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!

Cacao farming on Oahu

While on Oahu, Richard and I visited two and a half farms growing cacao. Why the half? Let me explain…

The first farm we visited was Kahuku Farms, on the North Shore. Dr. Nat of Madre recommended we stop by here. Kahuku provides farm tours or, as they call them, smoothie tours. We rode around on a wheeled bench, pulled by a trailer through the rows of beautiful crops in the demonstration portion of the farm and received a delicious homemade smoothie made from the ingredients we had seen just moments before. Our tour guide is married to Kylie, a fourth generation Kahuku farmer and has taken on the education part of the business. We learned a lot about the history of the farm and their attempts to share such fresh and delicious vegetables with the local population. Hawaiian food traditionally includes a lot of meat, but the Kahuku food truck serves only vegetarian foods made from their farm’s produce. Surprisingly to the farming family (but not to us Californian hippies), it’s a huge hit!

Kahuku Farms

Kahuku Farms

By calling ahead and telling our tour guide about our chocolate interest, we were able to take a detour on the tour to visit the cacao plants. We even got to pull a pod off the tree and demonstrate (and eat) the pulp to the rest of our tour group. What a special experience! Learn more about Kahuku farms here.

cocoa pods

cocoa pods

Richard and a cocoa pod

Richard and a cocoa pod

Landen and an open cocoa pod

Landen and an open cocoa pod

raw cocoa bean

raw cocoa bean

Our next farm visit was to the Waialua Estate, a subsidiary of Dole. This is our “half farm,” since we visited their large factory but didn’t quite get out to the farmland. We were led on a brief tour of the process of making both chocolate and coffee. Waialua Estate also partners with Guittard, our neighbor in the Bay Area, throughout its chocolate-making process. Waialua Estate was the first place we saw another step of the chocolate process. These trays house cocoa beans as they are drying after fermentation.

Drying cocoa beans at Waialua Estate

Drying cocoa beans at Waialua Estate

Our final visit was the most authentic and intimate. Richard and I met up with Seneca Klassen of Lonohana: Hawaiian Estate Chocolate in Haleiwa on our last morning on Oahu. We jumped in his truck and drove up to his 14-acre farm in the hills above town. The sun was warm and the red dirt squished between my toes as we traipsed through his rows upon rows of cacao trees.

Lonohana - young cacao trees

Lonohana – young cacao trees

Seneca’s mission is clear:

Lonohana Estate Chocolate is located on the island of O‘ahu, Hawaii and is the result of two families’ dream to create a vertically integrated chocolate company here in the United States. By controlling the entire product cycle, starting with our own Hawaii-grown cacao all the way through crafting small batches of world-class chocolate bars in Honolulu, we hope to share where this beloved food comes from, how it is grown and made.

He is creating the first tree-to-bar chocolate operation in Hawaii. He spends many days on the farm, weeding, harvesting, planting shade trees or windbreaks, and keeping up his fledgling farm of cacao. The rest of his days are spent in his factory in Honolulu, where he manages all of the post-production – fermenting and drying – as well as the full bean-to-bar chocolate-making process that we do at home. His supply is so limited that he sells chocolate with a subscription method – sending out bars to subscribers at regular intervals like a CSA (Consumer-supported agriculture). His personal history is closely interwoven with the bean-to-bar movement in the San Francisco Bay Area, as he is one of the co-founders of Bittersweet Cafe in Oakland. Read more about Seneca, his family, and the Lonohana story here.

cacao pods and beans at Lonohana

cacao pods and beans at Lonohana

Seneca spent time to break open a few cacao pods to show us the differences among them, both in appearance and in flavor. His knowledge of the genetics and how they affect the future of the plant and therefore the beans and their eventual chocolate is incredible. He seemed grateful for the visit of some chocolate-makers looking for an education on the intricacies of farming. This is an angle many chocolate-makers never have the privilege to see. And we are extremely thankful for his openness and willingness to teach us about his work and learnings!

