Earlier this year Hotel Chocolat opened a new kind of chocolate store in Covent Garden. Angus hinted at it in his interview with us last October and now it’s finally here for all the world to see and enjoy.
I stopped in the day it opened and posted a few pictures to Facebook. Now here’s a little video I took on the same day:
Upstairs, in the “shop” part, the beans get roasted in a clear tube (not normally how it happens but much more interesting to watch), then they travel downstairs to the cafe, where they are winnowed, ground and conched. Winnowing is the process of separating the pieces of cocoa beans (nibs) from their shell. On a grand scale this is usually done by oscillating the nibs on a wire mesh conveyer belt above a set-strength vacuum. The shell is lighter than the nibs, meaning they go in different directions. Simples.
Grinding and then conching is all part of making the chocolate silky smooth and also removing some of the acidity. Conching is continuous beating of the molten chocolate inside a metal drum. This process causes the particles to refine as well as most of the acidic notes (leftover from the fermentation) to evaporate, leaving a delicious, rounded, chocolatey flavour.
At Roast + Conch you can taste the difference between bars conched for 60 hours, 90 hours and 120 hours. And you can taste the difference. I think it helps to highlight how much every stage of the cocoa (& chocolate) production process can affect the final product. To me it helps justify why the best tasting chocolate also costs more.
Instead of a shot of espresso you can get your energy drink fix with lattes and “cappuccinos” made with a shot of freshly conched chocolate instead. Have it alongside one of the freshly baked chocolate treats or a savoury crepe made with, of course, chocolate.