Root Chocolate will be taking a break over the holidays and we will dive back into regular posts and fun in the new year.
Happy holidays, from Root Chocolate to you!
This weekend we took our cocoa bean roasting to the next level: we christened our newest tool, the Behmor 1600 Plus! And already, we’re very happy with the investment. Thanks Dave Huston & John Nanci for recommending it!
This is the most technologically advanced piece of equipment we own for chocolate. And it comes with TWO instruction manuals, both of which I’ve read cover to cover multiple times and referred to throughout our first roast.
Originally made for coffee, this roaster has come up in conversation with our coffee-addict friends (ahem, Kevin) more often than we expected! What we’ve learned from friends (Dave Huston, John Nanci, Eli Curtis and others), is that the cocoa bean adaptation is not hard. In fact, the advice we’ve gotten is that the best route is to double the coffee quantity and the best roasts are when the rotating drum is full. Not too hard at all!
After going through a clean cycle (which we had to try 3 separate times – the automatic-off safety feature surprised us a couple of times, but we’ve learned our lesson now), we tried our first batch. One of the operations manuals recommends starting with a small batch, just in case. The options on the machine are 1/4 pound, 1/2 pound, and 1 pound. That said, John Nanci recommends 2.5-3 pounds per batch. We combined the recommendations and put in 250 grams, just over a half pound. It doesn’t seem like much, but for a first batch, we’ll keep it small.
There are many many options for what the roast cycle should look like. Check out this Chocolate Alchemy post for the 5 temperature & timing cycles and more information on the Behmor 1600 Plus. We were roasting Madagascar beans and the manual recommends P3 for any African coffee beans. We know that’s a bit of a stretch, but we went with it. We’ll probably try the hotter program (P2) with more beans in the future, but I’m pretty proud of round 1 for now!
And let me tell you… it smelled amazing, especially as the roasting cycle drew to a close. We listened to the popping of the shells when the timer hit about 2:30 minutes remaining. And we watched the temperature stay relatively low for most of the roast, then rise to just over 300 right at the end, before the cooling cycle. We let the 8 minute cooling cycle run when the roast was over and just before it ended, I started to get that back of the throat sensation that John Nanci tells us means the roast is almost overdone.
When we were done, we emptied out the dust tray and put it all back in the roaster – so easy! The resulting beans were cooked all the way through, unlike anything we’ve ever done in our oven, especially the Venezuelan beans we tried to match to John Nanci’s roast. The shells came off almost whole and the crunch from the beans told us they were definitely done.
Bottom line, we highly recommend the Behmor 1600 Plus! What are your favorite ideas for roasting?
And now we’ll winnow away those shells and start a batch in the Premier Wonder Grinder… Look out for some exciting posts on winnowing coming up soon!
Last weekend, we were thankful to have Richard’s parents in town to celebrate Thanksgiving. For the occasion, we hosted a true blind chocolate tasting adventure. We pulled out Eagranie Yuh’s The Chocolate Tasting Kit (Tasting Kits), Richard conducted a dramatic reading of the instructions, and we handed out pads of paper and pens. I noted the order of the chocolates and cut the bars into small pieces, then tried to forget which was which as I passed them around. The other 5 tasters were completely blind.
We tasted 13 chocolate bars (avoiding any flavored chocolate) and surprisingly, there were no truly clear winners. We are amazed by the variation of tastes and preferences among us!
A few tidbits of learning we are taking away from this experience:
And now, the bars we tasted and what we thought… enjoy, pick up some bars, and let us know what you think, too!
Occasionally, while I sit at a Vietnamese restaurant, cautiously eating my standard Pho, I can’t help giggle to myself as Richard sweats and guzzles water to counteract the powerful sensations coming from his inevitably extra spicy dish. Similarly, I pass on the japapeños in Mexican cuisine and the Sriracha at Thai places. A coworker’s kid only eats food that is white and my cousins, while growing up, ate solely Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, with hot dogs.
You may laugh and say that people who refrain from eating delicacies like spicy Pho, caviar, or kimchi have unsophisticated palettes. We must not know or understand the intricacies of such delicious foods. Richard may say that my Vietnamese food is bland and that I’m not gaining the full experience of these cuisines.