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!

Visiting Letterpress Chocolate

As we’ve mentioned, Richard and I spent MLK Jr. weekend in LA. During our trip, we had the opportunity to explore Guelaguetza and to visit our friends, Corey and David of Letterpress Chocolate.

We could smell that amazing brownie-like scent as we walked up the stairs to their apartment and as soon as they opened the door, the whirling of multiple Premier Wonder Grinders provided a pleasant white noise background. As usual, they were in the middle of making chocolate!

We first met David at a Yellow Seed gathering last summer and besides some great phone conversations, we met Corey in person during the FCIA weekend just recently. It was great to see them in their element, surrounded by beans, bars, and equipment! Like us and like David and Leslie of Arete (who we also visited in their space last year), they are a husband and wife team of chocolate-makers with different skill sets but a similar goal – to make amazing chocolate.

We learned a few useful lessons to note and had fun with what may seem silly, but is very typical for chocolate-makers: a bean tasting quiz/lesson.

Let’s start with our most useful lesson – documentation. When we walked in, David and Corey were in the middle of a roast (hence the amazing brownie-like smell), so we chatted while they finished the roast with precision. They pulled beans out of the oven every ten minutes and tasted them, jotting down flavor and texture notes religiously into a notebook. This level of detail hasn’t been our strong suite so far. In fact, we’ve kept great notes on our white board or in our blog posts, but we do not have a scientific tracking system yet. We now realize the importance of such detail for the ability to repeat a particular bar’s flavor and in order to really lean from our work. Dave Huston has an incredible documentation system which we hope to learn from as well!

For our bean tasting quiz/lesson, David pulled out sample after sample of raw beans, testing our tastebuds and informing us of the complex and detailed history of each set of beans. This is one of Richard’s favorite things to do, though I’m still learning to love the bitter, chewy nature of raw beans. David and Corey are far more experienced with cocoa beans than most chocolate-makers we know. They spend a lot of time in the producing countries, particularly Guatemala where they own cacao farm acreage. Some of my favorite beans were Oko Caribe from the Dominican Republic and Coto Brus from Costa Rica, Heirloom Cacao Preservation #6.

cocoa bean tasting quiz

cocoa bean tasting quiz

We also discussed an exciting new development. Richard and I will be taking a trip to Hawaii next month, partially for his big birthday and partially for chocolate research! Having spent a lot of time with his mentor, Dr. Nat of Madre Chocolate, David had a lot of great advice. We’re excited to visit and look forward to reporting back!

Thank you, David and Corey, for inviting us into your space and for teaching us about your wonderful chocolate-making practices! We look forward to more adventures in the future!

Dark dark chocolate

When I was in college, one of my closest friends told me that she only liked chocolate that was 80% or higher. I didn’t understand the concept at the time and was still a predominantly milk chocolate eater. I’ve since learned significantly more about the meaning of percentages and the virtues of dark chocolate.

Our chocolate creations have ranged from 70% to, at the highest, 85%. Well, we’ve tasted the ridiculously dark 100% bar from Dandelion and Endorfin’s 98% bar (2% vanilla). Personally, I think such high percentages taste more muddy than chocolatey. But, Richard is a huge fan. And more importantly, our neighbor, Jude, has personally requested a low-sugar bar to mimic the high percentage, bitter chocolate she knows and loves from her hometown of Barcelona. And given her current pregnancy and her self-proclaimed (and incredible) heightened taste buds, we’re excited to comply!

So, we set out to make a truly dark chocolate. We know it’s important to consider the cocoa butter content of our beans. And we have not measured the exact percentage of our Madagascar beans, but we’ll assume 50% for now. They seem pretty oily and our 85% was successful (though quite strong) when we tried previously.

