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 The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich (Expanded and Updated) 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.

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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.

[Update 12/14/14 – We previously linked to Chocolate Alchemy’s sale of the Premier Wonder Grinder. Unfortunately, John Nanci is no longer selling this unit (though check him out for replacement parts). So, if you’re thinking about buying a Premier Wonder Grinder, please consider clicking this link to Amazon, as Root Chocolate will receive a small percentage of your purchase. Thank you!]

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 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! 

Roasting beans

Discussing roasting temperatures reminds me of our friend Kevin, whose coffee-roasting contraptions challenge MacGyver’s most creative gadgets. His enthusiasm for coffee rivals ours for chocolate, so it’s only fitting to feature him here!

As Kevin, and all coffee aficionados know, bean roasting time is a critical factor in flavor. Similarly, cocoa bean roasting times have a strong part to play in determining the final taste of chocolate. In our original recipe, we started with 5 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, followed by 10 minutes at 250 degrees. Only recently, in our first experience hosting a chocolate-making class, did we test those numbers.

As I’ve mentioned, my brother is a recent transplant to the Bay Area and now attends Stanford University, pursuing a PhD in Physical Chemistry. To congratulate him and his girlfriend, Malenca, on graduating from college, we had them over for a chocolate-making adventure. We gave them the opportunity to use their chemistry genius to test a variable and as you may have guessed, their variable of choice was roasting time.

We split up a batch of beans we bought from a small market on Mission and Cortland Ave in San Francisco, and created what we believe to be our best two chocolate results yet. We roasted both batches at 400 for 5 minutes. Then, the first batch, which we’re calling Light Roast, continued for another 5 minutes at 250. The second batch, which we’re calling Xtra Toastygot 15 additional minutes at 250. Then we ground and tempered each batch and rolled them into sticks.

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Xtra Toasty turned out with a flavor similar to roasted peanuts, very nutty and almost smoky. It was the favorite of the night. Light Roast ended up almost fruity in flavor. And both broke apart with the snap that characterizes well tempered chocolate!

Our roaster is currently a Black & Decker toaster oven – not exactly a high-end roaster. The best option is a customized rolling roaster like Dandelion Chocolate uses or the Panamanian hand-made coffee bean roaster adapted from car parts we saw on a family operation in Boquete.

Panamanian roaster

However, none of these beat Kevin’s engineering feats!

Kevin's lab

What do genetics have to do with it?

There are a lot of factors working together to create fine flavor chocolate. We have learned that the very DNA of the cocoa beans is one of those factors. In an attempt to educate myself on the chocolate industry, I’m reading the amazingly interesting, important, and thorough book, Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate, by Pam Williams and Jim Eber. The book covers four essential parts of the chocolate production process: the genetics, the farmers, customer education, and finally the art of the Chocolatier.

I certainly do not purport to know as much as the experienced authors on this matter, but I am eager to bring the concept of genetics to the lay people in this picture, particularly the consumers of chocolate.

Let’s do a quick refresher on the definition of genetics in the first place. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, genetics is a branch of biology that deals with the heredity and variation of organisms. In other words, genes are the root of the wide diversity of life on our planet. And they are passed down through generations.

In the case of Theobroma cacao, the tree that means “food of the gods ” in Latin, and produces cocoa pods that house the cocoa beans that give way to chocolate as we know it, there is a wide variation within the species. However, a few factors are contributing to a homogenization of the genetics. First of all, the tree’s tendency to be promiscuous (pollinate with any other Theobroma cacao in the vicinity regardless of genetic similarity) dilutes the gene pool by melding the DNA of various phenotypes (physical expressions of genetic combinations) into one plant, and even one cocoa pod. Because of this trait, cocoa beans can have drastically different genetics even within the same cocoa pod!

Secondly, certain variations of the tree are particularly prone to disease, especially the traditional classification, Criollo. I’ll go into that more in another post.

Finally, decades of increasing demand has spurred farmers and chocolate manufacturers to experiment with genetically modified versions of Theobroma cacao that are more resistant to disease and produce larger and heartier cocoa pods. In other words, these variations are now able to survive many of the threats facing Theobroma cacao, which is good news, but they are also not bred for their flavor.

Still, Theobroma cacao has traditionally been separated into two classifications: Criollo, known for its fine flavor and Latin American roots, and Forestero, considered of lower flavor value and traditionally found in Africa. A third type, Trinitario, named for where it was genetically crossbred between Criollo and Forestero in Trinidad & Tobago, is often included in the list of traditional classifications.

