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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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

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!

Thanksgiving Chocolate Tasting

Last weekend, we were thankful to have Richard’s parents in town to celebrate Thanksgiving. For the occasion, we hosted a true blind chocolate tasting adventure. We pulled out Eagranie Yuh’s The Chocolate Tasting Kit (Tasting Kits), Richard conducted a dramatic reading of the instructions, and we handed out pads of paper and pens. I noted the order of the chocolates and cut the bars into small pieces, then tried to forget which was which as I passed them around. The other 5 tasters were completely blind.

We tasted 13 chocolate bars (avoiding any flavored chocolate) and surprisingly, there were no truly clear winners. We are amazed by the variation of tastes and preferences among us!

Chocolate tasting

Dan & Sarah tasting chocolate

A few tidbits of learning we are taking away from this experience:

  • Thirteen is probably too many chocolates to provide detailed tasting notes on each all at once. Eight would have been a better number
  • Chocolate smell fatigue happened around bar 6 or 7, when all the bars started to smell very similar.
  • We are not very good at describing the appearance of small pieces of bars – they were either dark or light brown and either shiny or not shiny. We could not come up with many more descriptors.
  • The sheer difference between the taste of chocolate when it first enters our mouth and when it melts away is astonishing. We noted some that shifted from fruity to astringent or from buttery caramel to toasty.
  • Each of us used a slightly different overall ranking system. Some ranked 1-13; others high, medium and low; others with an A-D scale, and others with words like “meh,” “yum,” and “no.” In the future, we may encourage a single scale for the overall ranking, in order to evaluate them at the end!
  • We all had very different opinions, so the notes below are an amalgamation, not an average. We also tended to get harsher over time – perhaps because of our dislike of higher percentages or perhaps because of our gained knowledge as we moved through the tasting.
  • None of us are professional chocolate tasters. We all really enjoyed the experience and took it seriously while having fun (it’s basically required to have fun when tasting chocolate)! Don’t take our opinions as facts – rather as impressions of the chocolate we tasted under the circumstances in which we tasted it.

And now, the bars we tasted and what we thought… enjoy, pick up some bars, and let us know what you think, too!

Christopher Elbow 63% with roasted cocoa nibs

  1. Where did we get it: we picked this one up on a trip to Kansas City where we visited the shop and tried some very tasty chocolates
  2. How did it rank: 2 high, 1 medium, 3 low
  3. Some notes: bland taste, earthy and nutty, crunchy bits

Ikea’s dark chocolate bar

  1. Where did we get it: we bought this for comparison recently to remind us of commercial chocolate flavor and texture
  2. How did it rank: 2 high, 3 medium, 1 low
  3. Some notes: sweet, almost milky, hot chocolate, coffee finish

Lillie Belle’s 65% Whiskey in the Bar

  1. Where did we get it: we picked this up at Cacao in Portland a couple months ago
  2. How did it rank: 1 high, 3 medium, 2 low
  3. Some notes: faint flavor, caramel, dull, dry/bitter finish

Cocanu’s 68% Abeja: dark chocolate, baked milk, and bee pollen

  1. Where did we get it: visiting Sebastian in Portland a couple months ago
  2. How did it rank: 3 high, 2 medium, 1 low
  3. Some notes: slightly grainy, melted quickly, creamy molasses

Root Chocolate 70% Madagascar

  1. Where did we get it: we made it!
  2. How did it rank: 4 high, 1 medium, 1 low
  3. Some notes: fruit and citrus, nutty smell, raisin, dry but lingering flavor, complex

Dave Huston’ 70% Upala, Costa Rica

  1. Where did we get it: visiting with our buddy a few weeks ago
  2. How did it rank: 1 high, 1 medium, 4 low
  3. Some notes: smells fruity, bold flavors, burnt ending, pirate, smoky

Root Chocolate 70% Siriana, Costa Rica

  1. Where did we get it: we made it!
  2. How did it rank: 1 high, 1 medium, 4 low
  3. Some notes: sharp, tart, very dry and astringent, roasted, cocoa powdery

Root Chocolate 70% Oko Caribe, Dominican Republic

  1. Where did we get it: this was our first batch in the Premier Wonder Grinder!
  2. How did it rank: 3 high, 3 medium, 0 low
  3. Some notes: lots of flavors, milky, dairy, roasted marshmallow, earthy

