The average American eats at least a half a pound of chocolate each month. Local chocolatiers share secrets of great chocolate — from sourcing cocoa beans to the art of ‘tempering’ to pairing unusual flavor combinations like chocolate with chili, bacon, or peppercorns.
- Robert Cabeca Owner, Cocova
- Jason Andelman Owner, Artisan Confections, Arlington, Virginia
- Eric Reid Co-owner, Spagnvola Chocolatier, Gaithersburg, Maryland
Los Angeles gourmet chocolate store Compartes Chocolatier is featured on this special highlighting artisanal handcrafted gourmet foods. Chocolatier Jonathan Grahm is profiled by host Aida Mulenkamp:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's Food Wednesday. Americans love chocolate and not just around Valentine's Day. The average American eats nearly a pound of chocolate a month. Happily for many others, chocolate choices have come a long way in the past decade. There were once just a few big candy companies and a handful of gourmet shops selling mostly European chocolates.
MR. KOJO NNAMDINow, there are hundreds of specialty chocolatiers around the country who focus on everything, from sourcing the best cocoa, best cocoa beans, to blending unusual flavors. Chili and chocolate, anyone? So while chocolate may simply be a sweet escape for most of us, it's a serious business for those who strive to take chocolate to new levels. Joining us to discuss this are some of our area chocolate makers. Joining me in studio is Robert Cabeca. He is the owner of Cocova, Cocova, Cocova, here in D.C. Is it Cocova?
MR. ROBERT CABECAIt's Cocova.
NNAMDICocova. Robert Cabeca, thank you for joining us.
CABECAThank you. It's a pleasure, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso in the studio with us is Jason Andelman. He is the owner of Artisan Confections in Arlington, Va. Jason, thank you for joining us.
MR. JASON ANDELMANThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAnd also with us is Eric Reid. He is the owner of SPAGnVOLA Chocolatier, along with his wife, Crisoire Reid, in Gaithersburg, Md. They also grow their own cocoa beans in the Dominican Republic. Eric Reid, thank you for joining us.
MR. ERIC REIDThank you for having us.
NNAMDIYou, too, can join the conversation at 800-433-8850. What's the most important to you when choosing chocolate? 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. Jason Andelman, I'll start with you. There's a difference between making chocolates, truffles, filled chocolates or chocolate bars and making chocolate, as in from the bean. Can you explain?
ANDELMANRight. This is a common misnomer. We teach classes at our shop. This -- a lot of people don't know this, but...
NNAMDIYou're teaching a class here right now.
ANDELMANSo chocolate is made from the cocoa pod, which is a fruit. So there are chocolate manufacturers that take the cocoa pod and make it into chocolate. What we do is we get chocolate from a manufacturer, and we make confectionary products, truffles, candy, whatever you want to call it. So it's two very completely different things. I often equate it to the home builder that would be, you know, making his own lumber and then building houses with it. We buy lumber from a lumber manufacturer and then make chocolate with it.
NNAMDIEric, you and your wife, Crisoire, are one of the few shops that actually make the chocolate that then goes into the truffles and the chocolate bars that you sell. We'll talk more about that later. But, first, help us along with some basics. When someone says that a chocolate bar is 65 percent cacao, what exactly does that mean? And what is the difference between cacao and cocoa?
REIDWell, the name is sort of interchangeable. Just the main difference between -- when you hear a percentage, it's basically the percentage of cocoa and sugar 'cause those are the two main ingredients when you're looking at the percentages. So when you hear 60 percent, 40 percent of it, roughly, is sugar.
NNAMDIThank you for clearing that up. Jason, is -- if something is 85 percent cacao, what generally makes up the remaining 15 percent, sugar, as he said?
ANDELMANYes. Sugar, like he says. Sometimes, some manufacturers...
ANDELMANIn some cases, they may add a little bit of soy lecithin in the product. Usually, it's, like, less than half a percent, and that's just sort of to keep everything homogenized.
NNAMDIWhat's the highest percentage of cacao you can get?
ANDELMANI believe they make a 99 percent bar. Or, actually, Eric is telling me they make a 100 percent bar. But I've seen near 99 percent, 100 percent bars.
NNAMDIA hundred percent, Eric?
REIDWell, you can make it. It's just depending on the palate, if someone is really going to like that, but that is achievable.
NNAMDIRobert, for some, tasting chocolate is now along the lines of fine wines. What do you look for when you try a chocolate for the first time?
CABECAWell, I look for a little bit of something that's going to taste good initially when I place it in my mouth, and I look for creaminess and smoothness of texture. I also look for a little bit of complexity of flavor. There are several different kinds of cocoa beans, which I think we'll get into a little bit later on.
