Just like grapes, the flavour of cocoa depends on the plant and its environment. The soil, climate and also how carefully it is harvested, fermented, dried, roasted and conched all are crucial contributors to the final characteristics. “Spider charts” can map the flavour profiles of unblended or Single Origin cocoas. Almost all chocolate in the world is blended – even most premium brands. Blending allows expensive high quality cocoa to be diluted by lower grades particularly when sugars and oils are added. Single Origin or unblended cocoa allows the characteristics of one particular variety to sing out.
Connoisseurs of chocolate seek out the single origin flavour profile which suits their palate, but even the unenlightened of us appreciate the differences when tried side by side. The skill of the chocolatier is to select a particular profile of cocoa and combine it with complementary or supporting notes and textures of ingredients such as cream, fruit and spices to further enhance the taste experience. This is the gift which a Master Chocolatier like Iain Burnett gives us all.
Why São Tomé?
São Tomé is a small island close to the equator off the coast of west central Africa. It has volcanic soil which contributes to the flavour, but it is also the first place that cocoa was first transplanted outside of the South American cradle. That was two hundred years ago, before much of the hybridization to bulk up the less flavourful cocoa that now makes up the majority of the world’s crop, took place. The São Tomé crop is grown in family-run small holdings where the pods are harvested by hand with machetes and the beans are fermented under banana leaves in the sunshine in the traditional way. The beans are graded twice selecting only the best to be sewn into hessian sacks ready to be exported.
Iain Burnett spent three years researching before selecting São Tomé cocoa for his signature Velvet Truffles. He chose São Tomé because of its intense cocoa body with a highly unusual combination of both sweet red fruit notes as well as more spicy aromatic notes of olives, and smoked oak. The natural sweetness of gourmet grade beans means that there is no bitterness to this low sugar 72% dark chocolate.