You won't catch Northwest Arkansas’ Onyx Coffee Lab resting on their laurels. When they aren’t making waves in coffee competitions—co-owner Andrea Allen was the runner-up at the 2016 United States Barista Championship and most recently, head of training Dylan Siemans took second at Coffee Masters New York—they are busy opening an extravagant coffee wonderland the likes of which had not been seen in the American South or collaborating with local chefs and brewers to put together a multi-course dinner highlighting fermentation, specifically fermentation involved in coffee processing. Still, this is not enough.
Enter Terroir, Onyx Coffee Lab’s new bean-to-bar chocolate combining specialty coffee and cacao grown not only in the same origin country but the same region.
The genesis of Terroir began a few years back when co-owner Jon Allen was on one of Onyx’s many yearly origin trips to Colombia. Due to climate change, the producer was pulling up lower elevation commodity coffee trees and planting cacao as a means of diversifying income. And since the cacao was harvested at a different time of year than the coffee, it created a timely and much needed new cash flow.
“Since that trip, I have discussed his model with quite a few farmers who have the right conditions to grow cacao and are tired of rust issues, poor coffee quality, or growing Robusta at such low altitudes,” Allen told me. “Terroir Coffee Chocolate seemed like a natural fit.”
The addition of coffee to chocolate is not a new phenomenon, but often the coffee is treated as a second-class citizen, an ingredient used to impart “coffee flavor.” With Terroir, the coffee is an integral component–on a par with the cacao even–where each coffee is selected for its complementary flavor profile instead of its “coffeeness.” And that selection process is surprisingly straightforward: use coffee and cacao grown in the same region.
“During tastings and trials over the past year and half we noticed similar flavor notes in origins and regions of cacao and coffee,” Allen told me. “The goal is to literally keep the terroir the same.”
In order to accomplish this, Onyx is meticulous in their sourcing of both cacao and coffee, looking not only for raw materials grown in the same region, but with similar intercropping and the same processing climate and environment.
For the initial run of Terroir, Onyx has selected three distinct origins, two that will be familiar to the coffee world and one that is better known for its cacao. Their Guatemalan chocolate combines a 69% cacao grown amongst lemons, coffee, and honeybees with wash-processed Caturra and Bourbon varieties from the famed Finca La Esperanza in Huehuetenango. And the soon-to-be-released Colombia bar highlights the Huila region, using 50.3% cacao from small-hold farmers near Neiva and coffee from Finca El Porvenir. Both coffees may be familiar to Onyx fans, as they have both been part of the roaster’s offering sheet at some point over the last year and will be again.
The third selection is perhaps the most interesting simply for the fact that it comes from an origin more commonly associated with cacao than with coffee: Uganda. Both materials come from the Bundibugyo District in western Uganda, with the cacao being intercropped with banana trees on small farms and the coffee grown by the Bukonzo Cooperative in the Rwenzori Mountain foothills.
Sourced through Atlas Coffee Importers, the Ugandan coffee is not part of Onyx’s roster and it belies the fact that while Terroir is the product of the coffee roaster looking to increase coffee’s stake in this confectionary interplay, cacao is still the star of the show. This is demonstrated further by the shift to more developed roast profiles for the coffees destined to be part of a chocolate bar.
“We really focused on getting higher developed sugars and red/blue fruits. Citric and malic acid based roast profiles really seemed to clash every time we tried. I honestly thought it would be more like blending coffee, cupping attributes of single origins, and using that to your advantage but it doesn’t quite work that way,” Allen explains. “One and one don’t equal two in coffee chocolate creating. It might make 11.”
Chocolate is the first in a line of goods utilizing byproducts of coffee production that will be released under the Terroir brand. Cascara tea and cherry blossom honey are both currently in the works. The goal of the Terroir experiment is to find creative uses for resources readily available to coffee farmers, thereby creating new revenue streams for them and helping their farms diversify and thrive. “We feel like any way to utilize other crops or avenues for revenue for coffee producing regions is a huge plus.”
For farmers and consumers both.
Zac Cadwalader is the news editor at Sprudge Media Network.
Origin photos courtesy of Onyx Coffee Lab.
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