Cocoa Rouge

My chocolatier, Amy, said “I’ve got something special for you.”

OK, so she’s not just my chocolatier. She owns the store where I get most of my chocolate. For a while now, I’ve been getting most of my cocoa powder from Mon Aimee Chocolat in Pittsburgh’s Strip District.

As it happens, I drink a lot of cocoa. So when it comes to this particular commodity, I’m what is known as a “value” shopper (or, as psu would call me, a “cheapskate”). I don’t think the “cheapskate” label is actually warranted here, though. There’s an awful lot of bad cocoa out there, and bad cocoa is not worth buying no matter how cheap it is. For purposes of this discussion, if the cocoa is not dutch-process, it is not worth drinking. So this automatically excludes Hershey’s or Nestle’s, or anything you might find in your local grocery store. If you can find any, that is. It’s a constant source of vexation to me that every Giant Eagle has an aisle labeled “cocoa” which only has instant hot chocolate.

If your local grocery store is Whole Foods, they will have a nice selection of non-dutched, organic, fair trade cocoas, each of which costs twice what Hershey’s does, but is just as terrible. Occasionally, they get Droste, which is a little pricey, but good. Droste is more or less the yardstick you can measure other drinking cocoas against.

As I said, I shop at Mon Aimee. Their standard dutch-process cocoa is from Guittard, in San Francisco. They typically carry two varieties, a medium-dark blend, and a full dutch process. At Mon Aimee, the full dutch runs about $4.50/pound, less than half what you’ll typically pay for Droste. And it’s comparable in taste and body. It’s not a cocoa revolution, changing the way we think about chocolate forever. It’s just decent cocoa at a price so low that it might as well be considered to be free.

What Amy wanted to show me was Guittard’s “cocoa rouge,” a different variety of cocoa with a darker red hue and a higher price tag ($8.50/pound). So of course I had to buy some of each and have a taste test.

The cocoa rouge is striking when compared to the full dutch. It’s a deep, rich, red color with a scent that is a bit floral, almost candy-like, whereas the full dutch has an assertive, pleasantly bitter chocolate nose.

The big difference between the two comes out when you make them into drinking chocolate. I used a standardized recipe for both: 12 cup of cocoa powder, about 32 ounces of milk, and a pinch of salt to open up the flavors a bit. That’s it. It is not a typo that there is no sugar in this recipe.

The first difference you can see almost immediately is that the cocoa rouge has a much higher fat content. Both cups will leave little blobs of cocoa butter floating on the top of your cup, but the cocoa rouge is full of them, rim to rim. The mouth-feel is a correspondingly silkier as well. It goes down easy.

Another major difference is in the sediment. The Guittard full dutch throws off a significant sediment, particularly if you make your drinking chocolate as stupidly strong as I do. I don’t mind the sediment at all – like the little bits at the bottom of Turkish coffee, I think they’re part of the experience – but others, who are used to corn-starch style chocolate, may not like it. The cocoa rouge was made for these people. Even the next day, the leftovers in the fridge had thrown off almost no sediment at all.

The flavor was good. Less bitter than the full dutch, it had a musky, full flavor, and the somewhat candylike aroma comes through in the taste as well.

Is it worth it? That’s the question. It made a nice change, but since I enjoy more bitter flavors and accept cocoa mass participate as the best part of the drinking chocolate experience, I don’t think I can justify paying twice as much for it. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.

Try it for yourself. Visit Mon AImee in the strip, right across Penn Avenue from La Prima, and tell them peterb sent you.