Specialty cocoa products for the specialty coffee industry
In 1991, our founder was a newcomer to the world of cocoa processing; he had many questions for this centuries-old industry:
Why were there so few “clean ingredient” statements on products that should be simple and natural?
Why were there no “single origin” cocoa products showcasing attributes of cocoa beans cultivated in a particular country?
Why were cocoa-growing countries content to export only raw beans, allowing other countries to capture the profit sitting atop the cocoa value chain?
And so, years before the terms “fair trade” or “corporate social responsibility” held any currency, our founder started a modest cocoa company named after the Ghanaian word for “paramount king.” He named the company, Omanhene.
We don’t Dutch the cocoa powder we use in our hot chocolate. Dutch processing, also known as alkalization is an all-too-common manufacturing process first developed by the Dutch over a century ago. What problems were the Dutch trying to address with this new process and what exactly is the alkalization process?
The answer is to the former question is likely two-fold: Solubility Issues and Flavor Perception.
Pure cocoa powder is not very soluble. Remember as a kid, when you spooned cocoa powder into a glass of cold milk hoping to make chocolate milk and the cocoa powder just floated on the surface of the milk, no matter how hard you stirred? This is a solubility situation. When we talk about solubility we are describing how easily cocoa dissolves in a liquid such as milk. Temperature affects solubility. A hot cocoa drink mix will dissolve more easily when mixed in warm milk vs. cold milk.
The challenge is that natural cocoa powder provides the most authentic chocolate flavor for making hot cocoa, but it is not very soluble and seems to “fight” going into solution easily.
As for the latter question, the Dutch or alkalization process is an attempt to reconcile these two oppositional attributes of cocoa powder. The Dutching process is an artificial change of the pH of the cocoa powder accomplished by one of several methods that in essence bathe either the cocoa powder, cocoa nibs or cocoa liquor in an alkaline solution. Dutching also known as alkalization renders the cocoa powder more basic (i.e., less acidic) with the result that the pH level is increased (most commonly by about 2-4 points) on the pH scale. This makes the flavor of the cocoa powder less bitter, less acidic and milder in flavor as compared to non-Dutched or all-natural cocoa powder.
Does alkalization actually work?
It was thought that the Dutching process rendered the cocoa powder a bit more soluble, but this has been disproved. According to the authoritative and highly technical book “Chocolate Production and Use” by Cook and Muersing, two of the most preeminent chocolate production scientists around:
“Alkalization does not result in an increase in solubility, as once was thought. Dispersibility may be slightly improved if some soaps are formed by the reaction of the alkali with traces of free fatty acids; but the resulting flavor defect is more serious than the slight advantage gained. . . “
So if you inadvertently form soap during the alkalization process, you might slightly improve dispersibility, but who wants to eat soap?
And perhaps the most interesting after-effect of the alkalization is that it slightly darkens the color of the cocoa powder so consumers perceive the cocoa is more intense in flavor — when in point of fact, the flavor is less piquant due to the lowering of the pH level. Alkalization fools the eye into believing alkalized cocoa is richer in flavor because the color is darker but it won’t fool the most discerning palates.
From the very start, I decided I wanted a true and authentic cocoa flavor profile and to my mind, the alkalization process artificially changed the flavor of natural cocoa powder. So you may need to stir Omanhene a bit more vigorously (though using warm milk goes a long, long way to improving the solubility) but I am certain you will find the flavor superior.
The following syrup recipe is a surefire way to make hot chocolate if solubility remains an issue for you. Using a syrup is quick and easy; many of our commercial customers use this exact recipe to allow for speedy preparation by their baristas.
Several customers have asked to learn more about Omanhene’s Natural Cocoa Powder and Hot Cocoa Mix, both of which are gluten free, kosher and make terrific hot chocolate. So this marks the first of a two-part post related to all things cocoa.
Living in Wisconsin, I know a thing or three about frigid weather. Nothing says “warm me up” better than a frothy mug of hot cocoa topped with a dollop of fresh whipped cream. And I don’t mean some artificial concoction filled with multisyllabic chemical ingredients that attempts to replicate the mouth-feel and aroma of the real deal. I mean honest-to-goodness hot cocoa made with pure, natural cocoa powder processed at the source. No artificial preservatives or flavors, no artificial colorants and no chemical aroma-enhancers.
Omanhene hot cocoa mix was originally designed for use by a very demanding commercial sector: the specialty coffee industry.
Ever meet an artisan coffee roaster? These people are tough customers! They have keen palates and their working life revolves around discerning fine, almost imperceptible gradations of flavor. They’ll talk in term of building flavors on the tongue, how a particular coffee finishes, and mouth-feel. As I was saying, Omanhene Hot Cocoa Mix was originally designed for the premier coffee trade and was first used behind-the-counter by baristas preparing specialty coffee beverages for the public.
Gorgeous frothed cream artwork afloat a cup of Omanhene Hot Cocoa
I developed the recipe in conjunction with one of the top specialty coffee roaster/retailers in the country, a company that achieved renown with their superb dark-roasted coffee. This particular company is driven by an almost maniacal devotion to sourcing premium ingredients. They wanted an authentic, bold hot cocoa that would serve as the base beverage for their specialty coffee drinks such as mochas and frappacinos.
It took almost no time at all to determine that a pure hot cocoa mix (a combination of natural, non-alkalized cocoa powder and sugar — with no other ingredients, no artificial flavors, colors nor additives) would likely deliver the sort of authentic, unadulterated chocolate indulgence that would stand up to their seriously strong, session-roasted coffee. The result was Omanhene Hot Cocoa Mix, a recipe developed specifically for the demanding specialty coffee trade and now prized by acclaimed and award-winning baristas the world over (true fact — there are competitions annually).
A few years after our commercial hot cocoa mix was introduced, our specialty coffee customers asked if we could package our one-of-a-kind cocoa mix for consumer sales. Customers wanted to share Omanhene Hot Cocoa Mix with others as a gift. We were happy to oblige. The tins of Omanhene Hot Cocoa Mix available on our website and in retail stores contain the exact same recipe used by some of the top coffee retailers in the world. Of course, these retailers have fancy espresso machines that can aerate and froth a mug of hot cocoa mix with more élan than most people can do at home with a spoon, but the recipe is the same.
Next blog post: Technical considerations related to cocoa powder including dutched cocoa and alkalization, solubility, appearance and taste.