Today I would like to share with you a glimpse of my experience, at a very “sweet” place in Paarl, South Africa. The home of South Africa’s first bean to bar chocolate factory. As you walk through the doors the aromas of chocolate, intrigue your senses. There were chocolates everywhere, and I loved it.
Not only can you purchase these yummy goodies at their store, but they also offer two different chocolate tastings, a Single Origin tasting as well as a chocolate and confectionery tasting. It was a hard choice to select one, so I decided to do both.
I found the single origin tasting interesting as their friendly staff member, Melissa, explained every single step of the labour intensive chocolate process from the “bean to the bar”. There are so much more to DV’s chocolate than the chocolate aromas in the store. Every single bar of chocolate starts with the selection of a good quality bean. Their chocolate maker and owner, Pieter De Villiers does a fantastic job in selecting the beans from all over the world and visits the farmers regularly to ensure they receive only the best quality beans.
If your knowledge of chocolate only goes as far as the varieties available in your local grocery store, then hold on to your seat, as it is about to get interesting.
All of their raw cocoa beans imported from six different regions, and their single origin chocolates named after these regions. (Uganda, Venezuela Carenero, Madagascar, Trinidad & Tobago, Sao Tome, Venezuela Rio Caribe). I was given two different beans to smell (Uganda and Venezuela) and tasted the nibs off each as well. The nibs had a rather bitter taste to them. They were very different from one another. This is due to the different growing conditions, climate, soil and tree varieties from the different regions. Once the bean was cracked open, you could smell the chocolate aromas.
Melissa showed me images of the cocoa tree, its fruit (pod) and the process. One full grown cocoa pod holds around 25-50 seeds/beans, enough to make one 50g bar of dark chocolate. The pods vary in size, and some grow as big as a rugby ball.
Once the pods are carefully removed from the tree, it is cut open by hand, and the beans removed. At this stage, the beans are covered with a white edible flesh that tastes similar to mango or litchi. The flesh kept on the beans to complete the fermentation process that can take between two and six days. The beans do not taste or smell anything like chocolate, yet. The white flesh contains sugar that reacts with the natural yeast in the air. Over time this is converted into alcohol and later into acetic acid, which is essentially vinegar. When the acid penetrates the bean, it kills the bean, and at this point, the chocolate flavour precursors start to develop. After the completion of the fermentation period, the beans are sun-dried completely for two to three weeks before being packaged in large hessian bags, labelled and then shipped.
Once the bags of beans arrive at De Villiers Chocolate, it’s roasted, the nibs separated from the husks, and the nibs ground for 2-3 days to a smooth liquor. All of their single origin chocolates are made from 70% cocoa and 30% cane sugar. Some chocolate makers remove the cocoa butter from the nib. At DV chocolate they keep it inside for the dark chocolate to allow for a better quality chocolate. After the grinding process, the chocolate is moulded and once set, it is removed from the moulds and set aside in containers to age for 2-4 weeks before being packaged.
The first chocolate I tasted was half a block of the Uganda, their least bitter single origin chocolate. As my pallet developed through tasting the rest of the single origins chocolates, the last half of the Ugandan tasted a lot sweeter than before. During the tasting, we looked at a chart with all the different flavours you might experience when eating a particular chocolate. The flavours could vary from day to day, depending on the weather, time of day, if it is paired with something else as well as your mood, very similar to that of wine. All their single origin chocolate packaging has got the chocolate makers notes, where he identified the flavours he tasted.
My favourite’s single origin was the Sao Tome with its fruity peach and cherry flavours, followed closely by the Venezuela Rio Caribe, the most intense of them all.
After one successful tasting and a lot of chocolate knowledge, it was off to the chocolate and confectionary tasting. This tasting is more casual as you walk at your pace around the counter tasting all the varieties. The flavour combinations were fascinating from their blond chocolate to their peanut butter chocolate nougat. The staff had a great amount of knowledge about every single product and made the experience that much more enjoyable.
One of the things that stood out for me was the packaging of their chocolates. Each of their ranges had a different theme. The single origin looks like a map of the origin of the beans. African art inspires the African collections. The packaging printed from artwork seen throughout their shop and tasting rooms. Their variations collections packaging was inspired by the flavours of each bar.
After two great tasting, I headed back to the shop are, where they had a glass counter full of fresh handmade truffles. All around the shop their variety of products were neatly displayed. Among these products are tasting packs of their three collections, that would allow you to have a tasting in the comfort of your home. Although they do not have a particular baking chocolate, it is advised to use one of their single origin chocolates, like the Ugandan. Some of their best sellers include their sea salt and caramel, plain blond as well their single origin’s Uganda bars. They also sell hessian bags made from their recycled bean bags. The staff’s uniforms are also made from the bean bags.
They have been at their current location for more than four years and recently moved a big part of their manufacturing to a nearby warehouse as well as opened a café in Franschhoek. You would also be able to find their chocolates on the shelves at selective Woolworths outlets in South Africa. They have come a long way from making chocolate as a hobby in their garage using recycled and modified machines to where they are today.
I had such a great time visiting De Villiers Chocolate and would recommend their chocolates anytime. They get without a doubt the DBM splash of approval.