Maker’s in­no­va­tion

Finweek English Edition - - INTERNATIONAL -

In the US, the lit­tle squares of Tcho choco­late in their brightly coloured wrap­pers dec­o­rated with fu­tur­is­tic parabo­las of gold and sil­ver have started pop­ping up every­where. Star­bucks has sold them and or­ganic gro­cery chain Whole Foods sells them now.

Those usu­ally aren’t the stores you visit to track down hand­crafted choco­late from bean-to-bar mak­ers, the new wave of choco­late pro­duc­ers that find and blend the rarest and most richly f lavoured ca­cao beans. Artisans like Mast Broth­ers, in Brook­lyn, New York, prom­ise that each batch of bars will be dif­fer­ent; noth­ing will be blandly mass-pro­duced. In a video on their web­site, the lav­ishly bearded Mast sib­lings ex­tol the “in­con­sis­tency” of their choco­late. In­con­sis­tency gen­er­ally isn’t what gets you or­ders from Star­bucks and Whole Foods.

But Tcho makes choco­late as in­ter­est­ing as Mast and other tiny pro­duc­ers. The San Fran­cisco com­pany stakes its rep­u­ta­tion not on the ex­otic-sound­ing va­ri­etal names or con­fus­ing cocoa per­cent­ages the artisans mar­ket but on a set of f lavour char­ac­ter­is­tics: cho­co­latey, bright, fruity, flo­ral, earthy, and nutty. Tcho’s “PureNotes”, il­lus­trated as a pie chart on wrap­pers, is partly a mar­ket­ing de­vice. But the chart rep­re­sents some­thing real. It makes you aware of the range of f lavours you should be look­ing for in good choco­late, and of what you may be miss­ing when you bite into the most dully in­dus­trial or os­ten­ta­tiously ar­ti­sanal ver­sions.

What sets Tcho apart from other choco­late mak­ers is that it doesn’t just scout the equa­tor look­ing for ca­cao farm­ers it can ad­mire, hop­ing they’ll grow great beans that might make won­der­ful choco­late. The com­pany does some­thing new: it pro­vides grow­ers with all the tools they need to have choco­late tast­ings dur­ing har­vest­ing and pro­cess­ing, the cru­cial pe­riod that de­ter­mines the price a ca­cao farmer’s crop will c o mmand. Tc ho com­bines cof­fee roast­ers, spice grinders, and mod­i­fied hair dry­ers to equip “sam­ple labs” – pilot plants that pro­duce tiny lots of choco­late right where ca­cao is grown. The com­pany gives ca­cao farm­ers cus­tomised group­ware so that they can share tast­ing notes and sam­ples with choco­late mak­ers. In this way, the farm­ers can bring en­tire har­vests up to the stan­dards of Tcho or any other buyer.

This is a huge change. Just as some cof­fee grow­ers have never drunk cof­fee made from their beans, some ca­cao grow­ers in re­mote ar­eas have never tasted choco­late made with theirs. (Since choco­late is much harder to make than cof­fee, some may have never tasted choco­late at all.) Teach­ing them to recog­nise the f lavours in fer­mented, roasted, and ground ca­cao beans, and then un­der­stand how they can adapt their grow­ing pro­cesses, will be Tcho’s last­ing con­tri­bu­tion to choco­late mak­ing – even if hair dry­ers and spice grinders weren’t quite the tech the com­pany had in mind when it opened a fac­tory and shop on a his­toric pier in San Fran­cisco’s Em­bar­cadero, in 2007. all-im­por­tant con­cept in cof­fee and wine. Fer­men­ta­tion is as im­por­tant as roast­ing or even fac­tory pro­duc­tion. The process lasts five to seven days, and the tem­per­a­ture and hu­mid­ity at which it takes place and the fre­quency with which the beans are turned for aer­a­tion de­ter­mine the f lavour pro­file a roasted and ground bean will ul­ti­mately pos­sess. The goal is not only to avoid de­fects but to de­velop com­plex f lavours. Tcho leaves the roast­ing to big pro­duc­ers with finely tuned ma­chines. The com­pany re­ceives the cocoa liquor, the paste made from ground roasted beans, in big blocks that it melts, mixes with cocoa fat in var­i­ous blends and stirs. Long, slow mix­ing is part of the choco­late mys­tique. Re­ally long: 24 to 36 hours of slow stir­ring in a vat that is called a conche for the rounded bot­tom that al­lows liq­uid choco­late to be rolled back onto it­self, which in­cor­po­rates air and makes the tex­ture smoother.

Conch­ing can iron out harshly acidic notes. But the artistry is in cre­at­ing a creamy mouth­feel and pre­serv­ing the acidic notes the choco­late maker does want: the

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