watching the Behmor roast

Roasting with the Behmor 1600 Plus

This weekend we took our cocoa bean roasting to the next level: we christened our newest tool, the Behmor 1600 Plus! And already, we’re very happy with the investment. Thanks Dave Huston & John Nanci for recommending it!

This is the most technologically advanced piece of equipment we own for chocolate. And it comes with TWO instruction manuals, both of which I’ve read cover to cover multiple times and referred to throughout our first roast.

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Originally made for coffee, this roaster has come up in conversation with our coffee-addict friends (ahem, Kevin) more often than we expected! What we’ve learned from friends (Dave Huston, John Nanci, Eli Curtis and others), is that the cocoa bean adaptation is not hard. In fact, the advice we’ve gotten is that the best route is to double the coffee quantity and the best roasts are when the rotating drum is full. Not too hard at all!

After going through a clean cycle (which we had to try 3 separate times – the automatic-off safety feature surprised us a couple of times, but we’ve learned our lesson now), we tried our first batch. One of the operations manuals recommends starting with a small batch, just in case. The options on the machine are 1/4 pound, 1/2 pound, and 1 pound. That said, John Nanci recommends 2.5-3 pounds per batch. We combined the recommendations and put in 250 grams, just over a half pound. It doesn’t seem like much, but for a first batch, we’ll keep it small.

cocoa beans in the Behmor drum roaster

cocoa beans in the Behmor drum roaster

There are many many options for what the roast cycle should look like. Check out this Chocolate Alchemy post for the 5 temperature & timing cycles and more information on the Behmor 1600 Plus. We were roasting Madagascar beans and the manual recommends P3 for any African coffee beans. We know that’s a bit of a stretch, but we went with it. We’ll probably try the hotter program (P2) with more beans in the future, but I’m pretty proud of round 1 for now!

watching the Behmor roast

watching the Behmor roast

And let me tell you… it smelled amazing, especially as the roasting cycle drew to a close. We listened to the popping of the shells when the timer hit about 2:30 minutes remaining. And we watched the temperature stay relatively low for most of the roast, then rise to just over 300 right at the end, before the cooling cycle. We let the 8 minute cooling cycle run when the roast was over and just before it ended, I started to get that back of the throat sensation that John Nanci tells us means the roast is almost overdone.

When we were done, we emptied out the dust tray and put it all back in the roaster – so easy! The resulting beans were cooked all the way through, unlike anything we’ve ever done in our oven, especially the Venezuelan beans we tried to match to John Nanci’s roast. The shells came off almost whole and the crunch from the beans told us they were definitely done.

Bottom line, we highly recommend the Behmor 1600 Plus! What are your favorite ideas for roasting?

And now we’ll winnow away those shells and start a batch in the Premier Wonder Grinder… Look out for some exciting posts on winnowing coming up soon!

Thanksgiving Chocolate Tasting

Last weekend, we were thankful to have Richard’s parents in town to celebrate Thanksgiving. For the occasion, we hosted a true blind chocolate tasting adventure. We pulled out Eagranie Yuh’s The Chocolate Tasting Kit (Tasting Kits), Richard conducted a dramatic reading of the instructions, and we handed out pads of paper and pens. I noted the order of the chocolates and cut the bars into small pieces, then tried to forget which was which as I passed them around. The other 5 tasters were completely blind.

We tasted 13 chocolate bars (avoiding any flavored chocolate) and surprisingly, there were no truly clear winners. We are amazed by the variation of tastes and preferences among us!

Chocolate tasting

Dan & Sarah tasting chocolate

A few tidbits of learning we are taking away from this experience:

  • Thirteen is probably too many chocolates to provide detailed tasting notes on each all at once. Eight would have been a better number
  • Chocolate smell fatigue happened around bar 6 or 7, when all the bars started to smell very similar.
  • We are not very good at describing the appearance of small pieces of bars – they were either dark or light brown and either shiny or not shiny. We could not come up with many more descriptors.
  • The sheer difference between the taste of chocolate when it first enters our mouth and when it melts away is astonishing. We noted some that shifted from fruity to astringent or from buttery caramel to toasty.
  • Each of us used a slightly different overall ranking system. Some ranked 1-13; others high, medium and low; others with an A-D scale, and others with words like “meh,” “yum,” and “no.” In the future, we may encourage a single scale for the overall ranking, in order to evaluate them at the end!
  • We all had very different opinions, so the notes below are an amalgamation, not an average. We also tended to get harsher over time – perhaps because of our dislike of higher percentages or perhaps because of our gained knowledge as we moved through the tasting.
  • None of us are professional chocolate tasters. We all really enjoyed the experience and took it seriously while having fun (it’s basically required to have fun when tasting chocolate)! Don’t take our opinions as facts – rather as impressions of the chocolate we tasted under the circumstances in which we tasted it.

