You've reached the final chapter of the story behind my India Anamalai 74% bar. To recap, in Part 1 I was running out of one of my all-time favorite cacao origins, Venezuela Guasare, so I set out to find a replacement that could rival its complex, dynamic flavor profile. Part 2 related how I initially failed to find a suitable replacement, but in the process evaluated some great cacao and connected with a new supplier, Uncommon Cacao.
In Part 2 I mentioned another important supplier: Meridian Cacao. I'd been aware of their offerings for some time but had not established contact for the simple reason that I'd seen so many other makers doing bars with their cacao. If you've seen bars by small craft chocolate makers using cacao from Camino Verde in Ecuador, Oko Caribe in the DR, Akesson's in Madagascar, Ucayali River in Peru, Kokoa Kamili in Tanzania, or the Marou origins in Vietnam, there's a decent chance the cacao came through Meridian.
The fact that these origins are so common among craft chocolate bars speaks to the quality of Meridian's cacao portfolio. And while there's no strict taboo around multiple makers working with the same cacao, as a newer maker, I've been passed over by shops that opt for more established makers in such scenarios. I understand where the shops are coming from, but then you'll also understand why I was hesitant to work with "duplicate" cacao.
For summer 2017, however, Meridian planned to bring on new origins, opening an opportunity to be among the first to offer bars made from the novel cacao. Around the same time, I was working with Cococlectic, a chocolate subscription service, to plan a set of bars for one of their monthly boxes. Cococlectic was looking for the same style of plain, single-origin bar I wanted--complex, dynamic flavors--ideally from less common origins. Meridian's latest offerings were certainly less common: a series of microlots from Trinidad, and a first-ever landing of Indian beans from the Anamalai farm. So I got in touch and received samples shortly after they reached the United States.
Surprising summer 2017 samples from Meridian Cacao.
The test batches that ensued were some of the most surprising I've ever run, though they upheld the core principle of my cacao selection philosophy: never make a decision until the chocolate is finished, tempered, molded, rested at least a day, and tasted.
Up for evaluation were two Trinidad microlots and the India Anamalai. The first Trinidad I opened had an absolutely incredible aroma, like peaches and tropical fruit poached in sweet white wine. The aroma of the second Trinidad had a more restrained maple sweetness. As for the India, its scent was comparatively restrained. These observations held through roasting.
I turned the first Trinidad microlot into chocolate first because, based on its aroma, I thought it would be the most stunning. In the end, very little of that aroma carried through into the finished chocolate. The result was indeed complex, but not as bold as I'd wanted. The second Trinidad arrived in similar territory, with a touch more boldness. As with the previous origins I'd tested for this project, they were great, just not what I was after.
Then came Anamalai. What an unusual chocolate this was. Rather than fit new words onto aging memories, I will simply paste in the evaluation notes I recorded in the middle of it all:
"very curious and surprising bean; intense aroma in grinder, one of the strongest ever, acid and grass, kind of like orange sherbet melting on a bed of hay; flavor very tangy but also smooth and creamy, not at all astringent, and not incredibly chocolatey, when melted; after molding, initial taste very acidic but again like sherbet, not really what I would call bad acid because it’s so clean and smooth and low-astringency; sourdough; grassy still; after a couple days of rest the acidity is much tamed, becoming sweet fruit, and the grassiness is also changed into something nuttier, like tahini; fruit open, nut finish, mingled in the middle, at both roasts, and in this case it’s kind of a cheap grape/strawberry/cherry blend jam and sesame"
With all the acidic aromatics flying off in the refiner, it shouldn't be a surprise that I was skeptical about this cacao at first. But again, nothing matters except the flavors of the finished chocolate. And what a set of flavors it is. Just the kind of complex, dynamic progression I was after--and proof that when considering cacao origins, it's best to keep an open mind.
After all, it was cacao from a relatively unproven country of origin--India--that best matched the complex flavor profile I'd found in cacao sourced from Venezuela, one of the world's most respected cacao-producing countries. Take a look at how similar the flavor profiles are, despite the vast geographical distance between these origins, and their vastly different historical relationships with cacao. Expectations challenged? Absolutely--that's always one of my goals.
Flavor profile: Venezuela Guasare 74% dark
Flavor profile: India Anamalai 74% dark
For more on this cacao, visit Meridian's blog.
For an update on the Guasare cacao, continue to the epilogue.