Chocolate Making Classes

A few weekends ago, we invited over a few friends for an evening for fun, for education, and for a delicious sensory experience. After months of requests to learn more about our chocolate hobby, particularly after our friends spent hours listening to us gush about all the nerdy parts involved, we agreed to put on a chocolate-making class for a few of them!

Richard is particularly good at explaining very complicated engineering and scientific concepts to laypeople like me, so he was excited to show off his gear and teach our friends about the complexities of the process. I love to train people and get them to buy into a process, so I was excited to make our chocolate-making relevant and interesting to our friends with such diverse interests. The challenge was on and we were pumped!

Richard took charge of designing the class: the timing, the components, and the results. I played assistant/back-up resource on the day of. (Side note – it’s very important to divide the labor clearly when working with your spouse. We’re learning how to do that effectively, and this was an excellent example in action.)

Our friends, Julie, Eric, Alex, and Alex, arrived in the early evening, carrying bottles of wine and their favorite spices, which we encouraged them to bring as chocolate flavors. After a lesson on where cocoa beans come from, we taught them about sorting and they divided into teams: girls vs. boys. For the rest of the night, the girls tracked and made decisions about their batch while the boys did the same with their own batch.

They each roasted a batch, operated the winnower, and set their batches in the melanger within the first few hours. After 5-10 minutes of roasting, each group got to taste their beans and decide whether to continue or not. We like do things hands on!

using the winnower

using the winnower

smelling the cooling cacao beans

smelling the cooling cacao beans

We headed out to dinner to let the two batches grind and conche for a little while. Dinner took longer than expected, but that only meant more time in the Premier Wonder Grinder, so it was a blessing in disguise. We came back to the apartment to the delicious smell of grinding chocolate. While we added ground sugar and let it continue on in the melanger for a little while longer, we tasted a variety of other chocolates and drank our wine. What a delicious and relaxing way to make chocolate!

It was time to pull out the liquor! The girls and the boys tempered their separate batches and I must add that though it wasn’t technically a competition, the girls won this part of the process! Our temper turned out beautifully crisp and shiny, while the boys had some technical difficulties. The girls made a plain 72% batch and then a few squares of salted chocolate. The boys decided to make an 85% batch with chipotle flavoring. Both turned out delicious and each couple went home with almost a pound of chocolate.

Overall, the class was a huge success! That said, we learned a lot and have a few adjustments for our next chocolate making experience with friends:

  • Go to dinner for only 1 hour. Yes, the chocolate will be smoother with more time in the melanger, but this made the whole night last longer than expected.
  • Prepare a seed to make tempering easier. We know that sometimes the most frustrating part of making chocolate is having to start over again multiple times when we accidentally allow the temperature to get too high when tempering. To avoid that frustrating for new chocolate-makers, we’ll start with a seed of tempered chocolate, as recommended by the Chocolate Alchemist here.
  • Provide appetizers during the first couple of hours to offset the amount of cocoa beans being tasted. And provide bread or crackers during the chocolate tasting after dinner to eat in between tastes.

Would you be interested in a hands-on chocolate-making experience? Let us know!

Or do you have any tips to energize and spruce up a chocolate-making class? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!

single origin chocolate bars

Chocolate Wine Fridge

A few weeks ago, we could no longer close the plastic containers where we stored our chocolate. We realize Rubbermaid containers were no longer a viable solution for the massive amount of chocolate we produce and purchase. It was time for a new addition to our chocolate factory!

So, we found a fancy wine fridge on craigslist that the owner said no longer cooled. Perfect! We hooked it up at home and determined that it is not easily fixed, but the light still works, the door still seals, and the shelves still slide in and out. In other words, we suddenly were in possession of a beautiful and well-organized space to store our chocolate!

chocolate fridge

chocolate fridge

The only hitch in the plan was that the drawers were made for wine bottles, not chocolate. Well, a quick trip to the hardware store and some creative tubing/wiring solved that conundrum! We now have seven shelves of chocolate.

lighted chocolate fridge

Here’s the shelf just for our own chocolate (not the prettiest, but definitely the proudest!):

Bags of Root Chocolate. Packaging soon to come?!