And now, the bars we tasted and what we thought… enjoy, pick up some bars, and let us know what you think, too!

Christopher Elbow 63% with roasted cocoa nibs

  1. Where did we get it: we picked this one up on a trip to Kansas City where we visited the shop and tried some very tasty chocolates
  2. How did it rank: 2 high, 1 medium, 3 low
  3. Some notes: bland taste, earthy and nutty, crunchy bits

Ikea’s dark chocolate bar

  1. Where did we get it: we bought this for comparison recently to remind us of commercial chocolate flavor and texture
  2. How did it rank: 2 high, 3 medium, 1 low
  3. Some notes: sweet, almost milky, hot chocolate, coffee finish

Lillie Belle’s 65% Whiskey in the Bar

  1. Where did we get it: we picked this up at Cacao in Portland a couple months ago
  2. How did it rank: 1 high, 3 medium, 2 low
  3. Some notes: faint flavor, caramel, dull, dry/bitter finish

Cocanu’s 68% Abeja: dark chocolate, baked milk, and bee pollen

  1. Where did we get it: visiting Sebastian in Portland a couple months ago
  2. How did it rank: 3 high, 2 medium, 1 low
  3. Some notes: slightly grainy, melted quickly, creamy molasses

Root Chocolate 70% Madagascar

  1. Where did we get it: we made it!
  2. How did it rank: 4 high, 1 medium, 1 low
  3. Some notes: fruit and citrus, nutty smell, raisin, dry but lingering flavor, complex

Dave Huston’ 70% Upala, Costa Rica

  1. Where did we get it: visiting with our buddy a few weeks ago
  2. How did it rank: 1 high, 1 medium, 4 low
  3. Some notes: smells fruity, bold flavors, burnt ending, pirate, smoky

Root Chocolate 70% Siriana, Costa Rica

  1. Where did we get it: we made it!
  2. How did it rank: 1 high, 1 medium, 4 low
  3. Some notes: sharp, tart, very dry and astringent, roasted, cocoa powdery

Root Chocolate 70% Oko Caribe, Dominican Republic

  1. Where did we get it: this was our first batch in the Premier Wonder Grinder!
  2. How did it rank: 3 high, 3 medium, 0 low
  3. Some notes: lots of flavors, milky, dairy, roasted marshmallow, earthy

Taza’s 70% Cacao Puro

  1. Where did we get it: we bought a mixed flavor pack at Cacao in Portland a couple months ago, I’ve been wanting to try Taza for a long time, since one of my favorite memories with chocolate was eating Mayordomo (a very similar style) in Oaxaca, Mexico
  2. How did it rank: 2 high, 2 medium, 2 low
  3. Some notes: granules – polarizing, sweet buttery flavor

Castronovo 72% Criollo+Trinitario, Sierra Nevada, Colombia

  1. Where did we get it: I bought it at The Chocolate Garage during my first visit many months ago. We intend to go back and taste more chocolate there soon!
  2. How did it rank: 3 high, 2 medium, 1 low
  3. Some notes: spices, buttery, toasted cream, black tea, not exciting, caramel

Root Chocolate 75% Venezuela

  1. Where did we get it: we roasted the beans with John Nanci in Oregon, then we made it!
  2. How did it rank: 2 high, 3 medium, 1 low
  3. Some notes: generic, almond, plastic, intense deep chocolate

Root Chocolate 85% Madagascar

  1. Where did we get it: we made it!
  2. How did it rank: 1 high, 3 medium, 2 low
  3. Some notes: hard, tangy, acidic, chemical burnt, slightly grainy

Taza’s 85% Super Dark

  1. Where did we get it: we bought a mixed flavor pack at Cacao in Portland a couple months ago, I’ve been wanting to try Taza for a long time, since one of my favorite memories with chocolate was eating Mayordomo (a very similar style) in Oaxaca, Mexico
  2. How did it rank: 0 high, 1 medium, 4 low
  3. Some notes: coffee, spicy, bitter finish, smell like dairy

Marketing or Education?

