolate, as opposed to bulk chocolate, specifically aims to showcase the region the cacao bean it’s made with comes from by actively reflecting and preserve the pure flavor that defines the beans’ place of origin—honoring its roots in the process. This entails minimal use of additional ingredients, e.g. emulsifiers such as lecithin or additional flavors such as vanilla. This also means chocolate makers must be able to acknowledge the origin country’s defining taste in their chocolate making technique—to know which factors to highlight, how to bring out its best qualities, and so on. Ultimately, origin chocolate celebrates the bean’s uniqueness, rather than concealing them. It aims for diversity, not the blank uniformity that bulk chocolate goes for.

Not only do the bars start with beans that are of the same type, but (save for one bar in the lineup) also from the exact same batch of season of harvest, meaning they all went through the same weather conditions (namely, having been grown during a period where a drought had occurred—save for that one bar we mentioned, but more on that in a bit), method of fermentation, and are of the same age. But chocolate is the transformation of cacao as a base ingredient, where every part of the process from the bean to the bar can affect the finished product. How different, then, could the resulting bars be?

L: Palo Cioccolato Filippine 70%; R: Dormouse Chocolates Philippines 71.5% Dark.

Palo Cioccolato Filippine 70% (Italy)

PALO Cioccolato hails from Bologna, Italy.

We opened the tasting with PALO Cioccolato’s Filippine 70% bar, and an initial sniff gives off peppery, citrusy aromas that made us expect an acerbic flavor. What follows is surprising though: there is a fruitiness to it alright, coupled with grit that rubs against the tongue as it melts—but amazingly it does not deliver any sour astringency, instead mellowing into a smooth, chocolatey purr.

[PALO’s] is a very simple chocolate in that, aside from that strong citrusy taste which is the characteristic I think of Philippine cacao, there are no large detours. If you were just on a scenic route, there’s not much to see. But it has a nice chocolate taste . . . it’s not very deep or intense, but it’s there.

Dormouse Chocolates Philippine 71.5% Dark (UK)

Dormouse Chocolates is the first bean-to-bar chocolate producer in Manchester, UK.

Moving on to the next bar on the roster, Dormouse Chocolates’ Philippine 71.5% offers a radical departure from PALO’s, with a deeper, more roast-y hum that becomes more mushroom-like as it progresses. Each square melts remarkably smoothly, and ends on a peculiar fruity, caramel note that gets us thinking for its familiarity. A taster makes a guess and identifies it as panutsa—which comes close, as a peek into the ingredient list reveals the addition of muscovado sugar (!).

L: Feitora de Cacao Filipinas 85%; R: Duffy’s Philippine South Cotabato 70%

Feitoria de Cacao Filipinas 85% (Portugal)

Feitoria de Cacao is a bean-to-bar chocolate company hailing from Portugal.

Next we turn to Feitoria de Cacao’s Filipinas 85%, and we are immediately greeted with a peanut-y taste upon putting a square in the mouth—which, as it turns out, is especially indicative of the drought-affected beans Duque had mentioned previously. Interestingly, it progresses into a milky, dulcet tone with only very little acidity or overwhelming bitterness—which is very surprising for an 85% bar (for which you’d expect a strong hit of bitterness), but makes sense when you consider how many Portuguese desserts emphasize the flavor of milk. A fellow taster notes the bar’s rough mouthfeel, a quality some might not consider ideal, but is not necessarily bad and can be viewed as a characteristic in its own right. (Duque cites the Japanese bean to bar company Minimal, for example, which adopts a rougher mouthfeel as an intentional ‘style’.)

Duffy’s Chocolate Philippine South Cotabato 70% (UK)

Duffy’s Chocolate is an award-winning bean-to-bar chocolate maker from the UK.

The fourth bar in the lineup, Duffy’s Philippine South Cotabato 70%, carries what the author likens to a familiar sherry-like fruitiness when sniffed—and on the tongue it reveals the taste of raisins with a chocolate taste Duque describes as “deep” and long-lasting. Still, we find that it takes on a far more mellow tone compared to the others (think soft but steady instead of one giant wham) and Estela reveals why: though made with the same variety of beans grown in more or less similar conditions, the batch of beans that went into it differs from the others in that it came from the previous year’s harvest—a normal year without the drought that had affected the cacao in the other bars. “Without [the drought], the tastes are also mellower,” she explains. The particular bar that we consumed also differed from the others in that, as a finished chocolate (i.e., after having been molded into a bar), it had aged for a minimum of three months—which naturally also helps mellow down any excessive sharpness.

L: Pangea Chocolate South Cotabato Philippines 83%, R: Solkiki South Cotabato 85%. (Though similar in cacao percentage, given their vast differences from each other—as well as from the Feitoria de Cacao bar we’d tried previously, which also clocks in at 85%—it’s clear that cacao percentage only tells part of the whole story.)

These next two bars share a couple of characteristics—primarily, that they are both made with only two ingredients (sans emulsifiers, such as soy lecithin or additional cacao butter found in the other bars) which can mean they take a longer time to melt; and have both taken home Bronze awards at the Academy of Chocolate awards held in London just recently:

Solkiki South Cotabato 85% (UK)

Solkiki is a vegan-friendly, small-batch, bean-to-bar chocolate company from Dorset in the UK.

