February 25, 2012

Domori – Porcelana

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Written by: Alex Rast

A review with a purpose, and an urgent one. Domori releases a new batch of their flagship Porcelana, along with all the other bars in their line, coming with a package revamp. Unfortunately, the flavour also seems to have come with an unwelcome revamp, thanks to new processing. This should be a call to action for Domori: the new process has a serious problem, and needs to be fixed immediately.

Out of the wrapper, there are already alarming signs of divergence from what has for many years been the reference standard for Porcelana. The bar is dark, not the usual light colour one expects, but with an almost burnt-umber colour. Even though finish is virtually free from blemishes, this darkness is both worrisome and calls into doubt whether even the same beans are being used. What’s going on?

Aroma is also very, very different from the delicacy of previous Porcelana vintages: this one is powerful and spicy, with pepper and cinnamon dominating. Hints of rubber and coffee seem more in character with a Forastero: surely not! But the aroma is certainly more similar to Domori’s more standard “Cru” line, especially to the Sambirano. Something very odd is happening here. This isn’t the Porcelana we’ve grown to love.

However initially the flavour is completely reassuring, and indeed makes clear that yes, this is definitely Porcelana, starting with a fruity mix of strawberry and tropical. But then it all goes awry, turning to nutty and then becoming progressively darker, coffee and cocoa dominating with an overwhelmingly coffee finish. The culprit is clear: the roast is much darker than previous batches, and in this darkness erases much of the character of the Porcelana bean whose delicacy is literally everything. Texture isn’t a problem, nor does one expect this with Domori; it’s as smooth and creamy as ever, that is to say, near-perfect.

So what’s happened to the process? The situation, as this reviewer is given to understand, is that without other changes, Domori has recently installed an infra-red “pre-roaster”. Its effects on the Porcelana are manifest, and damaging. Pre-roast is causing overroast, when married to an identical final roasting process. Indeed, what else could Domori have expected? Clearly any process such as IR that subjects the beans to a heat radiation source is bound to cause a net increase in effective roast, all other factors remaining the same, and thus if nothing else, if they are committed to this step, then the final roast must be suitably reduced. However, the outcome might still diverge. What Domori is doing here is simply reducing the potential of one of the finest chocolates the world has seen.

Surely Domori has noticed the difference in internal taste tests? If not, this should be a message to them: the flavour has changed, definitely for the worse. Now, let us be clear: the flavour isn’t bad: it’s still an excellent chocolate. But it’s not a great chocolate, as it has always been up until now. Maybe Domori has reasoned that the chocolate is almost as good as before, with a process that confers certain unspecified benefits. But this is the first step down the slippery slope from greatness to mediocrity. With a truly great, uncompromising, top-of-the-line product such as Porcelena, the first compromise, the first tradeoff of almost-as-good for convenience, starts a downward trend, and now the next subtle step downward seems easier to justify, particularly if nobody remembers what it was once like, and before long a sequence of such steps gradually erodes away product quality until what one has left is only a tragic parody of a a once-great product. With Porcelana, in particular, which is Domori’s flagship product and which above all others should brook no compromise whatsoever, there is no way this can go uncommented or unfixed. If Domori persists with this new style without fixing the problems, then inevitably its unique position, style, and reputation will disappear, and it will only end up being a small company competing with much larger, much more well-financed industrial concerns for the mid-grade premium chocolate market. This is a competition it will probably lose. And the world will lose its only first-rate exemplar of Porcelana bean chocolate.

About the Author

Alex Rast
Alex Rast is a long-time chocolate experimenter, taster and part-time consultant to chocolate companies. Starting in 1990 with early experiments himself in making chocolate, he quickly moved into evaluating chocolates in commercial production and assisting other companies in improving process. Over the course of many years he has evaluated over 700 distinct chocolate bars. He is one of the earliest reviewers for SeventyPercent and has helped to define and systematise the ratings system. In addition to bar chocolate, he also experiments with chocolate baking and the formulation of "canonical" recipes for classic chocolate items.



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