Roast test + Taste test

I know you all must be biting your nails, waiting for the taste results of our roast test last week. Well, I won’t make you wait any longer!

First a quick note on the process… We made 4 batches of chocolate, differentiated mostly by the roast profile, but also partially by grind time (purely due to circumstance). This was the first time we had both of our Premier Wonder Grinders going at the same time, which was quite an experience. Together, they are significantly noisier than one on its own, and they have slightly different frequencies, resulting in interesting table vibrations all night.

two melangers of chocolate

We also left the liquor in the melanger for less time than usual. This worried us at first, but upon tasting the chocolate, we’re pleasantly surprised that our micron size seems to have reached the point where the tongue can no longer distinguish them. After melanging, we also left each batch in a container for a few days before tempering the whole lot. We usually temper immediately, so that was a bit of a change from our typical process as well. Our tempering method was mostly that of heating the solid batch slowly to about 90 and pouring quickly then. If we accidentally raised the temperature beyond 90, we carefully dropped it again to 80 before reheating to 90 to pour.

Though we’ve successfully avoided bloom since we learned the refrigerator method (thanks again, Thomas, for your tip!), we still have some white markings on the final chocolate bars. We think it’s related to one or more of these issues: watermarks from the molds, the shape of the original pour before we shake the molds, or the way we pop the chocolate out of the molds when it’s done hardening. Any thoughts, readers?

What are these white circles?

What are these white circles?

Keep in mind, these are all Madagascar beans and each batch started with 1 kilo of beans in the Behmor 1600 Plus. My notes below begin with the basic stats on the batch and end with our comparative tasting notes on the final chocolate of each. The notes come from the tasting palette of Richard and me, as well as Dan & Sarah, who shared a picnic in the park with us yesterday (thank you California weather in February!). A quick disclaimer: Richard thinks these are all too sweet – he prefers dark dark chocolate!

4 batches of roast tests

4 batches of roast tests

Batch 1: P2

  • Roast Profile: P2
  • Roasted & winnowed cocoa nibs: 500 grams
  • Sugar: 166 gram
  • Percentage: 70%
  • Grind/conche time: 11 hours and 30 minutes
  • Flavor notes: toasty, less fruit flavors

Batch 2: P4

  • Roast Profile: P4
  • Roasted & winnowed cocoa nibs: 500 grams
  • Sugar: 166 grams
  • Percentage: 70%
  • Grind/conche time: 11 hours and 30 minutes
  • Flavor notes: quite fruity, bright pop, lots of interesting flavor highlights, cherry, Landen’s favorite

Batch 3: P5

  • Roast Profile: P5
  • Roasted & winnowed cocoa nibs: 500 grams
  • Sugar: 166 grams
  • Percentage: 70%
  • Grind/conche time: 14 hours 30 minutes
  • Flavor notes: almost too sweet, slight acidity at back of throat

Batch 4: Blend

  • Roast Profile: P2, P4, and P5
  • Roasted & winnowed cocoa nibs: 522 grams
  • Sugar: 164 grams
  • Percentage: 76%
  • Grind/conche time: 14 hours 30 minutes
  • Flavor notes: slight bitter on the back of the throat

Chocolate meet up

Over the weekend, we had the exciting opportunity to meet up with another local chocolate maker. Dave Huston of Confluence Chocolate, who lives up in Sacramento, agreed to come down to the Bay Area for a visit. We met at Bittersweet Cafe, and drank some absolutely delicious hot chocolates (similar to what’s offered at Dandelion). I recommend the Spicy hot chocolate!

We met up with Dave to chat about life as hobbyist chocolate-makers, to share stories of how chocolate sweetens our lives and get to know each other. I know… cheesy. And it was wonderful! Imagine if you could meet someone else who has the same strange hobby that fills your weekends and evenings! Yes, we learned a lot, but more importantly, we met a new chocolate buddy. As per the trend, people in the small batch bean-to-bar industry are awesome!

So, what did we learn exactly?

First of all, we have some new equipment ideas that will make our process even more streamlined and will increase our ability to consistently make good chocolate. Specifically, Dave recommended:

  • the Behmor 1600 Plus roaster – we’ve heard this before, specifically in Eugene with John Nanci. This will likely be our next investment in chocolate!
  • Chocovision Revolation x3210 tempering machine – this is a big one, so we’ll see! On the one hand, I feel like we should get good at table tempering before we buy a machine to do it for us, honing our skills in the craft of chocolate-making. On the other hand, I’m very tempted to buy a machine that almost every chocolate-maker uses to make their process more exact and repeatable.
  • a vibrating table for molding – this would reduce bubbles in our bars and improve the shine on both sides of the bar.
  • a 140 CC syringe for molding (see Cal Vet Supply) – genius! This would reduce a lot of loss we currently have from transferring chocolate between bowls with a ladle. And it would minimize the mess. Love it!

