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

Visiting Manoa Chocolate Hawaii

One of our favorite moments on Oahu took place in a traditional Hawaiian establishment in Kailua called Hale Kealoha, with slack key players on stage, hula dancers called up from the crowd, many bowls of delicious and traditional Hawaiian food on the table, and surrounded on all sides by locals. Two of those locals, Dylan and Tammy, sat across from us and shared both a piece of birthday cake and a lot of knowledge. Dylan is the chocolate-maker and founder of Manoa Chocolate Hawaii, and Tammy, his fiance, manages the front of the house, the wholesale accounts, and much in between!

In business for just over two years, Manoa Chocolate Hawaii has taken on the massive task of educating the general population about bean-to-bar chocolate. Tammy leads an interesting and educational tour of their factory, starting with the exciting revelation to their guests that Hawaii is the only state in the country that has a climate hospitable to cacao. When Richard and I participated in the tour, we were the only non-Hawaiians. Part of the Manoa challenge is building the pride that local Hawaiians feel for their burgeoning chocolate industry.

Tammy opens the door to the bean room, where the new winnower, large modified coffee roaster, and bags upon bags of beans are stored. Here’s where Dylan takes over! Introduced as the Manoa chocolate-maker, he starts to explain the process of making chocolate from the bean. Our fellow tour participants are thrilled by the smell of raw beans in the bag, shocked by the flavor of plain nibs, and fascinated by the tempering machines jerry-rigged in the molding room.

The tour ends with a tasting in their front room. I liked a lot of their bars! Richard and I both loved the Breakfast bar (brilliant naming & contents!). And I found the goat milk bar and the lavender bars really creative and delicious! (You can purchase any of these and others here.)

We were particularly interested in the dynamic of a couple like ourselves running a chocolate business together. When we had dinner with Dylan and Tammy later that night, we learned about how they divide the labor wisely between them and how they really do love chocolate and its industry quirks.

Manoa and me

Manoa and me

Overall, we had a great time at Manoa, learned a lot from Dylan and Tammy, and look forward to staying in touch with our new Hawaiian friends!

Learning from Dr. Nat

One of our most decadent evenings on Oahu was spent at Madre Chocolate in Kailua. We were the last ones to arrive for a whiskey & chocolate tasting, taking place in their tiny retail storefront. We squeezed into our chairs at one of the two tables of 8 people each. In front of each person was a placemat with two sets of flavor wheels on one side and a colorful list of all the available chocolates and whiskeys on the other. We also each had a line of whiskeys in shot glasses and the table was laid with about 15 different cocoa pod-shaped dishes, piled with small tastes of various chocolate bars made by Madre.

We made our way down the line of whiskeys, popping in chocolate before, during and after the aromas of whiskey cleared our sinuses. I determined that my favorite order was a sip of whiskey and putting chocolate on my tongue before the whiskey flavor left my mouth. And with the many whiskeys and many chocolate flavors and origins, I couldn’t tell you which combination was the most delicious. Frankly, they were all good! My favorite chocolate bar was a traditional 70% Lachuá Guatemala bar followed by the Dominican Republic Chipotle Allspice bar.

chocolate and whiskey

chocolate and whiskey

Another day, we headed to Madre for a bean-to-bar chocolate class. One of Madre’s cofounders, Dr. Nat Bletter, led both events, and has one of the most scientific approaches to chocolate we’ve seen. He has a Ph.D. in Ethnobotany and works with the University of Hawaii to continue to research cacao, particularly its flavor components and fermentation techniques. He told us, proudly, that Hawaii is the only place in the world where you can find chocolate researchers, chocolate-makers, and cacao-growers!

We enjoyed learning his style and methods and look forward to staying in touch so we can stay updated on the latest research in the field of making delicious chocolate from high quality beans.

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!

Guelaguetza

Last weekend, Richard and I took a wonderful trip down to LA. And like we usually do, we incorporated chocolate into the trip in a variety of ways. First of all, we brought chocolate to share with our friends and family. (Everyone’s favorite was the Venezuela from John Nanci’s beans!)

One of the other ways we incorporated chocolate into our trip was by visiting local phenomenon, Guelaguetza Restaurante. This is the most authentically Oaxacan spot I’ve experienced since spending a summer in Oaxaca, Mexico itself. They serve tlayudas, mole, and mezcal, among other southern Mexican delicacies.

Guelaguetza or Fiesta de los Lunes del Cerro, is the name of an annual festival celebrating the diversity of communities and cultures in the state of Oaxaca. You can read more about it here, here, and aquí. When I lived in Oaxaca in 2005, I actually was able to attend the celebrations with my parents and my friend, Medina. It was a spectacular show of dancing and ceremony. Here’s what one of the colorful dances looked like on stage:

Guelaguetza

Guelaguetza

When Richard and I visited Guelaguetza, the restaurant in LA, it looked a little different, but the colors, the sounds, and the smells were very similar. Most of the restaurant guests were speaking in Spanish and we heard a lively rendition of “Felix Cumpleaños” as we walked in. The decor has a bright and traditionally Oaxacan look, with an open view of the tortillas being made in the kitchen and shelves full of Oaxacan treats, pottery, and utensils for sale.

And of course, we spotted the chocolate!

Mexican chocolate and molinillo

Mexican chocolate and molinillo

They sell a variety of products, but we came for the chocolate (and the delicious hot atole). When we later shared the chocolate with our chocolate-making friends, the taste brought back one of my favorite chocolate memories. It looks like a hockey puck and requires a knife to break it into pieces. The texture is very grainy, though in a way that’s different from Taza’s texture. Taza seems to include chunks of cocoa nibs, while the largest particle size of this chocolate came in the form of sugar. We crunched on the sugar crystals with each bite. And the flavor includes strong notes of cinnamon, nuts, and other spices, as some of these ingredients are actually ground down with the nibs and included in the chocolate.

Though it isn’t what we’d call “modern chocolate,” it is a delicious and memory-inducing version of Mexican chocolate that I love returning to.

What’s your guilty pleasure in the chocolate world? Maybe it isn’t the highest quality single origin bean-to-bar maker’s award-winning bar. Maybe it’s something you sneak on the side when no one’s looking!

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?

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?