CABECAAnd each of them has their own distinct flavor profile. So as you learn to talk -- to taste chocolate, as you would fine wines, you begin to be able to distinguish the differences between cocoa bean varieties as you taste pure chocolate. And to touch on something that Eric said about the difference between cocoa and cacao is that the term cocoa is the Anglicized terminology for it, just the Americanized, for lack of a better word, whereas cacao is from the proper name Theobroma cacao.
CABECASo it just became a lot easier to pronounce the word cocoa as opposed to cacao. But with all new artisan chocolate makers, it's having a bit of a resurgence in common language again.
NNAMDICacao, cocoa, what's so difficult...
NNAMDI...to pronounce about either?
NNAMDIBut tell us what you look for, Jason, when you try a chocolate for the first time.
ANDELMANYeah, kind of what Robert was saying. I mean, I like to taste, you know, a nice punch of flavor. I mean, the chocolate that we use in our confections is a French chocolate called Valrhona, and they have a pretty wide variety of, you know, different percentages of chocolate. And they all have different, you know, flavor profiles. But with us, when we're adding stuff to it, we look for something that can sort of take up flavor as well, so we kind of go for a broad range of things.
NNAMDIHow about you, Eric? What do you look for?
REIDWell, I never started as a dark chocolate lover, to be honest with you, until I actually started making my own chocolate. And the reason why is, historically, when you picked up a chocolate -- dark chocolate bar, you had some huge intensity, a lot of nutty, burnt, vanilla-type flavor, which keeps a lot of people from enjoying dark chocolate. What we've found 'cause what -- when we decided to go into this business is we tasted tons and tons of premium chocolate. And what we found common across the board is the high intensity of vanilla and a high intensity of sugar.
REIDBut with us owning the farm and owning the entire process, what we bring forth is allowing the beans and the quality of our beans to basically bring out its own flavor without adding tons of vanilla to it. And so, for me, the chocolate has to smell right. And if it smells like vanilla, I try to stay away from it. So the intensity we like to bring out, it's intensity all on its own.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. It's Food Wednesday. We're talking chocolate and inviting your calls. Are you a purist, or do you like chocolate paired with unusual flavors, like, say, jalapeno? 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com. To what extent is it important to trust your own taste, like wine, Jason?
ANDELMANYeah, I mean, I think there's a broad range of what people like, and we have people that come in, they want just white chocolate. Some people want milk chocolate. People are definitely leaning toward just asking for dark chocolate these days. And we often get asked, when people come into the store, like, oh, you know, what's your favorite? And I kind of guide them to what's popular because everyone's palate is different. And what people like is different. So I just think there's a lot of stuff out there. And we try to -- when we make our confections, we try to put a broad range of things in there.
ANDELMANThere are some maybe unusual flavors, and there's some traditional ones. There's some plain ones, so, hopefully, there's something for everybody.
NNAMDIRobert, in your store, you sell chocolates sourced from all over the world. What are you looking for when you add a brand of chocolate to your lineup?
CABECAWe look for several different factors. We look at where the cacao was grown. We look at how it was cultivated, how it was farmed. We look at the manufacturing processes that the chocolate maker is using. And, finally, we look for the final taste and texture of the chocolate. We -- our store receives several samples from manufacturers on a weekly basis, and our staff of eight people will together sit down and taste different chocolate.
CABECAWe don't sell anything in our store unless we've unanimously agreed that we all like it. That helps us to educate the customers when they come in, to help guide them around the store to look for chocolate that's going to appeal to their palate. One thing that we realize is that everybody likes different things for different reasons. And we help them to understand what they like and why they like it so that they can make an educated purchase.
NNAMDIGot any vacancies for tasting positions available right now?
NNAMDIThe man who first started this store had an interesting story. It's my understanding...
CABECAYes, he did.
NNAMDI...he was a flight attendant. Tell us about that.
CABECAYes. Biagio Abbatiello is -- was one of the partners that started Biagio Fine Chocolate, and he was a flight attendant, traveling around the world, visiting -- as he visited different airports and cities, he would experience fine chocolate and was wondering why there was no such place in -- where he lived here in D.C. where he could buy any chocolate from around the world. And so he and a couple people started Biagio Fine Chocolate.
CABECAI also have another business where I do make chocolate truffles, wedding cakes, pastries, things like that, and I became one of his vendors. And that's how I got to know Biagio. So when he was looking to go back into flying, you know, he approached me, and we agreed to make a transition. So his story is that he really enjoyed exploring the world for fine chocolate, and we've kind of taken that tradition on even though at the moment not directly but virtually.
NNAMDIIn your case, Jason, with your chocolates, you focus on both the flavor but also how they look. I am looking here at a port wine fig.
NNAMDIAnd describe the design on this fig and why you feel that chocolate should appeal to the artistic in us.
ANDELMANYeah. I think -- first of all, people, you know, they sort of eat with their eyes first. If something looks really pretty, they're, you know -- although, a lot of times, people would look at these and they're like, oh, they're too pretty to eat.