He also recommended attending the Good Food Awards & the FCIA event in January. We’ve heard this before and are even more excited now. Networking with the chocolate industry greats there will be quite a treat!

We are considering gathering a larger group of local chocolate makers early next year, to discuss best practices. Locally, we have so many amazing human beings who are also amazing chocolate-makers! Just in the Bay Area, besides industry giant, Guittard in Burlingame, there are:

So, look out for an invitation to gather and chat!

Another incredible benefit of meeting with Dave is that we bought our second Premier Wonder Grinder from him! Get ready for scaled up production from the Root Chocolate factory!

Double Premier Wonder Grinders

Double Premier Wonder Grinders

Happy Thanksgiving, readers! We’re feeling thankful for the chocolate community, our loyal fans, and an awesome set up for delicious & sustainable chocolate-making!

Advice from Experts

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with two true chocolate experts. The first was Chloe Doutre-Roussel, author of The Chocolate Connoisseur: For Everyone With a Passion for Chocolate. We sat at Dandelion in San Francisco, where she was doing a book signing on her way up to the Northwest Chocolate Festival last weekend.

I felt honored to spend some time talking to Chloe about her vast experience with chocolate. I sat down with a Mission hot chocolate from Dandelion and when the chocolate-making staff at Dandelion joined us, I felt totally surrounded by experts. I had the opportunity to show them my bean to bar activities at home, and we discussed roasting and winnowing issues.

Landen and Chloe Doutre-Roussel

The second expert was Tad Van Leer. I’ll go into detail about my conversation with Mr. Van Leer – I learned a lot! Mr. Van Leer grew up and worked in his family’s chocolate manufacturing company, Van Leer Chocolate, until selling to Barry Callebaut in 1999, and more recently worked as General Manager of J. Emanuel Chocolatier, in Chester, NJ. His Van Leer chocolate was named the top chocolate in the world in a blind taste test at Chez Panisse in 1995 by Cook’s Illustrated also our cocoa powder was the top choice by Cook’s in 1999, and was the chocolate provider for the White House from Carter to Clinton’s presidency.

I also happened to go to high school with Mr. Van Leer’s daughter, Liz. So, it was an honor to be able to reconnect and discuss his background and recommendations in the world of chocolate. And some of what we discussed melded well with some of the lessons I’ve previously learned and other parts were entirely new and different! There is a wide range of advice out there as far as how to make chocolate, and we’re open to learning it all!

Let’s go through the chocolate-making process and I’ll highlight the new and different bits from my conversation with Mr. Van Leer.

Beans

Mr. Van Leer recommends getting cocoa beans from Ghana. He loves the Accra beans; they have “the cleanest flavor” and ferment better than anywhere else. Ghana beans also have the best yield, have more cocoa butter, and have the truest “chocolate flavor”. They are also the beans that went into the chocolate that won Van Leer Chocolate all its awards. Previously we had heard that most of the best bean genetics (Criollo) are in Latin America. Now we’re looking forward to expanding our bean sourcing horizon! He suggests that everyone develop their own taste rather than taking the advice of others.

Winnowing

Using screens to filter the nibs and husks could improve the speed and quality of the winnowing process. Using screens after cracking allows the nibs to go through the screen while keeping the shell above. One can then easily “blow” the shells away. Using a series of smaller screens mimics a true winnower, and will give you the cleanest nibs.

Roasting

Rather than our intensive kill step at 400 degrees, then dropping to 250 degrees, Mr. Van Leer recommends a completely new way of roasting (two step process): one to pop the shells, and again after winnowing and cracking the beans, never taking the temperature above 212 F. This allows for a more even roast with more of a consistent sized nib. Cocoa beans are of varied size- roasting them as whole beans over roasts small beans and under roasts larger ones. He suggests roasting with steam in a drum, something we haven’t heard before and are curious to try. Some of the roasting devices used by other bean-to-bar makers look like engineering feats out of Star Wars, particularly Art Pollard’s creation at Amano Artisan Chocolate. I encourage anyone interested in this to check out the documentary, Bean to Bar, which can be viewed on IndieFlix. If you roast in an oven ensure that the nibs are even on the pan. Coffee drum roasters also work well.

Refining

Mr. Van Leer’s refining recommendations were the most different from our previous advice. He suggests using a mill only to make the chocolate liquor. From there, the best refiner for uniform particle size is the three roll refiner. We’ve seen these before – Ritual Chocolate uses one, and goes into more detail on it here. Mr. Van Leer recommends a particle size of less than 25 microns, and encourages us to refine sugar to small particle size as well! He suggests refining the chocolate liquor and the sugar together. This makes for more uniform mass and also improves the conching flavor. Using a three roll refiner allows more fat release from the bean which makes the mass flow better, reducing the viscosity.