Bags of Root Chocolate. Packaging soon to come?!

And the shelf for our friends’ chocolate (Arete, Confluence, Cocoa Logos, Endorfin, Dandelion):

Chocolate from our friends

Chocolate from our friends

Our single-origin bars from all over the world (Askinosie, Fine and Raw, Raaka, Marou, Castronovo, Manoa, Amedei, Lonohana, Lillie Belle, Vintage Plantations):

single origin chocolate bars

single origin chocolate bars

And the flavored bars (Manoa, Elbow, Antidote, Mast Brothers, Patric, La Colombe Workshop, Cocacu, and Il Morso):

flavored chocolate

flavored chocolate

Some mainstream bars and delicious truffles from our friend, Belinda:

Mainstream chocolate bars and truffles

Mainstream chocolate bars and truffles

And finally, Mexican chocolate (Taza, Guelaguetza)!

Mexican chocolate

Mexican chocolate

Visiting Manoa Chocolate Hawaii

One of our favorite moments on Oahu took place in a traditional Hawaiian establishment in Kailua called Hale Kealoha, with slack key players on stage, hula dancers called up from the crowd, many bowls of delicious and traditional Hawaiian food on the table, and surrounded on all sides by locals. Two of those locals, Dylan and Tammy, sat across from us and shared both a piece of birthday cake and a lot of knowledge. Dylan is the chocolate-maker and founder of Manoa Chocolate Hawaii, and Tammy, his fiance, manages the front of the house, the wholesale accounts, and much in between!

In business for just over two years, Manoa Chocolate Hawaii has taken on the massive task of educating the general population about bean-to-bar chocolate. Tammy leads an interesting and educational tour of their factory, starting with the exciting revelation to their guests that Hawaii is the only state in the country that has a climate hospitable to cacao. When Richard and I participated in the tour, we were the only non-Hawaiians. Part of the Manoa challenge is building the pride that local Hawaiians feel for their burgeoning chocolate industry.

Tammy opens the door to the bean room, where the new winnower, large modified coffee roaster, and bags upon bags of beans are stored. Here’s where Dylan takes over! Introduced as the Manoa chocolate-maker, he starts to explain the process of making chocolate from the bean. Our fellow tour participants are thrilled by the smell of raw beans in the bag, shocked by the flavor of plain nibs, and fascinated by the tempering machines jerry-rigged in the molding room.

The tour ends with a tasting in their front room. I liked a lot of their bars! Richard and I both loved the Breakfast bar (brilliant naming & contents!). And I found the goat milk bar and the lavender bars really creative and delicious! (You can purchase any of these and others here.)

We were particularly interested in the dynamic of a couple like ourselves running a chocolate business together. When we had dinner with Dylan and Tammy later that night, we learned about how they divide the labor wisely between them and how they really do love chocolate and its industry quirks.

Manoa and me

Manoa and me

Overall, we had a great time at Manoa, learned a lot from Dylan and Tammy, and look forward to staying in touch with our new Hawaiian friends!

Cacao farming on Oahu

While on Oahu, Richard and I visited two and a half farms growing cacao. Why the half? Let me explain…

The first farm we visited was Kahuku Farms, on the North Shore. Dr. Nat of Madre recommended we stop by here. Kahuku provides farm tours or, as they call them, smoothie tours. We rode around on a wheeled bench, pulled by a trailer through the rows of beautiful crops in the demonstration portion of the farm and received a delicious homemade smoothie made from the ingredients we had seen just moments before. Our tour guide is married to Kylie, a fourth generation Kahuku farmer and has taken on the education part of the business. We learned a lot about the history of the farm and their attempts to share such fresh and delicious vegetables with the local population. Hawaiian food traditionally includes a lot of meat, but the Kahuku food truck serves only vegetarian foods made from their farm’s produce. Surprisingly to the farming family (but not to us Californian hippies), it’s a huge hit!