I would respond that I like what I like. My taste buds have their own preferences and there’s not too much I can do about that. I’m not being stubborn on purpose; I’m sure you can identify with me in having a particular taste for something that may be considered unpopular.
Let’s start with the basics. What is the definition of “fine flavor cacao?” In their book, Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate, Williams and Eber explain the definition along the lines of Justice Potter Stewart who was asked to define obscene pornographic material: “I know it when I see it.” The Heirloom Cacao Preservation Initiative‘s objective is to identify and classify heirloom flavor to better understand fine flavor cacao and propagate it for the future.
As we’ve discussed in this post about genetics, there are a million ways to differentiate among chocolate bars. Labels like Fair Trade, Organic, and Single-Origin as well as particular ingredients like cocoa butter or flavors, and processes like stone-ground or table-tempered also differentiate among the supply.
The craft chocolate industry is suffering from a plight of its own making: our product – fine flavor chocolate bars made from the highest quality cacao in the world – is not understood or even necessarily liked by the general public. The chocolate bars that highlight the distinctive flavors of each cocoa bean and origin taste very different than the chocolate that most people grew up with. These craft chocolate bars are typically more expensive, darker, and significantly stronger than the Hershey’s or even Lindt of their youth.
We set up education campaigns! Rather than a Marketing Department, the Mast Brothers has an Education Department. Instead of convincing people to buy the chocolate, they share information about where chocolate comes from, how it is made, and why it has such different flavors from mass market chocolate. We, here at Root Chocolate, are particularly drawn to chocolate companies like Askinosie that share the history either of their company’s traditions or of their connection to the farmers abroad. In other words, taste is NOT everything to everyone.
In fact, the story of the chocolate, an understanding of the recipes and a guide to the potential flavors identifiable in each unique bar of fine flavor chocolate are the key to connecting consumers to high quality chocolate. Plus, as we’ve heard many times before, just eat more chocolate. With more chocolate tasted, the consumer will better be able to identify his or her personal preferences.
Back to my initial story – I’m not going to start ordering the spicy curry that I dislike just because someone explains the history of Vietnamese spices and their rare availability in the world. In other words, education isn’t the silver bullet solution. Some people are going to keep eating the chocolate they are most familiar with.
In our next post on a recent chocolate tasting, you’ll noticed high marks for the relatively generic Ikea bar. Ikea likely uses a lot of cocoa butter and some soy lecithin, imitating the smooth textures and specific mouth feel of a Hershey’s bar. For some, clearly, that is more appealing than, for example, Taza’s gritty crude grind. Joe Whinney, founder of Theo Chocolate, is quoted in Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate:
“I don’t find a lot of broad relevancy to the concept of fine flavor. I understand it. But I don’t think the consumer is thinking about that. They think about origin. They think about percentage a little big more than they used to. But ultimately they are still seeing chocolate as this sweet treat that if it’s dark it might be a little bit better and better for me and what kind of nuts does it have in it…?”
Perhaps with more knowledge of the ingredients, process, and origin, those individuals would try more exotic bars, but it’s possible that they will always prefer a smooth, lower percentage bar.
Both the picky eaters and the craft chocolate-makers can survive in this complicated world! While I encourage people to follow my food policy – I’ll try anything once – I do not believe that everyone will be or should be a fine flavor chocolate aficionado. If you prefer Hershey’s, go for it!
On the other hand, the bean-to-bar chocolate-makers of the world should continue on our path of education rather than marketing, because there are plenty of potential converts out there. I, for one, have learned a ton about chocolate and now prefer more complex dark chocolate bars. That said, I still enjoy my sweet milk chocolate on occasion and see nothing wrong with that!
That is the question.
We did an experiment to provide an answer to this time old question (ok, sure, we’re borrowing from Shakespeare). For this experiment, we used our favorite Madagascar beans. I think we’re now about halfway done with the giant bucket!
Let’s post some hypotheses about the two batches:
This batch we’d expect to be smoother. We’d also expect it to pour better for tempering and have a more “chocolatey” taste. That’s the case for our first batch with cocoa butter, the Venezuelan batch.