However, there is much debate as to the true division of classifications of cocoa. The International Cacao Germplasm Database genotyped 1,241 samples and proposed a “new classification of cacao germplasm into 10 major clusters, or groups: Marañón, Curaray, Crillo, Iquitos, Nanay, Contamana, Amelonado, Purús, Nacional, and Guiana.” Meanwhile, C-Spot, an incredible resource on chocolate, identifies 9 primary strains of cacao, in addition to a myriad of cultivar strains. C-Spot also describes the flavor implications of each of the 9 primary strains, ranging from the earthen flavor of Amazon to acidic “strawberries and cream” of Criollo.

“Why do we care?” you may ask. Yes, the genetics of the tree contributes to the flavor of the eventual chocolate. And yes, there is something to be said for preserving biodiversity, as the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Initiative intends to do. But the bottom line of why I care is because the origin of my food matters to me. Similar to the local food movement and the organic food movement, tracking the unadulterated genetics of cacao is an exercise is purity, sustainability, and an effort to return to a simpler time.

Why do you care about the genetics of your food? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

 

Sugar sugar!

Every time we make chocolate at home, we try a new experiment. Richard is a scientist, after all; this is in his DNA! Sometimes, we test different cocoa beans, like we did here. Other times, we test percentages of sugar. This time, we tried different varieties of sugar. And wow, we learned a lot!

With the same exact cocoa beans, percentages, roasting times and temperatures, and process, we created three batches. The only difference among the batches was the type of sugar. Our first batch, we’ll name it A, used regular bleached cane sugar. The second batch, let’s call it B, included raw sugar or turbinado. And the third batch, you guessed it – C, had Truvia, made from stevia.

We also tried a new method of cooling. Rather than plopping the finished chocolate onto the granite slab and separating it into bite sized pieces with our paint scraper, we created “kisses.” We filled Ziploc bags with the chocolate liquor after it was roasted, winnowed, ground, and tempered and squeezed it out onto the slab. We ended up with about 50 tiny kisses per batch (yes, we’re working with infinitesimal quantities at the moment).

The first major lesson we learned from this process was that stevia is really sweet. That seems obvious, since it’s sugar. However, if you taste it right before or right after cane sugar, the difference between the two is palpable. The difference between turbinado and cane sugar is less stark but still noticeable. And this is all before we put it in chocolate.

Next, during the grinding process, we learned that turbinado results in a drier mixture. So, even though we still refrained from adding any cocoa butter to the list of ingredients, the result was thicker and a little grainier than the other two samples.

With our new cooling method, we learned that the crystalization process happens more thoroughly when in direct contact with the granite slab. In other words, our kisses were well crystalized, harder, smoother, and more likely to have that traditional chocolate crack when we tried to break them apart, but only in the first centimeter or so from the granite. The parts of the kiss that didn’t touch the granite had the same partial crystalization that our previous chocolates had. We’re still working on optimizing this process to create the best possible texture and shelf life.

The fourth lesson takes us into scientific territory. Batch C with stevia provided a particularly strange tasting experience. Typically, if you were to put chocolate on your tongue, it would begin to melt as it warmed to the temperature of your mouth. However, the chocolate with stevia seems to cool as it melts. In other words, it melts colder than room temperature, rather than the other way around. Richard and my brother (a PhD student at Stanford) dug into the deeper meaning behind such a surprising phenomenon. They’ll have to follow up with their conclusions, because I don’t share in their scientific understanding. Another subject for another day!

Our final lesson was the most fun – taste testing the kisses and sharing them with friends and family. According to our many official tasters, the batch A with cane sugar was the clear winner. Batch B with turbinado came in a close second. And Batch C with stevia had only one fan of the many who tried the three batches. In fact, most people tasted one kiss and wanted nothing to do with it afterwards.

And as a bonus, we learned the opinion of a repeat taster, one who tasted our very first batch of chocolate from the beans we bought at the Grand Central Market in Los Angeles. She let us know that these three batches of chocolate’s texture, taste, and overall experience are leagues ahead of the first batch we ever made. Thank you, Helen, for being our first brand ambassador!

Update (August 14, 2014): For those of you curious about why stevia melts cold, Matt (my PhD of a brother) has figured it out:

So I found out why the chocolate with the Truvia causes a cooling effect in your mouth as you eat it. So, the sweetening agent in Truvia is stevia, but Truvia has other ingredients, like erythritol (erythritol is basically glycerol but with one extra carbon atom and hydroxyl group). Erythritol has a negative heat of solution, meaning that it takes more energy to dissolve the stuff than is released upon dissolution. So, as the erythritol dissolves, it takes up heat from its surroundings and the temperature decreases. So, if you drink something with erythritol in it, you do not get this effect since it is already in solution.

 

Cool, right? Mystery solved!

Around the world

We quickly realized that not all cocoa beans are created equal. A bad batch of beans from a small market in San Francisco set us straight. Our chocolate turned out bitter and left our mouth feeling dry. We realized that, like coffee, the origin of the beans plays an important part in the flavor of the chocolate. We’ve since learned much more about the importance of the origin, growing environment, and genetics of the cocoa beans.

