Hawaiian Chocolate Adventure

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

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

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

Kahuku Farms - cacao trees

Kahuku Farms – cacao trees

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

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Roast test + Taste test

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

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

two melangers of chocolate

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

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

What are these white circles?

What are these white circles?

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

4 batches of roast tests

4 batches of roast tests

Batch 1: P2

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

Batch 2: P4

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

Batch 3: P5

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

Batch 4: Blend

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

Happy Saturday!

Happy Saturday, readers!

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

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

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

So, here’s my call to action:

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

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

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

Behmor Roast Tests

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

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

Power

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

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

Behmor Control Panel

Behmor Control Panel

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

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

Temperatures

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

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

Temp and Power

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

Three batches of Madagascar, ready for winnowing

Three batches of Madagascar, ready for winnowing

Cocoa bean quality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Look at the bean

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

Jamaican beans

Jamaican beans

Papua New Guinea Beans

Papua New Guinea Beans

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

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

whole raw cocoa beans

whole raw cocoa beans

2. Taste the beans

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

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

3. Perform a cut test

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

cut test

cut test

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

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

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

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