New Business Counseling Practicum

Just a quick post during this busy week…

Tonight we had our first meeting with the New Business Counseling Practicum through UC Berkeley Law. While I can’t reveal anything from the meeting itself (strictly confidential), I can already recommend the service for any start-up in the Bay Area with a need for legal support.

And here’s a sneak preview of the batch we started tonight:

cocoa nibs

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Importing Cocoa Beans

My first ever post on The Chocolate Life was a naive call for small-scale farmers to send me their beans. Little did I know that one of the biggest hurdles to starting a “from the bean” chocolate business is obtaining high quality, well-fermented cocoa beans! And collaboration is the best way to a successful importation process.

The difficulty of obtaining high quality beans can actually be considered both good and bad.

Why is it good?

There is a definite shortage of good cocoa beans in the world. Chloe Doutre-Roussel writes in her book, The Chocolate Connoisseur: For Everyone With a Passion for Chocolate, the following:

An estimated 15% of world production:

Good beans (e.g. Crillo/Trinitario hybrid of Trinitario) + good fermentation = good chocolate

Good beans + bad fermentation = bad chocolate

An estimated 85% of world production:

Poor beans (e.g. Forastero) + good fermentation = poor chocolate

Poor beans + bad fermentation = terrible chocolate!

Our friends at Arete reminded us that while we are joining a very welcoming community, not everyone can! Cocoa beans are a scarcity and it’s actually a benefit to the industry that it’s difficult to obtain them.

Why is it bad?

Well, we want to be using good beans, so of course, we’d prefer this process was easier. Plus, in the spirit of Slow Food, we’d love it if delicious chocolate were accessible to everyone. That said, we’re always up for a challenge!

So, how do “from the bean” makers obtain cocoa beans?

There are two options. We can obtain them directly from the source or indirectly.

Obtaining beans indirectly

Obtaining beans indirectly is much easier. This would mean buying beans that someone else has already imported. We’ve done that by stopping by the Grand Central Market in LA, a few small markets in San Francisco, purchasing a bag of beans from Dandelion, and samplers from Chocolate Alchemy. Even our purchase from Piper of Siriana Cacao was an indirect buy, since we did not work directly with the farmers/co-ops/international producers in country.

Another way of purchasing beans indirectly is through one of the many members of the Cocoa Merchants’ Association of America, among other suppliers.

The pros are that this is faster, easier, and often cheaper than buying directly from a cocoa producer. Additionally, it is possible to buy in small quantities (less than 100 lbs at a time).

The cons, on the other hand, are that this way does not build a relationship with the producers and can hide many of the issues related to supply chain that are important to me and many other small-scale chocolate makers. Additionally, this limits the selection of beans to those that someone else is already working with.

Obtaining beans directly

Obtaining beans directly from the source is considerably more difficult, as it requires international trade, minimum orders, and often a direct relationship with the cocoa producers. At the moment, as far as I’m aware, there are two ways to obtain directly: hire a broker to facilitate the sale and shipping process, or take care of that process ourselves. According to our friend Dan at Tabal, hiring a broker is a good idea if the total sale comes out to more than $2,000. (Wow, the most we’ve spent on beans so far was about $25 for 2 kilos from Dandelion!) You can find a list of brokers here.

Alternatively, there are two ways to follow through on the process without a broker: ship beans by a mail carrier like DHL or FedEx, or ship the beans in a shipping container by boat. A colleague on The Chocolate Life, Juan Pablo Buchert of Nahua Chocolate, helped explain to us what a cost structure of shipping beans with a mail carrier would look like:

You can receive the beans at you home, or shop, at an extra cost that is charged by the freight forwarder (FedEx, DHL). They can deal with the customs clearance as well. For example this is the cost structure for a 250 kg (550lb) shipment that we recently sent from Costa Rica to Chicago and delivered to a chocolate shop there:

Air Shipment……………………  $437,50

Charges at origin………………  $386,50 (Customs, pallets confection, pick up)

Charges at destination………… $  297,50  (Doc Handover & Delivery)

Total Shipping…………………….  $1.121,50    ($4.49/kg or  $2.04/lb)

The incoterm selected was DAP – Delivered at Place-  (Not FOB or CIF). Some clients decide to deal with customs clearance themselves and save the Charges at Destination, in this example $297.50. Obviously, this is an example of a large shipment for a home based chocolatier.

