List of “From the Bean” Chocolate Makers

You may have noticed by now that we at Root Chocolate are not the only ones making chocolate “from the bean,” as Clay Gordon likes to call it. In fact, we are among many small- and micro-batch makers dedicated to the craft (part art, part science) of making chocolate.

I wanted to do a brief post about the many other bean-to-bar companies out there to pass along the advice we’ve been given time and again: eat more chocolate. Refine your palate. Taste all those other delicious bars in order to understand what you really like. First, please note the many sites that review chocolate bars and share their wealth of tasting knowledge with the world:

And now, without further ado, I give you the list of all the “from the bar” chocolate makers I’m aware of. Please feel free to comment to add or correct anything on this list, so I can build out this list even more thoroughly!

Chocolate-maker Location Website
Akesson’s Sweden http://www.akessons-organic.com/en/akessons/
Amadei New York, New York http://amedeistore.com/pages/about-us
Amano Chocolate Orem, UT www.amanochocolate.com
Antidote Chocolate Brooklyn, NY www.antidotechoco.com
Arete Milpitas, CA http://www.aretefinechocolate.com/
Askinosie Springfield, MO www.askinosie.com
Bahen & Co Australia http://www.bahenchocolate.com/
Bar Au Chocolat Manhattan Beach, CA http://www.barauchocolat.com/
Bittersweet Chocolate Cafe Oakland, CA www.bittersweetcafe.com
Black Mountain Chocolate Black Mountain, NC www.blackmountainchocolate.com
Blue Bandana Vermont http://www.lakechamplainchocolates.com/bars-hot-chocolate/blue-bandana-chocolate
Bonnat France http://www.bonnat-chocolatier.com/
Cacao Atlanta Chocolate Co. Atlanta, GA www.cacaoatlanta.com
Cacao Prieto Brooklyn http://www.cacaoprieto.com/
Castronovo Florida www.castronovochocolate.com
Cello Chocolate Nevada City, CA www.cellochocolate.com
Chocolate Alchemy Eugene, OR www.chocolatealchemy.com
Chocolates El Rey Venezuela http://www.chocolates-elrey.com/
ChocoVic Barcelona, Spain http://www.chocovic.es//
ChocoVivo Los Angeles, CA https://chocovivo.com/
CocoaTown LLC Roswell, GA www.cocoatown.com
Dandelion Chocolate San Francisco http://www.dandelionchocolate.com/classes/#anchor
Davis Chocolate Mishawaka, IN http://www.davischocolate.com/
Dead Dog Chocolate Denver, CO www.deaddogchocolate.com
DeVries Chocolate Denver, CO www.devrieschocolate.com
Dick Taylor Arcata, CA http://www.dicktaylorchocolate.com/
Domori Torino, Italy http://www.domori.com/
Escazu Raleigh, NC www.escazuchocolates.com
Ethereal Confections Woodstock, IL www.etherealconfections.com/bean-to-bar
Fearless Chocolate Berkeley, CA http://www.fearlesschocolate.com/
Finca Chocolate Logan, OH http://www.fincachocolate.com/
French Broad Chocolates Asheville, NC www.frenchbroadchocolates.com
Fresco Chocolate Lynden, WA www.frescochocolate.com
Frolic Chocolate Charlottesville, VA http://frolicchocolate.com
Fruition New York www.tastefruition.com
Garden Island Chocolate/ Nanea Chocolate Kauaii, HI www.gardenislandchocolate.com
Guittard 10 Guittard Road Burlingame, CA 94010 http://www.guittard.com/
Indi Chocolate Seattle, WA http://indichocolate.com
ISIDRO Chocolate Austin, TX www.isidrochocolate.com
It’s Chocolate! Winston-Salem, NC www.itschocolatews.com
Jacques Torres Chocolate New York, NY www.mrchocolate.com
KISKADEE Chocolates Austin, TX www.kiskadeechocolates.com
Letterpress Chocolate Los Angeles, CA www.letterpresschocolate.com
Lillie Belle Farms Central Point, OR www.lilliebellefarms.com
Lonohana Hawaiian Estate Chocolate Honolulu, HI www.lonohana.com
Lulu’s Chocolate Sedona, AZ www.luluschocolate.com
Madre Chocolate Honolulu, HI www.madrechocolate.com
Mahogany Chocolate Lubbock, TX www.mahoganychocolate.com
Mana Chocolate Portland, OR www.manachocolate.com
Manoa Chocolate Kailua, HI www.manoachocolate.com
Marou Vietnam http://marouchocolate.com/
Marsatta Fancy Chocolates Redondo Beach, CA http://www.marsatta.com/
Mast Brothers Brooklyn, NY http://mastbrothers.com/
Maverick Chocolate Co. Cincinati, OH www.maverickchocolate.com
Meadowlands Chocolate Company Meadowlands, Minnesota www.meadowlandschocolate.com
Meridian Cacao Portland, OR www.meridiancacao.com
Michael Recchiuti San Francisco, CA http://www.recchiuti.com/index.html
Michel Cluizel France http://www.cluizel.us/
Millcreek Cacao Roasters Salt Lake City, Utah www.millcreekcacao.com
Mindo Chocolate Makers Dexter, MI http://mindochocolate.com
Olive and Sinclair Nashville, TN www.oliveandsinclair.com
Original Beans Amsterdam http://originalbeans.com/
Parliament Chocolate Redlands, CA www.parliamentchocolate.com
Patric Columbia, MO http://patric-chocolate.com/
Pierre Marcolini France http://www.marcolini.be/#/en
Potomac Woodbridge, VA www.potomacchocolate.com
Pralus France http://www.chocolats-pralus.com/en
Raaka Chocolate Brooklyn, NY www.raakachocolate.com
Ritual Chocolate Denver, CO http://www.ritualchocolate.com
Rogue Massachussets http://www.roguechocolatier.com/
Sacred Chocolate Novato, CA www.sacredchocolate.com
Sandpoint Chocolate Bear Sandpoint, Idaho www.sandpointchocolate.com
Santosha Chocolate Asheville, NC www.santoshachocolate.com
Sibu Sura Chocolates Myersville, MD www.sibusura.com
Sjölinds Chocolate House Mount Horeb, WI www.sjolinds.com
SPAGnVOLA Gaithersburg, MD http://www.spagnvola.com/
Spirited Artisan Chocolate Bisbee, AZ http://www.spiritedchocolate.com/
SRSLY Chocolate Austin, TX www.srslychocolate.com
Sublime Chocolate Dallas, TX www.sublimechocolate.com
Tabal Milwaukee http://tabalchocolate.com
Taza Massachussets www.tazachocolate.com
Tcho 3100 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA http://www.tcho.com/
Tejas Chocolate Houston, TX www.tejaschocolate.com
The Chocolate Conspiracy Salt Lake City, Utah www.eatchocolateconspiracy.com
The Chocolate Tree Edinburgh, Scotland http://www.choctree.co.uk/
The Oakland Chocolate Company Oakland, CA www.theoaklandchocolateco.com
The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory Kailua-Kona, Hawaii) www.ohcf.us
Theo Chocolate Seattle, WA www.theochocolate.com
Treehouse Chocolate Portland, OR http://treehousechocolate.com/
Twenty-four blackbirds Santa Barbara, CA www.24blackbirdschocolate.com
Valhrona Chocolate Brooklyn, NY http://www.valrhona-chocolate.com/shop/index.php
Videri Chocolate North Carolina https://viderichocolatefactory.com/
Woodblock Chocolate Portland, OR www.woodblockchocolate.com

