When working with premium cacao, the parallels with the world of wine are easy to draw.
Much like grapes, cacao is sensitive to various environmental factors that will influence the final flavor.
Recently I’ve re-tasted two samples of our Chuncho: the first from the last 2021 harvest and the second from the first 2022 harvest.
And to my surprise, the sample’s difference in aromas was very noticeable.
It was clear that I was handling the same cacao: the rich spicy complexity, with notes of allspice and peaks of raspberry and citrus, remained the foundation of both samples.
And yet, the outskirts of the sensory experience were different.
The 2021 harvest hinted at white flowers and carried a distinct tropical note.
The 2022 harvest, on the other hand, expressed darker, sweeter notes of raisins and barrique.
Spontaneous question: why the difference?
Where to start?
Setting the foundations
Much like grapes, cacao’s flavor is impacted by agricultural practices, climate, and weather (not to mention genetics, terroir, post-harvest practices, and storage).
A particularly dry season, for example, will induce the plant into hydric shock, pushing her to produce more stress-related compounds, and abort part of the flowers, in a defensive effort to protect herself. Some of those secondary metabolites produced are tannins, responsible for astringency. It is therefore possible to have more astringent and bitter cacao, as the result of a drought.
When it comes to the more subtle changes in flavor, the reasons become even harder to isolate: cacao grows in a dynamic and interconnected ecosystem, benefiting from an ever-changing biodiverse, and micro-biodiverse environment.
A slight drop in temperatures, as the result of heavy rain during the first 3 days of fermentation, might foster the development of slightly different molds.
Those mold populations might develop frutier notes than those present at slightly warmer temperatures.
Weather conditions directly influence the timings and temperatures of all post-harvest practices, resulting in variations from year to year. And these are only two examples of how flavor is influenced.
What we have in our hands is a alive, biodiverse product.
Instead of trying to submit it to standardization, we celebrate cacao’s everchanging flavor richness and diversity.