Smaller quantities (up to 50 lbs at a time) come in at 2.5 lbs for $22, including shipping, charges at origin, and charges at destination, then it goes up from there.

This also required an FDA-certified facility, USDA registration for the import, a copy of the invoice, and a phyto-sanitary certificate issued at origin.

What should we do about it?

Good question. The difficulty of importing beans prevents many small batch makers from establishing a relationship with the cocoa producers and controlling our supply chain. Facilitating the process involves many moving pieces: international law, trading regulations, and an incredible amount of support both for the farmers (to get their beans from the farm to a shipping port) and for the chocolate-makers (to organize a payment agreement for a shared shipping container).

For that reason, we’ve begun conversations with organizations like Yellow Seed, which seeks to fill the gap between chocolate-makers and cocoa producers. We’ve talked with chocolate-makers like David at Letterpress Chocolate, Eli and Tracey at Bisou, and David and Leslie at Arete, among others about sharing costs to charter a container to California.

This is a service that could revolutionize the small batch industry, so we’re looking forward to continuing the conversation and learning about available options. If you have ideas or suggestions, please leave your thoughts below in the comments. We’re certainly open to learning more!

Chocolate Texture

Let’s take a step back for a moment and talk about texture. Whenever texture and food are discussed in tandem, opinions seem to go to extremes. Either the texture is absolutely amazing or incredibly disgusting. I, for one, am appalled by the texture of rice pudding. Besides the fact that cinnamon isn’t my favorite flavor, the mushiness of the rice completely turns me off. And I don’t have much of a poker face, so you’ll know if I think something is gross.

That said, I don’t seem to have quite as drastic a reaction to differing textures in chocolate. Our first few chocolate batches were made in a coffee grinder and with a molcajete, as you can see from our original post on how to make chocolate at home. The resulting texture was slightly grainy, giving it a rustic and some may even say “homemade” feel on the tongue. The Chocolate Alchemist is not a fan of this version of chocolate and doesn’t consider it “modern chocolate.” In fact, he has called out the definitions and process used in the video that originally inspired us to try our hand at homemade chocolate. He makes a lot of great points, particularly about conching, refining and equipment.

We now realize that we were not conching our chocolate by rolling it around a molcajete. Conching is a somewhat mysterious process that could mean covering sugar particles with cocoa butter or eliminating the bitter flavors of the cocoa beans. Either way, it does not have to do with reducing the particle size of the chocolate; rather it relates to movement over time… a very long time. That is, more than a few minutes on a molcajete.

Similarly, we did not refine our nibs to the point that is traditionally acceptable for “modern chocolate.” Our first batch of chocolate certainly did not feel like the kind of chocolate you could buy in a store or even the smooth bars of most small batch chocolate-makers. There is some debate as to the appropriate micron size of chocolate, though most people seem to agree that it’s somewhere between 14 and 20. This can be measured by your handy dandy micrometer (much cheaper and more accessible than you’d expect). That size is the best fit for the human tongue’s taste buds, in order to access maximum flavor from the chocolate. Our first batch was no where near 14-20 microns. The average size was probably closer to 50-70 microns, which the tongue can certainly still feel. Check out this useful comparison chart for reference.

