It took some time until cocoa beans were transformed into a bar of chocolate. The story of the lucky drink, breaking off a corner, and the bite into a hundred percent bar.
Back in the day, chocolate was a delicatessen drink. The hot mixture of cocoa and water was served to the upper classes in terribly expensive porcelain in the morning, at midday and evening. The liquid children’s favourite of today was – served without milk – the fashionable drink of the European nobility and a luxury product back in the 18th century.
The beans used for this prestigious drink were transported by sailing boat from Central America where it had been grown by farmers for over 1,000 years. There, the Spanish conquistador Cortés looted the beans among his many other conquests as well as the recipe for the traditional drink that the Maya had been drinking on special occasions. Made from ground cocoa, chilli, vanilla or pepper they mixed their “xocoatl;” translated it means “bitter water.”
Sweet hot chocolate for European palates
But the Spaniards were not convinced. The brew was much too bitter for them. Only after sweetening it with a lot of sugar or honey could they appreciate the drink. And solid chocolate that one could properly bite into was only invented by 1847. In Bristol, the chocolatiers mixed the powder with cocoa butter rather than water. Luckily, less than twenty years earlier, the Dutchman Coenraad van Houten had managed to fragment the dried beans in such a way, using a hydraulic press, that the fatty butter could be more easily separated from the rest.
The chocolate industry and cocoa cultivation have since developed into a tremendous business, controlled by international cartels. These days, companies from Ghana and the Ivory Coast dominate the commodity market. That’s where around 70 percent of the cocoa plantations in the world concentrate.
Switzerland is world champion in eating chocolate with a statistical consumption of nearly 10 kilograms a year per person. In Luxembourg it’s 7.2 kilogram, placing fourth in Europe.
Demand for authentic chocolate
Among connoisseurs, the chocolate that gains the highest praise is not the milkiest and creamiest but the one with as little milk as possible and no sugar at all. Right at the top are the most authentic, homogenous chocolates.
Scouts of the firm “Original Beans” search the remotest corners of the earth for rare cocoa plants. In the cloud forests of a nature reserve in Ecuador they found the “Mono Bravo Arriba” beans that count among the most chocolaty varieties known. On account of their fatty content, they produce a silky, vegan bar. Not only a pleasure for consumers around the world but also for the native people growing the beans, all the while ensuring them a secure income. Nature, too, is enriched as a percentage of the chocolate producer’s proceeds is used to plant new trees in the rainforest.
The most challenging task is finding the beans for a hundred percent pure chocolate bar. Food hunters went on an expedition and climbed up to the Uramba valley in South Peru. There they found the Chuncho trees growing at a height of 2,000 metres, unusual for cocoa plants. The husks are small, the beans tiny, some weigh less than one gram. They make up for that, however, with their extremely high fat content of 55 %. The Swiss chocolatiers of “Original Beans” can thus create a hundred percent chocolate bar by the name of “Cusco Chuncho”, produced exclusively from those beans. The bar is very dark, very smooth and has a fine bitterness.
In some growing areas the farmers started to question why they merely just delivered the chocolate beans rather than produce the finished product themselves. And so, the cooperative “Kallari” in the Amazon of the “Rio Napo” in Ecuador now not only grows cocoa trees in mixed cultivation on a kind of orchard with vegetables, herbs, bananas and paprika like their ancestors, they also make their own organic chocolate straight from their harvest. Some bars are refined with chilli, coffee or dried pineapple.
Creations from Luxembourg
In Luxembourg, too, one can find select treats from local producers. Chef Alexandra Kahn of the “Genaveh” in Steinfort remains very proud of the “chocolate fingers” from her establishment: long, round pralines with sesame, pistachio and a hint of salt. The spread “Noisettes à Tartiner” with coconut oil is also a delicacy. The house of Oberweis in Luxembourg City attends with a worldwide novelty. The confectioners take the fruit juice of the cocoa that is extracted from the white pulp that surrounds the beans and is pressed by the Swiss-Ghanaian start-up “Koa.” Until recently, the pulp of the bean was largely unused. This process has to occur very fast as the pulp starts to ferment a few hours after the husk is opened.
The juice tastes a bit like litchi, a bit like lime and Jeff Oberweis calls it “the angel cut of the cocoa.” The Luxembourger takes the special ingredient and uses it to make truffles, cakes, sorbet, tartlets, and macarons. The baiser-based pastries, filled with a Koa-cream and caramel, is vegan – instead of egg white proteins made from chickpeas and potatoes are used.