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Pure sin is in

Gargi Gupta  |  New Delhi 

A connoisseur's choice, the
After single malts and vintage wines comes single origin chocolate. Single origin (or pure-origins and varietals, as they are also called) have been a growing food fad in the West, especially Europe, for more than a decade now; and in India too, single-origins have been around for about a year or so, retailing from a few select and five-stars in Delhi and Mumbai.
So what are single origins? Simply: chocolate that has been made from cocoa beans from any one of the many regions in the world where cocoa grows "" Sao Thome, Madagascar, Ghana, Mexico, Java, Papua New Guinea, Grenada. Some are even from a single plantation; for example, France's top chocolatier, Michel Cluizel, has a limited edition made from beans from the Los Ancones plantation on the island of Santo Domingo.
The point here, and this is what makes single origins such a rage with chocolate aficionados, is the fact that the climate and soil conditions of these different geographies give to each strain of beans a different character, a different flavour, a different "node".
For instance, Sao Thome has a "strong and distinct taste", "firm body" and a "sumptuous mix of subtle floral and herbal aromas", or Tanzania "combines a subtle fruitiness with a richly varied assortment of aromas and a remarkably fine hint of vanilla" "" it's a vocabulary of a race that still considers chocolate "food for the gods".
But in India single origins are still very niche, "aspirational", and not just because they are very expensive. "Most chocolates sold in India are compounds, that is, they are made of cocoa (sometimes cocoa powder) and sweeteners, combined with vegetable fats," says Sanjeev Obhrai, who owns Chocolatiers, one of the few places that stocks some single origins in Delhi. (Compounds are to be compared with couvertures, or "real chocolates", which use cocoa butter, a by-product of the cocoa-making process.) Bred on this inferior product since childhood, is it any wonder that most Indians find single origins too bitter for their taste?
"India lacks a chocolate culture," says Antonio Daroya of Choco la, the upmarket confectioners in Delhi, with some justice. And it's not just the hoi polloi, even the bourgeoisie still remains largely oblivious of its wonders.
For example, Sonia Gupta, who makes the "Soul Chocolates" range of hand-moulded chocolates, says while her clients are getting more discerning, no one has asked her for single origins as yet.
Undeterred, some of the world's biggest names in the chocolate business have set up shop in India. The most popular of these is Lindt, which has been around for the past decade through its representative Sunstar Confections, the company behind Fantasie Fine Chocolates in Mumbai, perhaps India's oldest chocolates-only place.
These days you get the renowned Swiss company's Excellence range of varietals "" Cuba 55 per cent, Equador 65 per cent, Madagascar 75 per cent "" at a few supermarkets. And they aren't too expensive "" just Rs 170 for a 100 gm bar. Valrhona, a French brand, is the other single-origin bar available in India; in Delhi, the Oberoi gourmet shop stocks it.
But don't take a big bite "" you'll find it difficult to keep down. "The trick," says Obhrai, "is to have it in very small pieces, let it melt slowly in the mouth, allowing the spectrum of flavours to come through, just as you would a good single malt or, even, good flavoured tea."
Chocolatiers generally combine it with flavours or spices to make it more palatable. For example Obhrai does a wild cherry bob-bon while Choko la has an entire range of pralines, truffles, tuiles and mendiants in single origins, pure and blended with a host of nuts, spices, condiments "" including Indian ones like cardamom, cinnamon, rosewater and saffron.
Then there are Felchlin, a Swiss niche manufacturer, and Callebaut, a 120-year-old Belgian company, that have been in India for a four-five years now, supplying couvertures to five-stars and premium boutiques like Choko la and "home-makers" like Sonia Gupta and Lovey Burman of Cookie Jar in Kolkata. These introduced their single-origin ranges in India about a year ago.
Tushar Gupta, Callebaut's Indian representative, says, "We're trying to create awareness among the professionals." Callebaut has trained around 10 Indian chefs in the past year, and Jean Marc Bernelin, its technical adviser, was in the national capital a few weeks ago to train chefs in a five-star. Other promotions like a competition for pastry chefs have been planned.
Looks like chocoholic Indians will finally have something to look forward to.

First Published: Sat, July 07 2007. 00:00 IST