Slow Food

A better, cleaner and fairer world begins with what we put on our plates – and our daily choices determine the future of the environment, economy and society. – Slow Food USA

It’s hard to disagree with that statement. The slow food movement also purports that “the future of food is the future of the planet.” Again, I couldn’t agree more.

The slow food movement originated in Italy in 1986 when Carlo Petrini led a protest against a McDonald’s opening in Rome. The philosophy is “good, clean, and fair food,” as defined by the slow food international website:

  • GOOD: quality, flavorsome and healthy food
  • CLEAN: production that does not harm the environment
  • FAIR: accessible prices for consumers and fair conditions and pay for producers

Boiled down to its roots, the slow food movement encourages us to connect more with our food, be more intentional about its origin and how it arrives at our lips through preserving tradition and providing a “taste education.”

The movement has remained mostly in the sphere of counterculture, though its popularity is growing. In 2008, Woddy Tasch published Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Food: Investing as if Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered and opened the nonprofit Slow Money to support the efforts of small-scale and local food enterprises. In 2014, Slow Money has grown to nearly 1000 participants in their annual event and the organization has invested over $35 million in more than 300 small food enterprises since 2010. Slow food movement as a whole now has over 80,000 members internationally, including food community  producers, cooks, and academics, according to the 2013 Slow Food Almanac.

What does this have to do with chocolate? I’d like to think of Root Chocolate as slow chocolate. Our chocolate is high quality, flavorsome, and contains only natural ingredients of cacao and sugar. Our chocolate is clean in that besides the ecological footprint of transporting the beans from where they grow near the equator to our apartment in the Bay Area, we try to reduce the environmental impact in all other ways, from the farm to the bar. And finally fair – we are highly sensitive to paying an appropriate price for the beans so that the cacao farmers earn a living wage. Granted, we’re not selling any chocolate at the moment, but when we do, feel free to remind me of this post, so we make sure it is accessible to those who want it!