In the meantime, we decided to try sourcing guaranteed high quality beans. We did some research and discovered Chocolate Alchemy, an incredibly informative website run by John Nanci in Oregon, who is an expert on all things homemade chocolate. His posts and suggestions have taught us a lot about making chocolate at home! We discovered that he also sells cocoa beans. I ordered a sampler pack, requesting beans from Latin America, and was pleased to received four bags of beans within about a week!

  • Dominican Republic, Conacado Co-op Organic, Fair Trade, 2013
  • Nicaragua, Trinitario, Certified Organic, 2012
  • Peru, Criollo, Fair Trade, Organic Certified
  • Bolivia, Criollo/Trinitario, Certified Organic, 2012-2013

These varieties revolutionized our chocolate-making process! We made four different batches as well as one of the beans from San Francisco and invited friends over to taste them. There was no grant winner of the night. In fact, the Peruvian chocolate tied with the one we made from the San Francisco market for first place, with Bolivia and Nicaragua close behind. Here are their thoughts:

  • Dominican Republic
    • very fruity
    • a little like a deep halavah
    • too fruity for me
    • tastes like Nestle Tollhouse
    • super fruity, not my favorite
    • cherries
    • thicker
    • Chocolate Alchemist description: A soft earthy flavor with full roasting. Malt, biscuit and marmalade aromas
  • Nicaragua
    • mellow, a little bitter
    • bitter taste, sets on late. great!
    • love
    • ok but not great
    • third favorite
    • deep, buttery, rich, decadent
    • I like this!
    • Chocolate Alchemist description: Nuts, medjool dates, molasses and interesting tobacco
  • Peru
    • fudgy, sandy, a little gross
    • Awesome! Great deep flavor, not too bitter
    • second favorite
    • love the taste, sandy texture
    • tastes the most basic with a little zestiness
    • good start, bad finish
    • Chocolate Alchemist description: A light balanced cocoa bean with notes of soft tropical fruits and nuts… don’t over roast
  • Bolivia
    • a little soapy, coconut butter?
    • lighter and sweeter
    • didn’t love the base flavor
    • didn’t like
    • tasted more like butter than chocolate
    • smoky
    • paint
    • Chocolate Alchemist description: Toffee, blueberry and butter. What chocolate should taste like.
  • San Francisco market
    • getting a bit of coffee flavor. reminds me of a brownie
    • too bitter
    • favorite
    • quite good but bitter
    • straight forward, has the least deviance from traditional dark chocolate
    • coffee

I’ll go more into the importance of sourcing beans directly from farmers in another post, but I’m very glad we were able to taste this variety of chocolates from such different sources. I’m also grateful we stumbled across the Chocolate Alchemist and his expertise on the subject!

How to make chocolate at home

Our first attempt at making chocolate at home was educational but our second was more measured, literally. In fact, we photo-documented the process to share with friends and now with our readers as well. We’ve learned a few things since this attempt, so I’ve added any more recent notes in red below.

Trial 2, April 6, 2014 (yep, that’s how seriously we documented this round)

Ingredients

  • 115 grams of cocoa beans
  • 40 grams of powdered (confectioner’s) sugar (We later learned that confectioner’s sugar has corn starch in it. Richard’s brilliant scientific background came into use when he explained that corn starch is an anti-coagulant. In other words, it prevents substances from liquifying. That’s a particularly important feature to consider when attempting to create chocolate liquor from just cocoa beans and sugar. Bottom line – use regular cane sugar and blend it first, so it’s finer.)

Tools

ingredients and tools

  • Toaster oven
  • Sandwich-sized ziplock bag (We realized that with small batches, it’s easy enough, and more effective,  to winnow beans by hand, so there’s no need for the sandwich bag, rolling pin, hair dryer, mesh strainer, or safety glasses.)
  • Rolling pin
  • Hair dryer
  • Bowl or mesh strainer
  • Safety glasses
  • Coffee/spice grinder (We’ve experimented with a variety of coffee grinders. Our current favorite is the KitchenAid BCG111OB Blade Coffee Grinder – Onyx Black, in red – not shown here. It’s easiest to clean and has enough power to both heat and grind quickly without overheating or missing large portions of the mixture.)
  • Spatula
  • Molcajete or mortar & pestle
  • Marble slab
  • Paint scrapers

Step One: Roast

2014-04-06 14.26.27

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 (We’ve since tried variations on these temperatures and durations. See future posts for more details)
  2. Measure out 115 grams of cocoa beans
  3. Spread out in roasting pan
  4. Roast for 5 minutes
  5. Reduce heat to 250 and roast for additional 10 minutes
  6. Let beans cool for 5-10 minutes