Without added cocoa butter
(creative title, I know…) This batch should have a darker flavor, since it has a higher ratio of cocoa mass to cocoa butter. Remember that even chocolate without added cocoa butter still has cocoa butter in it. Usually, chocolate without added cocoa butter sits at around 50% cocoa mass to 50% cocoa butter, plus any additional ingredients like sugar. We go into this in more detail in this post.
So, what really happened?
We started with 654 grams of winnowed Madagascar beans plus 174 grams of sugar in the Premier Wonder Grinder from 9:40pm Monday night until 7:40am Wednesday morning. That said, we had a 2.5 hour break Tuesday night when Richard’s parents came over for dinner. (It was nice to listen to some nice jazz for a little while rather than the whirring of the melanger.)
On Wednesday morning, we poured out 303 grams of the mixture and started the tempering process for what we’ll call Batch A. Richard’s plan was to imitate a tempering machine by stirring continuously as the temperature slowly drops. He got it all the way down to 82 by spinning the bowl on our quartz table, allowing the chocolate to seep up along the much cooler sides of the bowl. While he stirred and cooled, I melted the cocoa butter for the other half of our experiment (Batch B).
Our enthusiasm to get the temperature back up to 90 after successfully dropping it to between 80 and 82 in the bowl (without table tempering) unfortunately led to three consecutive tempering failures, where we raised the temperature significantly too high in the microwave. Once to 122 and twice more to about 100, requiring us to start the process over again. I guess the fourth time is a charm, because that time we got the temperatures and power levels right, ending up with a 90 degree batch to mold.
The mixture seemed particularly thick when we were molding, but our thermometers were telling us we had the right temperature. And in the end, the molding process ended up pretty lumpy, but we have beautifully tempered 79% chocolate in Batch A.
Meanwhile, for Batch B, we poured about 38 grams of cocoa butter into the melanger and released the pressure on the stone wheels. We let it keep running for the next hour while we worked on those many tempering attempts. With 427 grams that came out of the melanger at 86 degrees, we stirred in the same way as the previous batch and reduced the temperature to 81. This time, on the first try, we got it back up to 90 in the microwave and were ready to temper!
We poured it out into the molds and it came out the perfect molding consistency – dripping evenly into the molds and easily adjusted with some wiggling to get the bubbles out. The final product of Batch B is an 81% chocolate (154g natural cocoa butter + 38g added cocoa butter + 154g cocoa mass + 82g sugar).
So, what is the ultimate difference in percentage between the two batches? Batch A is considered 79% with about 40% each of cocoa mass and cocoa butter. Batch B, on the other hand is considered 81% (just 2 measly percentage points higher than Batch A), but has 45% cocoa butter and only 36% of cocoa mass. Big difference!
And once again, both batches were beautifully tempered, despite some funky shapes in Batch A:
You may be wondering, how we went from such tempering issues to the gorgeous, shiny, hard bars you see below. Well, besides our new version of table tempering (in a bowl), the big winner of our tempering challenge is Thomas Forbes with the brilliant suggestion of about 10 minutes in a refrigerator immediately after molding. We know many of you seconded his idea, but he was the first! Thomas, message us privately (through the Join the movement page) to claim your prize!
Our hypotheses were mostly correct, though we have a hard time telling the difference in flavor between the two batches. We’ll have to invite some friends and family to give us their honest opinion. We’ll keep our loyal readers updated!
One of our favorite parts of the visit was roasting a batch of cocoa beans with him. Check out our previous posts on roasting here. We picked out the beans after sticking our heads in all of his big barrels of beans and smelling the wonderful scent of raw beans over and over again. I wish I could share smell through this post, because it’s incredible how different (and delicious) each barrel smells. We decided on the Venezuelan Carupano Corona, 2014 harvest, which has a savory, almost spicy scent.
In the meantime, John had turned on his homemade roaster to start heating it up.
This incredible device has two coupling thermometers which show the temperature inside the cylindrical drum of beans and outside the drum, where the heat originates. He filled the canister with about 5 pounds of beans and when the roaster hit about 400 degrees, he put on his heat-protective gloves and lowered the drum into the roaster. He closed the top and we started to chat.