Kahuku Farms

Kahuku Farms

By calling ahead and telling our tour guide about our chocolate interest, we were able to take a detour on the tour to visit the cacao plants. We even got to pull a pod off the tree and demonstrate (and eat) the pulp to the rest of our tour group. What a special experience! Learn more about Kahuku farms here.

cocoa pods

cocoa pods

Richard and a cocoa pod

Richard and a cocoa pod

Landen and an open cocoa pod

Landen and an open cocoa pod

raw cocoa bean

raw cocoa bean

Our next farm visit was to the Waialua Estate, a subsidiary of Dole. This is our “half farm,” since we visited their large factory but didn’t quite get out to the farmland. We were led on a brief tour of the process of making both chocolate and coffee. Waialua Estate also partners with Guittard, our neighbor in the Bay Area, throughout its chocolate-making process. Waialua Estate was the first place we saw another step of the chocolate process. These trays house cocoa beans as they are drying after fermentation.

Drying cocoa beans at Waialua Estate

Drying cocoa beans at Waialua Estate

Our final visit was the most authentic and intimate. Richard and I met up with Seneca Klassen of Lonohana: Hawaiian Estate Chocolate in Haleiwa on our last morning on Oahu. We jumped in his truck and drove up to his 14-acre farm in the hills above town. The sun was warm and the red dirt squished between my toes as we traipsed through his rows upon rows of cacao trees.

Lonohana - young cacao trees

Lonohana – young cacao trees

Seneca’s mission is clear:

Lonohana Estate Chocolate is located on the island of O‘ahu, Hawaii and is the result of two families’ dream to create a vertically integrated chocolate company here in the United States. By controlling the entire product cycle, starting with our own Hawaii-grown cacao all the way through crafting small batches of world-class chocolate bars in Honolulu, we hope to share where this beloved food comes from, how it is grown and made.

He is creating the first tree-to-bar chocolate operation in Hawaii. He spends many days on the farm, weeding, harvesting, planting shade trees or windbreaks, and keeping up his fledgling farm of cacao. The rest of his days are spent in his factory in Honolulu, where he manages all of the post-production – fermenting and drying – as well as the full bean-to-bar chocolate-making process that we do at home. His supply is so limited that he sells chocolate with a subscription method – sending out bars to subscribers at regular intervals like a CSA (Consumer-supported agriculture). His personal history is closely interwoven with the bean-to-bar movement in the San Francisco Bay Area, as he is one of the co-founders of Bittersweet Cafe in Oakland. Read more about Seneca, his family, and the Lonohana story here.

cacao pods and beans at Lonohana

cacao pods and beans at Lonohana

Seneca spent time to break open a few cacao pods to show us the differences among them, both in appearance and in flavor. His knowledge of the genetics and how they affect the future of the plant and therefore the beans and their eventual chocolate is incredible. He seemed grateful for the visit of some chocolate-makers looking for an education on the intricacies of farming. This is an angle many chocolate-makers never have the privilege to see. And we are extremely thankful for his openness and willingness to teach us about his work and learnings!

Learning from Dr. Nat

One of our most decadent evenings on Oahu was spent at Madre Chocolate in Kailua. We were the last ones to arrive for a whiskey & chocolate tasting, taking place in their tiny retail storefront. We squeezed into our chairs at one of the two tables of 8 people each. In front of each person was a placemat with two sets of flavor wheels on one side and a colorful list of all the available chocolates and whiskeys on the other. We also each had a line of whiskeys in shot glasses and the table was laid with about 15 different cocoa pod-shaped dishes, piled with small tastes of various chocolate bars made by Madre.

We made our way down the line of whiskeys, popping in chocolate before, during and after the aromas of whiskey cleared our sinuses. I determined that my favorite order was a sip of whiskey and putting chocolate on my tongue before the whiskey flavor left my mouth. And with the many whiskeys and many chocolate flavors and origins, I couldn’t tell you which combination was the most delicious. Frankly, they were all good! My favorite chocolate bar was a traditional 70% Lachuá Guatemala bar followed by the Dominican Republic Chipotle Allspice bar.

chocolate and whiskey

chocolate and whiskey

Another day, we headed to Madre for a bean-to-bar chocolate class. One of Madre’s cofounders, Dr. Nat Bletter, led both events, and has one of the most scientific approaches to chocolate we’ve seen. He has a Ph.D. in Ethnobotany and works with the University of Hawaii to continue to research cacao, particularly its flavor components and fermentation techniques. He told us, proudly, that Hawaii is the only place in the world where you can find chocolate researchers, chocolate-makers, and cacao-growers!

