Chocolate Maker's Journal
Beans from South East Asia?
Posted on 11/1/2009 by Ray Major
Some time ago we received two samples of cacao from Vietnam. At the time we were not particularly interested in expanding our sourcing options from Southeast Asia. We had just purchased some fine flavor beans from Papua New Guinea, were working with fermented Sulawesi and some fine Trinitario from Bali, but we decided to look at these samples anyway. One was from Dak Lak up in the highlands, more famous for Robusta coffee than cacao, and the other was from Ben Tre Province in the Mekong delta.
I remember tasting the chocolate liquor we made from the roasted beans. The Dak Lak sample was full of meaty and fishy notes that usually indicate something has gone awry in the postharvest handling. The Ben Tre, on the other hand, was fabulous - bright and tart with a combination of citrus, red fruit and spicy notes. We decided to buy it on the spot.
I called our contact, who said he was not surprised about the Dak Lak. The region was mountainous and cooler - sometimes too cool to get the fermentation process off to a good start. Ben Tre, however, on the steamy Mekong Delta, has ideal conditions for cacao fermentation.
Ben Tre, about 86 kilometers south of Ho Chi Minh City, is one of 13 provinces that make up the Mekong Delta - called Cuu Long in Vietnamese, which means Nine Dragons River Delta for the nine branches of the Mekong River that flow through it. It is an agricultural province famous for coconuts, which is why it is nicknamed Land of the Coconut. Cacao is a relatively recent introduction to Ben Tre; most trees have been planted since 2003 and are only now coming into full production. Cacao appears to be doing very well and is giving the farmers alternative income.
When the container of beans arrived, our agent called to congratulate us; we were the proud owner of the first Vietnamese cacao ever imported into the United States. At that moment, I knew this cacao was too special not to include in our Chocolate Maker Series. It took us some time to develop, but I think everyone will agree it was worth the wait.
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