Let me set the scene… we’re in an open garage/workshop with a misty rain keeping the humidity high, though temperatures were likely in the mid-50s. Everything in the workshop smells like a part of the chocolate-making process: from raw beans to the brownie smell of roasting to the almost syrupy smell of undeodorized cocoa butter.
As as chatted, every once in a while, John would pause, waft some of the rising hot air from the roaster over toward him, and comment on the smell. He glanced, every once in a while, at the coupling thermometers to gauge the difference between the temperature inside the bean canister and outside in the roaster, but the majority of his conclusions about the progress of the roast happened through his nose. He got excited when the smell seemed to waft over to us suddenly, letting us know that this is typically the peak of the roasting process. Around that time, we lowered the temperature and eventually he turned the roaster off entirely as they continued to roast. And he pointed out again when the smell shifted from our noses to the back of our throat. That was when he recommended taking them out. He waited even a few more minutes before pulling out the drum, dumping it onto his cooling table, and aiming a fan at the beans.
He emphasized that, unlike coffee, cocoa beans have more forgiving roast potential. In other words, if you leave them in too long, they are less likely to become disgustingly over-roasted than coffee beans. In fact, he made sure to point out that it is difficult to over-roast cocoa beans.
To be honest, this whole process was like watching a magician at work. His enthusiasm was contagious and Richard and I understood the intent but couldn’t necessarily recreate the magic in our own noses and throats.
That’s why we decided to attempt to match the roast. So, we brought home those roasted beans as well as a few pounds of the same beans, unroasted. And over the weekend, we brought out a bottle of wine and the two batches of beans, and did our best to recreate the process. And – believe it or not – we’re not quite as good as the Alchemist himself!
We set the oven to 400 F and prepared to follow our noses. A few caveats before we get started:
In other words, we may have been doomed from the start! That said, we did take some of John’s advice very seriously, including the following seemingly logical advice:
This process seemed to happen at full speed, as I was taking notes, flipping beans, checking the clock, sniffing to the point of hyperventilating, tasting hot beans, tasting pre-roasted beans, and hand-winnowing as we went. Whew! Here’s the run down…
We flipped the beans after 5 minutes and at 10 minutes, we started hearing the snapping in the oven and the smell of brownies pervaded the apartment. The taste of the beans at that point was still quite raw and chalky, but the cocoa mass felt softer than a fully raw bean.
We dropped the temperature to 250 at 10 minutes and by 12 minutes, it smelled like dark brownies and we started to get the sense in the back of our throats. We reasoned that they couldn’t possibly be done yet, and took John Nanci’s words to heart… it’s very difficult to over-roast cocoa beans.
At 14 minutes, we flipped them again and at 20 minutes tasted a second time. This time, they tasted bland, almost nutty, without much flavor development.
At 22 minutes, we pulled them out and did a full flip of the beans with a spatula rather that stirring them around in the oven (Richard advised me that I wasn’t flipping quite right, so this would be a more robust flipping system). We compared the taste to John’s beans at this point (starting to get giddy eating so many beans) and noted that ours tasted chocolatey and rich but the texture still felt raw – hard and not crunchy yet.
At 26 minutes we pulled out a really bad bean that tasted underfermented; not particularly helpful in our comparison. A minute later, we found a good one that tasted pretty toasty and nutty. We compared it to John Nanci’s beans and noted that his had more flavor at the end, almost caramelly.
At 28 minutes, we pulled out the tray to flip and put it back in 2 minutes later. As I flipped, Richard tasted and at exactly 31 minutes, we pulled out all the beans determining them definitely done, if not overdone!
We quickly used Richard’s brilliant newly engineered cooling system for about 15 minutes until they felt very cool.
And the result – our beans definitely taste different than John Nanci’s beans. Ours taste a little over-roasted and slightly bitter at the end, while John’s beans have that caramel finish. Whew, we’ll try again next time!
Any suggestions from the audience on how you train your nose for the perfect roast?
This step in making chocolate does not usually get a lot of attention. Perhaps that’s because it’s such a tedious, manual process in most cases. Perhaps it’s because until recently, it seemed uncontroversial.