Conching

Another idea is to remove the chocolate from the Premier Wonder Grinder for further conching in a Kitchen Aid mixer, placed on a heating pad at about 145 F for 12 hours. At the moment, we’re conching directly in the grinder, so this could provide an alternative method! We learned that “cheap” chocolate is conched in a grinder- you usually get a less consistent flavor and the particle sizes are not uniform. He suggests tasting a cheap Easter Bunny from CVS or Walmart as an example.

Tempering

Tempering seems to be a point of agreement (besides the exact temperatures) among chocolate-makers. Mr. Van Leer recommends starting the chocolate liquor at 105, then cooling rapidly to 85 degrees, then heating it back to 90-92 F. He suggests a microwave at power level 3 (for about a pound of chocolate) and stirring often. His recommended test is not paper or a knife, but rather to pour it into a small flat mold and see if it shrinks with no discoloration. If that works, then the chocolate has been tempered appropriately.

Molds

Finally, Mr. Van Leer suggests using polycarbonate molds, found online at many sites including TomricMicelli, and Chef Rubber among others. At the moment, we’re using some polypropelene and some silicone molds – neither are amazing, so we’re definitely open to alternatives.

This was quite an educational conversation and we’re excited to stay in touch as we build out our recipes and process further! Let us know if there are additional chocolate experts you’d like to hear from, and we’ll try to get in touch to share their knowledge as well!

Madagascar batch

This week we made chocolate again and this time, it was delicious, fun, and scientifically documented. Who am I kidding – that’s always what our chocolate-making process looks like!

(Side note – we wish we could be in two places at once, but we will not be able to attend the Northwest Chocolate Festival this weekend. Instead, we’ll be celebrating our wedding anniversary and attending a good friend’s wedding in Kansas City. For all you chocolate-makers out there, let us know how it goes, and we’ll see you there next year!)

We started this batch on Friday the 26th with the roast. Using the Madagascar 2012 harvest that our friends, David and Leslie at Arete generously donated to our “research and development” fund, we put 932 grams of beans on our two new trays into the oven.

roasting Madagascar beans

We roasted them for 5 minutes at 400, then 15 minutes at 250, then finally 10 minutes with the oven off. Then we removed them from the oven and placed them to quickly cool on our new homemade (!) quartz table. (Richard re-designed our entire apartment to include a chocolate factory in our former dining room a couple weeks ago while I was away at a wedding, including building our new tempering table from a beautiful chunk of quartz and some Ikea table legs – wow!)

quartz tempering table

On Monday night, we had our next chance to work on chocolate. It was time to test the winnower that Richard built out of our vacuum cleaner, a bucket, some serious tubes, duct tape, and the champion juicer. Check it out! This is mock 1 and we definitely have some ways to go on improving this, but I’m super impressed with the speed and ease of winnowing with this! Our first batch had a 65% yield of 607 grams, which we intend to improve with some adjustments to the engineering.

roaster and new winnower

We sent the nibs through our trusty Nutribullet to make them into a powder, then put the grinder, rollers, and resulting cocoa powder in the oven to heat. We set the oven to 200 F then turned it off before putting the items in. We’ve learned that the refining process is a lot smoother (and less noisy) if we heat our tools and ingredients first!

I then spooned in the cocoa powder slowly over 45 minutes, using a heat gun to warm the powder and the grinder as the cocoa mass began to liquify. By 10:35pm, all the powder was in the wonder grinder and we were off to bed!

The next morning at 8am, the liquid looked beautiful (and tasted like chocolatey mud)! Richard added 236 grams of sugar, which he had previously ground in a coffee grinder, making 72% chocolate.

Tuesday night, we finished it off with an hour and a half of conching with the spring-loaded grinder unlatched, so the wheels turned freely in the cocoa liquor without the pressure of refining as well. At 9pm, we turned off the wonder grinder and started tempering! We tried some new tempering scrapers and abandoned them halfway through for our trusty Home Depot plastic paint scrapers. Sometimes fancier doesn’t equate to more functional. That said, the quartz table worked perfectly!

tempering table

To temper, we raised the temperature to 112 in the microwave, then poured the liquid out onto the table. We agitated it and spread it around, reducing the temperature to 81 F with very few chunks. In previous batches, when we hit the low 80s, the chocolate tends to chunk off, which makes it difficult to later reintegrate as a liquid. This time, we encountered much less of that for some reason.

We tried a knife test to check the temper, which was inconclusive. Maybe we don’t wait long enough to see if it hardens with a shiny, hard coat. Maybe we eat it off the end of the knife too quickly. We’ll never know!

We decided to go for it – we poured the chocolate into our molds and for the first time, it oozed into them easily without clumping at all. We tried vibrating the molds by hand, to ease the chocolate into every nook and cranny, and in the process were able to successfully remove bubbles as well!

Madagascar bars

Overall, I’m pretty pumped about this batch. We simplified some of the steps and were more successful at most of them as well. Here’s what the final products look like – much less bloom than previously, beautifully shiny (especially that big one on the right), and delicious. We still have lots to learn, but we’re definitely improving!

Madagascar chocolate