Guilty pleasures – 2009 Signature drink research begins!

One word.  Chocolate.

Chocolate is created from the cocoa bean. A cacao tree with fruit pods in various stages of ripening

Praise be to whoever first glimpsed these magical seedpods and thought …Wow! …surely those must make something delicious!

I’m finally starting to begin initial research and experimentation for entering the barista championships for the first time next year, and naturally, my thoughts have been occupied with ideas for a sig drink as part of this. For a long time I’ve had the intention of doing some sort of mocha when I finally got around to entering the championships, and so now I’m in the process of sourcing a chocolate and working on a recipe.

However, as I have begun to research chocolate, I’ve been subject to rather guilty sensations of illicit pleasure and betrayal. Why? Because the world of real, delicious, gourmet chocolate appears to be potentially almost as complex, magical and exiting as my true culinary love, coffee! A dangerous affair indeed!

Joking aside, the similarities of the two cuisines are manifold and striking. Both come from roughly the same regions around the world, both start as seeds (but are more commonly referred to as beans) of which there are a few main species (some of which are much more highly regarded for their superior flavour), and many differing sub-varieties. Both take-on subtle and complex flavour variations from the country, region or even estate where they are grown, which is then further affected by the processing and refinement techniques used by the producers. Both can be blended, or be single origin and single variety. Both are treated and then roasted to bring out the rich complex flavours, and the extent of the roast, etc, depends very much on the ethos or style of the expert coffee roaster or chocolatier in question. No surprise then, that these two cuisines should have such a long standing relationship with each other, and be so well suited!

I have mulled over various ideas as to how to make my mocha special or unusual – pondering ingredients like spices, coconut, mushroom essence, roast garlic and truffle to name a few! But the more I research chocolate, and the more I realise just how complex in flavour the most exquisite types can be, the more I want to try and keep the ingredients simple, but of the highest quality: beautiful espresso/coffee twinned with the very best chocolate in a way which sympathetically and harmoniously shows what they have to offer, without the need for other gimmicky ingredients or processes (well… maybe just a little special mouse* atop could be allowed!). Time and experimentation will tell, however, whether simple, great quality materials will be enough…

The only potential problem with using such a lovely chocolate for, in a way, cooking with, is that the subtle flavours that make it so good may be lost along the way when heated and combined with other ingredients. But I’m guessing it will be a bit like espresso – you’re always in danger of losing the intricate subtleties when you combine it with milk, but the trick is to find one that works well with the milk and creates an equally delicious cappuccino; likewise, I will try to find a chocolate with flavours that come through well when combined with the other elements.

And so, I eagerly await the arrival of a selection of 13 different types of S/O dark chocolate from both Pralus and Amedei – both renowned chocolate houses (French and Italian respectively) – it’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it!

*…Eer! Whilst I’m sure ‘a little special mouse’ would be delightful, I’m not sure how well it would go down with the judges (although it could just be the sort of gimmick that could clinch it!), so instead I think I’ll use a moose. Hang on – dear God! That won’t do either! It’ll have to be a mousse then.

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