Slow food has been integrating itself into my life for the past few years, and I’m enjoying its effect immensely. Richard and I received a dehydrator and a jarring kit for our wedding, both of which we’ve put to great use. Richard’s dehydrator has produced a variety of interesting jerkys and my jarring kit has resulted in cranberry sauce and apple sauce, which are wonderful gifts for friends and coworkers. What’s more thoughtful than homemade food, particularly something that hasn’t come from a kitchen since corporations decided they could take over that process for us. We’ve also successfully made cheese – both queso fresco (my personal favorite) and paneer, which went into the most delicious (and complicated) Indian dishes we’ve ever made from scratch. And finally, our favorite kitchen gadget, the Nutribullet, has provided us a variety of slow-cooked options, such as homemade hummus, juices, and nut butters like peanut and almond.

Jars of slow food - cranberry sauce, apple sauce

According to Michael Pollan’s Cooked, which I’m absolutely loving reading, “cooking from scratch” has recently been re-defined as anytime a person interacts with their food at all, which constitutes as little as spreading mayonnaise on bread or heating a can of soup. That’s substantially different from my grandma’s homemade sugo and gnocchi, which could take half a day to prepare. You may lament that half a day of cooking would prevent you from doing so many other things, but that’s part of the problem – cooking in community is an amazing experience that we’re starting to lose as a culture.

Making chocolate together with Matt and Malenca last month, and even when it’s just me and Richard, constitutes a challenge to be conquered together. And the pleasure of enjoying a meal or in our case, a bar of chocolate, after laboring over it as a group, is immeasurable.

I challenge my readers to cook something from scratch with a loved one (or many!) and share your experience in the comments below!

Visiting local chocolate makers

Last weekend, Richard and I had the privilege of visiting a local chocolate maker’s small-batch space. In the true spirit of Clay Gordon’s philosophy on mentoring, David and Leslie showed us around their space, explained their chocolate-making flow, and shared a taste of their favorite in-production bars. They’ve been transparent in their start up process through an extremely useful thread on The Chocolate Life called “Shared Journey,” which I highly recommend other potential chocolate-makers take a look at.

Granted, Arete is not quite in full scale production mode yet, but their deliberate research and development phase is well underway. Their goal – produce an excellent bean-to-bar product! We learned a lot from our visit and are looking forward to staying in touch with our fellow chocolate-making couple, as both of our operations grow!

First of all, they recommended we join the FCIA or Fine Chocolate Industry Association. This is an organization of people involved in the fine chocolate industry “from blossom to bonbon to bar,” as their website states. Its mission is the following:

The Fine Chocolate Industry Association is the professional non-profit organization supporting the development and innovation of the fine chocolate industry and best practices through: Identifying industry standards for cacao growing, bar and confection production, and the use of quality ingredients. Communicating with consumers, the media, and legislators regarding issues in growing, production and consumption of fine chocolate. Educating chocolate professionals on fine chocolate best practices, ingredients and techniques.

Excellent recommendation!

Secondly, they told us the story of taking the online Ecole Chocolate-Making Course. They were surprised when so much of the course involved buying and tasting other makers’ chocolates. Now, they understand the incredible value of building out one’s taste in order to understand what kind of chocolate they wanted to make. We’ve heard this before – eat lots of chocolate – and we’re not going to argue!

When we asked how they work together as a couple, they laughed. Leslie is full time while David continues his full-time job and helps out on evenings and weekends. It turns out Leslie focuses on tempering while David focuses on the roasting. And overall, they just seem to have that excellent vibe of partners. That magic factor that we’ve read about in other partner-pairs like Mish and Rob of Making it Anywhere and Jill and Josh of Screw the Nine to Five. The bottom line – divide the labor and respect each other. Seems pretty logical, doesn’t it?!

Finally, we learned about their flow from one part of the process to the next: from their bean room where they store and sort the beans, to their beautiful oven for roasting. From a rapid cooling device to the cracker and winnower. From there to the sieve, separating out the nibs of appropriate size. Then back to the oven, where the nibs and Premier Wonder Grinders are heated at a low temperature to soften the initial refining process. (Yep, we were delighted to see a few of our very own Premier Wonder Grinders lined up in their shop!) Next, into the whirling melangers which work continuously for days at a time. They often add heat lamps at certain points in the process to increase the temperature as well. Finally, out to a small temper machine or to the large granite table where Leslie tempers the chocolate by hand, and into their almost finalized molds.

Many parts of their flow are hand-designed or modified from the original use of their machines or devices. We’ve noted that in the industry of small batch chocolate-makers, there are few tools made especially for batches of 2-3 kilos. And as a result, there are many creative engineers and artists in the business who rig up their own tools, including Richard and David, among others!

We look forward to staying in touch with David and Leslie and to meeting other chocolate makers, near and far, as we learn more about the industry and how Root Chocolate fits!

