We live in an era of Internet and Social Media holidays, a time for loyal fans and aficionados to express their love for that person, place, thing, number, or concept that brings them joy… you name it, there’s an internet holiday to memorialise it.
Today, September 13th happens to be International Chocolate Day (not to be confused with World Chocolate Day, which is July 7th), an unsurprising confection to celebrate given its overwhelming global popularity, and one that is often paired with our favourite thing to celebrate… Coffee.
Chocolate and coffee go together like two peas in a pod (or beans in a pod, if you will). Both are derived from the seeds of a fruit, both are fermented, dried, and then roasted. This similarity in processing is why both coffee and chocolate can have a diverse variety of flavour characteristics depending on the species of beans used, the fermentation time, and the degree of roasting.
To gain consumer trust and ensure repeat purchasing, most large commercial brands of both chocolate and coffee aim for a consistently uniform flavour. Unfortunately this often means over-processing in such a way that any unique characteristics derived from fermentation are lost to overly sweet, burnt, or milky flavours.
While we love the natural diversity small batches of single origin chocolate can have, we actually prefer to use a more commercial chocolate when pairing with coffee. The uniformity of commercial chocolate allows you to highlight the fermented flavours of a specialty coffee with less likelihood of overpowering it with a contradicting flavour.
That said, if you have a creative palate and the budget to try varying mixtures of specialty coffees and single origin chocolates, by all means do so.
Today however, we are going to look at the role of chocolate in a Mocha, not as the star of the show, but as a supporting character whose aim is to make the star shine. The star in this case, being coffee.
There are a few things to consider when pairing coffee with chocolate to create a Mocha that truely does justice to the beans that you brew.
The first thing to note is that not all coffees will pair well with chocolate. Many lighter roasts have citrus flavors that won't be able to stand up to both the milk and the chocolate in a Mocha. We have tasted some lovely light specialty roasts paired with water, ice and fruit blends like yuzu and peach. These have been refreshing and have provided a cohesive flavor experience that wouldn’t have been possible with chocolate.
A medium roast, perhaps a natural processed coffee from Panama, with berry, apple, or melon characteristics, will pair better with a milk chocolate than with a dark chocolate. For roasts like this you may wish to try a milk chocolate ganache or syrup, used sparingly, and steamed milk. You’ll want to be careful not to over-do it on the chocolate as these delicate fruity flavours can easily be overwhelmed.
Any roast that is a bit darker, perhaps a pulped-natural coffee from Brazil with nutty or caramel notes, should pair well with either dark or milk chocolate and steamed milk to create a classic mocha flavour that still highlights the coffee being used.
The second thing to consider is the quantity of chocolate you use both matters and will vary.
Typically the darker the roast, the more chocolate you can use without overpowering the flavour of your coffee, as long as it’s milk chocolate and not a bitter dark chocolate.
The third consideration is the form your chocolate will take. The most popular chocolate used in cafes is syrup or powder, largely due to the shelf life they have. Some cafes will use ganache as it contains more fat, giving Mochas a thicker and smoother mouthfeel. However, preparation time, price, and a short shelf life make ganache a less popular choice overall.
We have seen a few cafes that make mochas using shaved chocolate, but the results of this method have been mixed. Chocolate shavings often won’t melt with the same ease as a ganache or a syrup, leaving a thick mess at the bottom of the cup.
Lastly, there’s no right or wrong way to pair coffee and chocolate, flavour preferences are subjective. If you try something and you like it, keep trying it! If you're a home barista, experiment! Make your own syrup, make a ganache, pair flavours together that inspire you!
If you are running a cafe, ask your supplier for samples, ask your customers what they prefer, and don’t be afraid to try something new!