Well, let me try to make this topic as exciting as possible for our readers. I promise it’ll involve threat of violence, betrayed trust, and the potential for incredible flavor variety… Here we go!
First, When does this even happen in the process? Sorting is the very first step in making chocolate for most bean-to-bar makers. It happens as soon as we pour the beans out onto a surface to visually inspect them before roasting. Ok, now let’s dive into the intrigue around sorting!
Let’s say your adorable 5-year old niece, Peggy, (let’s include a frilly dress and pigtails in this image) opens the wrapping of a high quality bar of chocolate (assuming you give children expensive chocolate bars…) and as she brings the bar of chocolate toward her mouth, you notice that one corner of the bar is shiny, and before you can run over and rip it out of her hands, her teeth are sinking into a piece of glass.
Ok, maybe that was a bit dramatic, but you understand the danger and violence in this example? Sorting would eliminate the threat of dangerous foreign objects in the chocolate far before little Peggy tries to eat it. Besides foreign objects, like this one found (and thankfully sorted out) in a batch of beans Dick Taylor intended to roast, sorting can also remove other undesirable items that could be included in your bag of chocolate beans. This image on Dandelion’s blog provides a useful list. We have some friends who are also testing the flavor of the germ (a tiny stick-like part of the bean that supposedly contributes either a bitter or woodsy taste to the chocolate).
My biggest concern, and not one included on Dandelion’s list, is actually bugs. Think about where the cocoa beans are coming from. In most cases, they sat out in long wooden trenches, in a farmer’s backyard, for days. That’s right – outside, subjected to the elements and whatever other living things wanted to check them out. Specifically, there’s a species of small moths that love to live in fermented & dried cocoa beans. They burrow into the beans, eat the cocoa mass, build a web, and lay eggs inside the husk. Ew, right?! That’s right. It’s actually pretty easy to see the beans that have moths in them, since they have big holes along the side of the husk, where the moth crawled in (not to be confused with a tiny hole at the tip, which we learned means that the bean has partially germinated and is not nearly as gross).
Many people believe that sorting cocoa beans leaves only the best beans and therefore makes better chocolate. You can read more on Dandelion’s blog about a machine they’re considering to do this for them.
Ok, pretty good reasons to sort. Why would anyone NOT sort? Good question… let’s discuss.
To put it bluntly, there are two reasons: sorting reduces some of the flavor variation and sorting means you don’t trust your supplier. Let’s start with the second. If you have a wonderful working relationship with your cocoa bean supplier, you would hope they would provide you with beans that would make the best chocolate possible. We learned from John Nanci, Chocolate Alchemist, when we visited him in Oregon, that he screens his suppliers carefully before selling beans to his customers. He believes that any beans he sells you shouldn’t need to be sorted. Maybe he’d recommend a cursory glance for any obvious foreign objects, but other than that, we should trust him on the rest of the beans. He writes more on his opinion on sorting here.
Ok, what about flavor? Here’s where I start to understand the case against heavily sorting. I will say that there’s no doubt we will continue to remove the foreign objects, coffee beans, and anything that could be dangerous to the health of the eventual consumers (see Peggy above). However, jury is still out on whether we’ll sort out the abnormalities in the batch of beans we receive. This is for two reasons.
First of all, the really bad stuff should get winnowed away. The flats, moth-infested beans, and large pieces of shell should fly away with the husks, so it’s possible that sorting them out would be a waste of time.
Secondly, the flavor variation loss is a legitimate concern. Who would want to deny our consumers the potential for such incredible flavor?! Those doubles that are clearly unevenly fermented, the cracked beans, the partially germinated beans… these all contribute to the overall flavor profile of the batch and therefore, are integral to the ultimate quality of the chocolate. I’ll take it one step further, to market analysis. A fellow chocolate-maker did A/B testing with a group of consumers on their preference between chocolate whose beans he had sorted and chocolate made from unsorted beans. Unanimously, the consumers preferred the unsorted chocolate.
So, what’s our conclusion? We haven’t decided yet. This goes on our list of ideas to try. Maybe we’ll hold onto all the doubles for a while and make a batch of just doubles! Maybe we’ll do two some A/B testing ourselves. We’ll keep you updated on our findings either way!