Siriana Cacao

About a month ago, Piper reached out to me through The Chocolate Life. (Have I mentioned how much I appreciate the connections I’ve made to the local and online chocolate-making community?) She let me know that a dear friend of hers moved to Costa Rica this year, purchased some land and began farming. His plot is surrounded by farmers who having been doing the same for hundreds of years. His goal was two fold, to save the land from developers (tourists attractions), and to help other farmers move their beans at good prices.

That caught my attention. Saving the land, working together with farmers to promote their economic well-being… I was sold. And I’m glad I was!

Piper told me that “the cacao is grown in Matina conton in the Talamanca region of Costa Rica. The trees are indigenous to the area, so these are considered Fine beans. All the practices are organic and sustainable. The beans have been fermented, and sundried and are considered Raw. They are considered one of the best tasting beans in the world by the ICCO and the Tasting salons in Paris. And this year, they had a good spring harvest and the fall harvest will be incredible because of the rains (they thought El’nino would cause a drought). It should be a vintage year.”

Well, we purchased a 2 lb sample from Piper through Siriana Cacao, and made a new batch of chocolate this week. We have a few new tools that helped us along in the process, and the result was both delicious and fun!

Siriana Cacao cut test

First of all, we did a cut test on the beans and they looked a little purple but overall flaky and dark and good! I’ll go into the details of cut testing in another post, but suffice it to say for now that it means they were fermented well – not too much and not too little. Goldie-locks, style.Champion Juicer, modified

Then, after a solid 5 minutes at 400 degrees and 20 minutes at 250 in the oven, we pulled out our first new tool, the Champion Juicer! Chocolate Alchemy sells this for $265, but we found a refurbished one on Ebay for $99. This tool serves as both cracker of beans and later as a way to create the first crude liquor before setting the Premier Wonder Grinder to work. Ours is a littler older than we expected, so we don’t quite trust it to create the liquor. For cracking, though, (and with a few creative modifications to keep our kitchen relatively clean) it was amazing!

wide winnowing basket

We then tried another interesting tool for winnowing – the wider, shallower basket, thanks to a suggestion on our Winnowing Woes post. It worked marginally better at first, then the nibs started flying away along with the husks. So, we returned to the large bin method. We ended up with a 76% yield from full beans to winnowed nibs. We recently learned that a perfect winnowing process would result in a 88% yield, but that almost doesn’t exist in the industry. So, we’re still working on a solution for this portion of the process.

We heated the beans and stone grinder in advance, at the suggestion of some local chocolate-makers, and left the chocolate refining & conching for 24 hours in the wonder grinder this time. The result was beautifully dark (70% again) rich chocolate.

infrared thermometer

Once again, we struggled with the tempering process, though this time we had some extra help in the form of an infrared thermometer as well as a food thermometer. Our first attempt at tempering did not pass the paper test, so we left it overnight and remelted the next day to try again. The second attempt wasn’t perfect, either, but we think it was closer that it has been in the past. There’s still some bloom on some of the bars, but the largest one is beautifully smooth and shiny!

Siriana chocolateSiriana chocolate flakes

The result, 813 grams of delicious Siriana chocolate. Richard’s new favorite part are the flakes or shards that come off the tempering table when we’re done. And I’m actually enjoying our ice cube tray molds, even more than the official bar molds we bought online!

Thank you, Piper!

brasil

Why does supply chain matter?

For my loyal followers who received a draft of this post in your emails on Thursday, I apologize – that was not the final version. WordPress glitch! Here’s the official final post:

That shirt you’re wearing right now – do you know which country the fibers came from, where they were processed into cloth, or who stitched them together before arriving at your favorite clothing store? Do you know how much the farmer receives for the cotton he grows, what impact the transportation of the materials and then the finished product had on the environment, or whether the entire system is sustainable?

I don’t mean to make you feel guilty and I certainly am not an expert on clothing sourcing. That said, I do think it’s worth considering the path our stuff takes before it arrives on our doorstep, on our skin, or in our mouth. And I wouldn’t even consider mine a new or radical point of view. The Story of Stuff came out more than 5 years ago and the story translates to food through documentaries like Food, Inc., FRESH, and Forks over Knives, as well as the many masterpieces of Michael Pollan.

“How does this relate to your chocolate?” you might ask. Fair question. This question goes to the name I’ve given this website – Root Chocolate. That name was meant to bring to mind two roots: the simplified process of making chocolate from its core ingredients, and the idea that chocolate doesn’t arrive in this world as a whole. It touches many lives, environments, and even countries along the way as it transforms from Theobroma cacao to the bar you bring home. In fact, the documentary, Black Gold brings the supply chain issue to the coffee fields that often sit adjacent to the cocoa farms we’ll discuss in future posts. And as part of my personal mission, I intend to bring awareness to chocolate-lovers everywhere about the path that the components of your chocolate take before they end up following a sip of wine down your throat after dinner. Just on Friday the S.F. Gate published an article on the implications of slave trade on cocoa beans!

