Cacao has long been a sacred plant. And when I say long, I mean 4000 years ago. That kind of long.
Cacao was used by the Mayas, the Aztecs and other populations in Central America as a currency, a precious potion and a spiritual guide. Cacao was made into a bitter and potent paste mixed with water and spices such as cinnamon, cloves and chillis. This beverage was reserved for the nobility and the warriors. It was believed that cacao (literally meaning "food of the gods") had special powers and was to be used right. Cacao was given to the warriors before battle to give them a boost, it was an offering for the gods, kept the kings awake and served as a bridge with the spirit world in shamanic ceremonies.
Fast forward to the 1520s, Cortez brings back the beverage to Europe and cacao becomes the favourite beverage at the courts and palaces. It was then turned into a bar, some milk was added to it and we have the commercial chocolate we know today.
The bean-to-bar or craft chocolate movement has given back to cacao its sacred character. Indeed, craft chocolate maker simply attempt to showcase the natural taste and subtleties of the cacao in their chocolate. This is why craft chocolate tend to focus on single origins.
Much like wine, cacao from different countries, regions, towns and villages have a different taste. This is due to the different genetics of the cacao (the "Cepage" in wines) but also the soil in which it grows.
There are three types of cacao: Forastero, Trinitario and Criollo. Most cacao plantations play with the genetics of the trees to create a unique taste profile.
Our cacao is from a single farm in Dak Lak region, in the centre of Vietnam. The region has a combination of hilly and flat land which makes it a prime terroir to grow crops such as coffee, pepper, watermelon and cacao.
The cacao we use is grown next to pepper and coffee trees, giving our cacao some spicy notes!
The notes of our cacao are: cherry, spices, tobacco. The flavour profile is illustrated in the flavour map
The farmers that grow our cacao have extensive knowledge of the plant and understand how the cacao taste once transformed into chocolate so they tailored the process so that the flavour profile of the bean is well balanced.
Like most craft chocolate maker, we work with the farmers directly and make sure they are paid fairly for their cacao. We went to visit the farm to get to know the farmers and understand the transformation process that happens at the farm.
The process at the farm is then crucial in determining the final flavour of the chocolate. Once ripe, the cacao pods are opened and the cacao beans that lay inside a yummy white fruit pulp are put into wooden boxes for fermentation. The fruit pulp is so sweet that the bacteria activity gets pretty intense pretty fast, the beans can reach a temperature of 45 degrees during the fermentation process which takes 4-6 days.
The beans are then laid on long tables under the sun for drying. This will reduce the acidity and moisture level in the beans. The farmer will turn the beans everyday to ensure even drying. This process takes about a week. The beans are then ready to be shipped to the chocolate maker.