Amedei Porcelana 70% Chocolate
08 January 2018
This is the connoisseur’s chocolate, made from some of the rarest cocoa beans in the world and is also probably some of the most expensive chocolate you will ever eat.
And it’s a perfect lesson in the delicate balance that sustains what we have, and what we stand to lose if we mess it up.
I read about it, and I had to try it. One 50g bar.
First, a few basics. Before you get very far into the journey of appreciating fine chocolate (and I’m not far on that journey, let’s be clear) you learn that there are three basic varieties of cocoa bean. The Forastero beans are the most common. They produce large crops of beans, provide a big chocolatey kick with no subtlety or secondary flavours, and are by far the majority of cocoa grown across the world, making up something like 85% of the total.
Get a standard chocolate bar of any brand, it is going to be mostly, if not exclusively, Forastero beans.
Then there is the Criollo variety. Much more delicate in taste, much more delicate in nature, less productive in terms of the beans per plant. These provide less chocolatey thump, but many more subtle and delightful secondary flavours that endure for some time after the chocolate has completely melted in the mouth. Criollo accounts for somewhere between 2-5%.
And between the two is the Trinitario variety, which is a cross between the other two, bringing together some of the qualities of both, albeit somewhat variably. That provides about 10% of the worldwide crop - and is used in a lot of finer chocolate on sale today.
Then there is Porcelana. Porcelana beans are the very purest variety of Criollo you will find. Its beans are a beautiful translucent white. Its flavour is highly prized by chocolate experts for its subtlety and complexity. And it is rare. It is exceedingly rare.
Exclusively grown in Venezuela, only enough beans are grown each year to produce around 3,000 kilos of chocolate.
The Porcelana plants can only thrive in the right environmental conditions. The climate needs to be a consistent temperature within a narrow band. They cannot endure extremely dry or wet periods. Rainfall needs to be regular and just enough. Strong winds and direct sunlight are its enemy. Basically developing a programme to ensure the sustainability of this variety involves re-engineering a whole complex local environment to provide the right conditions. And all that for a plant that is not hugely productive, in typical economic terms. Out of thousands of flowers, only about 40 will develop into fruit. Those fruit pods will contain between 20 to 75 cocoa beans.
If the quality of the chocolate was not exquisite, such a variety would have been allowed to die out long ago. We wouldn’t even have noticed its departure. As it is, companies like Valrhona have been working hard to give the Porcelana variety a sustainable future.
Is it worth the fuss? I had my Amedei Porcelana 70% dark chocolate bar to taste. The company underlines the rarity of this produce by numbering each one on the back. Every year, they make 20,000 bars in total (and it is often unavailable as a consequence). For the record, this bar was number 10,652.
The only way to enjoy such chocolate is to put one square in the mouth and let it gradually melt. This one begins with a lovely smooth texture, and an earthy aroma, very rich and slightly fruity. For a chocolate, it doesn’t contain a lot of bitterness, and as it dissolves you get waves of additional flavour - I thought vanilla and maybe some spice.
If you crave a big chocolatey punch in the mouth whenever you put chocolate into it, then you may be one of the people that would feel disappointed by this bar - it is one that delights those that have trained their palate to appreciate the subtleties. I’m only halfway there, but this chocolate gave me a real vision of what that world looks like.
And one square of this chocolate per day would be enough to appreciate all that. I may have snuck in two, though.
This is the fine quality in chocolate that would be the first aspect for us to lose if we fail in the challenge of building a sustainable future. Maybe, we’ll have nothing left at all - or maybe we’ll have chocolate of much reduced character and subtlety and very quickly we’ll have lost collective memory of what it was that we'd lost in the mean time.
Hopefully, companies like Valrhona and Amedei will be successful in preventing that from happening. If you want to taste some of the finest chocolate that is currently out there, you could do worse than get yourself one of these precious 50g bars of Porcelana.
Just be aware that the more you come to appreciate the taste of the best, the more you might be letting yourself in for a very expensive hobby.