Chocolate Passport to São Tomé

August 13, 2023

Iain Burnett sources a sustainable and intense, rare cocoa from the volcanic island of São Tomé with an exceptional range of fruity, aromatic and spicy characteristics.  This single origin cocoa is never blended with any other, making it like the 'single malt' of the chocolate world. 

A Word from Iain About São Tomé

I use couverture chocolate from many cacao plantations around the world, but I frequently use one that I discovered several years ago from São Tomé island.  It is part of a group of islands, 250 miles off the coast of south-central Africa better known for its coffee than its rare cacao.  Yet it was chosen for its ideal terroir, the perfect climate within a few degrees of the equator, rich volcanic soil and skilled farmers who continue to this day to be meticulous in tending the plantations, harvesting the pods, fermenting and drying the beans.  But it was also the first place that cacao was first transplanted outside of South America, its origin, about 200 years ago – this is only important due to the mass hybridization and genetic modification that has taken place in the last 50+ years, intended to create bigger, more disease and pest resistant, larger pods, all at the expense of flavour. 

While some gourmet grade couverture chocolate will have sweet and fruity flavours and others may have savoury and spice notes, this exceptional chocolate has an enormous spectrum of flavour – an intense cocoa body gives way to dark red fruit notes of raspberry and candied cherry, moving through to ginger and warm peppery spices – even the finish passes through roasted coffee notes and leaves a woody or oaky afternote.  Chefs get very excited about this “long journey through the palate” (or full flavour in layman’s terms) and as a Chocolatier it enables me to pull out a wide range of different flavours depending on how I combine it with other supporting or complementary flavours and textures, accentuating one or other part of that profile. 

You don’t need to be a gourmet aficionado to notice that it has several flavours going on!  But whoever you are, one key is tasting a little before your breakfast, first thing in the morning when your palate is fresh – just try it if you don’t believe me!  It is like a whole new experience in the afternoon or the evening before….