By the end of Part 2 the recipe was tested and ready to go. One of the big challenges in chocolate making is that larger batches (production scale) behave differently than smaller batches (test batches). The exact reasons for this would take us into technical territory that I will leave alone just now. It's enough to say that there's another layer of thought and experimentation behind scaling a test batch up to a production batch.
Complexities aside, I finished the first production batch in late July, about a month after my friend Andrew had insisted that I make a 100% bar. A month is pretty fast as these things go, but release would have to wait considerably longer.
One surprising and little-known fact about chocolate--good chocolate, at least--is that its flavors can and do change over time. Occasionally the change is drastic, but usually it's much more subtle. In my experience, most of the change happens during the first month after production. Therefore, when I make a new style of bar, I constantly resample it during that first month to get a better handle on what it will taste like when a customer actually gets to it.
Obviously I want to make sure that as the chocolate evolves, it remains delicious, in the most basic sense (and this has never been a problem). But more to the point, I'm looking for tasting notes and final flavor profiles to put on the product packaging. I don't put this information on the packaging to be pretentious or to try to influence what people detect; it's there to help customers decide what they're most likely to enjoy, when they can't sample the chocolate before buying it. Good chocolate is a tiny investment, and customers should have enough information to feel like they're making the right one for their own tastes.
Teasing out tasting notes in a 100% bar is not the easiest task. One of the reasons chocolate is so often sweetened is that the added sweetness helps bring out cacao's natural flavors. Think of how salt makes savory foods more flavorful--sweeteners have a similar effect on cacao. Without sweeteners, the cacao itself can be so intense that it creates what I might call a brick wall of flavor.
Finding the nuance in that brick wall takes practice. And since I was relatively new to 100% bars, I turned to my family, my friend Andrew (the same one who had insisted that I make this bar), and several kind, passionate, and helpful customers--including chocolate blogger Lori at Time To Eat Chocolate--for advance tasting feedback. The final tasting notes and flavor profile owe much to their comments (thank you all), though any disagreements should be directed at me.
With the tasting notes and flavor profile ready to go, I could move on to the last step: designing the final packaging. It's something I personally create for every bar, and I hope to let you in on that process in a future post. Once my design is ready, I send it off to Sherwood Press, a local print shop, for production. 2-4 weeks later, a stack of fresh chocolate bar sleeves arrives, and, after months of work, I can finally pack up the chocolate and let it out into the world. That's when this story becomes yours to experience and tell, as well as mine.
One of the best things about quality chocolate is that each bar has a unique flavor profile, and that flavor profile can become entangled with our own unique experiences...the people, the settings, and the moods around us when we engage with a bar's particular set of flavors. That means we each have an opportunity to build our own memories and stories around great chocolate, if we let it into our lives. I certainly encourage it.
And to finish my story, whenever I taste the Honduras Wampusirpi 100% bar, I'm back where it all began: on the summer streets of New York City, talking with Andrew, soaking up the positive energy that a big city and a good friend can provide. Even in a blind tasting, I'd know this bar, and the memories I've stashed away in its flavors would rush back in. That's a very powerful feeling in a few grams of chocolate. We might expect that kind of power from a painting, or a song--from art--but how often do we expect it from food? The more I make chocolate from great cacao, the more I'm expecting it in every bite.