Occasionally, while I sit at a Vietnamese restaurant, cautiously eating my standard Pho, I can’t help giggle to myself as Richard sweats and guzzles water to counteract the powerful sensations coming from his inevitably extra spicy dish. Similarly, I pass on the japapeños in Mexican cuisine and the Sriracha at Thai places. A coworker’s kid only eats food that is white and my cousins, while growing up, ate solely Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, with hot dogs.

You may laugh and say that people who refrain from eating delicacies like spicy Pho, caviar, or kimchi have unsophisticated palettes. We must not know or understand the intricacies of such delicious foods. Richard may say that my Vietnamese food is bland and that I’m not gaining the full experience of these cuisines.

I would respond that I like what I like. My taste buds have their own preferences and there’s not too much I can do about that. I’m not being stubborn on purpose; I’m sure you can identify with me in having a particular taste for something that may be considered unpopular.

So, what does this have to do with chocolate?

Let’s start with the basics. What is the definition of “fine flavor cacao?” In their book, Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate, Williams and Eber explain the definition along the lines of Justice Potter Stewart who was asked to define obscene pornographic material: “I know it when I see it.” The Heirloom Cacao Preservation Initiative‘s objective is to identify and classify heirloom flavor to better understand fine flavor cacao and propagate it for the future.

As we’ve discussed in this post about genetics, there are a million ways to differentiate among chocolate bars. Labels like Fair Trade, Organic, and Single-Origin as well as particular ingredients like cocoa butter or flavors, and processes like stone-ground or table-tempered also differentiate among the supply.

The craft chocolate industry is suffering from a plight of its own making: our product – fine flavor chocolate bars made from the highest quality cacao in the world – is not understood or even necessarily liked by the general public. The chocolate bars that highlight the distinctive flavors of each cocoa bean and origin taste very different than the chocolate that most people grew up with. These craft chocolate bars are typically more expensive, darker, and significantly stronger than the Hershey’s or even Lindt of their youth.

What can we, in the craft chocolate industry, do about this disconnect?

We set up education campaigns! Rather than a Marketing Department, the Mast Brothers has an Education Department. Instead of convincing people to buy the chocolate, they share information about where chocolate comes from, how it is made, and why it has such different flavors from mass market chocolate. We, here at Root Chocolate, are particularly drawn to chocolate companies like Askinosie that share the history either of their company’s traditions or of their connection to the farmers abroad. In other words, taste is NOT everything to everyone.

In fact, the story of the chocolate, an understanding of the recipes and a guide to the potential flavors identifiable in each unique bar of fine flavor chocolate are the key to connecting consumers to high quality chocolate. Plus, as we’ve heard many times before, just eat more chocolate. With more chocolate tasted, the consumer will better be able to identify his or her personal preferences.

How about those of us who just like what we like?

Back to my initial story – I’m not going to start ordering the spicy curry that I dislike just because someone explains the history of Vietnamese spices and their rare availability in the world. In other words, education isn’t the silver bullet solution. Some people are going to keep eating the chocolate they are most familiar with.

In our next post on a recent chocolate tasting, you’ll noticed high marks for the relatively generic Ikea bar. Ikea likely uses a lot of cocoa butter and some soy lecithin, imitating the smooth textures and specific mouth feel of a Hershey’s bar. For some, clearly, that is more appealing than, for example, Taza’s gritty crude grind. Joe Whinney, founder of Theo Chocolate, is quoted in Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate:

“I don’t find a lot of broad relevancy to the concept of fine flavor. I understand it. But I don’t think the consumer is thinking about that. They think about origin. They think about percentage a little big more than they used to. But ultimately they are still seeing chocolate as this sweet treat that if it’s dark it might be a little bit better and better for me and what kind of nuts does it have in it…?”

Perhaps with more knowledge of the ingredients, process, and origin, those individuals would try more exotic bars, but it’s possible that they will always prefer a smooth, lower percentage bar.

What is the bottom line?

Both the picky eaters and the craft chocolate-makers can survive in this complicated world! While I encourage people to follow my food policy – I’ll try anything once – I do not believe that everyone will be or should be a fine flavor chocolate aficionado. If you prefer Hershey’s, go for it!

On the other hand, the bean-to-bar chocolate-makers of the world should continue on our path of education rather than marketing, because there are plenty of potential converts out there. I, for one, have learned a ton about chocolate and now prefer more complex dark chocolate bars. That said, I still enjoy my sweet milk chocolate on occasion and see nothing wrong with that!

To cocoa butter or not to cocoa butter?

That is the question.

We did an experiment to provide an answer to this time old question (ok, sure, we’re borrowing from Shakespeare). For this experiment, we used our favorite Madagascar beans. I think we’re now about halfway done with the giant bucket!