We started, as usual, by measuring our initial cocoa bean batch (after sorting, before roasting). It came in at 1128 grams. We roasted in our beautiful Behmor, indicating 1 pound on the P2 program minus 2 minutes (as recommended by John Nanci). We took the beans (and nibs) through 4 passes of our homemade winnower, reducing the mass to 943 grams on the first pass (when we noticed lots of big shells), followed by 836 grams on the second pass (when we noticed that the nibs and shells had a lot of static energy), followed by 756 grams on the third pass (when it looked pretty good despite a few shells), followed by 722 grams on the fourth pass, which we deemed finished enough. In other words, we had a 64% yield on winnowing. Richard is still working hard on improving our winnowing process and tools!

We took some advice from the Industrial Chocolate Manufacture and Use book and immediately winnowed the beans, rather than waiting for them to cool. Then we tried a new step in our process: we put the nibs through a quick pre-grind in our new Vitamix 5200 Series Blender, when it turned the discrete nibs into smaller chunks with a slightly oily finish. We heated the stone wheels and reheated the beans, then started the melanger with the 722 grams of nib mush and 100 grams of sugar.

Vitamix

This resulted in an 87.5% dark chocolate with no added cocoa butter. We let it conche and refine for 24 hours, then tried the Chocolate Alchemist’s suggestion for tempering. We poured about a third of the chocolate onto plastic wrap and let it cool slowly in the oven, while the melanger continued conching. This created an effective “seed” chocolate. About an hour or so later, the seed had cooled, and we introduced it back into the warm liquor (at that point around 99 degrees). As the chocolate chunks mixed with the liquid, the temperature dropped significantly, and when we turned off the Premier Wonder Grinder, the temperature of the chocolate had just hit 90. We quickly doled it out into molds with our quick refrigerator pass to complete the tempering process.

And now our dark dark chocolate is ready for gifting!

What’s the highest percentage chocolate you’ve enjoyed eating? Any recommendations for low sugar, high percentage chocolate-making?

watching the Behmor roast

Roasting with the Behmor 1600 Plus

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.

2014-12-14 13.51.00

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.

cocoa beans in the Behmor drum roaster

cocoa beans in the Behmor drum roaster

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!

watching the Behmor roast

watching the Behmor roast

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!

Marketing or Education?

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.

So, what does this have to do with chocolate?

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.

What can we, in the craft chocolate industry, do about this disconnect?

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.

How about those of us who just like what we like?

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.

What is the bottom line?

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!

To cocoa butter or not to cocoa butter?

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:

Cocoa butter

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).

Tempering and cocoa butter

Tempering and cocoa butter

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!

percentage chart

And once again, both batches were beautifully tempered, despite some funky shapes in Batch A:

Can you guess which have the added cocoa butter and which have just two ingredients?

Can you guess which have the added cocoa butter and which have just two ingredients?

 

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!

Matching the Roast

Last month, we visited John Nanci, the Chocolate Alchemist in Oregon. It was a lot of fun and we learned a ton about his process, ingredients, and recommendations!

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.

John Nanci's homemade roaster

John Nanci’s homemade roaster

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!

Matching the roast tools

Matching the roast tools

We set the oven to 400 F and prepared to follow our noses. A few caveats before we get started:

  1. Unfortunately, we were both recovering from a cold, so our sense of smell wasn’t quite up to snuff.
  2. We used our relatively old oven, not a self-engineered roaster.
  3. The temperature in our apartment was in the high 60s and not at all humid, compared to John Nanci’s colder, humid garage.

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:

  1. Stir the beans regularly. That could avoid “tipping.” Tipping is when the part of the bean touching the hot pan will roast faster (and potentially burn) than the rest of the bean. It develops an uneven roast and could add extra toasting flavors to the chocolate.
  2. His other brilliant advice wasn’t possible this time. He suggested doubling the pans, so there’s a more even distribution of heat on the bottom of the beans. However, we have exactly two pans and used them both for this roast, so we’ll need to try this next time.

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.

Roasted bean cooler

Roasted bean cooler

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?