Single Origin Chocolate - Which Will I Like?

Posted on May 11, 2013 by  Lee Mccoy | 0 Comments

If you're new to chocolate some of the terminology or information may be alien to you. In a series of guides for beginners here we explore what you can expect from different origins of chocolate.
Firstly it’s important to define what we mean by the term 'origin' - this is the country from which the cocoa used in chocolate comes from. As you would expect, the term 'single origin' states that the cocoa used comes from just the one country. This in contrast to 'blended chocolate' that will come from any number of different origins. En Example of a single origin would be the Madre's 70% Dominican Republic.
Origins can be further divided into smaller components such as Rio Caribe which is an area located to the north east of Venezuela, whilst another area is Sur Del Largo. An example here is Wilkies' Tumbes dark which comes from the region of the same name in Peru.
A region can then be further refined into either an individual farm or estate which is under one company's control and responsibility such as the El Pedregal which produces cocoa for the Valrhona chocolate of the same name, or into a co-operative which is a collection of small-holdings that combine in an economic sense to increase the price they receive for their cocoa and jointly purchase tools of production. Seemingly the most well-known co-operative is Kuapa Kopkoo who produces the cocoa for companies such as Divine and Alto Eco. Often co-operatives will name themselves after their local town or region which can confuse things.
So there we have the basic geographic way chocolate makers label their products. Some also label by type of bean, but we'll go into that later.

What does chocolate made from cocoa from the different origins taste like?

We can only describe at the most basic level and generalise as every chocolate maker will take beans and process them differently. Furthermore, the origins will often provide different strains of cacao and the individual estates/farms will ferment, dry and store their beans differently. But on the most basic of levels we have:

Venezuela - cocoa from this country is often cited as the most flavoursome, but the local ecosystem and terrain has allowed for many different varietals of cacao (predominantly Bolivar with noticeable amounts of Zulia, Barinas and Miranda) to evolve and understandably many different flavour profiles available dependent on which region the cacao was grown. Simply:
  • Maracaibo - not to be confused with the strain of cacao by the same name, cacao grown in this region and predominantly in the Catatumbo and Encontraodos river valleys contribute to chocolate displaying wooden and earthy notes sustained by a soft creaminess. Further confusion may also be created by the fact that the much vaunted Porcelana bean was historically called 'Maracaibo' as it was transported via the Venezuelan port of the same name. I believe Hanchez produce a bar from this area.
  • Puerto Cabello - situated on the northern coast of Venezuela and just north of Lake Victoria, cocoa from this area will typically be similar to others in the wider northern region. You should get a good dose of red and blue fruits and a heavy, darker base.
  • Chuao - a 740 acre area around a small town in northern Venezuela produced beans that contribute very interesting red fruit flavours and a powerful finish. A typical example is the Pralus Chuao and Amedei Chuao, although you can seemingly get Chuao chocolate also from Bonnat, Pierre Marcolini, Morin, Valrhona, Coppeneur, Mast Brothers and Amano, amongst others.
  • Cuyagua - this valley borders the previous and following regions and tends to offer a complex supply or red fruits balanced against more mellow yellow fruits of apricot and peach.
  • Ocumare - somewhat similar to Cuyagua but with added clove to add a different direction of sharpness but with a contrasting cream aspect. A good example is the Domori Peutomar.
  • Rio Caribe - particularly similar to Ocumare, but perhaps with a slight nudge towards the nuttier side.
  • Barlovento - responsible for the Caranero Trinitario / Criollo hybrid which portrays a much softer flavour profile with cherry, mango and papaya but also with mellow spices. An example is the Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé Carenero Superior.
Ecuador - this origin allows us to see first-hand that Forrestero-originated cacao doesn't have to offer dull flavours. The Arriba Nacional which has roots in the Forrestero offers blackcurrant, floral and spices.

  • Guayaquil (Guayas Basin) - intense, heavy, punchy blackberry, plum all typically present. Example: Blanxart 95% Guayaquil.
  • Los Rios - often figs, liquorice, wood, citrus, light fruits. Examples include Pacari, Amano, Coppeneur, Caoni and Marcolini.
  • Manabi - more fruity than floral
  • Esmereldas - located on the central coast of Ecuador, chocolate produced from Arriba Nacional cocoa originating from here often creates a strawberry backdrop.
  • Manabi - often gives light, spicy, herbs based by cream

- often soft fruits with power to the north or mild further south. In time we'll enhance this profile with information about the different regions: Tumbes, Piura, Cajamarca, Amazonas, San Martin, Huanuco, Junin, Acayali, Aaucho, Cuso etc. Worth trying is the Potomac San Martin 70%.

Columbia - certainly one for those wanting to explore lighter, less astringent chocolate. It provides a jubilant red fruit characteristic often with a honey, sweet underbelly with spice sometimes available.

Madagascar - one of my favourite origins due to its typically fruit acidic, flavours with a strong wood element balanced by cherry and spices. You'll find cacao of a mix of Criollo and Trinitario. Again we'll split this profile out, but in the meantime you might like to explore Madagascar origin chocolate by Åkesson, Menakao, Pralus, Bonnat, Sotstar, Dick Taylor and Valrhona, 

Dominican Republic - chocolate made with cacao from the Dominican Republic is often robust and brutish with strong, heavy tannins and acidity. You should also find a variety of spice tones including cinnamon and clove. Examples include Loma Los Pinos, Madre,  Dick Taylor, Jacques Torres, Woodblock and Vestri.

Papua New Guinea - often more acidic than average, earthy with strong tobacco and smoke notes. You should also detect soft fruits and spice.

Indonesia / Java - often works well in milk chocolate format due to its creamy, soft, caramel tones with a hint of citrus.

São Tomé - typically a wild, tartness with heavy wood notes and a dash of clove.

Panama - there's not a great amount of cocoa grown here, but what there is will tend to offer a very mellow creamy flavour. An example is Zotter's version.

Grenada - home to the Grenada Chocolate Company and can produce chocolate with dark fruit and volcanic tendencies. As well as the Grenada Chocolate Company you can also find versions by Naive, Amedei, Sharffen Berger and Burdick.

Trinidad and Tobago - spice, cedar wood, tropical fruits, tobacco and red fruits.

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