Let’s post some hypotheses about the two batches:

Cocoa butter

This batch we’d expect to be smoother. We’d also expect it to pour better for tempering and have a more “chocolatey” taste. That’s the case for our first batch with cocoa butter, the Venezuelan batch.

Without added cocoa butter

(creative title, I know…) This batch should have a darker flavor, since it has a higher ratio of cocoa mass to cocoa butter. Remember that even chocolate without added cocoa butter still has cocoa butter in it. Usually, chocolate without added cocoa butter sits at around 50% cocoa mass to 50% cocoa butter, plus any additional ingredients like sugar. We go into this in more detail in this post.

So, what really happened?

We started with 654 grams of winnowed Madagascar beans plus 174 grams of sugar in the Premier Wonder Grinder from 9:40pm Monday night until 7:40am Wednesday morning. That said, we had a 2.5 hour break Tuesday night when Richard’s parents came over for dinner. (It was nice to listen to some nice jazz for a little while rather than the whirring of the melanger.)

On Wednesday morning, we poured out 303 grams of the mixture and started the tempering process for what we’ll call Batch A. Richard’s plan was to imitate a tempering machine by stirring continuously as the temperature slowly drops. He got it all the way down to 82 by spinning the bowl on our quartz table, allowing the chocolate to seep up along the much cooler sides of the bowl. While he stirred and cooled, I melted the cocoa butter for the other half of our experiment (Batch B).

Tempering and cocoa butter

Tempering and cocoa butter

Our enthusiasm to get the temperature back up to 90 after successfully dropping it to between 80 and 82 in the bowl (without table tempering) unfortunately led to three consecutive tempering failures, where we raised the temperature significantly too high in the microwave. Once to 122 and twice more to about 100, requiring us to start the process over again. I guess the fourth time is a charm, because that time we got the temperatures and power levels right, ending up with a 90 degree batch to mold.

The mixture seemed particularly thick when we were molding, but our thermometers were telling us we had the right temperature. And in the end, the molding process ended up pretty lumpy, but we have beautifully tempered 79% chocolate in Batch A.

Meanwhile, for Batch B, we poured about 38 grams of cocoa butter into the melanger and released the pressure on the stone wheels. We let it keep running for the next hour while we worked on those many tempering attempts. With 427 grams that came out of the melanger at 86 degrees, we stirred in the same way as the previous batch and reduced the temperature to 81. This time, on the first try, we got it back up to 90 in the microwave and were ready to temper!

We poured it out into the molds and it came out the perfect molding consistency – dripping evenly into the molds and easily adjusted with some wiggling to get the bubbles out. The final product of Batch B is an 81% chocolate (154g natural cocoa butter + 38g added cocoa butter + 154g cocoa mass + 82g sugar).

So, what is the ultimate difference in percentage between the two batches? Batch A is considered 79% with about 40% each of cocoa mass and cocoa butter. Batch B, on the other hand is considered 81% (just 2 measly percentage points higher than Batch A), but has 45% cocoa butter and only 36% of cocoa mass. Big difference!

percentage chart

And once again, both batches were beautifully tempered, despite some funky shapes in Batch A:

Can you guess which have the added cocoa butter and which have just two ingredients?

Can you guess which have the added cocoa butter and which have just two ingredients?

 

You may be wondering, how we went from such tempering issues to the gorgeous, shiny, hard bars you see below. Well, besides our new version of table tempering (in a bowl), the big winner of our tempering challenge is Thomas Forbes with the brilliant suggestion of about 10 minutes in a refrigerator immediately after molding. We know many of you seconded his idea, but he was the first! Thomas, message us privately (through the Join the movement page) to claim your prize!

Our hypotheses were mostly correct, though we have a hard time telling the difference in flavor between the two batches. We’ll have to invite some friends and family to give us their honest opinion. We’ll keep our loyal readers updated!

Matching the Roast

Last month, we visited John Nanci, the Chocolate Alchemist in Oregon. It was a lot of fun and we learned a ton about his process, ingredients, and recommendations!

One of our favorite parts of the visit was roasting a batch of cocoa beans with him. Check out our previous posts on roasting here. We picked out the beans after sticking our heads in all of his big barrels of beans and smelling the wonderful scent of raw beans over and over again. I wish I could share smell through this post, because it’s incredible how different (and delicious) each barrel smells. We decided on the Venezuelan Carupano Corona, 2014 harvest, which has a savory, almost spicy scent.

In the meantime, John had turned on his homemade roaster to start heating it up.