Taza’s 70% Cacao Puro

  1. Where did we get it: we bought a mixed flavor pack at Cacao in Portland a couple months ago, I’ve been wanting to try Taza for a long time, since one of my favorite memories with chocolate was eating Mayordomo (a very similar style) in Oaxaca, Mexico
  2. How did it rank: 2 high, 2 medium, 2 low
  3. Some notes: granules – polarizing, sweet buttery flavor

Castronovo 72% Criollo+Trinitario, Sierra Nevada, Colombia

  1. Where did we get it: I bought it at The Chocolate Garage during my first visit many months ago. We intend to go back and taste more chocolate there soon!
  2. How did it rank: 3 high, 2 medium, 1 low
  3. Some notes: spices, buttery, toasted cream, black tea, not exciting, caramel

Root Chocolate 75% Venezuela

  1. Where did we get it: we roasted the beans with John Nanci in Oregon, then we made it!
  2. How did it rank: 2 high, 3 medium, 1 low
  3. Some notes: generic, almond, plastic, intense deep chocolate

Root Chocolate 85% Madagascar

  1. Where did we get it: we made it!
  2. How did it rank: 1 high, 3 medium, 2 low
  3. Some notes: hard, tangy, acidic, chemical burnt, slightly grainy

Taza’s 85% Super Dark

  1. Where did we get it: we bought a mixed flavor pack at Cacao in Portland a couple months ago, I’ve been wanting to try Taza for a long time, since one of my favorite memories with chocolate was eating Mayordomo (a very similar style) in Oaxaca, Mexico
  2. How did it rank: 0 high, 1 medium, 4 low
  3. Some notes: coffee, spicy, bitter finish, smell like dairy

Clay Gordon on living the chocolate life

“You never know when a small decision will have a profound impact on your life.” – Clay Gordon, the world’s first international chocolate critic

Clay is the author of Discover Chocolate: The Ultimate Guide to Buying, Tasting, and Enjoying Fine Chocolate, and founder of TheChocolateLife.com, the largest community focusing solely on chocolate in the world. The Chocolate Life is probably the most valuable resource I’ve used as I make my foray into the world of chocolate making.

Clay’s philosophy is to do what you love, keep it light, and support your family while doing it. With this guiding principle, he went from a corporate lifestyle to becoming a full-time chocolate consultant, critic, and machinery designer and salesperson. And he made this change not in the past decade when Tim Ferris of The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich (Expanded and Updated) and other lifestyle proponents have popularized this notion, but back in the 90s. Clay’s chocolate expertise goes back more than 20 years. It is clear, when discussing the ins and outs of chocolate, that he knows what he’s talking about.

Yes, I had the opportunity to chat with Clay about his life, chocolate, and advice. In this two-part series, I’ll start by expounding on his entry into the world of chocolate and the community he’s organized and inspired. Then in the next segment, I’ll dive into his advice both for making chocolate at home and for starting a chocolate business.

The quote at the start of this post is Clay’s introduction for how he got into the chocolate business. Concluding a business trip to Cannes in 1994, Clay found himself with a few hours to spare and some extra francs to spend before heading to the airport. As he wandered around, he found a small gourmet chocolate shop and bought 6 Bonnat chocolate bars. Upon returning home, he held a dinner party and pulled these out for dessert. Everyone had a different favorite for a different reason, similar to our recent tasting party. Little did he know, this was the first of many single-origin chocolate tasting parties he’d hold in the next few years.

In a flash of marketing genius (which was his area of expertise), he realized that while there were professional critics for almost everything, there were none for chocolate. He delved into research at local libraries, took on an apprenticeship with Michel Cluizel, found a mentor in Gary Guittard, and finally started chocophile.com in 2001, which was a professional review board for fine flavor chocolate. Having found chocolate in a function of entrepreneurship rather than initial passion for chocolate, Clay quickly realized his luck.

Chocolate is an amazing career! The industry is full of happy people who know how to have fun, and his place in it all allows him the lifestyle he was hoping for. He told me, “If you’re working with chocolate and not having fun, you’re doing it wrong. There are very few real jerks in the chocolate business, which I think is fabulous.” He believes that the true health value of chocolate is when people eat it, they sit down, relax, and destress for a few minutes. Plus, this career is “something I want to do until I’m not able to get out of bed. I need to be able to support myself and my family and I want to have fun doing it.”

This leads us to the next chapter in Clay’s contributions to the chocolate industry: TheChocolateLife.com. Its original purpose was to get enough people together, so between all of them, they would know all the answers that people want to know about chocolate.