Step Two: Separate husks from nibs

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  1. Fill plastic bag with cooled beans (As I mentioned, it’s easier to do this by hand. Let the beans cool, then pull out two bowls. Crack the husks and place the the nibs into one bowl and the husks into the other. This can take some time, so turn on some good music as you do this!)
  2. Crust all beans with rolling pin
  3. Bring hair dryer, safety goggles, and beans inside of bowl/strainer outside
  4. Blow hair dryer on low & cool into the bowl to separate nibs from husks
  5. There should be about 90 grams remaining

Step Three: Blend chocolate

2014-04-06 14.55.19

  1. Measure out 40 grams of powdered sugar
  2. Pour into coffee grinder with nibs of chocolate. This may have to be done small portions at a time, depending on the size of your coffee grinder.
  3. Blend the chocolate, scraping the sides occasionally with your spatula. The consistency will go from coarse coffee grounds to a mud substance to wet clay.
  4. Continue until it no longer looks “rough”
  5. Add cocoa butter if desired at 10-15% of total chocolate weight

Step Four: Conch chocolate

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  1. Preheat oven to 200.
  2. Pour chocolate into molcajete
  3. Place molcajete with chocolate in oven for 20 minutes
  4. Remove molcajete and grind it until your arm is tired (This eliminates most of the bitterness from the beans and accentuates the delicious flavor of the chocolate. Professional conching processes last for days, but we’ll settle for less for now.)

Step Five: Temper chocolate

2014-04-06 17.23.57

  1. Pour chocolate on marble slab
  2. Fold it on top of itself with paint scraper until it thickens (We bought two from Home Depot for quite cheap!)
  3. Check it by placing a small amount on the end of a knife. Run your finger through it. If your finger leaves a clear spot in the middle, then it’s tempered correctly.
  4. If there are white streaks in the chocolate, you can retemper by heating the chocolate to at least 122 degrees and retempering it

Step Six: Eat

  1. Let it sit 10-15 minutes in molds.
  2. Eat!

For variations on this recipe, view our other blog posts!

Making chocolate for the first time

Earlier this year, Richard and I made chocolate from scratch for the first time. At the time, we had no idea that this process would become an integral part of our lives. At the time, we were pretending to be scientists with a bag of cocoa beans.

Allow me to start from the beginning. Over July 4th weekend in 2013, Richard and I drove from home in the San Francisco Bay Area, down to Los Angeles to visit with friends. One of our first stops in the city of angels was the Grand Central Market, where we began the search for homemade mole. Ever since my summer abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico, with Adelante Abroad, I’ve been a huge fan of mole, the traditional southern Mexican chocolaty-chili sauce, originating in Puebla. And it’s just not the same when it comes in a jar from the grocery store. What better place to find it than a mostly Latino market?

I loved chatting with the women running the stands in the market about where mole came from and its journey to the US. As you may experience if you have learned a second language, anything is more fun when discussed in that language. For me, that language is Spanish. It doesn’t matter if I’m talking about my one of my favorite foods or paint drying, I enjoy the challenge of identifying the right words and grammar to communicate.

Anyway, we found a wide range of moles, each one more delicious than the one before. Even more exciting than the mole, and more relevant to the rest of this blog, were the cocoa beans we discovered at the same stall. The small brown beans looked like smooth, rounded almonds, but smelled like musky chocolate. With a surge of adventurousness and just the right mix of uncertainty and challenge, we picked up a kilo of the beans and brought them back to the Bay Area with us.

After watching a few how-to videos, including our favorite which included such scientific precision we felt totally confident making an attempt ourselves, we got started with our first chocolate creation. I’ll go into the details of how to make chocolate at home in another post, but let’s just say that it was so much easier than we expected! Granted, our result didn’t taste like the perfection found in bars made from fine flavor chocolate gurus like Tcho, Guittard, or Dandelion Chocolate. Ours was more grainy, bitter, and didn’t quite snap into pieces like professionally-made chocolate. That said, our homemade chocolate tasted somewhat like what we had previously known as chocolate!

Our revelation was complete when friends tasted our first batch and actually liked it. Now, we think they may have been exaggerating their affinity for our “interesting” chocolate, since they’ve since informed us of how much our chocolate has improved since that first batch, but as entrepreneurs with our inflated sense of optimism and self-efficacy, we believed their initial enthusiasm. And that has propelled us forward.

Now, we make chocolate multiple times a week and are constantly improving our recipe, strategy, and sources. Keep reading to learn about our new ideas, our failures, and our adventures into the roots of the chocolate – the beans, the farmers, and the process.

I promise to be open and honest as we learn, fail, and try again. And I promise to share our intentions, struggles, and successes. Join us on our chocolate journey, taking us back to the roots of chocolate, where the beans, the farmers, and every step of the process matters. To stay up to date, follow us through WordPress, let us know what you think by commenting on a post, or send us a note on our Contact page.