NNAMDIMy father was like that, yes.
ANDELMANYou're like, no, eat them. But, yeah, the design on that particular chocolate, it's made with colored cocoa butter. On that particular one, it was a custom design by a local artist. So we got the artwork from the local artist. We put a call out in the summertime. We got a bunch of submissions, took the artwork from the local artist, had it made into a transfer sheet. And then those are our sort of seasonal flavors. So the artist-designed chocolates change every couple months.
NNAMDIThey change, and one of them is about to disappear.
NNAMDIBut you also create chocolates around seasonal flavors. What are the flavors you've got in the store now? And how did you come up with those?
ANDELMANWell, the seasonal flavors we have now are that port wine fig. We also have a rose champagne with lemon, sort of -- we wanted something that was a little bit more, you know, tuned into Valentine's Day. And then we also have a maple walnut, which is good old, classic wintertime flavor. A lot of the flavors we have don't change year-round. We keep some staples. If we took some of the chocolates away, I think there'd be an -- you know, there'd be an uproar if we took some of the flavors away. So we keep some year-round. Then we try to change things on an annual basis.
NNAMDIEric, you and Crisoire also work with unusual flavors. You infuse chocolate with things like olive oil and jasmine. Tell us how you decide which flavors will pair well with chocolate.
REIDWell, to start off, my wife is the head chocolatier, and she's a phenomenal cook. And, you know, it's one thing to say that you're going to infuse your chocolate or your ganache with different flavors. But you have to know the proper consistency to bring forth the right flavor without taking away from the chocolate. So my wife has a really keen way of doing that, so -- because we're from the Caribbean, she focuses a lot on some of those exotic fruits, like the mangoes, the passion fruits, you know, and she sort -- you know, the kiwis.
REIDSo she sort of blends some of that stuff together and come forth with her nice tropical ganache that we use and coat it with all of our 70 percent chocolate.
NNAMDII'm hearing a lot about how good Crisoire is. What good are you? What function do you perform?
REIDThat's a great question. Well, I'm sort of the -- you know, the mind of the business. One of my primary functions initially was really doing a lot of research and learning about the cultivation, the proper cultivation of the tree, the proper harvesting, the proper fermentation, the drying. All of that is the foundation of fine-quality chocolate, you know? And if you don't do those things upfront and ensure that your cultivation is sound, there's no way possible for you to have fine-quality chocolate.
NNAMDIWe're going to talk a little bit more about that later, but now on to the telephones. Here is Lynn in Fairfax Station, Va. Lynn, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LYNNHi. Thanks for having this show, Kojo. My question is, do the guests feel that there should be a standard for chocolate in the United States, where, now, a lot of times you're buying chocolate and you turn the wrapper over and there's artificial flavor in the chocolate?
NNAMDIDo you think there should be some kind of standard, Robert?
CABECAThat's a great question. I know that the FDA has numerous regulations surrounding candy manufacture, and the Department of Agriculture controls much of the -- it controls the ingredient structures of what can be included in chocolate. However, I think that some of the things to look at are that most chocolate and confections are designed towards individual palates, what people really like.
CABECAAnd unfortunately, like it or not, America likes sugar, plain and simple. And it's a challenge for fine chocolatiers to re-educate people's palates, to have them appreciate things with a lot less sugar, so you can really appreciate the delicate and fine natures of the natural ingredients which are included in various foods.
NNAMDIDo you think that can occur over time?
CABECAI think -- eventually, but we'll -- I don't know that we'll ever be relieved of our addiction to sugar.
NNAMDILynn, thank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation on the art and science of chocolate. You can call us, 800-433-8850, with your comments or questions. Are you a purist or do you like chocolate paired with unusual flavors? 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking chocolate, the art and science on this Food Wednesday with Robert Cabeca. He is the owner of Cocova here in D.C., Jason Andelman is the owner of Artisan Confections in Arlington, Va. and Eric Reid is the co-owner of SPAGnVOLA Chocolatier along with his wife, Crisoire, in Gaithersburg, Md. They also grow their own cocoa beans in the Dominican Republic.
NNAMDIWe got this comment posted on our website from Mary in Rockville. "It's so nice to have a great local company for single-source chocolate. I have given up my coffee shop addiction and taken up SPAGnVOLA cappuccino truffles instead. Hoping for more for Valentine's Day. I hope my husband, Vince, is listening." Vince, hopefully, you're listening, or you could be in trouble. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Send email to email@example.com if you have comments or questions. Or you can simply send us a tweet, @kojoshow.
NNAMDIYou create chocolates around seasonal flavors. And what are the flavors you've got in the store right now? I think I asked you that before, Jason, did I?
NNAMDIThe -- OK, then allow me to move on. Sea salt with chocolate is very popular now. Even chocolate bacon is old hat now. Why does salt go so well with chocolate?