John Nanci's homemade roaster

John Nanci’s homemade roaster

This incredible device has two coupling thermometers which show the temperature inside the cylindrical drum of beans and outside the drum, where the heat originates. He filled the canister with about 5 pounds of beans and when the roaster hit about 400 degrees, he put on his heat-protective gloves and lowered the drum into the roaster. He closed the top and we started to chat.

Let me set the scene… we’re in an open garage/workshop with a misty rain keeping the humidity high, though temperatures were likely in the mid-50s. Everything in the workshop smells like a part of the chocolate-making process: from raw beans to the brownie smell of roasting to the almost syrupy smell of undeodorized cocoa butter.

As as chatted, every once in a while, John would pause, waft some of the rising hot air from the roaster over toward him, and comment on the smell. He glanced, every once in a while, at the coupling thermometers to gauge the difference between the temperature inside the bean canister and outside in the roaster, but the majority of his conclusions about the progress of the roast happened through his nose. He got excited when the smell seemed to waft over to us suddenly, letting us know that this is typically the peak of the roasting process. Around that time, we lowered the temperature and eventually he turned the roaster off entirely as they continued to roast. And he pointed out again when the smell shifted from our noses to the back of our throat. That was when he recommended taking them out. He waited even a few more minutes before pulling out the drum, dumping it onto his cooling table, and aiming a fan at the beans.

He emphasized that, unlike coffee, cocoa beans have more forgiving roast potential. In other words, if you leave them in too long, they are less likely to become disgustingly over-roasted than coffee beans. In fact, he made sure to point out that it is difficult to over-roast cocoa beans.

To be honest, this whole process was like watching a magician at work. His enthusiasm was contagious and Richard and I understood the intent but couldn’t necessarily recreate the magic in our own noses and throats.

That’s why we decided to attempt to match the roast. So, we brought home those roasted beans as well as a few pounds of the same beans, unroasted. And over the weekend, we brought out a bottle of wine and the two batches of beans, and did our best to recreate the process. And – believe it or not – we’re not quite as good as the Alchemist himself!

Matching the roast tools

Matching the roast tools

We set the oven to 400 F and prepared to follow our noses. A few caveats before we get started:

  1. Unfortunately, we were both recovering from a cold, so our sense of smell wasn’t quite up to snuff.
  2. We used our relatively old oven, not a self-engineered roaster.
  3. The temperature in our apartment was in the high 60s and not at all humid, compared to John Nanci’s colder, humid garage.

In other words, we may have been doomed from the start! That said, we did take some of John’s advice very seriously, including the following seemingly logical advice:

  1. Stir the beans regularly. That could avoid “tipping.” Tipping is when the part of the bean touching the hot pan will roast faster (and potentially burn) than the rest of the bean. It develops an uneven roast and could add extra toasting flavors to the chocolate.
  2. His other brilliant advice wasn’t possible this time. He suggested doubling the pans, so there’s a more even distribution of heat on the bottom of the beans. However, we have exactly two pans and used them both for this roast, so we’ll need to try this next time.

This process seemed to happen at full speed, as I was taking notes, flipping beans, checking the clock, sniffing to the point of hyperventilating, tasting hot beans, tasting pre-roasted beans, and hand-winnowing as we went. Whew! Here’s the run down…

We flipped the beans after 5 minutes and at 10 minutes, we started hearing the snapping in the oven and the smell of brownies pervaded the apartment. The taste of the beans at that point was still quite raw and chalky, but the cocoa mass felt softer than a fully raw bean.

We dropped the temperature to 250 at 10 minutes and by 12 minutes, it smelled like dark brownies and we started to get the sense in the back of our throats. We reasoned that they couldn’t possibly be done yet, and took John Nanci’s words to heart… it’s very difficult to over-roast cocoa beans.

At 14 minutes, we flipped them again and at 20 minutes tasted a second time. This time, they tasted bland, almost nutty, without much flavor development.

At 22 minutes, we pulled them out and did a full flip of the beans with a spatula rather that stirring them around in the oven (Richard advised me that I wasn’t flipping quite right, so this would be a more robust flipping system). We compared the taste to John’s beans at this point (starting to get giddy eating so many beans) and noted that ours tasted chocolatey and rich but the texture still felt raw – hard and not crunchy yet.

At 26 minutes we pulled out a really bad bean that tasted underfermented; not particularly helpful in our comparison. A minute later, we found a good one that tasted pretty toasty and nutty. We compared it to John Nanci’s beans and noted that his had more flavor at the end, almost caramelly.