There will be many articles to come on the process of farming the cacao pods, fermenting and drying the beans, shipping them to a manufacturer (no matter how small or large scale), and then the process of processing the beans into an edible chocolate creation. Supply chain has environmental, socio-economic, and systemic implications. Today, though, I want to focus on my personal connection to supply chain, which falls mostly into the socio-economic realm.

In college, I spent a semester in Brazil with the School for International Training, which turned into a much more than a typical study abroad experience for me. My focus of the semester was to conduct independent research on my topic of choice – contemporary slavery. It is a difficult concept to grasp that slaves still exist when we are taught as early as elementary school that the United States of America abolished slavery in 1865 with the Thirteenth Amendment. Worldwide, slavery lasted slightly longer, and Brazil was the last country in the Western Hemisphere to terminate the classic system of slavery with the Áurea Law in 1888.

brasilMaranhao

However, I spent the fall of 2006 in Açailândia, Maranhão in the Northeast of Brazil, where I conducted field research consisting of observations and interviews with former slaves and those struggling to help them, which illuminated the system of exploitation, a system that I once believed had died out long before I was born. The memories that still ring clearest in my mind from that semester are the interviews I held with former slaves, who had worked in coal fields and lumber yards without pay. This subject consumed me for the next year and a half and led me to publish a book on my findings, Contemporary Slavery in the Northeast of Brazil. You can read the initial (unpolished) report I produced at the end of my semester here.

Now, as a result of my experience on the ground with individuals exploited at the bottom of the supply chain, I pay special attention to the sources of my stuff and my food. It’s not easy, but those companies with transparent supply chains are the ones with less to hide. Resources are now available that show exactly that:

We may not be able to trace the origin of every product in our lives, but it’s worth a try. So, let’s all do our part to source our food and stuff responsibly and pay attention to where it’s coming from, cocoa beans included!

fat bloom & sugar bloom

Tempering and bloom

Tempering has been the most magical, elusive part of the chocolate-making process for us. For the newbies of our readership, tempering is the final step in the chocolate-making process before setting the mixture in a mold. Successful tempering results in glossy texture and a clean break in your chocolate bar. Scientifically, it crystallizes the chocolate correctly, ensuring that the Beta crystals remain and the other five kinds of crystals melt away. In order to do this, the chocolate-maker must be able to determine the crystallization structure by temperature, sight, and touch. And let me tell you, it’s not easy!

Unsuccessful tempering results in fat bloom (the white streaks in the bars in the picture), very low melting temperature of your chocolate so it starts to melt as soon as you touch it, a short shelf-life, an unsatisfying break when you try to tear off a piece of your finished product.

So, what has our experience been like? Well, the more we think we know, the more fat bloom we’ve discovered in our final products. Frustrating? No! Science? Yes! Here’s what we’ve learned, so we can continue improving the shiny surface and clean break of our chocolates:

  1. There are many “right” ways to temper chocolate. Every home brew chocolate-maker has their own method and most of them work! So, like Clay told us, don’t believe anyone who says “this is the only way.”
  2. Despite that advice, there are smart guidelines to follow regarding temperature and movement. We’ve learned that exact temperatures are very important (and quite difficult to measure without a good thermometer, which will be our next chocolate purchase). We now understand that we should initially melt our chocolate liquor to at least 114 degrees, some say 122 to melt all the cocoa butter, and some even say 131 F. The next step is rapid cooling down. At this stage, we can either add some existing tempered chocolate (in which case, our cooled chocolate should reach about 88 degrees), or lower the temperature of our chocolate to about 80 degrees. We’re stubborn and want to try to get tempering right without adding any “seed” chocolate, as it’s called, so we always try the latter. The final step is to reheat the chocolate to the high 80s again. And as long as it doesn’t go above 94 degrees (or 90), when the beta crystals would melt and reset the whole process, the chocolate should be melted.
  3. Stir. 
  4. Let me rephrase. Stir constantly. Movement is key! It helps keep the temperature of your chocolate uniform and exposes the chocolate to the forming beta crystals.
  5. Additives that emulsify (imagine shaking up mustard in your homemade oil & vinegar salad dressing) make it easier to temper chocolate. The most common emulsifier for homemade chocolate is lecithin. Lecithin helps coat the tiny chocolate particles with fat, evening out the texture of the chocolate.
  6. Finally, believe it or not, our chocolate still tastes good, even though it has fat bloom (and occasionally sugar bloom, which occurs due to condensation among other reasons). So, we’re not too hung up about this, but we intend to continuously improve our chocolate, which should, given our scientific process, eventually eliminate fat bloom!

There are some great resources online to learn to temper chocolate better. As usual, The Chocolate Life and Chocolate Alchemy are among the best:

For those experts out there, if you have any suggestions to reduce bloom and temper better, share your magic!

