We have just found out that our Samoan Coconut Milk Chocolate has won a gold star at The UK Great Taste Awards. Amidst the celebrations (a few high fives around the office) I realised that I have never written a blog post on how our Samoan Bean-to-Bar range came to life.
Devonport Chocolates owner, Stephanie Everitt, has always had the dream of creating a Pacific chocolate. A number of years ago Samoa was starting to get some cacao trees ‘online’ and the idea of a Pacific chocolate imbedded itself in Stephanie’s grey matter. If anyone knows my Mum, Stephanie, they know that an idea once imbedded is not easily let go of and she started researching how to make a bean-to-bar chocolate.
Samoa has a rich history with cacao trees. Cacao trees were planted in the early 1900’s but unfortunately a disease went through them in the 60’s. As plants are known to do, some of these trees adapted and survived and owners of land in Samoa would find some cacao trees popping up. If you have been to Samoa you will be able to buy a product called ‘Koko Samoa’. Created by grinding the beans into a paste that sets you are meant to shave a bit off and create a drink from it. It is an acquired taste, some love it, some don’t.
With pressure being put on the worlds cacao plantations and a lot of them being taken out in favour of planting palms for palm oil, the clever folk in Samoa have decided to get back into cacao trees in a serious way.
Devonport Chocolates has long had a relationship with the fabulous Graham Leith. Graham has been in the chocolate business for years and understands the chemistry side of chocolate. How to create formulas for recipes and centres and he has long been a solver of problems for us.
Graham headed up to Samoa for a holiday, and knowing of Stephanie’s desire to create a Pacific chocolate, and because he couldn’t resist, he visited a few plantations.
When he arrived back he had a few people for Stephanie and Terry to meet. My parents quickly arranged a jaunt to Samoa and visited a number of cacao growers. They met a grower called Nusi. Nusi is a soil scientist who has settled back in Samoa to make his dream come true of growing superb Cacao. Nusi has the skills and passion to create cacao of excellent quality and taste.
The first step with great chocolate is what the plants are fed, where they grow, when they are harvested and the drying and fermentation process. All of the beans for the Devonport Chocolates Samoan range come from Nusi’s plantation, ‘The Moa Estate’. We know that with Nusi, this first and vital step is in great hands.
Three years ago, prior to finding this fantastic source of beans we started experimenting with the small amounts of beans we could get. My father, Terry, took himself off to bean-to-bar courses at The William Anglis Institute, and Savour Chocolate School. He learnt the logistics of roasting, winnowing and conching. After two years of buying testing equipment and loads of chocolate experiments, working on formulas and tasting by us all, Terry felt he had a chocolate he could unleash on the public. Just to make sure though we sent it off to The Great Taste Awards in the UK. In 2016 our brand new 80% Samoan Bean to Bar won a gold star at these awards. Not for the faint hearted, our 80% is a rich dark chocolate, it could even be described as fruity. As one judge at the Great Taste awards said:
“A good snap and a good bite in the mouth. The chocolate melts well in the mouth and the layers of flavour develop in waves - ending with lovely fruit notes.”
Encouraged by how our 80% was received and by our increasing customer base who identified as vegans, we thought to develop a milk chocolate with coconut milk powder. Trying to find a coconut powder that didn’t have some kind of milk solids in it was a bit of a treasure hunt, but once we had found a great organic source we knew we were onto a good thing.
The next step was a huge number of experiments to get the right amount of cocoa solids to coconut milk powder. Coconut milk powder has more fat in it and getting the chocolate to set and have a ‘snap’, meant we needed to add more cocoa solids, but we couldn’t increase it too much as it still needed to taste like a milk chocolate, the magic number was 50%, the perfect balance! The judges at The Great Taste Awards had this to say:
“There's a delightful aroma - coconut rather than cacao in abundance - to this snappy dark milk bar. A nicely made, simple bar with good if soft consistency”.
Keep watching this space, our passion for bean-to-bar chocolate isn’t waning and we love creating this chocolate from scratch. We are on the hunt for unique Pacific ingredients that will go well with our Samoan chocolate and plan to keep increasing this delicious range.