Paul A. Young is a chap so full of beans that he’s made his own bar out of the finest cocoa variety. Having shelled out for such splendid whole specimens, the crafty chocolatier is damned if he’s going to waste a single gram of their cocoa goodness. So into the bar the whole beans go – shells and all.
The concept of creating bean-to-bar chocolate in one’s own boutique is not a world first, but it’s certainly not too common – Paul is the only producer in London. Whole bean chocolate is an even lesser-spotted species; indeed, the only European habitat this unusual creature is currently found in is Paul’s Soho shop.
Owing to a diary disaster, I missed the master’s debut demonstration – the culmination of many months of tinkering, nibbling and putting noses firmly to the grindstone. Or rather, whole cocoa beans; ground down on granite with the requisite grit provided by Billington’s treacly unrefined Demerara sugar.
The beans whose essence Paul was so keen to capture in this chocolate are sourced from Menakao – a marvellous Madagascan company I’m mad about. Bars are made from a mixture of Criollo, Trinitario and Forastero beans, cleverly combined to create both a lighter 64% cocoa-solids slab and a more intense 73%.
So why have beans traditionally shed their shells? The answer to that cocoa conundrum is lost in the mists of time, prompting Paul to decide it was time to do away with the de rigeur and give ‘whole bean’ a whirl. Having marvelled at the majestic flavours when merrily munching whole beans with ‘The Chocolatier’ Aneesh Popat, I buy into Paul’s premise that there’s tons of flavour in them there shells.
It’s always nice to know your guilty pleasures actually shouldn’t be so – so the news that choc from the whole bean carries health claims is most cheering indeed. Quite simply, whole beans bear more fibre and more nutrients; a logical notion when you consider the similar superiority of rough’n’ready wholegrains versus their highly refined counterparts.
When it comes to chocolate, I have a fondness for a good bit of grit. In my house, those handsome ‘hockey pucks’ of spiced Mexican chocolate that’s supposedly for drinking don’t stand a chance of melting anywhere but in my mouth. To my mind, that crunchy, crystalline texture is like an elemental version of a fine feuilletine – and every bit as enjoyable as those highly friable wafers.
Paul’s whole bean chocolate is a somewhat sleeker eat, but it still boasts a gorgeous granular quality. After extensive experimentation, the roast with the most proved to be a two-step, temperature-controlled loll in an oven, after which the bronzed beans are pulverized into a coarse powder.
Powder becomes paste in a marvellously-named machine called a ‘melanger’, where it does an intimate bump’n’grind with Billington’s sugar ‘til two become one and chocolate is created. After a quick conch, the choc is slapped onto a marble slab and skilfully spread about ‘til evenly-tempered. Somewhat ironically, the best-tempered chocolate is also the most snappy.
Using the whole bean also significantly reduces waste in the production process – although sadly consumption will not significant reduces one’s own waist. I’m more concerned with the weightier issue of taste, though – and it’s high time to tuck in. The 64% seems mild and mellow, until it suddenly unleashes a flood of full-on flavours that just won’t quit. Even more intense is the 74%, its acidity making my mouth watering in a winning way. This beauty is so fruity it’s almost rude; and it lingers even longer than its predecessor.
Heinz better watch out; because the current catchphrase on any Cocoa Nut’s chocolate-smeared lips is “Beans Meanz Paul’s Whole Bean Bars”. The new, non-rhyming line might not roll so smoothly off the tongue, but it’s a total truism. And, as this chocolate proves, sometimes something a little less silky can be every bit as pleasing on the palate.