ANDELMANI just think it's a nice pairing. I mean, salt sort of brings out the flavor of a lot of things. You know, we do a caramel that's coated in chocolate that's got some sea salt on top of it. It just that nice pop of saltiness really brings up the flavor of both the caramel and the chocolate just like it does, you know, if you're putting salt on any food.
NNAMDIHmm. This is the busiest time of year for all of you in your line of work. What kinds of chocolates are you finding that's most popular now, Eric?
REIDTo be honest with you, I think a lot of our customers are looking for plain, anything that's just the dark, plain chocolate. They really enjoy that because you can pair it with almost anything. But we have customers that truly enjoy the blueberry, the pistachios, the passion fruit. But we're really finding out is that there's a lot of customers that are, you know, really enjoy dark chocolate, and they just like to keep things plain.
NNAMDII just had the passion fruit. It's really good. In your case, Jason, what's...
ANDELMANYeah, I mean, most of our stuff is sold, you know, in a box, and they're getting a variety. I think people want a different, you know, like a nice assortment, a nice variety of stuff. To be honest with you, everything we make has chocolate in it or is coated with chocolate. But people love caramels. I mean, they really -- we sell a lot of caramels. So that's kind of, it seems, what people are gravitating toward this year with us.
NNAMDIRobert, what's a single origin bar?
CABECASo single origin chocolate or single-origin bar is used to define where the cocoa beans come from, which are used in the making of a particular chocolate bar. They're single origin, like Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, Brazil, et cetera. Any country growing cacao can be called a single origin. Compare that what's called a single plantation would be a chocolate bar that is made only from beans that come from a specific mentioned plantation in that country.
NNAMDIWe had an email from Arlene, who wants to ask a question about the single-source beans. "Is the taste of single-sourced cacao beans superior in the finished product to beans from mixed sources?"
CABECAThat's a great question. Of course, it depends on the type of cocoa bean and how the bean was grown and also on the skill set of the chocolate maker. Typically, though, what people are looking for in fine chocolate are for the single plantation or single origin-type combinations. When you have large blends, you don't necessarily know where all the beans have come from, nor do you know what the quality of those beans are, so there is a number of different factors that go in there. And the best way to find out is to taste it.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here is Tarifa (sp?) in Washington, D.C. Tarifa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TARIFAThank you, Kojo. What I really have is really one comment and one question.
TARIFAThe question is, when is the first chocolate is made? And how come, even though from Africa, a lot of chocolate comes from a farm with young kids and who has never seen a real chocolate, what that looks like. How come there's no product coming from Africa? And I just want to know, you know, who created chocolates?
NNAMDIHow come there's no -- Robert is holding up right now. Robert Cabeca, what are you holding up?
CABECASo I'm holding up a bar of Divine chocolate. Divine is a company that makes chocolate from farmer-owned plantations in Africa. And they're one of producers whose bars we sell on the store. And your other part of the question is when was chocolate was first made. That could be a little bit up for debate. It was initially used by Olmec Indians in 1500 B.C. They were the first civilization to actually farm cocoa as we know it, and to use it in an edible form. But as far as the chocolate bar as we now know it, it was originally developed in the early 1800s, maybe very late 1700s, 1790s.
NNAMDIAnd speaking of Africa, "The Diane Rehm Show" did an in-depth show on this yesterday. We've got a link to our website, kojoshow.org. But let's touch on it. They have long been issues with cacao farms, including child labor in places like West Africa. So companies like Hershey's have been pressured to address fair trade and labor issues. How do you take that into account when you source your chocolate?
NNAMDII know in Eric's case, your cacao comes from farms that are worked on mostly by relatives of yours. In the case of you, Jason, or you, Robert, how do you take the fair trade issues and labor issues into account when you look for sources for your chocolate?
ANDELMANWell, that's -- we're pretty loyal to one brand of chocolate that we use to make our products with. We use of our own. All other stuff is fair trade, and, you know, there's really no debate on what they're doing in the chocolate business. So, for us, it's pretty succinct because we're just using one type of chocolate. I think Robert could probably talk more about it since he's got a lot of different stuff in his shop.
NNAMDIIt's on you, Robert.
CABECAOh, good. Thank you, Jason. And, you know, Jason is correct in that, too. We -- in our store, we have over 850 different kinds of chocolate products from all around the world, from very well-renowned chocolate makers, including products from Artisan Confections from Jason here. We are looking more and more towards the sensitivity of how cocoa is farmed and how it's produced. There has been a lot of public awareness campaigns from larger organizations to highlight the nature of how cocoa is farmed and some of the unfair practices that go on in that.
CABECAWhat we try to take pride in with our store is that the majority of the products that we carry are made by chocolate makers who worked either directly with farms and farmers when they source their beans, so that they know where their money is going, they know how people are being treated on those farms or working with chocolatiers and other chocolate makers who are working with other products like Valrhona, you know, which are fair trade, and which are conscious of those situations and trying to do something different about it in a positive way.
