Just like wine, chocolate exhibits the phenomenon of terroir—characteristic differences in flavor depending on the region of origin, says mamachef. mateo21 agrees. “While there is certainly a regional difference in cacao, call it terroir if you want, just like any agricultural crop the soil chemistry, rainfall, temperature, sunshine, etc., all will influence the flavor of those beans,” says mateo21. “That being said—with something like cacao, there are a multitude of factors beyond terroir that can have an equal or greater influence on the overall flavor of the end product,” he says.
mamachef likes chocolate from Venezuela. “It has a short grassy finish, for real, and it’s just delicious. I prefer it to all others,” she says. “I definitely prefer South American and Caribbean chocolates,” says Ruth Lafler. “I really don’t care at all for Madagascar chocolate, which I find to be too fruity and acidic, and I find Indonesian chocolate to be sort of blah. My two favorites come from Ecuador and Grenada, but it’s hard to argue with the quality of Venezuelan chocolate.”
And it’s not just soil and weather, but also genetics, that makes for regional difference. There are different subspecies of cacao, grown in different areas. “The main ones are Criollo, Forastero, and Trinitario,” says Ruth Lafler. “Ecuador claims that its native Forastero is actually a subspecies they call Nationale, and there are some artisan chocolate makers who are using beans from ‘feral’ cacao trees that they claim have developed unique characteristics.”