Monday, March 31, 2008

COCABO Fairtrade Cacao--First Impressions

Thus far in the production of our Bittersweet Origins chocolates, we've focused on sourcing organic and pesticide-free cacao for our raw material, but we're now beginning to stretch out into Fairtrade cacaos as well. Although we've got our reservations about the overall utility of the Fairtrade certification process in the world of cacao, there are clearly some very good coops out there that have pursued that path and are achieving good results.

With that in mind, today we ran our first roast of COCABO (Cooperativa Cacao Bocatoreña) Fairtrade cacao, and the initial roasting and nib tastings are looking like something very tasty! At first glance, these Trinitario beans are quite pretty raw, with large average size--in appearance they almost look like a Jamaican polished bean without the shine:

After a pretty long roast, there were some wonderfully deep chocolate aromas, and we really enjoyed the nib. Fresh and chocolatey with just a little fruit and acidity at the finish. Can't wait to see what comes of these when they're finished into chocolate, but more on that later!

Mekong Iced Mocha

There is something magical about fivespice--one of those classic sum-greater-than-parts issues. Anyway, add some of Bittersweet's amazing mocha mix, espresso, serve over ice, and you've got a little slice of heaven. Available now at your friendly neighborhood Bittersweet.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Geographical Indicators (and their place--and potential--in Chocolate)

Thus far in the development of the specialty chocolate & cacao economy, there's been very little exploration of the use of geographical indicators to discipline and add value to specific markets and production regions. The only major exception is the Chuao growing region in Venezuela, justifiably famous worldwide (for several hundred years now) for its fine flavor cacao. In 2000, the Empresa Campesina de Chuao y MPC Aragua--which cooperatively manages all sales of Chuao cacao--was granted recognition of its appellation of origin, becoming the first region in the cacao-growing world to do so.

(The video below is of the historic 'patio de secado' in front of the town's colonial church.)

At Bittersweet, we very much hope that this current-day exception will eventually become the rule, and that unique and high-quality cacao regions around the world will begin to make use of geographical indicators to enhance and control the value and quality of their crops.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The 18th Century Weighs In

Given all the recent scientific revelations on the positive health effects of chocolate, it seemed prudent to revisit the Age of Reason to see what folks then had to say on the subject. Whatever your view of chocolate's place in the Four Humours, it seems the vast majority of reviews were pretty good back then too:

Louis Lémery, Traité des Aliments, 1702:
"It's strengthening, restorative, and apt to repair decayed Strength, and make People strong: It helps Digestion, allays the sharp Humours that fall upon the Lungs...and resists the malignity of the Humours."

D. de Quelus, The Natural History of Chocolate, 1719:
"I have seen several persons who had but weak digestion, if not quite spoiled, who have been entirely recovered by the frequent use of chocolate."

Antonio Lavedan, Tratado de los Usos, Abusos, Propiedades y Virtudes del Tabaco, Cafe, Te, y Chocolate, 1796:
"Chocolate vivifies the substance of the heart, diminishes flatulence, takes away obstructions, helps the stomach, and awakens the appetite, which is a sign of health for those that drink it. It increases virility, slows the growth of white hair, and extends life until decrepitude. To people of any age, including the youngest, it can be given."

Take some and call us in the morning...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Abstractions, No. 1

Who says chocolate machinery can't be pretty? (Or at least interesting :-)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Caffeine? Not so much...

We field lots of questions at Bittersweet about stimulants in chocolate, and, specifically, how much caffeine there is. Well, the answer is: not all that much.

Typically, there's about as much caffeine in 100g of 70% chocolate as there is in a decaf espresso (about 15 milligrams, if you want to get specific), so if it's caffeine you're worried about (or looking for), you're not going to find it around here, unless you're drinking coffee or tea.

The more interesting part of the story is the stimulant that's unique to chocolate: Theobromine. Theobromine acts less directly on the central nervous system than does its cousin caffeine, and is associated with increased heartbeat and dialation of blood vessels, resulting in lowered blood pressure. It also combines with Anandamides in chocolate fats to increase seratonin production, typically increasing a sense of well-being.

But if you're thinking of eating or drinking significant quantities of chocolate right before bed, think again. Theobromine still packs a stimulant punch! Our prescription: take small doses regularly throughout the day :-)