NNAMDIAnd, Eric, I know that you and Crisoire manufacture your own chocolate, and you even grow the cocoa beans. Where is your farm?
REIDOur farm is in Hato Mayor del Rey, which is on the eastern part of the Dominican Republic. And we -- basically, 80 percent of our workers are family members. The other 20 percent are locals that we've hired to work on our farm and also live on our farm. And the topic in regards to child labor, it's one that when you really sit back and you really look at it, it's -- it has a lot of sentiment to me and my wife because this has been going on for over 180 years.
REIDSo for these large manufacturers that are billion-dollar companies, to say that they put a five-year plan or 10-year plan -- excuse me -- to fix this, it's a little disappointing because slavery and child labor has been associated with chocolate for over 180 years, started by the Portuguese. Cadbury being one of the largest chocolate manufacturers, when they found out about it, they were heartbroken. The end result was that they were powerless to try to fix it.
REIDWell, they were powerless because, when you look at the governments of the African region -- and back then when they were under British control, you know, the commodity itself, it's so large, so powerful that it's tough to control today. And the only thing that I will say and why we're in business is because we're farmers, and...
NNAMDIYeah. You originally were growing papayas.
REIDYeah. And we believe that, as farmers, you should be able to have the ability to create your own products and put it on the market. And, you know, I hear some of the answers to this stuff. It is heartbreakening (sic) when even the big brands that they say they buy off of fair trade, Rainforest Alliance, all of those organizations are set up to be profitable, you know, and it's a shame. It is a shame.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that, as I mentioned early, you started out growing fruit, papayas, but eventually shifted to cocoa beans with the goal of selling them in the U.S. to big chocolate manufacturers. So why did you get into the manufacturing business yourself?
REIDThat's a great question. We wanted all of our products to make its way internationally. We focused on the cocoa because we truly, truly believe that the way that we cultivate and process our products before it's turned into chocolate, it, by far, has a really great quality assurance process. So that's how we were marketing it here in the United States. But what we found very quickly, it's a lot -- a lot of manufacturers aren't interested in quality. They're interested in mass production.
REIDAnd, of course, being a small farmer, you know, six to 10 tons a year, you know, that's not enough, right? And then they want to just place your quality amongst all the other beans that are very poor quality. So the end result was that we decided that we would make our own premium quality chocolates. Single estate could be traced all the way back to the soil, and that, to me, means a lot.
NNAMDIAs far as you know, you might be the only person -- you might be the only company in the United States doing that right now.
REIDThat is possible.
NNAMDIOK. We'll, research that and...
NNAMDI...come up with an answer. But since you raised the issue of quality, this is a tweet we got. Somebody says, "On my salary, I have to be content with the chocolate at my local 7-Eleven. Am I philistine? Does good chocolate have to be expensive?" Jason.
ANDELMANI don't think so. I eat a lot of peanut M&Ms myself, so...
ANDELMANNo. I think there's a broad range of stuff out there. And, I mean, I don't think anyone should be a chocolate snob and say, you know, only this really premium $12 bar is what you should eat. I think there's a broad range. I think people just need to go out and taste a lot of stuff. What I think is going on now and I think of, like, what Robert's doing, what Eric's doing -- what we're doing is just making people aware of the quality that's out there. There's a lot of great stuff.
ANDELMANWe're making great stuff, and it's really come a long way in the last 10 years. And I think people just need to experiment and see what they like. You know, I often make fun of these sort of lesser manufacturers in my class mainly 'cause there's not a lot of chocolate product in these, you know, these sort of 7-Eleven-type candy bars. But you know what? There's a place for that stuff for everyone. I mean, you know, like I said, I eat that stuff. My kids eat it. My wife eats it, and -- but I think people need to be aware there's good stuff out there as well.
NNAMDIWhat does main street (sic) chocolate do for you, Robert, mainstream chocolate?
CABECAMainstream chocolate, what does it do for me? Besides give me a sugar buzz...
CABECAThere's a lot of sugar in, you know, mainstream mass-produced chocolate, and a lot of vanilla like Eric mentioned earlier. I must admit that, you know, my favorite mainstream chocolate is a Kit Kat bar. However, I've somehow weaned myself off of that over the years.
NNAMDIYou've kicked the habit?
CABECAKicked that habit and have really kind of geared my palate towards better chocolate that doesn't have to be expensive. There's a lot of inexpensive, wonderful, fine chocolate. What makes chocolate prices so different is, again, the rarity of the bean, where it's grown, how much the bean costs a chocolate maker to purchase, the chocolate manufacturing process that was involved, the quantity that's produced. All of those factors go into the final price. In our store, we have, you know, chocolate bars from $3 to $28, so...
