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 Wine Fridge

A few weeks ago, we could no longer close the plastic containers where we stored our chocolate. We realize Rubbermaid containers were no longer a viable solution for the massive amount of chocolate we produce and purchase. It was time for a new addition to our chocolate factory!

So, we found a fancy wine fridge on craigslist that the owner said no longer cooled. Perfect! We hooked it up at home and determined that it is not easily fixed, but the light still works, the door still seals, and the shelves still slide in and out. In other words, we suddenly were in possession of a beautiful and well-organized space to store our chocolate!

chocolate fridge

chocolate fridge

The only hitch in the plan was that the drawers were made for wine bottles, not chocolate. Well, a quick trip to the hardware store and some creative tubing/wiring solved that conundrum! We now have seven shelves of chocolate.

lighted chocolate fridge

Here’s the shelf just for our own chocolate (not the prettiest, but definitely the proudest!):

Bags of Root Chocolate. Packaging soon to come?!

Bags of Root Chocolate. Packaging soon to come?!

And the shelf for our friends’ chocolate (Arete, Confluence, Cocoa Logos, Endorfin, Dandelion):

Chocolate from our friends

Chocolate from our friends

Our single-origin bars from all over the world (Askinosie, Fine and Raw, Raaka, Marou, Castronovo, Manoa, Amedei, Lonohana, Lillie Belle, Vintage Plantations):

single origin chocolate bars

single origin chocolate bars

And the flavored bars (Manoa, Elbow, Antidote, Mast Brothers, Patric, La Colombe Workshop, Cocacu, and Il Morso):

flavored chocolate

flavored chocolate

Some mainstream bars and delicious truffles from our friend, Belinda:

Mainstream chocolate bars and truffles

Mainstream chocolate bars and truffles

And finally, Mexican chocolate (Taza, Guelaguetza)!

Mexican chocolate

Mexican chocolate

Our Chocolate Factory

It’s been about 8 months since we starting playing around with chocolate. And in that time, we’ve collected quite a bit of equipment, tools, and ingredients that now fill an entire area of our apartment. We like to call that area our Chocolate Factory.

We started with just a bag of cocoa beans from the Grand Central Market in LA and some white cane sugar. From our very first coffee grinder to the old fashioned grain mill to the melanger we use today, we’ve gone through more than a few iterations of our process.

I’d like to show off a little about our current set-up, in the hopes that it will be useful to other chocolate-makers or aspiring chocolate-makers out there!

Let’s start with our documentation board. Here’s where we keep track of our batch sizes, temperatures, and results. We also keep a list of interesting R&D ideas that come to mind.

Documentation board

Documentation board

Then we have our new peg board system that Richard built from Home Depot parts, where we store tools like thermometers, spatulas, molds, and safety goggles. We’re also intending to try out a new storage method for our finished chocolate. The Rubbermaids are drying out after an initial cleanse before we stuff them with chocolate bars! And finally, the beautiful homemade quartz table is for tempering.

Peg Board & storage

Peg board & storage

Here we have our current chocolate storage system. Have I mentioned we’re in the market for a wine fridge? We realize this method isn’t quite sustainable at our rate of churning out delicious chocolate bars!

Chocolate shelves

Chocolate shelves

What’s a chocolate factory without some fun decorations? Check out our map, where we intend to document the origins of the chocolate we’re producing. And this is our awesome cocoa bean bag given to us by John Nanci of Chocolate Alchemy, when we visited Eugene last month.

Wall decorations - cocoa bean bag & wall map

Wall decorations – cocoa bean bag & wall map

Here’s our fun bean cooling station, handmade by engineer Richard. I’m excited to use this for our next batch!

Bean cooling system

Bean cooling system

Our shelves full of tools, beans, and documentation, are topped by our beautiful Premier Wonder Grinder, one of the key pieces of equipment in our process. We also have a gorgeous marble display slab, which we bring to parties to show off our different varieties.

Shelves & Premier Wonder Grinder

Shelves & Premier Wonder Grinder

Our winnower, still very much a work in progress, has developed since the last time I photographed it. We now have an additional entrance spout and a much stronger shopvac than our home vacuum. Hold onto your horses, because a guest post from the engineer will provide more detail on the winnower soon!

Winnower

Winnower

And last but not least, a good chocolate factory must provide inspiration and guidance to its chocolate-makers. Take a look at our chocolate library to see what we’re reading these days. The books lean heavily toward entrepreneurship & chocolate science!

Chocolate & entrepreneurship library

Chocolate & entrepreneurship library

Here are a few of our favorites:

What does your chocolate factory look like? As I’ve mentioned before, even if your factory is just a coffee grinder and paint scraper, you’re a chocolate-maker in the making!