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AWANS, Belgium: Chuao, Baracoa, Hacienda Rio Peripa: When it comes to cocoa beans, it turns out there are vintages just like there are for fine wines, Belgian chocolate-maker Benoit Nihant says. In a country where chocolate is a source of national pride, Nihant is one of around a dozen "bean-to-bar"-makers who go direct to the source in Africa, the Americas and Asia to get the best possible taste.The select group including Nihant and his fellow Belgian Pierre Marcolini are now trying to transform the often traditional world of chocolate-making by mastering the process from the bean harvest to the creation of elaborate confections.For his chocolate, Nihant has hand-picked nine plantations after a series of journeys, in Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba, Madagascar and Bali in Indonesia. Soon he hopes to source beans from Peru, where he recently bought land.He imports 25 tons of beans a year in a country that produces a massive 650,000 tons of chocolate a year, mostly by big brands including Godiva, Leonidas and Neuhaus.
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