Chocolate Making Classes

A few weekends ago, we invited over a few friends for an evening for fun, for education, and for a delicious sensory experience. After months of requests to learn more about our chocolate hobby, particularly after our friends spent hours listening to us gush about all the nerdy parts involved, we agreed to put on a chocolate-making class for a few of them!

Richard is particularly good at explaining very complicated engineering and scientific concepts to laypeople like me, so he was excited to show off his gear and teach our friends about the complexities of the process. I love to train people and get them to buy into a process, so I was excited to make our chocolate-making relevant and interesting to our friends with such diverse interests. The challenge was on and we were pumped!

Richard took charge of designing the class: the timing, the components, and the results. I played assistant/back-up resource on the day of. (Side note – it’s very important to divide the labor clearly when working with your spouse. We’re learning how to do that effectively, and this was an excellent example in action.)

Our friends, Julie, Eric, Alex, and Alex, arrived in the early evening, carrying bottles of wine and their favorite spices, which we encouraged them to bring as chocolate flavors. After a lesson on where cocoa beans come from, we taught them about sorting and they divided into teams: girls vs. boys. For the rest of the night, the girls tracked and made decisions about their batch while the boys did the same with their own batch.

They each roasted a batch, operated the winnower, and set their batches in the melanger within the first few hours. After 5-10 minutes of roasting, each group got to taste their beans and decide whether to continue or not. We like do things hands on!

using the winnower

using the winnower

smelling the cooling cacao beans

smelling the cooling cacao beans

We headed out to dinner to let the two batches grind and conche for a little while. Dinner took longer than expected, but that only meant more time in the Premier Wonder Grinder, so it was a blessing in disguise. We came back to the apartment to the delicious smell of grinding chocolate. While we added ground sugar and let it continue on in the melanger for a little while longer, we tasted a variety of other chocolates and drank our wine. What a delicious and relaxing way to make chocolate!

It was time to pull out the liquor! The girls and the boys tempered their separate batches and I must add that though it wasn’t technically a competition, the girls won this part of the process! Our temper turned out beautifully crisp and shiny, while the boys had some technical difficulties. The girls made a plain 72% batch and then a few squares of salted chocolate. The boys decided to make an 85% batch with chipotle flavoring. Both turned out delicious and each couple went home with almost a pound of chocolate.

Overall, the class was a huge success! That said, we learned a lot and have a few adjustments for our next chocolate making experience with friends:

  • Go to dinner for only 1 hour. Yes, the chocolate will be smoother with more time in the melanger, but this made the whole night last longer than expected.
  • Prepare a seed to make tempering easier. We know that sometimes the most frustrating part of making chocolate is having to start over again multiple times when we accidentally allow the temperature to get too high when tempering. To avoid that frustrating for new chocolate-makers, we’ll start with a seed of tempered chocolate, as recommended by the Chocolate Alchemist here.
  • Provide appetizers during the first couple of hours to offset the amount of cocoa beans being tasted. And provide bread or crackers during the chocolate tasting after dinner to eat in between tastes.

Would you be interested in a hands-on chocolate-making experience? Let us know!

Or do you have any tips to energize and spruce up a chocolate-making class? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!

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Chocolate-struck at FCIA Weekend Activities

We started the year off right with some serious chocolate schmoozing!

This past weekend, San Francisco hosted the FCIA Winter Event, the Good Food Awards and the Winter Fancy Food Show. Quick congratulations to the following chocolate companies for their big wins in the Good Food Awards:

While we did not attend any of the official events this weekend, we were present at two more intimate gatherings of chocolate makers. We feel very fortunate to be friends of Dandelion and were able to attend both an informal chocolate-makers’ meet-up on Friday night, hosted at Four Barrel Coffee, and the post-FCIA brunch Sunday morning.

