During the past 2.5 years of my research for Chocolatour, I’ve had the opportunity to visit many chocolate factories. Huge, high tech ones in Switzerland. Tiny, hands-on ones in Peru. And everything in between.
But I must say the one that has had a true impact on me in every aspect of chocolate travel is the Orquidea Chocolate factory in Tarapoto, Peru. (You’ll find more about the small city of Tarapoto in the previous post on this blog as well as from this terrific site.)
The word, “orquidea” translates to orchid in English, providing a most appropriate name for a chocolate that offers a beautiful floral bouquet when inhaled. The Peruvians pride themselves in producing cocoa that is highly aromatic and flavourful in its natural state, and I concur! I do believe that Peruvian chocolate just may be the best I have ever eaten.
It is pure, fresh, intense (yet low in acidity), satisfying and unique to itself. It is like no other.
Although I certainly enjoyed the Ecuadorian chocolate we had on the second week of our South American tasting adventure (much more on that in future posts), in my opinion, it is not of the same intensity as the Peruvian.
I want to devote this post to Orquidea, as it provided us with such a unique experience. Orquidea buys its cocoa from four different growers’ associations within the region, including the Santa Rosa cooperative I highlighted in the previous post. I again want to thank Cristina Satillana, International Sales Manager at Orquidea, for arranging that unforgettable journey for us.
Helping cacao farmers
Orquidea has a strong social conscience and helps train cacao growers in crop management and fermentation procedures to help produce a better and more consistent product. Operations Manager, Candy Morales Sanchez has a food science degree and is a fermentation specialist. She explained how proper fermentation will lower the acidity found in the cocoa beans, while preserving the good oleic acid contained in cocoa that gives us the natural antioxidants to help strengthen our immune systems. You know that pure cocoa is a super food, don’t you?
Orquidea completes the fermentation process of the beans it purchases on-site at its Tarapoto location under the heat of the Peruvian sun. Fermenting the beans is quite a science. The goal is to end up with beans that have an even, dark brown centre. A purple tint means that a proper fermentation process has not been completed and the beans are under-fermented. Too dark of a brown, and it means they’ve been fermented too much and the resulting chocolate will taste burnt.
Orquidea chocolate bars
We sampled a few bars in Orquidea’s tiny tasting room and I’m in love – with the 60% organic dark Peruvian Amazon chocolate with cocoa nibs. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had a better chocolate bar, for its intensity and freshness of flavour combined with the overwhelmingly beautiful floral scent that is naturally emitted from the chocolate. (Can you tell I’m in love?)
The interesting thing is that the 60% cocoa in this bar produced a deep, rich chocolate, whereas I’ve had 60% chocolate from other producers and the chocolate wasn’t dark and rich enough for my liking. So it is indeed, all in the quality of the beans, the fermentation process and the staff and equipment used to produce the final result.
As independent cocoa expert, Brian Horsley, told me at our chance meeting at the Orquidea plant: “Orquidea does the best work with the least amount of equipment, resulting in a superb quality to their product.”
I’ve rambled on long enough for this go round, but please join us back here the week of May 21st for our next Peruvian post.
And please share your thoughts on this post. I hope I’ve enticed and educated you just a little. And I’m very curious to hear from anyone who has tasted any Peruvian chocolate, or any other chocolate whose natural (unflavoured) aromatic scent was just as enticing as its flavour.