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April 2005
Updated July 2009

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Chocolate

The Flavors & Aromas Of Varietal Chocolate

Page 3: The Differences In Single Origin Chocolate By Region

by Peter Rot & Karen Hochman

Overview: Single Origin Chocolate

The Theobroma cacao tree grows in the rich soils of the tropical rainforest, in a global belt 20 degrees north and south of the Equator. While much of the flavor of the cacao is attributable to the genetics of the plant, the fermentation and drying of the cacao beans post-harvest, along with each region’s soil composition, climate and other factors, contribute to regional differences in cacao bean flavors. 

Here we have developed—for the first time anywhere that we are aware of—a guide to the regional characteristics of the great chocolate producing countries. In other words, single origin chocolate.

It will help you understand and appreciate, for example, the differences among the Porcelana, Chuao, Maracaibo and Sur del Lago regions of Venezuela; or among cacao from Java in the Pacific, Trinidad in the Caribbean, and São Tomé, an island off the west coast of Africa.* Now when you read about chocolate from these areas, or consider them for purchase, or taste them, you have a very important frame of reference.

Before we start, let’s define the basic terms:

  • Single Origin Cacao, also known as origin cacao, pure origin cacao and monorigin cacao, refers to cacao beans grown in one particular area or region,or the chocolate made from these beans (which can be called called single origin chocolate).
  • Grand Cru Cacao is is a marketing term referring to single origin chocolate, coined by Valrhona when the company launched the first single origin bar in 1986 (Guanaja 70%, a mixture of beans from South America.
  • Premier Cru/Estate Grown Cacao is also a marketing term. What Michel Cluizel calls 1er [Premier] Cru chocolate, where the beans come from specific plantations, is called Estate Grown by Valrhona. To add to the confusion, in the wine industry, from which this terminology is taken, a Grand Cru wine is better-quality than a Premier Cru wine. But the reverse is true given these chocolate definitions: Cluizel’s 1er Cru chocolate, which is single estate, is of higher quality than Valrhona’s Grand Cru, which is only single origin—and that origin, e.g. “South America,” can be extremely broad compared to a single estate on one island.

In sum, think single origin and don’t get confused by marketing. If the beans come from a single estate (i.e., one farm or plantation within the entire region), so much the better—that means the estate grows some amazing beans. But you’re still tasting cacao from the origin of Costa Rica, Java, São Tomé or wherever.

*This guide only references the regions acknowledged to produce the finest cacao, used by the most prestigious chocolatiers. A comprehensive list of cacao-producing countries includes Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Hawaii, Honduras, Jamaica, Java, Madagascar, Martinique, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Saint Vincent and Grenadine, Samoa, Santa Lucia, São Tomé and Principe, Sri Lanka, Surinam, Trinidad and Tobago, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Windward and Leeward Islands.


Continue To Page 4: Chart Of Cacao Growing Regions With
Flavor/Aroma Characteristics

Go To The Article Index Above


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