Thursday, November 12, 2009

Trick Questions and Chocolate Treats: November in Context

It's that time of year again. Halloween, Day of the Dead, All Saints' Day, All Souls' Day, Veterans Day, Midterms, Thanksgiving. Claude Lévi-Strauss isn't around to codify the structures anymore, but we humans, in my opinion, like to commemorate things.

Here's something I'd like to commemorate: It's about a year since a bunch of guys walked into my apartment and forcibly demolished a written-by-committee solid-chocolate tablet that proclaimed our salvation as a species awaited us in a can of Axe body spray. Perhaps to celebrate the one-year anniversary of that paradigm shift, I invited the guys over to my apartment again to play cards and and eat chocolate. (In truth, we do this nearly once a week, but usually at someone else's house.)

This time around, I had some test-batches of the "Fruity" and "Nutty" chocolate from high-concept Silicon Valley chocolate maker Tcho. "Fruity" and "Nutty" in this case refer to "flavor profiles" rather than ingredients, and the Tcho folks wanted feedback on the selection, fermentation, roasting, and blending of their cacao beans. "Tcho encourages you to experience your samples with your friends, family, and colleagues so that you can compare flavor notes and tasting experiences," an email from Tcho told me, adding that "We are also looking for Beta testers who'd like to share their experience on camera." Well, this year, as last, my little digital camera was nearly out of batteries, but I recorded a few moments of our "experience," during which Kristen remarked of the Nutty version 1.9B that "first you taste nothing, then you get sour, then you get bitter, then you get chocolate," and Dmitry commented on Fruity 1.9A that "this is like a Bukowski poem--the grittiness of it." We found some of the questions to be suspect (for example, "How would you rate the cacao content of this flavor?" is both grammatically and culinarily awkward and the only appropriate answer seems to be "65%," which is the number given on the box) and concluded, in response to the final question, that yes, we would buy this chocolate, but only for about two bucks (the asking price is closer to $5).

The next day, I received a large box (waiting for me mysteriously in a locker at my local post office, for which the key had been left in my post office box) containing four made-from-all-Guatemalan-ingredients chocolate bars from Rain Republic. Last summer, I met the proprietor of the not-yet-named brand, Josh Sermos, in Antigua Guatemala. I'd attempted to carry out a survey of my own: Which farms are you sourcing cacao from? Where did you buy your machinery? But, as I recall, Josh didn't want to go on the record--I can't find an interview with the guy on my computer or even messy notes scribbled in a steno notebook. So I turn you, dear reader, directly over to the Rain Republic. (One thing I know is that they're already competing with Carlos Eichenberger, who opened a boutique for his Danta Chocolate in Guatemala City this month).


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