March 27, 2012
My report from another delicious evening hosted by Martin Christy of fine chocolate review site Seventy%
Tuesday the 20th March, a whole month gone since the last wonderful Seventy% chocolate tasting (see 21st February posting). It was more than time for another one. I was getting serious withdrawal symptoms! Of course it is not like I deprive myself of chocolate in the meantime. My world revolves around the stuff. But I always learn so much from Martin Christy, founder of 70% and all round fine chocolate guru.
This time the theme for the evening was Spice, and our mission as tasters was to search out and revel in the spicy flavour notes in the chocolate Martin had picked for us to try. Much fine cacao, particularly Trinitario beans, if handled carefully with only a light roasting, has hints of cinnamon and ginger, vanilla and even tobacco amongst the more familiar chocolatey tastes we all love.
Of the chocolate we tasted, Nicaliso 70% from Honduras, by Friis Holm, was new to me and the biggest eye-opener. It was some of the most buttery chocolate I have eaten in a long while, but with no loss of intense flavours. And the flavours were truly unusual, starting out treacly, almost molasses, it developed into a strong pure vanilla spice, and then hints of tobacco, before it melted smoothly away from my over-excited taste buds.
I was also thrilled to see the wonderful Cru Virunga by Original Beans on our agenda. This chocolate using beans from Congo, is one of my all time loves, currently my own personal Desert Island Chocolate. I mentioned to a fellow taster that I can’t live without the stuff and have sacks of it at home. I don’t think she believed me but it is quite true. It’s honeyed complexity, strong but smooth, with a hit of peanut and a slight peppery kick, suits my mood and lifts my spirits more often than any other chocolate I have met. And you know I have met a few!
Adding spices to chocolate takes us back to the origins of chocolate. Long before it was the sweet confection we know today, it was a strong and often spicy drink, the ultimate Aztec pick-you-up. Nowadays vanilla is present in much of the chocolate we eat, it isn’t even considered an added flavour. It just sits in well with the flavour of the cacao, rounding it off and filling it out, or to be truthful making up for lack of flavour in indifferent beans. Chilli is another common and happy addition.
We had a go at adding spice, cardamom to be precise, during a great treat of the evening, making chocolate! On a large flat ancient metate stone we ground lightly roasted beans with a lethal looking stone approximation of a rolling pin.
With just a little sugar, the cardamom and a few pink peppercorns, we worked out biceps until the cocoa butter began to make itself evident and the whole turned into a gooey, sweet, gloriously spiced mass.
I am sure it would have set into a very impressive proper chocolate if we had had the patience to let it, Martin did try to get it away from me long enough to give it a chance. But the stone itself was still in front of me so I cheated and tasted the fruits of our labours while they were still warm from the pounding. Wow! No wonder those Aztecs were in thrall to the powers of cacao.
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