Clay Gordon on making chocolate at home

For those of you just joining us, we’re now diving into part two of a feature on Clay Gordon. Clay is the author of Discover Chocolate: The Ultimate Guide to Buying, Tasting, and Enjoying Fine Chocolate, and founder of TheChocolateLife.com, the largest community focusing solely on chocolate in the world. The Chocolate Life is probably the most valuable resource I’ve used as I make my foray into the world of chocolate making.

Yes, I had the opportunity to chat with Clay about his life, chocolate, and advice. For the first part of this series, visit Living the chocolate life, where I introduce Clay and his contributions to the chocolate industry. Here, we’ll look into his advice both for making chocolate at home and for starting a chocolate business.

Making Chocolate at Home

I’ve already provided a recipe and some ideas for making chocolate at home, and Clay adds his spin. First of all, he reminds us to have fun with it. This is one of his favorite themes. And secondly, he recommends you taste other chocolate to develop your personal preference and sharpen your tastebuds.

Clay doesn’t have to tell me twice! I’ll write about my visit to The Chocolate Garage in another post, but just know that you can taste and buy some absolutely delicious chocolate if you happen to be passing through Palo Alto on a Wednesday evening or Saturday morning.

Starting a Chocolate Business

For those interested in starting a chocolate business, he has a few valuable nuggets of advice as well. To start, follow the advice for those making chocolate at home. Shouldn’t be too hard!

Second, start being scientific. He says, “Your best friend is your notebook, write down everything.” Clay appreciated the documentation and experimental process Richard and I have cited in our chocolate-making process so far. Check out our posts on roasting, sugar, and different origins to see the many variables we have played with so far.

He also recommends taking time to develop your craft. In other words, practice, practice, practice. Developing the skills to be able to repeat the same chocolate within a harvest will show that you truly understand and can implement the chocolate-making process with integrity. (Caveat: The next harvest is a completely different story and should not necessarily produce exactly the same chocolate as the previous one) And at the same time, know what you like and decide what your point of view is as an artist.

As far as actual process, he has one overarching recommendation: don’t pigeon-hole yourself. That applies to ingredients, roast times, conch times, origins, blends, final products etc. Starting with four ingredients – cocoa beans, sugar, cocoa butter, and lecithin – is actually easier than starting with just two. Once you dominate making chocolate with four, try removing lecithin, then eventually remove the cocoa butter. This is something we clearly need to work on. Additionally, there’s no “right” roast time or conch time. Try many options and settle with the one you like best. Don’t limit yourself to one origin or even just single-origin chocolate. Try blending roasts, origins, conch times, etc. And finally, go beyond the bar. There’s no reason to only create chocolate bars. What about kisses, bark, balls, bonbons, etc.? Trial and error in the process will lead to your signature chocolate.

And finally, with regard to business practices, Clay recommends operating like a craft brewery. Start marketing and sales within a one-hour-drive radius. Once you build up a customer base and a positive cash flow, expand to your state, then national, then international, etc. He warns against thinking that Whole Foods is the holy grail. Start with local markets and move up slowly.

Harking back to his philosophy on TheChocolateLife.com, Clay requests those of us making chocolate at home and those of us considering opening a chocolate business, to share our journey. He asks that we open our recipe and financial books and be mentors to those around us. That is definitely the philosophy we adhere to here at www.RootChocolate.com and we encourage you to do the same!

Thank you, Clay, for your incredible contribution to Root Chocolate and to the chocolate industry as a whole!

Clay Gordon on living the chocolate life

“You never know when a small decision will have a profound impact on your life.” – Clay Gordon, the world’s first international chocolate critic

Clay is the author of Discover Chocolate: The Ultimate Guide to Buying, Tasting, and Enjoying Fine Chocolate, and founder of TheChocolateLife.com, the largest community focusing solely on chocolate in the world. The Chocolate Life is probably the most valuable resource I’ve used as I make my foray into the world of chocolate making.

Clay’s philosophy is to do what you love, keep it light, and support your family while doing it. With this guiding principle, he went from a corporate lifestyle to becoming a full-time chocolate consultant, critic, and machinery designer and salesperson. And he made this change not in the past decade when Tim Ferris of Four-Hour Workweek and other lifestyle proponents have popularized this notion, but back in the 90s. Clay’s chocolate expertise goes back more than 20 years. It is clear, when discussing the ins and outs of chocolate, that he knows what he’s talking about.

Yes, I had the opportunity to chat with Clay about his life, chocolate, and advice. In this two-part series, I’ll start by expounding on his entry into the world of chocolate and the community he’s organized and inspired. Then in the next segment, I’ll dive into his advice both for making chocolate at home and for starting a chocolate business.