At 28 minutes, we pulled out the tray to flip and put it back in 2 minutes later. As I flipped, Richard tasted and at exactly 31 minutes, we pulled out all the beans determining them definitely done, if not overdone!

We quickly used Richard’s brilliant newly engineered cooling system for about 15 minutes until they felt very cool.

Roasted bean cooler

Roasted bean cooler

And the result – our beans definitely taste different than John Nanci’s beans. Ours taste a little over-roasted and slightly bitter at the end, while John’s beans have that caramel finish. Whew, we’ll try again next time!

Any suggestions from the audience on how you train your nose for the perfect roast?

Sorting Cocoa Beans

This step in making chocolate does not usually get a lot of attention. Perhaps that’s because it’s such a tedious, manual process in most cases. Perhaps it’s because until recently, it seemed uncontroversial.

Well, let me try to make this topic as exciting as possible for our readers. I promise it’ll involve threat of violence, betrayed trust, and the potential for incredible flavor variety… Here we go!

First, When does this even happen in the process? Sorting is the very first step in making chocolate for most bean-to-bar makers. It happens as soon as we pour the beans out onto a surface to visually inspect them before roasting. Ok, now let’s dive into the intrigue around sorting!

The case for sorting

Let’s say your adorable 5-year old niece, Peggy, (let’s include a frilly dress and pigtails in this image) opens the wrapping of a high quality bar of chocolate (assuming you give children expensive chocolate bars…) and as she brings the bar of chocolate toward her mouth, you notice that one corner of the bar is shiny, and before you can run over and rip it out of her hands, her teeth are sinking into a piece of glass.

Ok, maybe that was a bit dramatic, but you understand the danger and violence in this example? Sorting would eliminate the threat of dangerous foreign objects in the chocolate far before little Peggy tries to eat it. Besides foreign objects, like this one found (and thankfully sorted out) in a batch of beans Dick Taylor intended to roast, sorting can also remove other undesirable items that could be included in your bag of chocolate beans. This image on Dandelion’s blog provides a useful list. We have some friends who are also testing the flavor of the germ (a tiny stick-like part of the bean that supposedly contributes either a bitter or woodsy taste to the chocolate).

My biggest concern, and not one included on Dandelion’s list, is actually bugs. Think about where the cocoa beans are coming from. In most cases, they sat out in long wooden trenches, in a farmer’s backyard, for days. That’s right – outside, subjected to the elements and whatever other living things wanted to check them out. Specifically, there’s a species of small moths that love to live in fermented & dried cocoa beans. They burrow into the beans, eat the cocoa mass, build a web, and lay eggs inside the husk. Ew, right?! That’s right. It’s actually pretty easy to see the beans that have moths in them, since they have big holes along the side of the husk, where the moth crawled in (not to be confused with a tiny hole at the tip, which we learned means that the bean has partially germinated and is not nearly as gross).

Moth-infested bean

Moth-infested bean

Many people believe that sorting cocoa beans leaves only the best beans and therefore makes better chocolate. You can read more on Dandelion’s blog about a machine they’re considering to do this for them.

Ok, pretty good reasons to sort. Why would anyone NOT sort? Good question… let’s discuss.

The case against sorting

To put it bluntly, there are two reasons: sorting reduces some of the flavor variation and sorting means you don’t trust your supplier. Let’s start with the second. If you have a wonderful working relationship with your cocoa bean supplier, you would hope they would provide you with beans that would make the best chocolate possible. We learned from John Nanci, Chocolate Alchemist, when we visited him in Oregon, that he screens his suppliers carefully before selling beans to his customers. He believes that any beans he sells you shouldn’t need to be sorted. Maybe he’d recommend a cursory glance for any obvious foreign objects, but other than that, we should trust him on the rest of the beans. He writes more on his opinion on sorting here.

Ok, what about flavor? Here’s where I start to understand the case against heavily sorting. I will say that there’s no doubt we will continue to remove the foreign objects, coffee beans, and anything that could be dangerous to the health of the eventual consumers (see Peggy above). However, jury is still out on whether we’ll sort out the abnormalities in the batch of beans we receive. This is for two reasons.

First of all, the really bad stuff should get winnowed away. The flats, moth-infested beans, and large pieces of shell should fly away with the husks, so it’s possible that sorting them out would be a waste of time.

