One of the exciting trends in the world of chocolate is the move to transform cacao into chocolate in its own country of origin. In Brazil, chef Samantha Aquim, a charismatic and eloquent figure, has created Q chocolate to showcase Brazilian cacao.
As I learnt from a recent presentation she gave in London, Samantha herself has been on a journey of cacao discovery. The starting point for her involvement with chocolate, came about when she was invited to visit cacao plantations in Brazil, something she’d never done before. On this trip she met Joao Tavares, a cacao grower from Bahia and visited his Lelinda Plantation. “It’s a magical place,” says Samantha fervently. “There is something about that place which you can feel, there are no words for it. The cacao plantations in Bahia are actually rainforests and the cacao grows inside the rainforest, so you have the cacao growing among amazing 100-200-year-old trees, flowers and birds.” While at Lelinda, she visited the fermentation house where the cacao is fermented. “I could smell the beans at different stages of fermentation and I started to understand that there are so many aromas here which are amazing. I hadn’t realised that cocoa could have all those aromas, it intrigued me. I had thought I was working with the best chocolate but I couldn't find chocolate which had those complex aromas I’d smelled at the plantation. There was always too much sugar or vanilla or too much roasting.”
Inspired by this experience and challenged by Joao to make a chocolate which captured the complexity of cacao, Samantha set about creating her own Brazilian chocolate, using cacao she has selected herself from Joao’s plantation – with the result being Q chocolate. Interestingly, the chocolate she has made is designed to take the person who eats them on a journey, reflecting her own personal epiphany regarding cacao and its flavour possibilities. Her first creation Q0, an exclusive and prestigious single-harvest chocolate, (with its bar form designed by the famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer) is presented in an intriguing and complex way, offering a graduated level of tasting blends to take the person eating them from ‘familiar’ chocolate to ‘new’ chocolate (ie Q0 chocolate). “When the chocolate was ready,” she says, ”the first thing we, the Aquim family, did was we went back to the Leolinda plantation to eat the chocolates with those workers; they were the first people to eat it. One of them told me something that I will never forget. I gave him some different chocolate first and then, when he ate ours, he said ‘this is my cocoa, this is the flavour of my life’. When he said that, I said I did it!”
Samantha’s latest Q bars again offer varying levels of cocoa paste and are divided into ‘suaves’ (soft) and ‘intensos’ (intense). “I’ve created these two styles,” explains Samantha “because when I was at the factory creating the chocolate I had possibilities of changing the flavour. It’s a very mental process. At one point I was sitting in the factory thinking, what do I want this bean to give me? Do I want a chocolate which will transport me to walking in the sun, light breeze, very blue sky, that’s one type of chocolate, for me, the smooth, soft chocolate. Or I could take other decisions and have a chocolate which takes me into the woods, having not so much sunshine. So the second line is this, the Intense one.”
This commitment to promoting chocolate is also manifested in the Aquim family’s elegant chocolate shop in Rio de Janeiro. “It’s a shop that is all about cacao. What we sell inside is only chocolate and only dark chocolate. We need to have something to give access to the chocolate though. So what we do we sell are brownies made with this chocolate Q collection and we have chocolate macarons which Brazilians love – and I say it’s like an invitation to the chocolate world. The only thing that has milk in my shop is the hot chocolate! The first day that the shop opened, I was very emotional.” The first month, she explains, they gave out lots of tastings to “convert” people. The second month, people “came back”, she tells me with satisfaction. “When it came to Easter, our customers had to understand that we’re not having all those Easter eggs and caramels, no confectionary, only chocolate. Our intention is not to run from the truthfulness of cacao, otherwise we would be betraying everything we’re most passionate about.”
Samantha is very clear about what Q chocolate is about. “When it comes to what we’re doing, we’re going for pure chocolate, It’s a purist way of doing cacao chocolate and I say cacao chocolate because it’s chocolate with cacao flavour.” Being based in Brazil, she is able to sustain her partnership with cacao farmer Joao Tavares and visit his plantation four to six times a year. “What I would love to see in the future is chocolatiers trying to get as close to cacao as possible,” she declares. “We want to improve the quality of what’s being made and see chocolate which reflects the flavours of cacao. Cacao is amazing – that’s why you don’t need to add anything else.”
The Q Collection will be available at Fortnum & Mason from this month.