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The Intersection of Chocolate and Coffee

Dave Charleville, third-generation coffee expert of Chauvin Coffee in Kirkwood, and Meggie Mobley, owner of Bijoux Handcrafted Chocolates in Des Peres, discuss the geography, chemistry, and artistry that converge at the intersection of coffee and chocolate. 

Location, Location, Location.

Dave:

Coffee is grown between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer because the trees can never freeze. The higher elevation produces a harder, denser bean with more flavor. Coffee that's grown at lower elevations tends to be more commercial. The poorest quality is grown near sea level and is mechanically harvested. 

Meggie:

Cacao trees are grown within 20 degrees of the equator in a region called the "Cacao Belt." The trees are usually 20 to 25 feet tall and thrive beneath a canopy. 

Basic Blends

Dave:

Coffee is made by getting the beans hot at a specific rate. What Americans consider to be "coffee" is pretty much a Colombian or Brazilian blend. The blends have a little less body, and they are not acidic and not earthy. It's just good coffee. Every country that produces excellent coffee also produces a bunch of marginal products. It's all in how it's sorted and milled. 

Meggie:

Chocolate is made by varying the cocoa butter fat content. The FDA standards for what can be considered chocolate in the United States are vastly different from what Europe considers chocolate. True dark chocolate should be made of sugar, cacao butter, and cacao, and there are no percentage specifications. Adding in other fats or milk solids is when it's no longer a real true dark chocolate.

Single-origin 

Meggie:

Almost every bar of chocolate in grocery stores is likely to be a blend. Artisan chocolatiers are where you can find single-origin chocolate. My chocolate comes from a French company called Valrhona that offers a wide variety of single-origin chocolates. 

Dave:

Like chocolate, single-origin coffee is important because that's where the uniqueness in the flavor is found. We roast 20 different single-origin coffees, and most roasters don't offer that. 

Roasting

Meggie:

People say they don't like dark chocolate because it's too bitter. Typically, that comes from the chocolate being over-roasted. 

Dave:

Over roasting is exactly why coffee is bitter. Under roasted coffee tastes grassy. Roasting makes all the difference in the world; it changes texture and flavor. The art is to bring out the proper roast of gas and air—and the science is repeating it. Coffee does a thing in the middle of its process called the first crack. The beans bust out of their membranes, making a crackling sound. The temperature and time at which that happens mostly determine the flavor profile.

Identifying Flavor Profiles

Dave:

First, figure out what roast you like. There is no actual standard for roasting. We roast a medium, dark (Full City), darker (French), or darkest (Italian). Try coffee single sourced from South America, Central America, Africa, and Indonesia. Indonesian coffee is excellent if you like earthy and low acidity. Coffee from Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Kenya has a lemony flavor profile. Costa Rica coffees tend to be more flowery, and the good ones are a little more acidic, which is a good thing. If you can pick those flavors out, you've got a good palate and are becoming a true coffee geek—which is not bad. 

Meggie:

Madagascar chocolate is my shop's most in-your-face type of chocolate; it's obvious what you are tasting. Chocolate from the Dominican Republic is very yellow fruit-forward; think bananas and mangos. Bitterness in chocolate is a flavor profile, and some soils will bring that out. The chocolate won't be terribly bitter if you know how to work with it. My 72% dark chocolate is the smoothest dark chocolate I've ever tasted. 

Adding Flavor

Dave:

Flavored coffee is blasphemy, so I don't know if we should talk about it. (Having said that, Chauvin offers about 60 incredible flavors of high-quality coffee). 

Meggie:

I look at the flavor profile of the chocolate and pair the flavoring based on that. Madagascar chocolate goes with the raspberry because the Madagascar chocolate already has a fruity note. Coffee pairs well with the earth coffee tones in my 72% dark chocolate from Venezuela. Ecuador chocolate has orange blossom and jasmine notes that pair well with the Bergamot orange in Earl Gray tea. White chocolate has its place. (Don't fight with me about white chocolate not being chocolate. Are we going to fight about a tomato not being a vegetable?) White chocolate is perfect for pairing light, delicate flavors like Lychee. The milky sweetness of white chocolate cuts through the tartness of lemon and lime. I pair goat cheese with dark or white chocolate. Dark chocolate brings out a slight tanginess. White chocolate allows the actual taste of the goat cheese to come through. 

Elevating your experience:

Meggie:

Melt the chocolate on your tongue. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth to have the flavors touch the back of your throat.

Dave:

If you enjoy it, that's all that matters. 

Meggie:

I also agree with Dave here: no judgment. Eat what you like, how you like.

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