Karl’s Chronicles Article 22 Sao Tome & Principe: After Chocolate
In the first of this two-part article, we explored the Portuguese arrival to Sao Tome & Principe and the import of both coffee and cacao from South America, chiefly Brazil. The planting of coffee to create the island’s economy and when that suffered heavy setbacks from foreign boycotts regarding slavery and abolition, cacao came to the forefront. We looked at the processes involved from harvesting cacao pods, through fermentation, drying and grading, up to their dispatch to the manufacturers. In this second chapter, we explore the transformation of cacao into chocolate as we know it, and how through the sheer passion and devotion from one man’s deep involvement, the quality and purity of chocolate can be taken much further. Here in Sao Tome, the chocolate made by Claudio Corallo is considered by many to be the best in the world.
From the plantation to production, the process of chocolate continues its varied and complexed journey, before it comes close to the type we are familiar with. There’s chocolate, and there’s chocolate! And like any industry, the quality varies greatly. Ranging from mainstream confectionery up to superior chocolate with at least 75% cacao. With the plantations phase over, the beans are generally exported to where the manufacturers finalize the product to its point of retail.
The beans need to be refined into chocolate, commencing with roasting and winnowing. Both colour and flavour are enhanced, moving one step closer to the typical flavour we associate with chocolate. Cocoa nibs come from the inner bean, effectively smaller broken down pieces from the core. The shell itself is discarded, having become too brittle from roasting. Winnowing is the applied term where the nibs pass through a sequence of sieves, separated according to size.
Grinding the nibs down into cocoa liquor also referred to as cocoa mass or unsweetened chocolate generates heat which melts down the high-fat content within the nib. The liquor is mixed with cocoa butter and sugar. For milk chocolate, either condensed milk or low-heat powdered milk is added, which differs between formulas and manufacturers.
Once all this is mixed, a second refining stage takes place to reduce the gradient of the milk and sugar down to an appropriate fineness. The cocoa mass is folded back into the butter and liquor in differing amounts, creating a particular breed of chocolate. The final stage after blending or folding, once all the specific ingredients are together is moulding. Allowing the cocoa liquor to cool and harden into shapes distinct to the mould.
Tempering, either done by the manufacturer or the pastry chef, is an optional process depending on the product. Where the temperature of melted chocolate is slowly raised then lowered to precise points. Creating a smooth, glossy, evenly coloured result. Tempering prevents the separation of the cocoa fat, which leads to a dull greyish colour. It will also snap like a crisp rather than break like a biscuit. Those large hollow eggs you buy around Easter time are tempered, but chocolate bars are not.
‘A tiny volcanic island off the coast of Equatorial Africa has become home to what is described as the worlds best chocolate.’
BBC World News
‘Corallo is a perfectionist, a man obsessed with taste and result.’
‘… the best and most complexed chocolate in the world.’
Claudio Corallo is considered by many to be the best chocolate maker on the planet. His uniqueness comes attributed by a succession of doing things differently. As he mentions on his website – ‘the cacao trees are descendants from the first cacao plants to arrive in Africa in 1819. Then, there is absolute care of the trees themselves, tended and nurtured to produce the best quality beans.’
All the processes are done by hand, governed with the same level of care and attention, transforming the beans into the purest form of chocolate. So perfect it doesn’t require the addition of vanilla or other flavours.
His experience goes back more than forty years working with both coffee and cacao. In Zaire (former name for the Democratic Republic of Congo) before the downslide of the countries political situation and stability forced him to relocate to Sao Tome & Principe. From where he has resided since the 1990s. Corallo approached cacao through the same expanse of knowledge that had benefited coffee. Confronting the difficulties of the bitterness identified with cacao. He established a laboratory to get to the core of what he describes as ‘the beans natural defect.’ Making chocolate himself to truly figure out the beans unleashed potential.
When dried beans are distributed to the manufacturer, chocolate can end up far from its real flavour — processed at industrial levels that don’t employ the necessary devotion. Claudio Corallo governs the entire process, enabling him to maintain the high standard throughout. Too much heat while roasting can destroy the delicate flavour of the bean. That process alone took many attempts to get just right. Tweaking the temperature over several tests and noting the outcome. But there is also the talent of the team, the consistent pride towards their work which always benefits the end product. Nothing goes to waste; even the packaging is simple, biodegradable with recognition to the worth of the environment. Non-detracting from the chocolates merit of importance.
Chocolate comes from the purest 100% down to 80%, 75% and 73.5%. At 70% it is mixed with other harmonies such as candied ginger, orange, salt and black pepper as well as Ubric 1 &2 – raisins soaked in white or red muscatel. Unsurprisingly there is coffee flavoured chocolate using Liberica and three varieties of Arabica: Grani Cat, Grani BB and Grani NM taken from his plantation. The results have to be tasted to be believed.
Facts: Claudio Corallo shop – Tel: +239 99 16 815 www.claudiocorallo.com
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Ave Marginal 978, opposite praia Brazil, west side of Ana Chaves bay.
In Sao Tome on Mon, Wed, Fri at 16:40 Claudio Corallo presents an in-depth talk on the journey of chocolate, the varying percentages of cacao and how other natural flavours have been developed to work in harmony with chocolate. Including tastings of the different kinds which are available in the shop.
Tickets cost 100 dobras or 4 euros for the two-hour presentation, conducted inside the workshop. Tickets can be brought the same day from 15:00 onwards. The price of chocolate ranges from 5 euro upwards to 8 euros for the rectangle boxes.
Payment can be made in cash, and they also accept Visa / MasterCard / Am Ex / PayPal.
Though Claudio speaks Portuguese, French and Italian, he doesn’t speak much English. Translations usually end up being made by someone else in the group. As the small shop is inside the factory, it isn’t always suitable to turn up and buy outside the tasting sessions. Ask the guardian (seguranca) at the gate if it is feasible.
Roca Nova Moca produces most of the islands coffee for export. Owned by Claudio Corallo who cultivates four types of coffee here -three arabica and one robusta which produces Jambo, the single-estate blend and the more expensive Seleccao. The plantation is open to view and tastings can be organized for larger groups. It’s a beautiful setting high up in the hills with great views out to sea when the mists haven’t cast a ghostly veil over the interior. You can reach here by shared taxi, roughly 20 dobras. Or take a shared taxi to Roca Monte Cafe and then charter it for the final two kilometres.