From my own experience, TheChocolateLife.com has been an incredible resource. I’ve posted questions and received answers from experts all over the world. I’ve read the details of other people starting to work on their own “home brew” chocolate and of people making moves on starting their own company. I’ve even been contacted by farmers and organizers in cacao-producing countries to discuss building a relationship longer term. I’ve connected with bean-to-bar producers here in the Bay Area and even toured a factory. And my overwhelming response is to agree with Clay – there are very few jerks in the chocolate industry. It’s an incredibly welcoming environment where people share “open source” ideas and suggestions. I can’t recommend it highly enough for those serious about chocolate!

The title of TheChocolateLife.com was inspired by Ricky Martin’s Living La Vida Loca, which evolved into La Vida Cocoa, which translates to the chocolate life. The philosophy behind the chocolate life is that the ability to “connect to people with passion will inspire others to connect with theirs, regardless of whether that passion is chocolate or not.” His new goal is to help other people succeed. He gave an example of international pastry contests, where the chefs are some of the best in the world, but they are not there just to win. Instead, most of them get to a point in their life when they’re professionally accomplished. And the next step of what they’re doing, the way they ensure their legacy, is about how many people they’ve mentored.

Clay is taking on the international pastry chef mentorship equivalent in the chocolate industry. He provides consulting services to chocolate start ups, manages TheChocolateLife.com where chocolate-makers and chocolate-loves share their passion, and serves as a mentor and motivational speaker. He’s living the chocolate life!

Check out our next post on Clay’s advice for making chocolate at home and starting your own chocolate business.

Around the world

We quickly realized that not all cocoa beans are created equal. A bad batch of beans from a small market in San Francisco set us straight. Our chocolate turned out bitter and left our mouth feeling dry. We realized that, like coffee, the origin of the beans plays an important part in the flavor of the chocolate. We’ve since learned much more about the importance of the origin, growing environment, and genetics of the cocoa beans.

In the meantime, we decided to try sourcing guaranteed high quality beans. We did some research and discovered Chocolate Alchemy, an incredibly informative website run by John Nanci in Oregon, who is an expert on all things homemade chocolate. His posts and suggestions have taught us a lot about making chocolate at home! We discovered that he also sells cocoa beans. I ordered a sampler pack, requesting beans from Latin America, and was pleased to received four bags of beans within about a week!

  • Dominican Republic, Conacado Co-op Organic, Fair Trade, 2013
  • Nicaragua, Trinitario, Certified Organic, 2012
  • Peru, Criollo, Fair Trade, Organic Certified
  • Bolivia, Criollo/Trinitario, Certified Organic, 2012-2013

These varieties revolutionized our chocolate-making process! We made four different batches as well as one of the beans from San Francisco and invited friends over to taste them. There was no grant winner of the night. In fact, the Peruvian chocolate tied with the one we made from the San Francisco market for first place, with Bolivia and Nicaragua close behind. Here are their thoughts:

  • Dominican Republic
    • very fruity
    • a little like a deep halavah
    • too fruity for me
    • tastes like Nestle Tollhouse
    • super fruity, not my favorite
    • cherries
    • thicker
    • Chocolate Alchemist description: A soft earthy flavor with full roasting. Malt, biscuit and marmalade aromas
  • Nicaragua
    • mellow, a little bitter
    • bitter taste, sets on late. great!
    • love
    • ok but not great
    • third favorite
    • deep, buttery, rich, decadent
    • I like this!
    • Chocolate Alchemist description: Nuts, medjool dates, molasses and interesting tobacco
  • Peru
    • fudgy, sandy, a little gross
    • Awesome! Great deep flavor, not too bitter
    • second favorite
    • love the taste, sandy texture
    • tastes the most basic with a little zestiness
    • good start, bad finish
    • Chocolate Alchemist description: A light balanced cocoa bean with notes of soft tropical fruits and nuts… don’t over roast
  • Bolivia
    • a little soapy, coconut butter?
    • lighter and sweeter
    • didn’t love the base flavor
    • didn’t like
    • tasted more like butter than chocolate
    • smoky
    • paint
    • Chocolate Alchemist description: Toffee, blueberry and butter. What chocolate should taste like.
  • San Francisco market
    • getting a bit of coffee flavor. reminds me of a brownie
    • too bitter
    • favorite
    • quite good but bitter
    • straight forward, has the least deviance from traditional dark chocolate
    • coffee

I’ll go more into the importance of sourcing beans directly from farmers in another post, but I’m very glad we were able to taste this variety of chocolates from such different sources. I’m also grateful we stumbled across the Chocolate Alchemist and his expertise on the subject!