We enjoyed learning his style and methods and look forward to staying in touch so we can stay updated on the latest research in the field of making delicious chocolate from high quality beans.

Hawaiian Chocolate Adventure

Last weekend, Richard and I visited Oahu to celebrate a big birthday and to explore the world of Hawaiian chocolate. We were able to visit a chocolate-maker or farm almost every day of our trip!

In upcoming posts, I’ll go into more detail as to what we learned and the wonderful new friends we’ve made in the industry. With a range of different focuses and methods of making and sharing bean-to-bar chocolate, the Hawaiian makers are at the epicenter of small batch chocolate in the US. Why? Because Hawaii is the only state in the country located in a climate compatible for growing theobroma cacao!

In the meantime, suffice it to say that we enjoyed ourselves – kayaking, snorkling, hiking, jumping off waterfalls, and eating some of the most delicious food ever (poke, anyone??).

Kahuku Farms - cacao trees

Kahuku Farms – cacao trees

Look out for posts coming soon on each of our visits and lessons learned!

Roast test + Taste test

I know you all must be biting your nails, waiting for the taste results of our roast test last week. Well, I won’t make you wait any longer!

First a quick note on the process… We made 4 batches of chocolate, differentiated mostly by the roast profile, but also partially by grind time (purely due to circumstance). This was the first time we had both of our Premier Wonder Grinders going at the same time, which was quite an experience. Together, they are significantly noisier than one on its own, and they have slightly different frequencies, resulting in interesting table vibrations all night.

two melangers of chocolate

We also left the liquor in the melanger for less time than usual. This worried us at first, but upon tasting the chocolate, we’re pleasantly surprised that our micron size seems to have reached the point where the tongue can no longer distinguish them. After melanging, we also left each batch in a container for a few days before tempering the whole lot. We usually temper immediately, so that was a bit of a change from our typical process as well. Our tempering method was mostly that of heating the solid batch slowly to about 90 and pouring quickly then. If we accidentally raised the temperature beyond 90, we carefully dropped it again to 80 before reheating to 90 to pour.

Though we’ve successfully avoided bloom since we learned the refrigerator method (thanks again, Thomas, for your tip!), we still have some white markings on the final chocolate bars. We think it’s related to one or more of these issues: watermarks from the molds, the shape of the original pour before we shake the molds, or the way we pop the chocolate out of the molds when it’s done hardening. Any thoughts, readers?

What are these white circles?

What are these white circles?

Keep in mind, these are all Madagascar beans and each batch started with 1 kilo of beans in the Behmor 1600 Plus. My notes below begin with the basic stats on the batch and end with our comparative tasting notes on the final chocolate of each. The notes come from the tasting palette of Richard and me, as well as Dan & Sarah, who shared a picnic in the park with us yesterday (thank you California weather in February!). A quick disclaimer: Richard thinks these are all too sweet – he prefers dark dark chocolate!

4 batches of roast tests

4 batches of roast tests

Batch 1: P2

  • Roast Profile: P2
  • Roasted & winnowed cocoa nibs: 500 grams
  • Sugar: 166 gram
  • Percentage: 70%
  • Grind/conche time: 11 hours and 30 minutes
  • Flavor notes: toasty, less fruit flavors

Batch 2: P4

  • Roast Profile: P4
  • Roasted & winnowed cocoa nibs: 500 grams
  • Sugar: 166 grams
  • Percentage: 70%
  • Grind/conche time: 11 hours and 30 minutes
  • Flavor notes: quite fruity, bright pop, lots of interesting flavor highlights, cherry, Landen’s favorite

Batch 3: P5

  • Roast Profile: P5
  • Roasted & winnowed cocoa nibs: 500 grams
  • Sugar: 166 grams
  • Percentage: 70%
  • Grind/conche time: 14 hours 30 minutes
  • Flavor notes: almost too sweet, slight acidity at back of throat

Batch 4: Blend

  • Roast Profile: P2, P4, and P5
  • Roasted & winnowed cocoa nibs: 522 grams
  • Sugar: 164 grams
  • Percentage: 76%
  • Grind/conche time: 14 hours 30 minutes
  • Flavor notes: slight bitter on the back of the throat

Happy Saturday!

