Bad chocolate isn’t worth eating. My taste buds had told me that years ago, but last week we joined a chocolate tasting tour that taught us about the process of making chocolate, and took us to the best chocolate shops in San Francisco.
To call a brown sugary bar “chocolate”, it has to contain a minimum of 10% cocoa solids (in America cocoa is called “cacao”, to avoid confusion with the bedtime drink). It beats me how something with so little cocoa can justify the title of “chocolate”. And to call chocolate “milk chocolate”, it has to contain a minimum of 12% milk solids. Hershey bars, which, in my opinion, taste bleedin’ awful, contain the bare minimum 10% cocoa solids and 12% milk solids. The other 78% of the bar is sugar. No wonder they taste rubbish. Significantly, Hershey values consistency and economy of chocolate over taste and texture. Well, the company would, since there’s so little chocolate in its chocolate.
The better chocolate makers, however, value taste and texture so highly that they’ll forfeit a whole harvest of cocoa beans if it doesn’t produce good chocolate. The source product is picked, fermented, crushed and aged. The year, weather, and terrain contribute to a good or poor harvest. The final product has hints of honey or citrus, cherry or walnuts, champagne or bourbon. It’s not unusual to see the year and tasting notes on the label.
The chief chocolate maker is an artist, deciding how long the beans should spend at each stage of the process to create the most sublime taste. The art is remarkably similar to the process of making wine.
The end result isn’t cheap, but good chocolate – like good wine – is worth it.