Ecuadorian Wood-Aged Chocolate
The initial production of our chocolate is only the first part of the process. Next, there is the matter of applying barrels or other aging vessels in combination with time. As we’ve learned from whisky makers, about 70% of the flavor of a well-aged whisky is derived from the wood in which it was aged. Extractable flavor compounds in the wood are what give the whisky its defining features. To’ak is the first tree-to-bar chocolate maker that comprehensively applies this principle to chocolate.
Meanwhile, other lessons have been drawn from the wine world. Dark chocolate and wine are both rich with tannins and other polyphenols. These compounds, also called flavonoids, largely determine what we taste in a wine or dark chocolate and how it feels in our mouth. Over time, these compounds are chemically altered through processes such as oxidation. As dark chocolate matures with age, its flavor profile evolves.
As chocolate makers who also appreciate both wine and whisky, this struck us as an interesting concept. Winemakers and whisky distillers have been using the phenomenon of aging to their advantage for centuries. In the world of chocolate, the concept of aging had never been thoroughly examined prior to To’ak’s pioneering work in this field.
Starting in 2013, we initiated the world’s first-ever long-term aging program for dark chocolate. In the process, we’ve consulted winemakers, enology professors, sommeliers, molecular scientists, conducted phenolic analysis in partnership with the enology department of Washington University, and experimented with twelve different aging vessels in countless different forms and conditions. Every year, we release to the public our finest expression of aged chocolate as one of our Vintage editions.
In addition to testing various specialty casks (Cognac, Single Malt Whisky, Port, Sauternes, Bourbon, Tequila, etc), we’re also testing seven different types of Ecuadorian wood, each with a distinct aroma profile and varying intensity. After all, oak wood has long been used to enhance the flavor of wine and whisky. Why not apply this principle to dark chocolate?
For four years, our Vintage 2014 chocolate lived inside four different wood vessels. Two and a half years into the experiment, we sat down with our intimate panel of flavor analysts and conducted a blind flavor and aroma test. Everyone unanimously agreed that the most flavorful and aromatic of the wood-aged chocolates, at this particular juncture, was Andean-Alder matured.
Andean alder (Alnus acuminata) grows wild in the mid elevations of the Andes Mountains. Alder wood has long been used for both medicinal and flavoring purposes. Like oak, it is rich with tannins and has traditionally been used to tan leather. Its influence on our 2014 edition chocolate can rightfully be described as unquestionably unique, bordering on the wild.
2014 Weather Chart