Secondly, the flavor variation loss is a legitimate concern. Who would want to deny our consumers the potential for such incredible flavor?! Those doubles that are clearly unevenly fermented, the cracked beans, the partially germinated beans… these all contribute to the overall flavor profile of the batch and therefore, are integral to the ultimate quality of the chocolate. I’ll take it one step further, to market analysis. A fellow chocolate-maker did A/B testing with a group of consumers on their preference between chocolate whose beans he had sorted and chocolate made from unsorted beans. Unanimously, the consumers preferred the unsorted chocolate.

Sorted beans

Sorted beans

The Root Chocolate Conclusion

So, what’s our conclusion? We haven’t decided yet. This goes on our list of ideas to try. Maybe we’ll hold onto all the doubles for a while and make a batch of just doubles! Maybe we’ll do two some A/B testing ourselves. We’ll keep you updated on our findings either way!

Chocolate meet up

Over the weekend, we had the exciting opportunity to meet up with another local chocolate maker. Dave Huston of Confluence Chocolate, who lives up in Sacramento, agreed to come down to the Bay Area for a visit. We met at Bittersweet Cafe, and drank some absolutely delicious hot chocolates (similar to what’s offered at Dandelion). I recommend the Spicy hot chocolate!

We met up with Dave to chat about life as hobbyist chocolate-makers, to share stories of how chocolate sweetens our lives and get to know each other. I know… cheesy. And it was wonderful! Imagine if you could meet someone else who has the same strange hobby that fills your weekends and evenings! Yes, we learned a lot, but more importantly, we met a new chocolate buddy. As per the trend, people in the small batch bean-to-bar industry are awesome!

So, what did we learn exactly?

First of all, we have some new equipment ideas that will make our process even more streamlined and will increase our ability to consistently make good chocolate. Specifically, Dave recommended:

  • the Behmor 1600 Plus roaster – we’ve heard this before, specifically in Eugene with John Nanci. This will likely be our next investment in chocolate!
  • Chocovision Revolation x3210 tempering machine – this is a big one, so we’ll see! On the one hand, I feel like we should get good at table tempering before we buy a machine to do it for us, honing our skills in the craft of chocolate-making. On the other hand, I’m very tempted to buy a machine that almost every chocolate-maker uses to make their process more exact and repeatable.
  • a vibrating table for molding – this would reduce bubbles in our bars and improve the shine on both sides of the bar.
  • a 140 CC syringe for molding (see Cal Vet Supply) – genius! This would reduce a lot of loss we currently have from transferring chocolate between bowls with a ladle. And it would minimize the mess. Love it!

He also recommended attending the Good Food Awards & the FCIA event in January. We’ve heard this before and are even more excited now. Networking with the chocolate industry greats there will be quite a treat!

We are considering gathering a larger group of local chocolate makers early next year, to discuss best practices. Locally, we have so many amazing human beings who are also amazing chocolate-makers! Just in the Bay Area, besides industry giant, Guittard in Burlingame, there are:

So, look out for an invitation to gather and chat!

Another incredible benefit of meeting with Dave is that we bought our second Premier Wonder Grinder from him! Get ready for scaled up production from the Root Chocolate factory!

Double Premier Wonder Grinders

Double Premier Wonder Grinders

Happy Thanksgiving, readers! We’re feeling thankful for the chocolate community, our loyal fans, and an awesome set up for delicious & sustainable chocolate-making!

A chocolate shortage?

There has been a lot of news recently regarding the world chocolate shortage. Some sources are stating that there will be a 1 million MT deficit in chocolate by 2020. The ICCO denies that projection, adding that this year actually showed a 40,000 MT surplus of chocolate.

A few factors certainly could contribute to a shortage of chocolate overall in the world. Note the emphasis on overall. If we’re to take the chocolate shortage claims seriously, we must include all the factors that could contribute. According to All Day, those factors could include:

  • Environmental factors: frosty pod and dry weather in West Africa
  • Health & political factors: shutting borders between Liberia & Guinea with the Ivory Coast due to Ebola
  • Local economic factors: farmers choosing rubber instead of cacao, and farmers are aging but the younger generation has not indicated its interest in continuing to farm cacao
  • Global economic factors: increased demand in China & India: by 29%
  • Global demand factors: consumers are interested in darker chocolate, which has a higher cacao percentage

As a result of the increase in demand and decrease in supply, there are a few consequences that also could contribute to a reduction of chocolate in our lives:

  • Prices: prices would go up (basic economics), making chocolate less accessible to the general population
  • GMOs: Chocolate companies are working on synthetic cacao trees, which would be more resistant to disease but less complex in their taste
  • Chocolate substitutes: Chocolate makers may begin filling their products with more nuts, fruits, etc. rather than providing straight chocolate

Now let’s take a step back and think about how that affects bean-to-bar makers who engage in direct trade or fair trade with the farmers who produce the cacao…

The bottom line is: very little!