NNAMDIWe got an email from Matt in Munich, who says, "I lived previously in Belgium, now live in Munich, Germany, with about 20 years in between in Washington, D.C. Chocolate in Belgium tastes completely different from Bavarian chocolate, and American gourmet chocolates are even more different. Why? What makes chocolate consistent and consistently different country by country or by region?"
CABECAThat's a great question. Initially, it was many of European countries that became very well-renowned for their ability to make chocolate, and that was specifically due to the initial trade routes of cocoa from Central, South America into Europe. And they developed initial chocolate-making processes and methodologies that consumers of those regions became accustomed to. And here in the United States, we became accustomed to a different type of chocolate altogether, typically more sweet.
CABECAA lot of the different factors that go into the different flavors of the chocolate, again, goes back to what we were talking about previously, is where the beans were grown, the variety of the bean and how they were actually manufactured. One of the different -- specific differences in many of the milk chocolates -- 'cause when people say European chocolates, many of the European chocolates have milk in it of some kind. And they process their milk in a very different way than United States manufacturers process their milk before they include it into their chocolate to make a milk chocolate bar.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. A lot of you have called, so the lines are busy. If you'd like to get through to us, go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Eric, before we go to the break, you wanted to say?
REIDI just want to talk a little bit about the quality of chocolate and the difference between mainstream chocolate and, now, the premium brands that are coming up. It all has to do with cocoa content and, of course, the quality of the source of the beans. But most importantly is that the mainstream chocolate, when you really read the fine print in the back, what they're not telling you is how much chocolate are you really eating versus how much sugar, how much vegetable oil, how much, you know, hydrogenated coconut oil.
REIDThose are the addictive things that we grew up eating. But when you take a $8 bar and you take a piece of it and you put it in your mouth and you enjoy it, that will give you the cocoa content that that's all you have to eat all day. So, unlike a Kit Kat or a Snicker bar that you're just gobbling down and you don't know what you're putting into your body, that is the reason why a pure, good-quality cocoa bar -- chocolate bar is priced that way.
NNAMDIGot to take that short break. When we come back, more of your emails and tweets and calls. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to chocolate Food Wednesday. We're looking at the art and science of chocolate with Jason Andelman. He is the owner of Artisan Confections in Arlington, Va. Robert Cabeca is the owner of Cocova here in D.C. And Eric Reid is the owner of SPAGnVOLA Chocolatier, along with his wife, Crisoire, in Gaithersburg, Md. Eric, before we get to the phones, talk a little bit about the fact that what a lot of people don't know is that cocoa is, in fact, a fruit.
REIDThat is correct.
NNAMDIHow does that change how it should be picked and handled?
REIDThat's a great question. Great question. A lot of the farmers today sell their cocoa beans to what we call cooperatives. Majority of the cooperatives are actually set up by large manufacturers, OK, so most farmers only really have cocoa as a crop. And when they do and harvest season comes in and they sell their crops to the cooperative, for the remaining of the year, they no longer have any source of income. So what they're susceptible to doing is taking out a loan from the cooperative to get them through the rest of the year.
REIDSo when harvest season comes back, when you have a typical cocoa tree that has over 60-plus pods, it typically takes anywhere from a week to two weeks, even sometimes three weeks, to fully harvest a single tree. So, because we own the farm, we can cherry-pick the right pods at the right time, so similar to any other fruit. So let's take an apple...
REID...or mango. If you go to a mango tree and you pick a mango that's green, it's very tardy. If you pick a mango right in the middle, it has all its juices, and it's really good. If you pick it when it's too ripe, it's too mushy, probably too much sugar. Cocoa, there's no difference. You got to pick that pod right at the right time, take it to fermentation and go through the drying process because what you typically have from farmers are -- they mix and match. You know, they blend in good pods, bad pods, rotten pods. The end result is they put it all in a bag, and they take it to the local cooperative.
REIDLocal cooperative, all they're looking for is weight. They weigh it. They add it with all their so-called organic, so-called -- you know, all of the other labelings, Rainforest Alliance. All of those beans are then piled up in one location and then shipped out to the large manufacturer. So the proper cultivation, the proper harvest and the proper post-harvest process is what brings out the fine quality of cocoa.
NNAMDII'm going to get to the phones. Most chocolate is from beans that have been roasted, Robert. But I understand -- and I just tasted a brand of raw chocolate that you sell in your store. Talk about that. It tastes really good.
CABECAThank you. The brand that you tasted is Pacari. It's an Ecuadorian -- it's a company based in Ecuador. They grow all their beans in Ecuador. They manufacture the chocolate in Ecuador and then export it around the world. The difference between raw chocolate and regular chocolate is just that the beans have not gone through the roasting process. After the drying process that Eric talked about, the beans are typically then roasted and then ground. Sugar, vanilla, et cetera is added into it.
