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Chocolate Education: A Note on Taste

Chocolate Education

As many of you who have been on our tour have discovered, there is so much more to chocolate than candy bars. Along with numerous health benefits come a wide diversity of flavors. Fine chocolate can taste fruity or nutty, like flowers, spices, herbs and more. Chocolate tastes like a lot more than chocolate! Discovering what makes the flavor of chocolate is part of your journey as a chocolate connoisseur. All of that flavor originates at the farm — not the factory.

It starts with the genetics or varietal. Just as a granny smith apple tastes different than a honeycrisp apple, or one kind of grapes taste different than another, so too strains of cacao have different flavors. These strains are referred to as varietals or under the umbrella term of cacao genetics. Here at Lydgate Farms we have a mix of about 10 different sets of genetics. Some of them are varieties bred or identified in a research setting, some of them varieties that have been on Kauai for a long time, and some are hybrids of the two that are only found on our farm. One of the things that most excites us here is finding trees in that latter category that have both robust growth and also delicious flavor, because they are unique to our farm. Our plan is to plant more of the delicious and robust, and so to evolve our flavors and productivity. We look forward to offering single varietal or genetic blends of beans in addition to our all farm single estate mix.

Genetics carries a lot of influence on flavor, but it is only a starting place. The flavor of a varietal is also influenced by where it is grown. Terroir (rhymes with car) is a word you hear a lot in the craft chocolate world. It’s a French word from the wine industry whose literal definition is soil. In both chocolate and wine, terroir represents the flavor that is imparted through place. For example in wine, pinot noir grapes grown in Burgundy taste different than those grown in Napa valley. An amelodano type cacao grown in Ghana will taste different than the same type grown on Kaua’i. While there is still a lot of debate around cacao terroir (further studies are needed), it does have a real world impact. Another major aspect of flavor is fermentation, I’ll be covering that in more detail in our next newsletter.

One thing we have noticed on the farm is that each season tastes a little bit different. This could be from differences in the sunshine and rainfall patterns, from changes in the post harvest processes, or from the maturing of our orchard over the years. Subtle changes lead to different flavors in the bars. Because of this we decided to start vintage dating our chocolate. To do this we teamed up with our old friend, the wonderful flavor evaluator Tamara Butterbaugh. Tam, as her friends know her, is one half of our dear making partners Manoa Chocolate. Tam created a set of tasting notes for our Spring 2019 harvest that are now posted on our website, along with some fun pairings! Check them out here.Because flavor preference and associations can be so subjective we encourage you to write your own tasting notes. As you taste our chocolate be sure to let it melt in your mouth and enjoy the flavors. And please, take notes on anything you taste and send them over to us. We’d love to see what you, our most important flavor evaluators, have to say!

Stay tuned for our next post in the Chocolate Education series!