He also makes three very convenient lists of equipment for the dedicated at-home chocolate chef. I’m including them here for your reference. You can also buy all of these products directly from Chocolate Alchemy (I get no commission from this, but my experience buying from him has been stellar, so this is unbiased promotion):

  1. At minimum: buy nibs, roast them in your oven, and buy a Premier Wonder Grinder for $195.
  2. To go from bean to bar, you’ll need the following:
    1. Your oven $0.00
    2. Champion : $265
    3. Winnowing: Bowl and blow dryier.
    4. Refining: Melanger. $195
    5. Total minimum: $460
  3. For the easiest process and the most money, you’ll need the following:
    1. Champion: $265
    2. Behmor: $299
    3. Sylph: $195
    4. Melanger: $195
    5. Total Deluxe minimum: $954

Given all that, I still believe strongly that it is possible to make a small batch of tasty homemade chocolate, though admittedly not “modern,” with the following equipment and ingredients. Consider it the Root Chocolate variation, to be made at home in your own kitchen.

Equipment

  1. Toaster oven
  2. Coffee grinder (KitchenAid BCG111OB Blade Coffee Grinder – Onyx Black)
  3. Spatula
  4. Marble slab
  5. Paint scrapers

Ingredients

  1. 115 grams of fermented cocoa beans
  2. 40 grams of cane sugar

Your texture will definitely be a little gritty, but if you’re ok with that, then this is your simple homemade chocolate recipe. Let us know what you think by commenting below!

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!