Made with only organic Kablon Trinitario cacao and “organic bonechar-free sugar”, Solkiki’s South Cotabato 85% offers a slightly different experience from the previous bars—we notice that what mostly prevails when put on the tongue is a dense paste of sorts, where the thick mouthfeel stands in the way of us detecting any immediate standout flavors. Soon enough though, a grassy, vegetal note emerges and spreads around the roof of the mouth and a sweet sensation retains itself even past being swallowed, extending to the throat. The aftertaste that lingers is beautiful—“gising na gising ka!” (it leaves you wide awake), notes one of our fellow tasters.

Pangea Chocolate South Cotabato 83% (Spain)

Pangea Chocolate is a small-batch bean-to-bar chocolate company from Spain.

Last but not the least is Pangea’s South Cotabato 85%, which—as one of the two-ingredient sort—also melts slow similar to Solkiki’s (though seemingly smoother). But the unhurried pace of the melt allows us to better experience its progression of flavors—which so happens to be one that’s especially complex. On the first few sniffs we notice a more earthy aroma but soon it progresses into the more roasted and robust end of the flavor spectrum, going deeper and more bitter as it continues on—just as you’d expect from a bar of the 80% cacao percentage range. And yet, past the loud impact at the onset, it finishes with the most surprising grassy gentleness (“you can almost imagine the freshly-cut grass outside,” notes Duque) that keeps the opening blow from becoming cloying. (Duque also points out the presence of a flavor note that she likens to that of our very own aratilis, the so-called “cotton candy-flavored” local fruit similar to cherries.)

[Pangea] takes you on a scenic route. Imagine [at first you’re like] ‘whoa, what’s that [flavor]?’, and then you reach the middle taste [and think] ‘oh, there’s something else again!’. You almost have to compartmentalize [the different notes] your brain [as it progresses], until the end.”

None of us in the room that day (apart from Estela) were professionally-trained chocolate tasters or connoisseurs. But as our tasting progressed, we were pleasantly surprised at how different each bar was from each other—in terms of flavor, snap quality, melt, and mouthfeel—that you would not believe they all hold the same roots. Our aim is not to determine which bar(s) are “better” or “worse” than the others, but to discover the diversity of characteristics that can arise from the same bean.

With such different profiles in each bar, the exercise served as a testament to the important ways each step of the chocolate-making process plays—at each of which are variables that can contribute to the resulting chocolate.

More than their inherent genetics, cacao beans also happen to be living things subject to factors in its environment, e.g. the soil and the climate—and this was made especially evident given the difference in the bars made with the drought-affected beans (which, she shares, the chocolate makers had noticed to make for chocolate with a nuttier taste opposed to what they had expected in the control recipe).

The wide variation of characteristics in each bar also reflects the different preferences between chocolate makers (itself possibly influenced by that of their regions of origin). These preferences are subjective, of course—but the variety points to the fact that at the end of the day, there is no “right” or “wrong” style per se, and all different styles can be embraced in their own right.

But what fascinates us most is how the exercise reveals the different notes and characteristics waiting to be unlocked from within the humble cacao pod—in this case, from South Cotabato cacao, and these help form a profile we can use to help market our cacao to the world. Bringing out and making the most of these properties is up to the chocolate maker, who—with training and proper consideration of the bean’s roots—should know how best to treat it.

In light of the drought-affected harvest that had produced sharper-tasting bars, Estela learned one important lesson: to treat its variability not as a defect, but as a changeable variable one can actively play with just as they would any other natural characteristic. “It was the most experienced chocolatier in this group of artisans that I assembled who taught us not to worry about this flavor difference in the 2016-17 harvest,” she shares, “[but] to treat it as the changeable variable of Single Estate Cacao with a baseline flavor.” To illustrate, she shares a metaphor that compares it to music:

“It is in the hands of the chocolate maker that these sharp flavors are coaxed into a chocolate composition, much like a conductor directs an orchestra: he has a musical score to work with, [which is] the specific recipe, and he/she knows the parts played by specific components . . . but how the final sound will come out depends on the particular performers in the orchestra,” she explains. “In the same way, the final chocolate bar at any point in time using a standard recipe for that single origin beans will depend both on the chocolatier and cacao . . . just like the conductor and sound produced by musicians.” And these flavors, rather than being concealed, should be celebrated.


MOULINET CHOCOLAT

A UK-based, one-woman venture that aims to establish Philippine cacao’s identity, beginning with the local industry and moving out towards the world.

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Patricia Baes SEE AUTHOR Patricia Baes Trish thinks too much about everything—truth, existence.....and what’s on her plate. Her ongoing quest for a better relationship with food has led to a passion for cooking, gastronomy, and a newfound interest in its politics. She is a cheapskate in other aspects of her life, preferring to use her savings on specialty vinegars and degustation menus. While she admits to eating out too much, cooking and baking remain her first love, and she's always looking for quirky new ways to use up seasonal produce. Thanks to her obsession with (unnecessarily) making everything from scratch, she is now desperate to clear her fridge full of homemade condiments. She dreams of perfecting the art of making soufflé with her crappy toaster oven.
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