CABECAAnd then it's made into what we know as chocolate. Now, we've heard a lot of talk over the past few years about the health benefits of chocolate. When you roast the cocoa beans, you lose many of those health beneficial factors.
NNAMDII was about to ask. What are the health benefits?
CABECASo -- there are many. Let me just finish that one train of thought, is that when you don't roast a chocolate and you eat the raw chocolate and then it goes through the rest of the manufacturing process, you retain many of those health benefits. Now, some of those health benefits are things like cardio support, better energy support, muscular support. There are -- the list is, at this point, growing and growing as other doctors are jumping on the bandwagon as it is and looking at specific compounds within the cocoa fruit to see how they can benefit somebody's health.
NNAMDIJason, before I go the phones -- and I will go to the phones -- you trained as a pastry chef. Some people in our audience may be able to relate to that. Your fellow baking students, however, found working with chocolate to be the hardest part of making pastries. But, for some reason or the other, you loved it.
ANDELMANYeah. When I was in culinary school for pastry, it was one of those things -- we only had, like, three weeks of chocolate work, and I really gravitated toward it. It's very technical. And the big thing about it, for me, was it's very monotonous. It's one of those things you needed to do over and over and over again.
NNAMDIThat was the big thing about it for you?
ANDELMANYeah. I enjoy that. I enjoy, you know, making -- trying to make something the same way every time and the sort of monotony of it. And I -- you know, you kind of get in the zone in, you know, dipping chocolates or working with chocolate, and it's just -- it's very technical, and I like that about it. You know, a lot of the other people in culinary school, they want to do plated desserts in restaurants or wedding cakes or, you know, bread, that kind of thing. And this, to me, was, in a way, was similar to bread, which I like, you know, I like also. But it was very technical and specific.
NNAMDIHere's the key part of that: What advice do you have for the home baker who has been frustrated by, for example, trying to melt chocolate to use in a recipe?
ANDELMANI mean, I'll just say keep at it. I mean, you know, going back to the monotony thing, the more you do it, the easier it gets. And it's frustrating the first couple times, and you may want to give up. But, you know, read some good books. Maybe take a -- you know, take a short class about tempering chocolate. And the main thing is practice it. Just -- you know, even if you're not going to use it for anything, just practice tempering chocolate. Then once you do it a few times, you will -- you'll get it.
NNAMDIPractice, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, practice. Here's Andrew in Bethesda, Md. Andrew, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANDREWOh, thank you for taking the call. I have two questions, and I'll give you them in order of importance to me and then hang up and listen. I love dark chocolate. I really like to get stuff that's 80, 90 percent and over, but I have...
NNAMDIWell, we got an email from somebody named Ron, Andrew, who says, "White chocolate is an oxymoron and should be banned." But, please, go ahead.
ANDREWUnfortunately, I have a fairly dramatic reaction to it, not as bad as a dog or a parrot, but something that is very disturbing. And I understand it's due to the (word?) content of the cocoa. And I wondered if there was anyone who produced a varietal, or if there was a variety of cocoa bean available that had lower (word?) content. And the other question was, is there -- how many varieties of cocoa bean are there? And is there any way one can go to try the single estate versions of the different types? Thank you. I'll hang up.
NNAMDICare to answer that, Robert?
CABECASure, I'd be glad to. First of all, how many varieties of cocoa bean? Up until a couple years ago, there were thought to only have been about four major varieties of cocoa trees. And now, with the genetic mapping of the cocoa bean complete, they are now discovering that there are well over 14 different varieties of cocoa trees, and maybe up to about 40 different types of cocoa beans themselves.
CABECASo there's lots of exploring that's going on right now in the chocolate world to try to capture those individual flavors. And as far as a dark chocolate content, some of the best-selling bars in our store are the bars that are above 75 percent, which we typically call dark chocolate, so extra dark chocolate, like 75 -- like 80 percent, 85 percent, 90, 100. The best-selling bar in our store is actually a 100 percent bar made by Francois Pralus.
CABECAAnd it's -- people, once they taste it and they get used to -- get a little bit beyond the bitterness of it and experience the complexity of the different flavors, they really thoroughly enjoy the bar, the chocolate, without any sugar, no vanilla, no soy lecithin, just the pure chocolate.
NNAMDIHere's Linda in Potomac, Md. Linda, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LINDAIt seems to me that serious chocolate lovers are exclusively about dark chocolate, and I wondered if there was something intrinsically inferior or unsophisticated about milk chocolate, which, I have to confess, I prefer.
ANDELMANNo. I don't think that's an issue at all. There's -- I mean, there's some really great milk chocolates on the market now. The milk chocolate we use for most of our products is a 40 percent milk chocolate. It's got 40 cent -- 40 percent cocoa beans in it, so it's got a real good, nice strong chocolate flavor. But you get a little bit of the sugar and a little bit of the milkiness, which is nice as well. You know, I think when people equate -- talk about milk chocolate, they're thinking of, like, a Hershey bar or something, you know, a grocery store bar. That's probably only about, what, 10 percent or so cocoa beans.
