Americans want to stand out, or so it seems. We pride ourselves on our individuality, our creativity, and our ability to innovate. As I mentioned in chapter 1, in the early 2000s, American makers weren’t interested in creating chocolate from scratch in the traditional European style. They viewed the additions of cocoa butter and vanilla as adulterations of the pure ingredients, and they wanted to challenge themselves as well as to develop a new style of chocolate, an American style. That’s why many of them focused on using only two ingredients: cocoa and sugar. Rather than following the European methods of balancing all the flavors to create an even, deep chocolate taste, offset with cocoa butter and vanilla, American makers started to exaggerate the natural flavor notes in each variety of cacao, so that you immediately tasted what that bean was about. The resulting chocolate was big, bold, and brash — like, well, Americans — and it’s inspired a new school of bean-to-bar makers across the world.
For example, in 2013 Massachusetts based Rogue Chocolatier revolutionized the prized Porcelana beans from Venezuela by using them to make a bar with very little sugar. Porcelana (a type of Criollo cacao) is known for its neutral and almost buttery flavors, with little acid or fruity notes and almost no astringency. But maker Colin Gasko’s 80 percent bar surprises the heck out of those who expect Porcelana to be delicate and mild. Colin’s is “punchier and more dynamic than I’ve ever tasted,” Aubrey Lindley, who owns the specialty chocolate shop Cacao in Portland, Oregon, told me. When I tried the Rogue Porcelana bar, its bitter, harsh notes almost took over, but I could still taste the peachiness underneath. Though it’s not my favorite Porcelana, Colin certainly showcases what the beans can do, and makes a point. “I was trying to push boundaries and show what’s possible in chocolate,” he said. His was the first real American bar made with those particular beans (Scharffen Berger had a vanity project a while back but didn’t even sell the chocolate); these days you’ll find Porcelana from many makers — but not many 80 percent bars.
The pendulum is swinging back. American makers still want to exaggerate those natural flavor notes in the cocoa, but they are also starting to introduce cocoa butter into their bars, and some even use (gasp!) vanilla. For about a decade the “serious” makers made only single-origin bars, but now we’re starting to see blends as well as inclusions (like sea salt or raspberries).
Some, like Dandelion Chocolate and Rogue Chocolatier, are sticking to their two-ingredient guns, but in general American makers have opened their arms (and mouths) to other ingredients. In some ways this is simple practicality, another American trademark. As many makers will tell you, people like to eat flavored bars. So they’re making the most amazing flavored bars you’ve ever tasted.
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Excerpted from Bean to Bar Chocolate by Megan Giller. Photography by © Jody Horton. Used with permission from Storey Publishing.