A Buyer’s Guide to Cocoa at The Prepared Pantry

Dennis Weaver

The island in the test kitchen is 13 feet long.  Lined across the front of the counter like little soldiers were bags of cocoa.  There were burnt brown cocoas, red cocoas, and one black cocoa.  Behind each was a stack of brownies next to a little pitcher of hot cocoa.  It was time to test the cocoas.

With anticipation, we—the staff at The Prepared Pantry—roamed the counter sampling the brownies and the hot cocoa, keeping notes as we went.  We were looking for another really good cocoa to complement the Ramstadt Breda cocoas that we already had.  A half hour later, we reluctantly gave up concluding that none were as good as what we already had.

Recently, we tried the exercise again.  This time, we invited customers to join us.  Given our prior experience, we weren’t optimistic.  But the cocoa on the end was a Belcolade from Belgium, a rich dark Dutch cocoa with 22/24% cocoa butter.  It was very, very good.  It was as rich and intense as Ramstadt Breda but with a distinct, complex flavor with mellow undertones.

I’m a real fan of Ramstadt Breda cocoa but I like the Belcolade even better.  The consensus was that it was a very good cocoa.  Some thought it was better than Ramstadt Breda but others thought it was just comparable.  We agreed that it was an excellent cocoa that we wanted to share.

But the price gave us pause.  It’s a premium cocoa at a premium price.  In a difficult economy, would people be willing to buy it?  Ramstadt Breda is a premium cocoa.  We’ve been able to buy it in bulk at great prices, package it ourselves, and pass the savings on to customers.  With Belcolade, we wouldn’t have that same buying power and would have to charge more.  We concluded that for a chocolate lover, it was worth the price.

What do we like about really good cocoas?

We don’t like powdery, chalky cocoas.  We don’t like bitter, harsh cocoas.  We don’t like cocoas that taste flat.

We like rich, deep, chocolaty cocoas.  We like cocoas that are smooth and almost buttery.  Really good cocoas make baked goods taste like they were made with solid chocolate, not cocoa powder.

The Cocoas at The Prepared Pantry

For me, it’s hard to describe the differences in cocoa flavors.  Others use words like “warm,” “round,” and “woodsy.”  For me, that’s not very definitive.  I can tell you if a cocoa is rich and chocolaty, if it’s harsh or smooth, and if I like it.  The three cocoas below are rich and smooth and I like them.  They are very good, premium cocoas with their own distinctive flavors.

The two Ramstadt Breda cocoas we have are rich, smooth cocoas.  It’s tempting to call the medium cocoa a milk chocolate and the rich dark cocoa a dark chocolate but that overstates it.  They are both dark chocolates with different flavors.

The Belcolade cocoa is complex.  The first impression on my palate is different than the lingering impression.  It’s like there is a rippling of flavors.
Belcolade scientists have identified 22 dimensions of flavor in chocolate.  I can detect subtle differences in flavors, multiple flavors, but my palate is not refined enough to identify the different flavors.  But I know a good cocoa when I find one.

There are three factors that create the distinctive flavors of cocoas:

  • The beans.  Different beans from different regions taste different.  The quality of beans matters.
  • The processing.  Cocoa beans are naturally acidic.  Dutch cocoas are processed with an alkaline to reduce acidity.  The processing is proprietary and affects the flavor.
  • The cocoa butter.  The amount of cocoa butter in cocoa really matters.  Cocoa butter mellows the harsh edge found in untempered cocoa beans.  It adds richness and mouth feel.

Ramstadt Breda Medium Dark Cocoa.   This Dutch cocoa is rich and dark.  It has a cocoa butter content of 16/18 compared to 8/10 for most store brands and 22/24 for Ramstadt Rich Dark and Belcolade.  It has a warm, deep, chocolaty flavor without being overpowering.

Ramstadt Breda Rich Dark Cocoa. This Dutch cocoa has a cocoa butter content of 22/24 as does the Belcolade cocoa.  It is our most popular cocoa.  It has an intense chocolate flavor but is mellow with no harshness.  Using this in baking is like adding solid chocolate to your recipe.

Belcolade Real Belgium Chocolate Cocoa Powder.   This is a premium 22/24 Dutch cocoa and is our favorite for baking.  For me, this is an incredible cocoa.  It is as rich and dark as our Ramstadt Breda cocoa but I find the flavor very complex.

We sell this cocoa in two sizes: a 6.6 pound commercial package by Belcolade and a one pound package that we produce from bulk purchases.  The cocoa is the same.