ANDELMANRight. So, no, I mean, I -- we use a lot of milk chocolate. I like it. I think it's great to nibble on. I mean, the thing is, with -- like what Robert was saying before, you tend to eat more if it's got more sugar in it. These bars that are 99 percent, 100 percent, I have to imagine that bar, that's maybe a couple ounces, is going to last you a good week 'cause you're not going to eat the whole thing at once. You're going to have, like, a little piece, and that's your, you know, punch of flavor right there.
NNAMDIFollowing up on Ron's contempt, Robert, what exactly is white chocolate?
CABECASo white chocolate is actually a confection. The reason it's called a chocolate is because it's using cocoa butter, which is pressed from the cocoa paste made from grinding of the cocoa beans. So the cocoa butter has added to it milk powder, sugar, vanilla and some type of emulsifier, so, really, we call it white chocolate 'cause it's easier to say than white confection.
CABECABut in the light of milk chocolate, too, is that there are different types of milk that can be used to make milk chocolate. We have in our store several milk chocolates made with goat milk as opposed to regular cow milk. And some chocolate makers will use milk from specific types of cows because they get a different type of flavor or different types of animal, even camel. We had some chocolate from Dubai which was made with camel's milk to make their milk chocolate.
NNAMDILinda, thank you for your call. Here's Mary in Springfield, Va. Mary, your turn.
MARYHi. Thanks for taking my call. I'm wondering if there's -- what the difference is between organic chocolate and raw chocolate. And if there is a difference, where would you find raw chocolate?
NNAMDIEric, any idea?
REIDI'm going to pass on that one.
CABECARight to me. So the difference between organic chocolate and raw chocolate, they're two separate things. They can be the same. You can have organic raw chocolate, and you can have raw chocolate that is not organic or even not fair trade, et cetera. Where to get raw chocolate? I hate to do this, but you can find that at our store. We have several varieties of raw chocolate, mostly from Pacari. They are -- they provide some of the best raw chocolate in the world that we've had.
NNAMDIWe got this email from Carol, and you can't escape this time, Eric. "Exotic flavors like bacon and chilies have been very popular for the past couple of years, but foodies are always looking for the next big thing. What do you see as the next big flavor trend?"
REIDWell, what we've been doing at SPAGnVOLA, we've paired up with a organic tea shop that's called Zen Tara Tea in Bethesda, Md. And what we've done is we've taken some of the natural tea leaves, and we've infused our truffles with tea leaves. Also, olive oil is becoming very popular. Almost any fine wine store now starts selling -- they're starting to carry olive oil. So we're doing some olive oil-infused or a ganache infused with olive oil. So the nice thing about creating a ganache and being a chef or a chocolatier is the ability to experiment and bring forth some of those nice quality flavors.
NNAMDIOn now to Kim in Washington, D.C. Kim, your turn.
KIMHi. Great. Thanks. I'd like some advice on holding a chocolate tasting party for, say, eight people. Would you serve wine or sparkling water? And what would you serve between the different chocolates to cleanse the palate?
KIMI'll take my answer off the air.
ANDELMANI think water is probably the best choice to cleanse the palate. Going back to the trend thing -- and this kind of goes in what to pair with chocolate, and I've seen it a lot now and I think it's a good way to go -- is pairing beer with chocolate, I think, will work, in most cases, just as well as some wine. Some of the beers now, they're actually making, like, Chocolate Stouts and stuff like that because those really roasted notes of -- you know, in beer go well with the chocolate.
ANDELMANBut I think for a tasting -- for tasting purposes, I think you'd want to cleanse your palate with water in between -- you know, in between each chocolate.
NNAMDIAnd this final email from Magalee (sp?) in Burke, Va. "Some people erroneously assume that fine chocolate, especially dark chocolate, is strictly a high-class food appropriate only for foodies and food snobs. Are you doing anything to help broaden the chocolate consumer base?" Robert.
CABECAYes. I believe we are. When people come into our store, they tend to be a little overwhelmed by the selection and the different variety. And what we try to do is work with each individual person to help identify what their likes and dislikes are and to help dispel some of the, you know, common disillusions about, you know, high-quality fine chocolate.
NNAMDIRobert Cabeca is the owner of Cocova here in D.C. Robert, thank you so much for joining us.
CABECAThank you very much, Kojo.
NNAMDIJason Andelman is the owner of Artisan Confections in Arlington, Va. Jason, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIEric Reid is the owner of SPAGnVOLA, with SPAGnVOLA Chocolatier, along with his wife Crisoire in Gaithersburg, Md. Eric, thank you so much for joining us.
REIDThank you for having us.
NNAMDIAnd most of all, thanks to Crisoire. Thank you for -- thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.