At the Friday night event, I arrived a little late, but in plenty of time to hear some great tidbits from the experts. It was packed with people sitting high on bags of coffee, on the floor, and anywhere there was space. When someone asked how to work with cocoa farmers, I was excited to hear some of the panelists expand on my favorite topic! Greg from Dandelion talked about wanting the farmers to be as excited about their product as he is, and expecting to not just buy something but to also build something together. Jesse, sourcer of Cacao Vivo talked about the importance of transparency, direct trade, and feedback. In the meantime, Hugo Hermelink, a cocoa farmer from Costa Rica, spoke up about the financial troubles of running a cacao operation. I met many of the Dandelion staff members, people from Raaka, indi, and Videri, among others.

Chocolate-maker meet-up at Four Barrel

Chocolate-maker meet-up at Four Barrel

Sunday morning, with an even larger group, I was almost starstruck (chocolate-struck?) at the names of people in the room. Some had written books or articles I have poured over. Others make amazing chocolate or source beans from ethically responsible co-ops or connect chocolate-makers to beans or educate the public about the bean-to-bar industry. It was amazing to meet Steve De Vries of De Vries Chocolate, Sunita of The Chocolate Garage, Jose of Mindo Chocolate in Ecuador/Michigan and his cacao farmer friend of an Ecuadorian co-op, Clay Gordon of The Chocolate Life (see posts on our previous phone interview on “living the chocolate life” and on making chocolate at home), Brian of Northwest Chocolate Festival, Adam and Matthew of Mutari Hot Chocolate (locals in Santa Cruz!), as well as many many others.

We also got to connect with old friends – Dave and Corey of Letterpress Chocolate, Eli of Bisou, Greg of Dandelion, and Brian of Endorfin, among others. Check out Dandelion’s picture of the event in their Valencia Cafe.

It was such an adventure to learn from these experts and hear suggestions for our own chocolate activities. We’re looking forward to trying a few new experiments in the near future. Keep an eye out for more fun in the world of Root Chocolate!

Bay Area Chocolate Makers’ Meet-Up

Over the break, we had the incredible opportunity to gather with a group of Bay Area chocolate makers for the first of, we hope, many occasions to get together and share our ideas.

We were delighted to have a group of nine other chocolate makers, in addition to ourselves, gather at Dandelion Chocolate one afternoon in December. Though Richard and I had set out an agenda for the gathering, we quickly realized that the highest priority would be getting to know each other. After a brief meet and greet, Pearl of Dandelion, graciously gave us a tour of the space, including the bean room, the kitchen, and the cafe. Most of the makers present have much smaller operations than Dandelion, so it was a treat to walk through the process that we all know and love, though on a bigger scale.

chocolate-makers' meet up at Dandelion

chocolate-makers’ meet up at Dandelion

Then, we each explained whatever chocolate we had brought along with us, and conducted a tasting of a whole line-up of delicious bars.

chocolate tasting

chocolate tasting

The group has a wide range of experience and expertise, so the best part of the afternoon’s activity was simply learning about each makers’ work and focus. In particular, we learned about the techniques linked to neuroscience and sensory experience of Endorfin Chocolat from Brian Wallace. We discovered the unique business model of Cocoa Logos by Brent, sending messages through chocolate. We listened to the precise and scientific methods utilized by Leslie and David Senk of Arete, whose dedication to creating the best chocolate bar is surely starting to pay off! (It was great to see them again, after our visit last year). We tried the chain of different roasts on the same bean by Kane, who told us he was inspired by the advice that Tad Van Leer provided in this post. We shared business plan ideas with Dave of Sacramento. We met Zeina, who encouraged us to visit The Chocolate Garage again, and get to know the bars from up and coming makers available there. And we connected with Jay of Origence, who gave us new ideas about collaborating with other makers to import beans.

We hope that other makers will join us next time for focused discussions on tools, ingredients, process, and sourcing! We’re hoping to get to know Jonas of Firefly Chocolate, Dave Salowich of The Double Monkey & Bittersweet Chocolate Cafe, Steve of Sacred Chocolate, Nancy of The Oakland Chocolate Company, and Eli and Tracey of Bisou Chocolate! We have such a great group of makers in the Bay Area and we’re looking forward to regularly gathering this group for discussions in the months to come!

Are you a chocolate maker in the Bay Area? What would you like to discuss next time we meet up?