Single Origin Chocolates Made By Hand

Chocolate. We crave it, we love it, but because it’s available verywhere, it’s easy to forget that it comes from a very specific place and a very special plant. Because cacao can only be grown within 50 miles of the equator, and is then processed all over the world, we are often very detached from its origins. That’s where Single Origin chocolate comes in.

Diego Ceballos wants us to all become better, more informed consumers of chocolate. I met Diego when I took his Bean To Bar Chocolate class at Rancho La Puerta, the amazing spa in Tecate, Mexico. I’ve been teaching there for years, and if you can go there, do.

Diego is Kajkab’s “Maestro Chocolatero.” His passion for chocolate is evident when he speaks, and in the career he has built in pursuing chocolate knowledge over the last ten years, at Cacao de Origen in Venezuela, Green Bean-to-Bar in Tokyo, and Chocolat Chapon in Paris.

Our class started with his introduction, and then we moved to how cacao grows, is harvested, and makes its way into the glossy bars we all love.

Diego Ceballos in his chocolate factory…

Hands on with Single Origin Cacao

Diego explained that the freshly picked nibs must be packed in mahogany or stainless steel boxes and allowed to ferment, a process which requires careful observation and turning of the fermenting mass. Then they are cleaned and dried, and shipped to chocolate makers. Quality of the product and proper fermentation make a huge difference in the final product.

Then, we all tasted some single origin chocolates and looked for flavor notes. Fresh fruit, dried fruit, nutty, herbal, floral, spicy, caramel/malt and buttery were some of the tastes on the positive side. Negative tastes included hammy, smoky, musty, putrid, cheesy, meaty and animal. We also had a small square of commercial chocolate to taste, and it was an amazing contrast- after the deep, smooth flavors of the Kajkab chocolate, this high end (I won’t tell you the brand) of dark chocolate was harsh and astringent on the tongue.

I’m ruined for mass produced chocolate!

Then, we got to crack and skin some cacao nibs, and I volunteered to shake them in a hot air popcorn popper for 40 seconds.

Peeling nibs

Then, we ground the toasted cacao in a coffee grinder, and tasted that. This is how a fine chocolatier evaluates the beans they buy-carefully evaulating for all the flavor notes. Obviously, we didn’t have any bad beans to taste…

Ground cacao

At this point, the cacao is gound finely, mixed with pure organic sugar, and goes through a few days of slow “conching,” in which rollers repeatedly compress and swirl the mixture.

After conching, the chocolate must still be tempered, so that the fats will crystallize properly and make chocolate with snap and gloss. All these steps require intense attention to detail, or the chocolate will be lower in quality.

Big Chocolate vs Small Chocolate

Clearly, this is an artisanal operation, where a man with a vision is making unique, small-batch chocolates. If you care about your chocolate, you should know that “big chocolate” is often associated with terrible working conditions, child labor abuses and even slavery, so it is really important to find out everything you can about where it comes from. Click here to read about that.

We also sampled “Cacao Tea'” brewed from the skins of the nibs, and packed with healthy antioxidants and cacao flavor.

We only had an hour, but Diego shared so much information and yes, delicious chocolate, that I bought a stash to bring home.

My bars and disks from Kaj Kab

Single origin chocolate is the way to go, and I’ll be visiting Kaj Kab online and in person again!

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