The quote at the start of this post is Clay’s introduction for how he got into the chocolate business. Concluding a business trip to Cannes in 1994, Clay found himself with a few hours to spare and some extra francs to spend before heading to the airport. As he wandered around, he found a small gourmet chocolate shop and bought 6 Bonnat chocolate bars. Upon returning home, he held a dinner party and pulled these out for dessert. Everyone had a different favorite for a different reason, similar to our recent tasting party. Little did he know, this was the first of many single-origin chocolate tasting parties he’d hold in the next few years.

In a flash of marketing genius (which was his area of expertise), he realized that while there were professional critics for almost everything, there were none for chocolate. He delved into research at local libraries, took on an apprenticeship with Michel Cluizel, found a mentor in Gary Guittard, and finally started chocophile.com in 2001, which was a professional review board for fine flavor chocolate. Having found chocolate in a function of entrepreneurship rather than initial passion for chocolate, Clay quickly realized his luck.

Chocolate is an amazing career! The industry is full of happy people who know how to have fun, and his place in it all allows him the lifestyle he was hoping for. He told me, “If you’re working with chocolate and not having fun, you’re doing it wrong. There are very few real jerks in the chocolate business, which I think is fabulous.” He believes that the true health value of chocolate is when people eat it, they sit down, relax, and destress for a few minutes. Plus, this career is “something I want to do until I’m not able to get out of bed. I need to be able to support myself and my family and I want to have fun doing it.”

This leads us to the next chapter in Clay’s contributions to the chocolate industry: TheChocolateLife.com. Its original purpose was to get enough people together, so between all of them, they would know all the answers that people want to know about chocolate.

From my own experience, TheChocolateLife.com has been an incredible resource. I’ve posted questions and received answers from experts all over the world. I’ve read the details of other people starting to work on their own “home brew” chocolate and of people making moves on starting their own company. I’ve even been contacted by farmers and organizers in cacao-producing countries to discuss building a relationship longer term. I’ve connected with bean-to-bar producers here in the Bay Area and even toured a factory. And my overwhelming response is to agree with Clay – there are very few jerks in the chocolate industry. It’s an incredibly welcoming environment where people share “open source” ideas and suggestions. I can’t recommend it highly enough for those serious about chocolate!

The title of TheChocolateLife.com was inspired by Ricky Martin’s Living La Vida Loca, which evolved into La Vida Cocoa, which translates to the chocolate life. The philosophy behind the chocolate life is that the ability to “connect to people with passion will inspire others to connect with theirs, regardless of whether that passion is chocolate or not.” His new goal is to help other people succeed. He gave an example of international pastry contests, where the chefs are some of the best in the world, but they are not there just to win. Instead, most of them get to a point in their life when they’re professionally accomplished. And the next step of what they’re doing, the way they ensure their legacy, is about how many people they’ve mentored.

Clay is taking on the international pastry chef mentorship equivalent in the chocolate industry. He provides consulting services to chocolate start ups, manages TheChocolateLife.com where chocolate-makers and chocolate-loves share their passion, and serves as a mentor and motivational speaker. He’s living the chocolate life!

Check out our next post on Clay’s advice for making chocolate at home and starting your own chocolate business.

Premier Wonder Grinder with cocoa powder transforming to liquor

Premier Wonder Grinder

The Premier Wonder Grinder was made to be an Indian spice grinder, but the Chocolate Alchemist, among others, recommends it as a small batch melanger. This recommendation was seconded by Greg D’Alesandre at Dandelion Chocolate, who has been an excellent mentor as we work with new recipes, ingredients, and processes.

On Friday, we received this beautiful box in the mail and were so excited to start using it!

Premier Wonder Grinder melanger

And Saturday morning, just over 12 hours after we received it in the mail, we tried using this melanger (beyond our trusty but tiny coffee grinder) for the first time. It was a big step, taking our itty bitty batch sizes of 100 grams of cocoa beans to 888 grams, pre-winnowing. (For our winnowing woes, check out this post.)

Our first use was mostly trial and error, with some guidance from the brilliance of the Chocolate Alchemist’s instructions on using a slightly different melanger and some advice from The Chocolate Life. (Have I mentioned how much I appreciate the online chocolate-making community?) Here are a few lessons we learned:

1. We cleaned the Premier Wonder Grinder with vegetable oil, as recommended by the Chocolate Alchemist. It came out of the box pretty dusty and the vegetable oil came out a muddy brown color. We wiped it clean with paper towels, then washed it with hot water and soap. We let it dry overnight to avoid any residue of water. Solid cleaning lesson, learned.