Harriet Lamb, CEO of Fair Trade International, writes her solution to this potential shortage in The Guardian:

To prevent a chocolate shortage, farmers need to earn a better income now… This is the critical next leap that the chocolate sector needs to make. We need to pay farmers more for their cocoa today if we want to keep them farming for tomorrow. Our very chocolate depends on it.

In other words, small batch chocolate-makers like Askinosie and SpagNvola are already working in this way and will be less affected by a potential shortage. It’s the large chocolate companies that produce chocolate in bulk who need to learn from their bean-to-bar peers. In fact, those with branch-to-bar strategies are even more convincing. If the chocolate-makers absorb a higher percentage of the cost, then farmers will be better paid and more highly incentivized to produce the best cacao they can.

There are a few caveats. This policy could end up increasing the cost of chocolate to the consumer. If so, it could lose one of the principles of Slow Food: though it would be fair to the farmer, it would not necessarily be accessible to the average consumer. Additionally, as long as the new consumers in China and India could pay for it, this policy would not quite address the increase in demand. That said, most of the bean-to-bar market already focuses on higher-end consumers, providing a higher quality product at a higher price point than mainstream chocolate bars.

So, should the conscientious bean-to-bar chocolate-maker worry about a chocolate shortage? Our answer: just a little bit. And at the same time, take advantage of this new opportunity to share the practices that could alleviate a shortage in the future and simultaneously support the farmers!

To read more about the potential chocolate shortage, see the articles below:

Our Chocolate Factory

It’s been about 8 months since we starting playing around with chocolate. And in that time, we’ve collected quite a bit of equipment, tools, and ingredients that now fill an entire area of our apartment. We like to call that area our Chocolate Factory.

We started with just a bag of cocoa beans from the Grand Central Market in LA and some white cane sugar. From our very first coffee grinder to the old fashioned grain mill to the melanger we use today, we’ve gone through more than a few iterations of our process.

I’d like to show off a little about our current set-up, in the hopes that it will be useful to other chocolate-makers or aspiring chocolate-makers out there!

Let’s start with our documentation board. Here’s where we keep track of our batch sizes, temperatures, and results. We also keep a list of interesting R&D ideas that come to mind.

Documentation board

Documentation board

Then we have our new peg board system that Richard built from Home Depot parts, where we store tools like thermometers, spatulas, molds, and safety goggles. We’re also intending to try out a new storage method for our finished chocolate. The Rubbermaids are drying out after an initial cleanse before we stuff them with chocolate bars! And finally, the beautiful homemade quartz table is for tempering.

Peg Board & storage

Peg board & storage

Here we have our current chocolate storage system. Have I mentioned we’re in the market for a wine fridge? We realize this method isn’t quite sustainable at our rate of churning out delicious chocolate bars!

Chocolate shelves

Chocolate shelves

What’s a chocolate factory without some fun decorations? Check out our map, where we intend to document the origins of the chocolate we’re producing. And this is our awesome cocoa bean bag given to us by John Nanci of Chocolate Alchemy, when we visited Eugene last month.

Wall decorations - cocoa bean bag & wall map

Wall decorations – cocoa bean bag & wall map

Here’s our fun bean cooling station, handmade by engineer Richard. I’m excited to use this for our next batch!

Bean cooling system

Bean cooling system

Our shelves full of tools, beans, and documentation, are topped by our beautiful Premier Wonder Grinder, one of the key pieces of equipment in our process. We also have a gorgeous marble display slab, which we bring to parties to show off our different varieties.

Shelves & Premier Wonder Grinder

Shelves & Premier Wonder Grinder

Our winnower, still very much a work in progress, has developed since the last time I photographed it. We now have an additional entrance spout and a much stronger shopvac than our home vacuum. Hold onto your horses, because a guest post from the engineer will provide more detail on the winnower soon!

Winnower

Winnower

And last but not least, a good chocolate factory must provide inspiration and guidance to its chocolate-makers. Take a look at our chocolate library to see what we’re reading these days. The books lean heavily toward entrepreneurship & chocolate science!

Chocolate & entrepreneurship library

Chocolate & entrepreneurship library

Here are a few of our favorites:

What does your chocolate factory look like? As I’ve mentioned before, even if your factory is just a coffee grinder and paint scraper, you’re a chocolate-maker in the making!