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.

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Originally made for coffee, this roaster has come up in conversation with our coffee-addict friends (ahem, Kevin) more often than we expected!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!

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Why does supply chain matter?

For my loyal followers who received a draft of this post in your emails on Thursday, I apologize – that was not the final version. WordPress glitch! Here’s the official final post:

That shirt you’re wearing right now – do you know which country the fibers came from, where they were processed into cloth, or who stitched them together before arriving at your favorite clothing store? Do you know how much the farmer receives for the cotton he grows, what impact the transportation of the materials and then the finished product had on the environment, or whether the entire system is sustainable?

I don’t mean to make you feel guilty and I certainly am not an expert on clothing sourcing. That said, I do think it’s worth considering the path our stuff takes before it arrives on our doorstep, on our skin, or in our mouth. And I wouldn’t even consider mine a new or radical point of view. The Story of Stuff came out more than 5 years ago and the story translates to food through documentaries like Food, Inc., FRESH, and Forks over Knives, as well as the many masterpieces of Michael Pollan.

“How does this relate to your chocolate?” you might ask. Fair question. This question goes to the name I’ve given this website – Root Chocolate. That name was meant to bring to mind two roots: the simplified process of making chocolate from its core ingredients, and the idea that chocolate doesn’t arrive in this world as a whole. It touches many lives, environments, and even countries along the way as it transforms from Theobroma cacao to the bar you bring home. In fact, the documentary, Black Gold brings the supply chain issue to the coffee fields that often sit adjacent to the cocoa farms we’ll discuss in future posts. And as part of my personal mission, I intend to bring awareness to chocolate-lovers everywhere about the path that the components of your chocolate take before they end up following a sip of wine down your throat after dinner. Just on Friday the S.F. Gate published an article on the implications of slave trade on cocoa beans!

There will be many articles to come on the process of farming the cacao pods, fermenting and drying the beans, shipping them to a manufacturer (no matter how small or large scale), and then the process of processing the beans into an edible chocolate creation. Supply chain has environmental, socio-economic, and systemic implications. Today, though, I want to focus on my personal connection to supply chain, which falls mostly into the socio-economic realm.

In college, I spent a semester in Brazil with the School for International Training, which turned into a much more than a typical study abroad experience for me. My focus of the semester was to conduct independent research on my topic of choice – contemporary slavery. It is a difficult concept to grasp that slaves still exist when we are taught as early as elementary school that the United States of America abolished slavery in 1865 with the Thirteenth Amendment. Worldwide, slavery lasted slightly longer, and Brazil was the last country in the Western Hemisphere to terminate the classic system of slavery with the Áurea Law in 1888.

brasilMaranhao

However, I spent the fall of 2006 in Açailândia, Maranhão in the Northeast of Brazil, where I conducted field research consisting of observations and interviews with former slaves and those struggling to help them, which illuminated the system of exploitation, a system that I once believed had died out long before I was born. The memories that still ring clearest in my mind from that semester are the interviews I held with former slaves, who had worked in coal fields and lumber yards without pay. This subject consumed me for the next year and a half and led me to publish a book on my findings, Contemporary Slavery in the Northeast of Brazil: The Social and Economic Manifestations of Coloniality. You can read the initial (unpolished) report I produced at the end of my semester here.

Now, as a result of my experience on the ground with individuals exploited at the bottom of the supply chain, I pay special attention to the sources of my stuff and my food. It’s not easy, but those companies with transparent supply chains are the ones with less to hide. Resources are now available that show exactly that:

We may not be able to trace the origin of every product in our lives, but it’s worth a try. So, let’s all do our part to source our food and stuff responsibly and pay attention to where it’s coming from, cocoa beans included!

Roasting beans

Discussing roasting temperatures reminds me of our friend Kevin, whose coffee-roasting contraptions challenge MacGyver’s most creative gadgets. His enthusiasm for coffee rivals ours for chocolate, so it’s only fitting to feature him here!

As Kevin, and all coffee aficionados know, bean roasting time is a critical factor in flavor. Similarly, cocoa bean roasting times have a strong part to play in determining the final taste of chocolate. In our original recipe, we started with 5 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, followed by 10 minutes at 250 degrees. Only recently, in our first experience hosting a chocolate-making class, did we test those numbers.

As I’ve mentioned, my brother is a recent transplant to the Bay Area and now attends Stanford University, pursuing a PhD in Physical Chemistry. To congratulate him and his girlfriend, Malenca, on graduating from college, we had them over for a chocolate-making adventure. We gave them the opportunity to use their chemistry genius to test a variable and as you may have guessed, their variable of choice was roasting time.

We split up a batch of beans we bought from a small market on Mission and Cortland Ave in San Francisco, and created what we believe to be our best two chocolate results yet. We roasted both batches at 400 for 5 minutes. Then, the first batch, which we’re calling Light Roast, continued for another 5 minutes at 250. The second batch, which we’re calling Xtra Toastygot 15 additional minutes at 250. Then we ground and tempered each batch and rolled them into sticks.

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Xtra Toasty turned out with a flavor similar to roasted peanuts, very nutty and almost smoky. It was the favorite of the night. Light Roast ended up almost fruity in flavor. And both broke apart with the snap that characterizes well tempered chocolate!

Our roaster is currently a Black & Decker toaster oven – not exactly a high-end roaster. The best option is a customized rolling roaster like Dandelion Chocolate uses or the Panamanian hand-made coffee bean roaster adapted from car parts we saw on a family operation in Boquete.

Panamanian roaster

However, none of these beat Kevin’s engineering feats!

Kevin's lab