The new era for vintage dark chocolate has just begun as chocolate company To’ak launches a $345 bar of dark chocolate that has been aged for 18 months in a 50-year-old Cognac cask.
Dark chocolate and wine have a great deal in common. For both, the long road from cultivation to fermentation to production can be seen as a journey of chemical evolution. This is just the beginning of the story. Next there is the matter of storage and aging, during which the journey continues. Oxygen and other compounds interact with both chocolate and wine over time, continuing the process of chemical evolution for months, years, and, in some cases, decades.
To’ak first made a name for itself by launching a $260 bar of dark chocolate in 2014. Chocolate from this same harvest has been aged for 18 months in a variety of aging vessels, including a 50-year-old French oak Cognac cask as well as a Spanish Elm wood vessel. Only 200 vintage chocolate bars have been produced. The price is $345 for each 50-gram bar.
“The idea of aging our chocolate in a Cognac cask came about quite naturally. Of all the spirits that we paired To’ak with, Cognac in general was always the best partner. Aged bottles of Cognac (such as VSOP and particularly XO) have been softened enough to not overpower To’ak, and often their flavor notes prove to be delightful complements. In most cases, the progeny of the two flavors—spirit and chocolate—was an enhancement of both. In the best of cases, the combination could rightfully be described as sublime.”
“Through a connection with Wine Spectator, we got in touch with Nicolas Palazzi. Wine Spectator had recently run a feature on Cognac and credited Palazzi with leading the “rise of artisanal brandy in the U.S.” Raised amidst vineyards in the province of Bordeaux and trained by an artisan distiller in the province of Cognac, Palazzi is the man to speak with if you’re on the hunt for rare and unique Cognac. As it turned out, he was also the right man to find if you’re on the hunt for a fifty-year-old Cognac cask. The cask Nicolas sourced for us was made of French oak from the Limousine forest in France. The cask most recently contained an eau de vie that was distilled in the mid-1970s and emptied in 2013 for a limited edition bottling sold to private collectors. Palazzi estimated the age of the cask to be over fifty years.”
“The result is our highly complex 2014 Rain Harvest edition now with softened edges and delightfully infused with the aroma and flavor of cognac.”
The Aging Process
To’ak’s co-founders concede that if the science behind wine aging is still not fully out of the woods, the science behind chocolate aging is stuck in a cave. To explore this question, they contacted a wide range of winemakers, master sommeliers, professors of enology, and even molecular scientists. Their findings are revealed in a 116-page booklet that accompanies each engraved box of vintage chocolate.
Dark chocolate and wine are both rich with tannins and other polyphenols. These compounds, also called flavonoids, largely determine what we taste in a wine or dark chocolate and how it feels in our mouth. Over time, these compounds are chemically altered through processes such as oxidation. Aging dark chocolate or wine can allow the perception of astringency to decrease. This can produce a more rounded flavor profile and reveal subtle flavor notes that had previously been overshadowed. To’ak is currently working with enology researchers at Washington State University and U.C. California, Davis, to quantify this process and analyze tannin content of chocolate as it ages.
To’ak chocolate is sourced from heirloom Nacional cacao in the valley of Piedra de Plata, Ecuador. To’ak’s cacao has recently received the prestigious Heirloom Cacao Preservation designation from the Fine Chocolate Industry Association.
Each vintage bar, which weighs 50 grams, is presented in a hand-crafted Spanish Elm wood box that is individually engraved with the bar number.
Each box includes a 116-page booklet that comprehensively explores the science behind the aging of dark chocolate, drawing heavily from the science behind aging wine. Also included with each box is a pair of hand-made tasting utensils.
To’ak Chocolate – Where and how
To’ak Chocolate can be purchased online at toakchocolate.com or at select retailers in the U.S and at Harrods in London.
About To’ak Chocolate
To’ak was born from a rainforest conservation project started in 2007, in a province of Ecuador that is to cacao what the French province of Burgundy is to wine. It was here that co-founder Jerry Toth began cultivating cacao trees and making chocolate in a thatched bamboo house secluded in the middle of the forested mountains of the Jama-Coaque Reserve. The powerfully floral aroma that wafted from these early experiments was his first cue that Ecuadorian cacao was unlike any other. After years of honing his passion, Jerry eventually linked up with co-founder Carl Schweizer and fourth-generation Ecuadorian cacao grower Servio Pachard. Their mission was to change the way that the world experiences dark chocolate.