Coffee and chocolate are often compared thanks to the overlap between their growing regions and the similarities in flavor notes. Both coffee and cacao share a huge flavor profile; over 600 aromatic compounds in cacao and more than 1000 in coffee! Let’s dig into more similarities and differences between the two gorgeous plants!
Coffee and cacao come obviously from two very different plants, from two different continents. Cocoa comes from Theobroma cacao also known as ‘fruit of the gods’- an evergreen tree with fruits and flowers growing directly on its trunk. An oblong fruit, called a pod, differs in size, depending on species and is as colorful as one can imagine (red, yellow, purple, mixed colors) and each pod contains 20-60 cocoa beans, surrounded by sugary and fragrant pulp. Approximately 7-14 pods are necessary to produce 450 grams of cocoa beans. Just to remind, coffee beans come from coffee cherries that produce two beans per cherry.
Just like coffee trees, cacao flourishes in cocoa belt: along or near the Equator in Latin America, the tropics of western Africa, Asia and India. Originaly, Lower Amazon (South America) is home to cacao, yet now is best grown in Africa. And coffee comes from Africa and Arabia (Ethiopia and Yemen), and now is best grown in South America, kind of a switch there, but it works. 😊
Coffee has two main species: Arabica and Robusta, from which various varieties have developed over time (e.g. Caturra, Typica, Bourbon, Castillo). Cocoa beans also have different varietals – researchers are still finding new genetics, but now we know that there are more than 10 major families of cacao (before cacao was classified into only 3 varieties/genetics – Criollo/Forastero/Trinitario). And CCN-51, which is a clone with high yield, great resistance to diseases. Criollo is delicate, fine, more expensive, white beans but less productive. Forastero is more disease resistant, heartier yet poorer quality. Trinitario is the Goldilocks in-between. Each varietal has unique characteristics in terms of appearance and especially flavor. Importantly, every step of the process has influence over its end-flavor. The main guys are: genetics, terroir and fermentation at origin, and roasting and conching (just for chocolate). Even transportation and storing will have an impact.
Additionally, chocolate and coffee differ in its description usage of “dark”. For chocolate, a “dark” chocolate is a reference to the ratio of cocoa solids to other ingredients. Thus the higher the concentration of cocoa solids and cocoa butter, the more “dark” it is. Craft chocolate bar is made using very few ingredients, sometimes only two: cocoa and sugar. However, when talking about coffee, “dark” means the type of roast. A dark roast means the coffee was over roasted to achieve a specific flavor profile, such as smokey, burnt and caramel tasting notes. A light roast means that the coffee was a bit less roasted and preserves flavors of the bean’s origin like the fruity and floral notes.