For centuries, chocolatiers have blended cacao beans from various parts of the world to make chocolates that respond to a particular flavor and aroma profile. The process is similar to other creative endeavors such as composing music, wine making, and even cooking.
The Criollo tree is native to Central and South America as well as the Caribbean islands and Sri Lanka. Only 5% of the world’s production is Criollo since they are particularly difficult to grow, as they are extremely vulnerable to a variety of environmental threats. Their taste is described as delicate yet complex, low in classic chocolate flavor, but rich in secondary notes of long duration. Considered to be the “prince of cocoas,” Criollo is prized as an ingredient in the finest of chocolates.
The high yield Forastero cacao coming from Africa, Asia, or Brazil accounts for over 80% of the world’s total cacao production. This is the predominant variety used by large scale chocolate manufacturers for its low cost and the plant’s high resistance to diseases. Its bitter taste has a short duration and is unsupported by secondary flavor.
The Trinitario is a natural hybrid resulting from cross-pollination between Criollo and Forastero. Trinitario combines the qualities from the two other main varieties: the hardiness and high yield of Forastero and some refined taste of Criollo. The quality of the cocoa varies between average and superior. Trinitario populations are usually variable in pod and bean characteristics because the parents have highly contrasting characters. They can now be found in all the countries where Criollo cocoa was once grown: Mexico, the Caribbean islands, Colombia, Venezuela, and in parts of Southeast Asia.
The best European chocolate manufacturers select flavor grade beans like the Venezuelan Criollos and Trinitarios to mix with less flavorful Forastero beans. While blending is a time honored tradition, exploring the use of a single type of cacao is the new frontier in chocolate making just like single malt or single cask whisky.