Name Location Website
A. Morin France http://www.chocolaterie-morin.com/
Acalli Chocolate New Orleans, LA http://www.acallichocolate.com/
Adi Chocolate Fiji http://www.chocolatefiji.com/
Agapey Chocolate Barbados http://www.agapey.com/
Akesson’s Sweden http://www.akessons-organic.com/en/akessons/
Alain Ducasse France http://www.alain-ducasse.com/en/category/la-manufacture-de-chocolat
Amadei New York, NY http://amedeistore.com/pages/about-us
Amano Chocolate Orem, UT www.amanochocolate.com
Ambrosia Pastry Canada http://ambrosiapastry.com/
Amma Chocolate Brazil http://www.ammachocolate.com.br/
Anahata Cacao New Jersey http://www.anahatacacao.com/
Antidote Chocolate Brooklyn, NY www.antidotechoco.com
Ara Chocolate France http://www.arachocolat.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/
Baravelli’s Welsh Chocolate Ireland http://www.baravellis.com/
Beanpod Chocolate Canada http://www.beanpod.ca/
Benoit Nihant Chocolate Belgium http://www.benoitnihant.be/
Bernachon France http://www.bernachon.com/fr/
Beussent-Lachelle France http://choco-france.com/fr/
Bisou Chocolate Berkeley, CA http://smallbatchchocolate.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/
Bright Chocolate Australia http://www.brightchocolate.com.au/
Burnt Fork Bend Chocolate Stevensville, MT http://www.burntforkbend.com/
Cacao Atlanta Chocolate Co. Atlanta, GA www.cacaoatlanta.com
Cacao Prieto Brooklyn http://www.cacaoprieto.com/
Cacaosuyo Peru https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cacaosuyo/393139707478225
Cao Artisan Chocolates Lynchburg, VA http://www.caoartisanchocolates.com/
Captain Pembleton New Zealand http://www.captpembleton.co.nz/
Caribeans Chocolate Costa Rica http://www.caribeanschocolate.com/
Castronovo Florida www.castronovochocolate.com
Cello Chocolate Nevada City, CA www.cellochocolate.com
Charley’s Chocolate Factory Australia http://www.charleys.com.au/
Charm School Chocolate Baltimore, MD
Chequessett Chocolate Cape Cod, MA http://www.chequessettchocolate.com/
Chocolarder England http://www.chocolarder.com/
Chocolat Ferrier France http://www.chocolat-ferrier.fr/
Chocolate Alchemy Eugene, OR www.chocolatealchemy.com
Chocolate Naive Lithuania http://chocolatenaive.com/
Chocolate Sandander Colombia http://www.chocolatesantander.com/
Chocolatemakers Netherlands http://chocolatemakers.nl/
Chocolates El Rey Venezuela http://www.chocolates-elrey.com/
ChocoSol Traders Canada http://chocosoltraders.com/
ChocoVic Spain http://www.chocovic.es//
ChocoVivo Los Angeles, CA https://chocovivo.com/
Choklat Canada https://www.sochoklat.com/
Cicada Artisan Chocolate Australia http://www.cicadachocolate.com/
Cocanu Portland, OR http://coca.nu/
CocoaTown LLC Roswell, GA www.cocoatown.com
Cotton Tree Chocolate Belize http://www.cottontreechocolate.com/
Cravve Chocolate and Tea Australia http://www.beanandleaf.com.au/
Csokolade Keszites Hungary http://www.szantotibor.com/en
Daintree Estates Australia http://www.daintreeestates.com/
Dandelion Chocolate San Francisco, CA http://www.dandelionchocolate.com/classes/#anchor
Danta Chocolate Guatemala http://www.dantachocolate.com/Eng/Home.html
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/
Doble & Bignall United Kingdom http://www.dobleandbignall.co.uk/
Domori Italy http://www.domori.com/
Duffy’s Chocolate England http://www.duffyschocolate.co.uk/
Dulcinea Pennsylvania http://www.dulcineacraftchocolate.com/
DV Chocolate South Africa http://www.dvchocolate.com/
Eastvan Roasters Canada http://eastvanroasters.com/
El Ceibo Bolivia http://www.elceibo.org/ceibo/en/index.php
Emily’s Chocolate Japan http://emilys-chocolate.com/pg32.html
Erithaj Chocolate France http://www.erithaj.com/
Escazu Raleigh, NC www.escazuchocolates.com
Ethereal Confections Woodstock, IL www.etherealconfections.com/bean-to-bar
Finca Chocolate Logan, OH http://www.fincachocolate.com/
Fine and Raw Chocolate South Africa http://fineandraw.com/
Firefly Chocolate Sebastopol, CA http://fireflychocolate.com/
Forever Cacao United Kingdom http://www.forevercacao.co.uk/
Franceschi Chocolate Venezuela http://www.franceschichocolate.com/
Frederic Blondeel Belgium http://www.frederic-blondeel.com/
French Broad Chocolates Asheville, NC www.frenchbroadchocolates.com
