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By Chris Kornman and Rosi Quiñones

On Tuesday the 29th of March, Royal Coffee had the distinct pleasure of hosting a delegation of cocoa scientists from Ghana. Our friends at TCHO, a Bay Area based “New American” chocolate maker, reached out to us with this special opportunity. TCHO is collaborating with the ABROBOPA Cocoa Cooperative and the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), the premiere research entity in West Africa, and brought them to our office for a cupping of some of our offerings.

CRIG is the Ghana Cocoa Board’s exclusive cacao seedling breeder, researcher, and propagator. Similarly to coffee, the demand for specialty cocoa continues to increase worldwide, and breeders are under pressure to increase yield and disease resistance. Much like when coffee was brought to the Americas from Africa, cacao’s migration to Africa has resulted in monoculture and a susceptibility to new diseases. Unfortunately for both industries, the drive to improve plant health and productivity does not always coexist with the desire to improve quality.

In recent years, however, a growing demand for flavor and traceability in the supply chain is re-shaping both industries. In collaboration with USAID’s Ghana Quality Initiative, TCHO hosted agronomists, quality control agents, physiologists, microbiologists, and lab technicians to initiate discussion and conduct sensory trainings to help define and improve flavor quality and preserve the inherent unique attributes of Ghanaian cocoa.

The cocoa industry’s sensory evaluation system is a little less developed than that of specialty coffee, so as a part of the training for the cocoa sensory panel, Royal Coffee was able to offer an introduction to coffee cupping. Ghana actually produces a bit of robusta coffee, though national production has fallen off significantly from the country’s peak in the 1960’s.

Royal’s access to a global supply network enabled us to offer an enormous variety of coffees to cup. We tasted diverse specialty robustas from India, Madagascar, and Java, as well as a number of lovely arabicas from Colombia, Ethiopia, and Uganda. The cocoa delegation (along with TCHO’s team) received a briefing on Royal’s sourcing and sampling procedures, an introduction into coffee processing, a roast demonstration, and a training on basic flavor profiles and scoring quality.

From nutty to earthy, citric to tropical, and from sweet to bitter, Chocolate and Coffee professionals had the opportunity to taste and talk in a relaxed environment. We questioned why cocoa is a flavor note in the coffee tasting wheel, and vice versa, when both beans have such broad expressions of flavor and character. Discussion broke out in small groups and included topics as diverse as comparing and contrasting best practices in different regions, how to reliably assess sensory quality, and the potential market for specialty Ghanaian robusta coffee.

The kinds of research and development performed by scientists and sensory professionals will only become more critical in the near future. Consumer-driven appreciation of flavor diversity is expanding the specialty sectors of both industries, and farmers continue to face pressure to produce high quality and quantity despite a changing climate and natural diseases. In this light, it’s not hard for us to appreciate TCHO’s innovative sourcing initiative and delicious product line.

It was a great privilege and honor for us here at Royal to have the opportunity to be involved in a fun and important collaborative event like this one. It reminded us of the excitement, research, and information-sharing at the beginning stages of the Specialty Coffee Industry, in which Royal Coffee is proud to have been involved. We look forward to hosting more educational and industry-overlap experiences like this at The Crown: Royal Coffee Lab & Tasting Room.