cocoa nibs
Credit: Michael Robertson

cocoa nibs

From bean to bar, Vancouver chocolate expert Eagranie Yuh takes us through the life of a cacao bean—and gives us the dirt on the best chocolatiers in Vancouver

 

While most people in Vancouver were watching the Canucks win Tuesday night, I spent an hour with the Well-Tempered Chocolatier (a.k.a. Eagranie Yuh) at Kafka's Coffee and Tea learning about chocolate, how it's made and, most importantly, how it tastes.

 

Much like wine tasting, there are many factors beyond taste that make good chocolate good.

 

Making chocolate, in a nutshell

Chocolate is grown in what coffee aficionados refer to as the bean belt—which works equally well for the cacao bean—the band around the equator between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.

 

From there, the farmers on the plantation:

  1. Chop the bean-filled pods from the tree;
  2. Ferment the seeds;
  3. Dry the seeds; and
  4. Ship the seeds to the chocolate makers.

Then, the chocolate makers:

  1. Roast the beans;
  2. Remove the husks to expose the nibs;
  3. Crush and press the nibs to separate the cocoa butter (the delicious, expensive component) and the cocoa mass (also known as cocoa powder);
  4. Process the cocoa compound in a conch machine to tweak the flavours; and
  5. Temper and cast the chocolate.

It's a complicated, often global, process that, as Eagranie puts it, "has a lot of steps that you can mess up—or deliberately cut corners."

 

Chocolate taste test

Eagranie Yuh presented a spread of various high-quality chocolate bars and cacao nibs for tasting, "snapping" and smelling.

 

What percentage of cacao is good?

Throughout the evening, we tasted five different chocolates as well as some nibs. The nibs were surprisingly delicious, naturally sweet and nutty; not at all bitter as I expected them to be from my experience with high-percentage cacao chocolate.

 

As we tasted each of the chocolates, Eagranie told us about the history of the chocolate maker, whether they were Old World or New World (i.e., European or American—Eagranie described many American chocolates has having a bold "I'm-making-chocolate-bitches" taste) and the percentage of cacao.

 

It turns out that the most useful thing the percentage indicates is the amount of sugar (e.g., if a chocolate is 64 percent cacao, it is likely 36 percent sugar) because the packaging doesn't indicate how much of the cacao is the butter and how much is the powder.

 

5 key components of chocolate: smell, snap, texture, taste & finish

  • Smell – As in wine the 'bouquet' didn't always match the taste but was a good precursor.
  • Snap – The milk chocolate was more of a squelch, but the better chocolates had a crisp snap.
  • Texture – Finally we got to put it in our mouths. Generally, smooth is better but sometimes a chocolatier will play with a grainier finish.
  • Taste – I was surprised with some of the notes (orange, sour cherry, black tea) that we found.
  • Finish – Some of the chocolates felt more unctuous, others more chalky; some had flavour notes that lingered.
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Chocolate workshops by the Well-Tempered Chocolatier

Eagranie is a former chemist, pastry chef and chocolatier. She runs these workshops once every couple of months (but if there's more interest they'll be more frequent). The best way to be in the know is to contact her and subscribe for her updates.

 

Eagranie Yuh, the well-tempered chocolatier, at Kafka's Coffe & Tea

Eagranie Yuh is the Well-Tempered Chocolatier

 

The best chocolatiers in Vancouver

According to Eagranie Yuh, the best chocolate makers in Vancouver are:

 

Thomas Haas

Probably the most recognised chocolatier in Vancouver and with good reason. Find Thomas Haas in Kitsilano (2539 W. Broadway, Vancouver. 604-736-1848) or on the North Shore (Unit 128, 998 Harbourside Dr., North Vancouver. 604-924-1847).

 

La Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France
Anne-Geneviève's beautiful little shop on the corner of Main and 21st is a step back in time and a step forward in taste.

 

Cocolico (a.k.a. Wendy Boys)

Better known for her desserts at Lumière, and as the consulting chef at the Cactus Club, Wendy Boys has her own line of chocolates—Cocolico—available online, at Edible BC on Granville Island or at Whole Foods Supermarkets.

 

Xoxolat

Not technically a chocolatier but a phenomenal chocolate retailer and a great source for all things chocolate, Xoxolat is located at Burrard St. and 8th Ave. and offers purists'-choice French chocolate from Valrhona as well as the complete organic chocolate package from Theo (U.S.A.).

 

Even with all this new choco knowledge, I still love a Cadbury Black Forest bar. What's your guilty chocolate pleasure?