raw cacao pods and beans
Madecasse 63%, from Madegascar
Last night the DC Foodies Do Good group gathered at Biagio Fine Chocolate for an exquisite tasting and education in the art and science of chocolate. Can't have much more fun than that... not with your clothes on, anyway. ;)
Biagio explains the difference between cocoa butter and cocoa solids
Owner Biagio Abbatiello gave us a quick overview on the history of cacao, from the Mayans all the way through the latest renaissance of artisanal chocolates. He also walked us through the complex process of growing beans and producing chocolate, and how many potential points of failure there are along the way. Whew. Don't try this at home!
We learned some fun facts like...
* the Mayans greeted the Spaniards with prized cacao beans, who in turn completely misconstrued this revered gift as lowly almonds
* chocolate played an important role in ancient Mesoamerican culture and great rulers were said to drink up to 50 cups of it per day to increase their potency
* in Dickensian times, all sorts of additives (like brick dust, ew!) were mixed into commercial chocolate, prompting some of the first regulatory measures
* if a chocolate bar has a strong vanilla aroma, it probably means the beans were over-roasted and vanilla was added to cover this flaw
* the percentage of total cacao you see on artisanal chocolates includes cocoa butter as well as cocoa solids, so two 70% bars can have completely different flavors & textures
* there are three types of cacao beans: forastero, trinitario, and criollo; the first is the most common and used in your M&Ms and other "supermarket" chocolate, and you're more likely to see the other two listed on more expensive artisanal chocolates
* listen to your chocolate! good quality chocolate should have a nice crisp snap when you break it, and if you're lucky you and your chocolate might even engage in a conversation
guide to tasting fine chocs
And then, of course, the really fun part... the tasting! Biagio provided 8 different dark chocolate samples and one milk chocolate, ranging from 63% to 75% cacao (and 32% for the milk choc). We nibbled treats from Madagascar to Venezuela and many points in between. As with a wine tasting, there is a distinct multi-step process to allow one to truly appreciate fine artisanal chocolate with all the senses. And indeed we did. I think my favorite was the Hispaniola 70% bar from Rogue Chocolatier, with a surprising burst of burnt orange and hints of cherry. It definitely spoke to me, which was no small feat given that all the arrayed chocs were stellar in their own way.
Bolivia Cru Sauvage 68%
Divine 70% from Ghana
Hispaniola 70% from the Dominican Republic
Biagio generously provided a gift basket door prize -- as if all that free chocolate wasn't enough! -- and newcomer Amanda was the lucky winner of a sampling of delectable treats from the shop. She promises to return the favor by participating in the next DCFDG, a volunteer session at Miriam's Kitchen.
Amanda and her prize
For those in the DC area, I highly recommend a visit to Biagio Fine Chocolate. The staff is wonderfully knowledgeable, and they're committed to a mission of introducing the best chocolate the world has to offer. And if you're a DC-area foodie, come join the DC Foodies Do Good crew! The group's monthly tweet-ups alternate between educational tastings and community service projects, providing the perfect mix of gustatory comradery and do-goodery.
Michel Cluizel Concepcion 66% from Venezuela
Hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering pics.
Biagio Fine Chocolate
1904 18th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009