WHAT MAKES STONE HILL’S TREE TO BAR CHOCOLATE SPECIAL
One question that was raised to us is that: If direct sourcing is the issue, then any farmer can start producing chocolate and any chocolate maker can purchase a cacao farm, and their chocolate would be considered tree-to-bar. That doesn’t necessarily mean all tree-to-bar chocolate is good.
This is true. Making chocolate is not incredibly difficult, making good chocolate is. And while producing tree-to-bar chocolate is by no means easy, not by a long shot, producing good tree-to-bar chocolate is a monumental task.
Here at Stone Hill, we are extremely proud of our cacao beans and its products. We would like to think that our efforts and love shine through and many would agree. However, to answer if it’s good according to your own taste, we believe that you should try a bar of Stone Hill Dark Chocolate and be the judge.
Meanwhile, let us show you what makes Stone Hill Tree To Bar Chocolate special:
- Variety collection: With over 50 cacao varieties, Stone Hill Farm currently holds the largest private collection of cacao varieties in Vietnam. Some of these possess unique flavour profiles but due to low survivability and high technical demands, they are not available for public circulation. With a strong technical background in agriculture and cacao farming, Stone Hill manages to cultivate some of the most uncommon Trinitario and Forastero varieties, creating a blend with a signature composition not found anywhere else in the world.
- Pesticide-free agriculture: Stone Hill Farm utilizes bio-control as the primary method of pest prevention. We raise ant colonies on our cacao trees by providing food and shelter for the ants. In turn, whenever the trees are harmed by pests (mainly Helopeltis), the ants will swarm out, attack the pests and protect the cacao trees. This allows us to farm cacao with absolutely no pesticides.
- Biochar and fertilizer application: Due to the barren and poor soil condition of the terrain, Stone Hill Farm uses compost fertilizer which mixes organic with composite fertilizer. To make sure we maximize its potential, we combine it with charcoal. This allows the fertilizer to be dispense gradually over the course of months instead of getting washed away by rain within days or weeks. The charcoal we use is primarily biochar which is created via a process of anaerobic burning that leaves behind negative carbon footprint.
- Customized primary fermentation recipe: A fully developed fermentation recipe must put into consideration the types of beans, their sugar content, the season that they’re harvested in, moisture level, their ripeness, storage duration, the weather and temperature during the period of fermentation, etc… At the same time, a fermenter must be flexible to the changes that occur as fermentation progresses and adjusts the recipe according to external factors and conditions. Due to our special cacao bean variety composition, Stone Hill has to create very specific fermentation recipes to bring out all the best flavour notes.
- Slow-drying technique: The drying process is equally as important as the fermentation process. If not dried properly, all the hard work during fermentation can be spoiled and our efforts wasted. To accompany our customized fermentation recipes, Stone Hill has developed our own slow-drying technique. When dried too fast, the bean shell can harden too soon, trapping all the acidity that developed during fermentation inside the beans, hence imbalance the flavour profile. If dried too slow, the cacao beans face high-risk of molding, over-fermentation, and even rotting. With Stone Hill’s slow-drying technique, we allow just the right amount of acidity and certain off-flavours to dissipate, all the while preserving the cacao beans in excellent condition for storage and processing.
- Secondary fermentation: This stage of fermentation is unique to Stone Hill cacao beans. Similar to the “racking” stage of wine fermentation, cacao beans secondary fermentation allows them to fully reach their optimal potential. Since the ideal primary fermentation only takes the fermentation rate to 75-85%, it is assumed that the remaining 25-15% will take place automatically during drying and storage. However, the cacao beans are still very sensitive to environmental factors during this stage and can be influenced by the condition of their storage. By storing the cacao beans in optimal condition for an additional 2 to 6 months, we can maximize the fermentation rate while allowing all the flavours to settle in.
- Customized roasting recipe: A thorough roasting recipe for cacao must put into consideration the moisture level, fermentation rate, variety, bean size and the base condition of the beans. An under-roasted batch will taste underdeveloped, too astringent and flat in flavor. An over-roasted batch will taste overly bitter with all the flavour notes gone, drowned out by the taste of smoke and burn. It is one of the shortest stages of chocolate production but a mere 20 to 30 seconds can make all the difference in the roast. As with our fermentation recipes, they are detailed while at the same time, flexible for adjustment by the roaster, depending on the state of the beans as they progress through the roast.
- Traditional stone milling: While many chocolate makers have moved on to steel ball millers, the stone miller is still considered the industry standard for flavour development. Unlike a ball miller that can grind cacao nibs into cacao mass within a few hours, a traditional stone miller will take days. All our work of preserving subtle and unique flavour notes comes down to this. During the many days it takes to slowly mill the cacao down, our stone miller allows the cacao mass to fully express all its flavour notes that have accumulated through all the stages.
- Pure, original chocolate taste: The balancing of flavours in our chocolate all occur naturally entirely through each stage. Aside from the traditional sugar percentage, we do not use carbonate, flavourings or any artificial enhancement or chemicals to affect the final taste. What you shall savour in the end is the pure, original taste of Stone Hill beans, fully expressed in the chocolate.
- Handcrafted in Vietnam: The human touch is one constant factor throughout each stage of our chocolate making. We cultivate the trees on our farm, then manually harvest, break, ferment, dry, select, and clean our cacao beans. Every batch of roasting and milling is carefully supervised and adjusted, every bar of chocolate is hand poured and hand wrapped. Every single bar.
We put a lot of love and care into our chocolate, and with each bar so meticulously crafted, all we hope is that our effort will shine through the products which you enjoy.