Happy Saturday, readers!

You may be asking, “Doesn’t she mean happy Valentine’s Day?”

The answer is sort of. I’m torn on the value of today’s holiday. On the one hand, what a wonderful concept – a day dedicated to reminding us of the love that surrounds us, both romantic and otherwise. On the other hand, I think every day should be a chance to show and demonstrate the love we feel for others.

The repercussions on the chocolate industry of this Hallmark holiday are clear – this is probably the busiest time of the year for many chocolate-makers and chocolatiers. And I welcome the almost institutionalized occasion for the general public to buy and appreciate chocolate. Then again, many of those Valentine’s Day chocolate gifts come in the form of Hershey’s kisses and other interesting shapes of mediocre chocolate.

So, here’s my call to action:

Sure, take today to shower your loved ones with love and if that love takes the shape of chocolate, I’m sure my fellow chocolate-makers will thank you! In addition to that, I have two requests:

  1. Don’t stop at midnight tonight. Continue to show your appreciation and love tomorrow and the next day and so on.
  2. Be intentional about your chocolate today and in the days to come. Don’t buy the prettiest package. Buy the chocolate that resonates with you – maybe from an origin that has meaning to you or your loved one, maybe a Rainforest Alliance bar, maybe a truffle with passion fruit for the implications of the name… Or even better, make chocolate an experience rather than a gift. Attend one of Dandelion’s Chocolate 101 classes or visit your local bean-to-bar chocolate shop with your partner. Let them choose their favorite bar or confection.

So, happy Saturday. Go spread the love (and the chocolate!)

Behmor Roast Tests

We’ve been enjoying all the chocolate we made in the past few months and are now jumping back on the horse to try out new beans, recipes, and tools!

Our current experiment is working with our Behmor 1600 Plus to figure out what exactly the temperature range is for a kilo of cocoa beans at each of its pre-programmed roast profiles. We’ve now tested three of the five programs and plotted the temperatures (in degrees Fahrenheit) at 10 second intervals for each of them. We’ve overlayed the three temperature takes with Chocolate Alchemy’s power output charts to show how that affects the temperature as well.

Power

Side note: these measurements are done while roasting 1 kilo of Madagascar each time. Check out an upcoming post on the taste differences among the roast profiles for this particular bean. This is our way of figuring out what roast profile works best on these beans. We’ve had them for a long time and done a lot of experiments on them! And now we’re finally doing scientific testing on which roast profile works best!

Second side note: to try this at home with your own Behmor 1600 Plus, press 1 lb, then your desired program, then start. Every 10 seconds, document the temperatures of the vent (hold A) and the wall (hold B).

Behmor Control Panel

Behmor Control Panel

So, what are the results? Here we go! We’ll start with each individual profile’s temperature and power output. The vertical line in the middle indicates when the cooling cycle starts. You can see that the vent temp and the wall temp differ significantly. Additionally, the power output of the machine strongly influences the rate of temperature increase at the onset of each program.

P2 P4 P5Now let’s look at the roast temperatures together to compare the three profiles:

Temperatures

You can see here that P2 sustains a high temperature for the longest period along the wall. P5 and P4 have a similar wall temperature arc, which is also reflected in their power outputs; however, their vent temperatures differ drastically.

Finally, here are all the measurements on the same chart:

Temp and Power

I hope this is helpful for those of you out there using the Behmor for your own roasting needs. This result is pretty exciting – more details on the chocolate outcomes to come!