Fresco Chocolate Lynden, WA www.frescochocolate.com
Friis Holm Denmark http://www.friis-holm.dk/en/
Frolic Chocolate Charlottesville, VA http://frolicchocolate.com
Fruition New York www.tastefruition.com
Gabriel Chocolate Australia http://www.gabrielchocolate.com.au/
Gaillot Chocolate Bulgaria http://gaillot-chocolate-en.blogspot.be/
Garden Island Chocolate/ Nanea Chocolate Kauaii, HI www.gardenislandchocolate.com
Guido Castagna Italy http://www.guidocastagna.it/index.php/en/
Guittard Burlingame, CA http://www.guittard.com/
Habitual Chocolate Roasters Canada http://www.habitualchocolate.com/index.html
Hoja Verde Ecuador http://www.hojaverdegourmet.com/
Holy Cacao Israel http://holycacao.co.il/
Hotel Chocolat England http://www.hotelchocolat.com/uk/
Idilio Origins Switzerland http://www.idilio.ch/idilio-origins.html
Indi Chocolate Seattle, WA http://indichocolate.com
IQ Chocolate Scotland http://www.iqchoc.com/
ISIDRO Chocolate Austin, TX www.isidrochocolate.com
It’s Chocolate! Winston-Salem, NC www.itschocolatews.com
IXCACAO Maya Belizean Chocolate Belize http://www.ixcacaomayabelizeanchocolate.com/
Jacques Torres Chocolate New York, NY www.mrchocolate.com
Jordi’s Chocolate Czech Republic http://www.jordis.cz/
Kakaw Belizean Chocolate Belize http://www.belizechocolatecompany.com/
Kallari Ecuador http://www.kallari.com/
KISKADEE Chocolates Austin, TX www.kiskadeechocolates.com
KYYA Springdale, AR http://www.kyyachocolate.com/
Laia Chocolaterie France http://www.laia.fr/
Letterpress Chocolate Los Angeles, CA www.letterpresschocolate.com
Levy Chocolate Finland http://levychocolate.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
Madecasse Madagascar http://www.madecasse.com/
Madre Chocolate Honolulu, HI www.madrechocolate.com
Magdalena’s Cacao Bean Chocolates Philippines https://www.facebook.com/BeanToBarDarkChocolates
Mahogany Chocolate Lubbock, TX www.mahoganychocolate.com
Malagos Chocolates Philippines http://www.thegiftfarm.ph/
Malie Kai Chocolates Hawaii http://www.maliekai.com/
Mana Chocolate Portland, OR www.manachocolate.com
Manoa Chocolate Kailua, HI www.manoachocolate.com
Manufaktura Czekolady Poland http://www.manufakturaczekolady.pl/
Marigold’s Finest Canada http://marigoldsfinest.com/
Marou Vietnam http://marouchocolate.com/
Marsatta Redondo Beach, CA http://www.marsatta.com/best-chocolate.html#.VCIjivldXQo
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
Mayta Ecuador http://www.maytachocolate.com/
Meadowlands Chocolate Company Meadowlands, MN www.meadowlandschocolate.com
Menakao Madagascar http://www.menakao.com/
Meridian Cacao Portland, OR www.meridiancacao.com
Metiisto Artisan Chocolate Sweden https://www.facebook.com/pages/Metiisto-artisan-chocolate/572826362743339
Michael Recchiuti San Francisco, CA http://www.recchiuti.com/index.html
Michel Cluizel France http://www.cluizel.us/
Middlebury Chocolate Middlebury, VT http://middleburychocolates.com/
Millcreek Cacao Roasters Salt Lake City, UT www.millcreekcacao.com
Mindo Chocolate Makers Dexter, MI http://mindochocolate.com
Molucca Fresno, CA http://moluccachocolate.com/
Monsieur Truffle Australia http://monsieurtruffechocolate.com/
Mucho Mas Chocolate Pennsylvania http://www.muchomaschocolate.com/
Nahua Chocolate Costa Rica http://www.nahuachocolate.com/
Nathan Miller Chocolate Pennsylvania http://nathanmiller.myshopify.com/
Nibble Chocolates San Diego, CA http://www.nibblechocolates.com/home/
Nick’s Chocolate Australia http://nickschocolate.com.au/
Night Owl Chocolate Greenville, SC http://nightowlchocolate.com/
Nuance Chocolate Fort Collins, CO http://nuancechocolate.com/
Oialla Denmark http://oialla.com/
Olive and Sinclair Nashville, TN www.oliveandsinclair.com
Olivia Chocolat Canada http://oliviachocolatiers.com/
Omnom Chocolate Iceland http://www.omnomchocolate.com/
Organic Fair Canada http://www.organicfair.com/
Original Beans Netherlands http://originalbeans.com/
Otago Chocolate Company (Ocho) New Zealand http://ocho.co.nz/about-ocho/
Pacari Chocolate Ecuador http://pacarichocolate.com/
Palette De Bine Canada http://www.palettedebine.com/
Parliament Chocolate Redlands, CA www.parliamentchocolate.com
Patric Columbia, MO http://patric-chocolate.com/
Patrice Chapon France http://chocolat-chapon.com/
Paul A. Young England http://www.paulayoung.co.uk/
