Yesterday the Peoples Coffee team went on a family outing to paradise, also known as the Wellington Chocolate Factory. Not only was the adventure pleasing to our taste buds, but it turns out that coffee geeks and chocolate geeks have a lot in common, and the roasting experts among us found kindred spirits in chocolatiers Gabe and Rochelle.
Specialty chocolate is relatively rare in New Zealand – and single origin roasts even rarer. We sampled strong, dark Dominican, plummy Madagascar, apricotty Peruvian, and a smoky Bougainvillian roast that tasted like bacon. In a good way.
The depth of knowledge and enthusiasm of our hosts bordered on obsessive and reminded us of one or two coffee roasters we know – who had their heads together and their sensitive noses stuck in cacao pods for the duration of the visit.
There is a reason that coffee roasters and chocolate roasters are alike: The products are alike – more alike than we realised.
Like Arabica and Robusta coffee, cacao beans come in two main varieties: Forestero, and Criollo. The former is more abundant, and of poorer quality generally, and the latter is the real delicacy. Also like coffee, there is a hybrid between the two – called Trinitario, which has a higher yield, is of high quality, and is more disease resistant (like coffee hybrids.) Wellington Chocolate Factory beans are either Criollo or Trinitario.
Like coffee, supermarket chocolate is a world away from specialty chocolate. Confectionery chocolate has additives to sweeten it to the point that it loses its fruity acidity. As with high quality coffee, specialty chocolate doesn’t have additives, and until you’ve tasted that – you don’t know what chocolate tastes like.
Chocolate is processed like coffee: First fermented, then washed, then sun dried, then roasted. The quality of the soil, the age of the trees, the latitude of the farm and the cultivation techniques of the farmers all have a profound influence on the final product.
Like coffee, cacao plants are susceptible to devastating disease, which wipes out hectares of crops.
Like coffee, chocolate is known as a crop of poverty, and has been connected to exploitation and even child slavery. However – the Wellington Chocolate Factory buys from ethical growers, and is deeply conscious of its role in supporting its producers. So conscious, in fact, that they’re starting a kickstarter campaign to give independent farmers in Bougainville the processing equipment they need to stay afloat amid the increasing corporatization of the industry there. If cacao can generate real returns to Bougainvillians, Gabe explains, there won’t be a return to disputes over the local mine that lead to years of civil conflict. Bougainville may even be able to become truly independent from Papua New Guinea.
We wouldn’t mind a bit more smoky Bougainville roast on the market here either.
Check out the Welllington Chocolate Factory’s Facebook page, or peruse their website for more information. Better yet – head down there! They can be found nestled in Eva Street, between Dixon and Ghuznee.
July 30th, 2014