Three batches of Madagascar, ready for winnowing

Three batches of Madagascar, ready for winnowing

Cocoa bean quality

How do we know the quality of cocoa beans when they show up in one of those giant burlap bags? How can we tell they’ll be tasty once we’ve put them through the intensive processes that result in a chocolate bar?

We did some research and asked some friends, but we’re always learning, so don’t take this post as the be all end all of cocoa bean evaluation. The best way to learn to evaluate beans is to travel to cacao-producing countries and learn from the makers and farmers themselves.

In a nutshell, here’s what we’ve learned so far: it takes all the senses and some background research to determine high quality cocoa beans.

Let’s start with the basics… what are we looking for in a batch of cocoa beans?

  • Well fermented – not too much, not too little
  • Well preserved – as few bugs as possible
  • Well bred – good genetics (read more about genetics in this post)

This is all in addition to the circumstances on the farm where the beans came from, including working conditions, wages for farmers, pesticides, farming practices, etc.

The question is, then, how do we know the beans are good enough to import in larger quantities and potentially serve as the source of one of our chocolate bars? The process looks different depending on how big the chocolate-maker is. Check out this description by the ICCO about checking the quality of cocoa beans. Without a panel of tasters or any fancy instruments, here’s how we do it:

1. Look at the bean

Beans have a wide variety of appearances, depending on how they are processed at the farm. Here are some pictures of drastically different beans from our visit to John Nanci’s warehouse in Oregon. Can you tell the difference?

Jamaican beans

Jamaican beans

Papua New Guinea Beans

Papua New Guinea Beans

Side note: in Papua New Guinea (PNG), because the weather is so wet and humid, some farmers dry their beans in a smoker, leaving them with a smokey flavor that I’m pretty excited to taste! Check out what Dandelion did with some PNG beans here.

When looking at the beans, we’re looking for mold, if they appear to be washed, if they’re very dirty, if there are a lot of doubles or broken shells or buggy beans, etc. This is similar to what we look for when sorting beans. Our sample looks pretty good – nothing terrible stands out.

whole raw cocoa beans

whole raw cocoa beans

2. Taste the beans

Keeping in mind that these are raw beans and have been subjected to the messy process of fermentation, drying, shipping across borders, and could harbor some potential diseases… but we taste most raw beans anyway. As I’ve mentioned before, this is not my favorite part. Richard’s much better than I am at picking out the flavor notes in raw beans. However, we both picked up the same flavors here: a very mild start, slightly earthy or woodsy hints, and then very little bitterness on the back end. The good news? These beans are definitely not acidic or putrid. The bad news? They may result in a boring chocolate, since we didn’t sense any specific strong flavors.

We’ve heard that the taste in our mouth after we’ve finished a raw bean – in other words, the aftertaste – shows the flavor notes that could appear in a chocolate bar made from those beans. Try it out!

3. Perform a cut test

This is a particularly fancy part of checking bean quality and provides a numerical score to bean quality. High end bean-to-bar chocolate makers use what’s called a guillotine to slice at least 100 beans (typically 300) in half, lengthwise, thus opening up each one so the inside is visible. Given that I don’t own one of these expensive devices, I manually sliced 100 beans and laid them out on a cutting board.

cut test

cut test

Now, we’re looking for a few different results on the inside of these beans. This chart by the Cocoa and Coffee Industry Board of Trinidad and Tobago shows many of the potential options very clearly! The summary: we’re looking for a) fully fermented beans, b) slatey beans, c) partially slatey beans, d) purple beans, e) over-fermented beans, f) moldy beans, g) germinated beans, h) infested or insect-damaged beans, or i) flat or shriveled beans.

As far as I can tell, these are either all fully fermented or over-fermented. There were no slatey, partially slatey, purple, moldy, germinated, infested, or flat beans in this sample.

There are additional tests and measures to determine if cocoa beans will be good for high quality chocolate. That said, with our experience level, we’ll stick to these methods, but we’ll continue to share what we learn as we go!

So far, we’re doing pretty well with these particular beans! We’ll have to make them into some chocolate and see how they turn out!