Cacao was brought to Madagascar by the French in the 19th century to provide a supply of quality chocolate to metropolitan France. Throughout the 20th century many countries focused on planting and growing bulk cacao beans to increase yields and meet a growing global demand for chocolate (at the expense of fine flavour). Madagascar was one of the few countries to not to follow the trend. Their extremely high quality trees continue to produce some of the most flavorful chocolate beans in the world.
Cacao grower Bertil Åkesson’s father was a Swedish diplomat in Paris before starting a trading company and traveling the world. The family eventually settled in Madagascar in the 1970s and took over plantations on the island. A pioneer of the bean-to-bar movement, Bertil was one of the first people to start selling high quality, Madagascan cocoa beans to small makers. The history of the beans contributes to their high quality, but so does the post-harvest preparation. Bertil and his team are darn good at fermenting the beans, and the fermentation process happens to be the main flavour determinate.
The vast majority of Madagascar cacao comes from Bertil Åkesson. Go ahead and look for Madagascar bars and check where the beans come from. For perspective, in my chocolate collection I have 22 Malagasy bars, 16 of which come from the Åkesson estate (and four are unmarked). To make a long story short: these are some of the very best beans in the world.
The Flavour Profile
Common notes are variants on tart, fruity and tangy.
The McGuire Chocolate Saga
This bean sparked much debate in factory about how to prepare the batch. As we performed the cut test and assessed the flavour of the raw bean – which was delightfully fruity – we asked ourselves, light or dark??
The argument for light is clear: the flavour is there all on its own. Keep it simple. Looking at other chocolate makers (those that are willing to disclose their notes), a light roast is consensus and based on fundamentals it is the obvious choice.
The argument for the dark roast: we have had a lot of success recently navigating heavy roasts. New flavour notes develop with a dark roast and typically with a fruity bean some of those can caramelize creating a very balanced chocolate.
The dark roast was seen as a much bigger risk. We understand how special these beans are and squandering our chance with them was an intimidating thought. But, we dare to be different.
THE SOLUTION: we split the beans and do both.
One light, delicate roast. To preserve the vibrant fruity flavour that was so evident in the raw bean. These beans are a delight and a light roast should compliment nicely. The result was largely as expected. Maybe even better. The post roast nib was golden in complexion with a beautiful oily layer of cacao butter..wow. Should we just do all of the beans like this?
No, this experiment much commence. Living out our days wondering “what if?” isn’t an option. We push forward.
For the dark roasted beans we decided to gradually increase the temperature and hold for a painfully long duration. There would be no question whether this was truly a dark roast. When cacao beans are roasting the fat content in the bean pushes out and snaps the shells resulting in a popcorn-like crack. Typically 5-10 cracks for a dark roast is standard but can vary widely depending on the bean. These beans were so oily there were 40 cracks, the first of which came about two minutes earlier than expected! The intense concern felt by Mark was evident by his face in the final 5 minutes of the roast. The temptation to pull them early was strong. It was truly gut wrenching. Starring at the roaster spinning, nose right up against the glass searching desperately for the very first scent of burning (an irreversible flavour stamp)… It never came. Rest easy, young chocolate maker. We made it.
These two chocolates are from the very same lot of beans, with the same amount of sugar, refined for the same amount of time. So many parallels. I imagine the beans were all growing on the same tree, spent their fermenting days alongside each other in the Akesson bin, shipped and bagged together at the Meridian warehouse in Oregon. The same beginning but with two very different destinies.
We won’t comment on how they turned out. You be the judge.
Where do you side?
M + V