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Thursday, 29 November 2012

chocolate: an education

A coffee worth the 60-mile round-trip.
But then, I wasn't driving.
Good coffee is notoriously tricky to find outside of the M25 * (and if any of you are even tempted to mention Starbucks, please, just- don't) and so as ludicrous as it sounds, the Husband and I quite often trek over to DunneFrankowski's Protein in Shoreditch for a decent one. This might seem a bit OTT, but a) we're both unashamedly snobbish when it comes to coffee, and b) we're good friends with Rob (Dunne) and Vic (Frankowski), so the 30-mile mission isn't quite as ridiculous as it might first appear. I've always considered these two to be crusaders of a sort- essentially, they're on a mission to get people drinking proper coffee (not low-fat, toffee nut soya lattes), and I suppose they realised that chocolate suffered the same break- people have long since forgotten what it actually is, how to make it, and how to eat it. And so after chatting to Michael Lowe from chocolatier Paul A Young over a coffee, they asked him to arrange a chocolate tasting (read: re-education) one Sunday. I'm not one to say 'no' to chocolate for breakfast, so that's where we found ourselves.

Sure beats coco pops...
I've already confessed my gender-driven compulsion for shopping, and yes, I do enjoy a crap rom-com every once in a while (especially if Jennifer Anniston pops up somewhere), but really I think it goes without saying that, like most girls, I'm quite fond of a good bit of chocolate. Whilst I'm just as snobbish about it as I am my coffee, I have to admit I'd never given the stuff much thought beyond 'well this stuff's obviously better- it's twice the price, and in nice paper...' which is arguably the same yardstick I apply to a lot of my purchases.  I know the American stuff is shit, the Belgian stuff is good, and Cadburys... well, they're a bit like Starbucks. But that was the extent of my chocolate expertees, so I was quite keen to learn more.

Cocoa nibs. An acquired taste...
Chocolate is the only edible substance to contain more aromatics than coffee. If I'm honest, I thought 'aromatic' was just a flowery term used to describe wine, Thai food or candles, but as it turns out, it's a bona fide scientific measurement of certain compounds. On average, coffee has about 850 aromatics compared to chocolate's 1600- hence why Rob and Vic were so interested in the first place. The similarities between coffee and chocolate don't end there- both are grown in a relatively limited geographical region, both are roasted, and, importantly, both are hugely misunderstood everyday commodities. Paul A Young are one of only three chocolate producers in the UK to buy and roast their own cocoa beans (though admittedly this is no guarantee of quality, as Cadbury are one of the others), and they make everything on site, and by hand, the old-school way. So if this makes for a good chocolate, what makes a bad one? Plenty, apparently. Cocoa beans are fermented and roasted to develop flavour; the levels of each required to get the perfect taste vary hugely bean-by-bean, but if you're a mass-producing chocolate conglomerate, then it's tricky, time consuming and expensive to get a consistent product at the end of the process. Unless, that is, you under-ferment and over-roast your beans. This way everything tastes bad, but at least it tastes consistently bad. And it's OK, because you have emulsifiers, sugar, veg oil and artificial flavourings handy anyway.

Every bean is about 45% cocoa butter, and it's this that is actually the costly part of the bean. A lot of the 'crap' chocolate manufacturers remove the majority of this, sell it (to The BodyShop, presumably...) and replace it with milk solids and veg oil- normally Palm oil. This, in turn, hurts Orangutangs. And trees. Plus, I really feel that if you are extracting the essence of the bean from your chocolate, then it isn't really chocolate. It's fake chocolate.

So let's talk about good chocolate- this is where my breakfast comes in. I tried a few, but I'll run you through three...

The Venezuelan 72%
First up was a Madagascan 50% cocoa. Yes, a milk chocolate, but Galaxy it aint. Creamy just doesn't do it justice- it melted in the mouth, and had none of that chalky texture of the cheap stuff. Then, just to liven up my tastebuds a bit, I nibbled on some cocoa nibs (also referred to as pate or chocolate liquor). This was 100% raw, hand picked, hand dried cocoa from Madagascar. Having not been fermented or roasted, and containing no sugar, it's unsurprisingly pretty bitter. However, it's smoother than you'd expect, and oddly cooling on your tongue. It's also strangely addictive, and apparently great for baking with. However, my favourite of the half a dozen or so I tried was the Venezuelan 72%. Now without sounding like too much of a ponce, it managed to taste floral and earthy at the same time, and wasn't as bitter as many chocolates I've eaten with a lower cocoa content. It's supposed to be quite good for tempering, too.

There we go. I do hope this doesn't all seem like too much of a rant. Yes, good chocolate is more expensive than shit chocolate- if you want to gorge on an entire bar of the stuff in front of X-Factor, then cool- stick to the Cadburys. But if you like real chocolate- the stuff you can still taste two hours later, and has actually seen a cocoa bean, then I'd say it's worth shelling out the extra pennies. The Orangutangs will thank you for it.

* So to make it easier, I'll tell you where to go: any Wyombeites reading this need to visit to The Pantry (@thenewpantry). It's proper coffee, and they pay their tax bill.

mrs hunt.x

An Orangutang. He's happy.


  1. I've been meaning to try some from Paul A Young for a while (my sister always raves about it). After reading your post I think I'll add it to the to-do list when I finally get back to London.


  2. It IS very good chocolate, I must say...