2. We realized the next morning that we had nowhere near enough beans for a typical batch size in this machine! Dandelion Chocolate to the rescue! We bought 2 kilos of Oko Caribe from the Dominican Republic after tasting their bar samples in the store. Yum – I don’t necessarily expect ours to turn out like that, but maybe someday! We roasted 888 grams of beans and they winnowed down to 773 grams. I wouldn’t recommend putting much more into this melanger, at least not when it’s dry.

roasting Oko Caribe beans

3. That leads us to lesson #3. The Premier Wonder Grinder is a wet grinder. That means, it works best when it is full of liquids, not solids or powders. That said, we don’t yet own an infamous Champion Juicer, as recommended by both Chocolate Alchemy and The Chocolate Life. It’s a little outside of our price range at the moment, though it may join our collection of inordinately large kitchen gear soon enough! So, we used our Nutribullet to grind the cocoa nibs to a powder. Then we heated them slightly in the oven. Our oven only goes down to 170, so we set it to 170, then turned it off and let the cocoa nibs sit in the warmth for about 15-20 minutes. The heat lowers the resistance and provides a closer-to-liquid experience for the melanger. We also used a hair dryer, blowing it on high heat into the melanger as we slowly added a spoonful at a time of cocoa powder. We realize that starting with a solid is not recommended in a wet grinder and that it may wear out the stones faster. We’re working with what we have for now, and it seems to be working ok!

Premier Wonder Grinder with cocoa powder transforming to liquor

4. Nice transition. The melanger can’t handle 773 grams of cocoa powder all at once. So, we added it slowly, and only after about an hour of melanging did we add in the sugar. We’re aiming for a 70% chocolate, so that’s 325 grams of sugar, ground up in our coffee grinder in advance.

Grinding sugar

5. Next lesson, the melanger is loud… kind of like a washing machine or a dryer. We have it far in a corner of our kitchen, but our one bedroom apartment isn’t quite big enough to avoid the noise entirely. We decided to consider it white noise and went to sleep with it in the background. It kept working, even through our surprise 6.1 earthquake!

6. Wow, does it work! Just tasting the liquor after about 4 hours in the melanger changed our world! It’s smooth and delicious and amazingly tastes like  the samples we tried at Dandelion earlier that day! Then again, I’m sure we have a lot to learn before we pump out bars like they do.

Premier Wonder Grinder pouring chocolate into double boilerdouble-boiling chocolate

7. It is hard to clean. After leaving it on for 15 hours and 25 minutes, we poured the chocolate into a double boiler, serving as our tempering machine. Another post, another time about our tempering troubles! Now Richard’s trying to get all the chocolate out of the stone wheels and it is not super easy!

And here we are, approximately 18 hours after we started the process… This chocolate is amazingly smooth and delicious. And, this being our biggest batch ever, we ended up with this chocolate war zone!

chocolate war zone

Winnowing outside

Winnowing woes

This weekend we attempted our first “big” batch. By big, I mean more than 100 grams of fermented cocoa beans at a time. This is very exciting, because we’re using our new melanger, the Premier Wonder Grinder for the first time!

I’ll go into more details about the Premier Wonder Grinder in another post. In the meantime, I’d like to bring it to the chocolate-making world’s attention my opinion about winnowing. It’s not my favorite part of making chocolate. In fact, it may even be my least favorite part.

For those who are new to the process, winnowing means to remove by air flow. In the chocolate sphere, we’re referring to removing husks from nibs. Cocoa beans are surrounded by a husk that needs to be removed before grinding, refining, and conching. To do that, you first need to crack the husk. And without some serious equipment, that cracking and removal just ain’t easy!

Dandelion Chocolate has a giant cracker and winnower (see the machine in back, the front machine is a roaster).

Dandelion cracker and winnower in back, roaster in front

Richard and I have attempted many iterations of cracking and winnowing. First, the rolling pin and hair dryer method. The cracking moves relatively quickly, as long as you have a very small batch (about 100 grams). And the hair dryer method works with an OK yield of remaining nibs, but be sure to wear those safety goggles and do this part outside. It’s a mess!

hair dryer winnowing rolling pin cracking

We’ve also tried a combined cracking and winnowing process using a garlic peeler. The Oxo garlic peeler does a decent job, but it takes quite some time and needs to be rinsed and dried frequently.

And today, with our large batch of beans (888 grams before cracking and winnowing), we had a new challenge. A pint-sized ziploc bag doesn’t fit that many beans, so we had to use a gallon. And even then, the cracking process came out all unevenly. So, Richard began to design a separating system, to ensure we had uniformly-sized nibs before winnowing.

cracking separator

This creation did help by separating the beans that somehow escaped the rolling pin from those that had been smashed to smithereens. However, we still had to winnow. And with that quantity of beans, it was NOT easy! In fact, as I write this now, a thin layer of cocoa husk particles coats my entire body!

Others have tried to build a winnower for home use, but they tend to require mad engineering skills (which Richard could supply if need be) and/or a minimum of about $200 cash. Explore with me, these interesting options for winnowing:

This part of the process clearly could use some solid innovation. I’m interested in the ideas and strategies out there from chocolate-makers, engineers, and geniuses. Does anyone have a design that costs less than $100 and requires little to no build time?

Let’s put our heads together and help keep chocolate-making fun!