Pierre Marcolini France http://www.marcolini.be/#/en
Pinella’s Chocolate Company Florida http://pinellaschoco.com/
Pipiltin Chocolate Indonesia http://www.pipiltincocoa.com/mainsite
Pitch Dark Chocolate Portland, OR http://www.pitchdarkchocolate.com/
Potomac Woodbridge, VA www.potomacchocolate.com
Pralus France http://www.chocolats-pralus.com/en
Pump Street Bakery England http://www.pumpstreetbakery.com/
Raaka Chocolate Brooklyn, NY www.raakachocolate.com
Rain Republic Chocolate Guatemala https://www.facebook.com/rainrepublic
Raw Cocoa Poland http://rawcocoa.pl/index.php/pl/
Republica de Cacao Ecuador http://www.republicadelcacao.com/
Ritual Chocolate Denver, CO http://www.ritualchocolate.com
Rogue Massachussets http://www.roguechocolatier.com/
Rozsavolgyi Csokolade Hungary http://www.rozsavolgyi.com/en/index.php
Sacred Chocolate Novato, CA www.sacredchocolate.com
Salgado Chocolates Argentina https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.234055730003443.57009.190985724310444&type=1
Sandpoint Chocolate Bear Sandpoint, ID www.sandpointchocolate.com
Santosha Chocolate Asheville, NC www.santoshachocolate.com
Shark Mountain Chocolate Charlottesville, VA http://sharkmountaincoffee.com/htdocs/shark2/home/chocolate/
Sibu Sura Chocolates Myersville, MD www.sibusura.com
Sirene Artisan Chocolate Canada http://sirenechocolate.com/#
Sjölinds Chocolate House Mount Horeb, WI www.sjolinds.com
Solkiki Chocolate England https://www.facebook.com/pages/Solkiki/723232394365556?fref=ts
Solstice Chocolate Salt Lake City, Utah http://www.solsticechocolate.com/
SOMA Chocolate Canada http://www.somachocolate.com/
Somerville Chocolate Somerville, MA http://www.somervillechocolate.com/
SPAGnVOLA Gaithersburg, MD http://www.spagnvola.com/
Spencer Cacao Australia http://spencercocoa.com.au/
Spirited Artisan Chocolate Bisbee, AZ http://www.spiritedchocolate.com/
SRSLY Chocolate Austin, TX www.srslychocolate.com
Stone Grindz Arizona http://www.stonegrindz.com/
Sublime Chocolate Dallas, TX www.sublimechocolate.com
Sun Eaters Organics Trinidad and Tobago https://www.facebook.com/suneatersorganics
Tabal Milwaukee, MN http://tabalchocolate.com
Talamanca Chocolates Costa Rica https://www.facebook.com/TalamancaChocolates?fref=photo
Taza Massachussets www.tazachocolate.com
Tejas Chocolate Houston, TX www.tejaschocolate.com
Terroir Chocolate Fergus Falls, MN http://tasteofplacechocolate.com/
The Chocolate Conspiracy Salt Lake City, UT www.eatchocolateconspiracy.com
The Chocolate Tree Scotland http://www.choctree.co.uk/
The Fudge Shoppe Flemington, NJ http://www.thefudgeshoppe.com/
The Grenada Chocolate Company Grenada http://www.grenadachocolate.com/
The Oakland Chocolate Company Oakland, CA www.theoaklandchocolateco.com
The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory Kailua-Kona, HI www.ohcf.us
Theo and Philo Philippines http://theoandphilo.com/
Theo Chocolate Seattle, WA www.theochocolate.com
Treehouse Chocolate Portland, OR http://treehousechocolate.com/
Twenty-four blackbirds Santa Barbara, CA www.24blackbirdschocolate.com
Valhrona Brooklyn, NY http://www.valrhona-chocolate.com/shop/index.php
Vicuña Chocolate Peterborough, NH http://www.vicunachocolate.com/
Videri Chocolate North Carolina https://viderichocolatefactory.com/
Vintage Plantations New Jersey https://www.vintageplantations.com/home/
Wellington Chocolate New Zealand http://www.wcf.co.nz/
White Rabbit Chocolate New Zealand http://www.whiterabbitcacao.co.nz/index.html
Wild Sweets Canada http://www.dcduby.com/
Wilkie’s Organic Chocolate Ireland http://www.wilkieschocolate.ie/
Willie’s Cacao England http://williescacao.com/fine-chocolate/home/
Woodblock Chocolate Portland, OR www.woodblockchocolate.com
Zokoko Australia https://www.zokoko.com/
Zotter Austria http://www.zotter.at/de/startseite.html

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 Money: 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: A Natural History of Transformation, 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!

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: The Social and Economic Manifestations of Coloniality. 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!

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!