Friday February 27, 2004

I have been addressing a number of these questions lately, so I thought it might beneficial to start answer them here, and soon make them a permanent link. If you have more questions, please let me know and I will try to address them.

Q: How do I purchase cocoa beans? I don't see how to place an order.

A: From the main page go to Cocoa Beans. Prices and ordering informtion is there. In general, decide what and how much you want. E-mail me at alchemist at pcinw dot com with your shipping address and tentative order. I will email you back with an exact shipping and handling amount. You can then e-mail me back officially with your order.

Q: Why are you beans so much less expensive than what other companies are selling cocoa beans for?

A: I can not speak for others. All I can tell you is that I beleive we all purchase them for approximately the same price. I have marked mine up to a level that I find fair, appropriate and sustainable.

Q: I have heard that cocoa beans have health benefit and that I can eat them raw.

A: I too have seen these studies and information about eating them raw. I also have seen documentation that raw cocoa beans (even organic) can be contaminated with molds, bactieria and other organisms. I would really recommended roasting to help minimize and potential problems. If you do decide to eat them raw, I would suggest pealing them of their husk, as this is where the contamination can reside. I do not suggest, or support eating raw cocoa beans. Please do your research and make an informed decision.

Q: Why don't you sell Criollo?

A: So far I have not found a reliable source that I like. I presently have three leads that I hope will work.

Q: Do I have to use a Champion Juicer to make chocolate? I have seen that other people say I can use a mortar and pestle, blender or coffee grinder.

A: It all depends what you want your finished chocolate product to be like. I am trying to give you the information needed to make good chocolate, indistingishable from commercial. I don't want you to have to reinvent the wheel. That is why I am here. When you give someone a piece of your homemade chocolate, I want the comment to be "WOW, that's great", not "that's good FOR homemade". Know what I mean? Through MANY tests, I have found that the Champion Juicer is the only readily available product on the market that will give you the very smooth cocoa liquer needed for making chocolate. All of those other pieces of equipment did not give me the product I wanted. If you find another piece of equipment that works, please tell me.

Q: I don't see my question here. How can I get anwsers?

A: Either write me at the above e-mail address, or better yet, leave a question in the comments section on the main page (here). That way other people can see and learn also. The only dumb question is an unasked one!

06:31 am : Posted to: General : Please leave a comment (1)

Posted Comments for this update:

[Tue 13:43] ruzz ~

Tuesday February 24, 2004

I roasted 4 lbs (12 cups) of cocoa tonight. I really need to get my drum roaster finished. I think it will give a much better end product. This batch was done in the oven, distributed between two shallow dishes. I preheated to 425 F and put the beans in. At five minutes I gave them a stir and waited another 5 minutes. They were just starting to smell like chocolate. Ahhh :-) I reduced the oven temperature to 350, stirred at 15, 20 and 25 minutes. The final temperature of the beans was 290. A little higher than the 270 I was shooting for, but definitely not ruined. Very close though. My next batch I want to try holding at 425 for only 8 minutes, then reduce to 325 after 7 minutes, then reduce to my target temp of 265 for the remaining time, whatever that is. If you chocolate acolytes recall my very first roast in my fluid air coffee roaster, you will remember that at 265F it was just aroma nirvana. I have yet to get that again in the oven but keep trying for it. This was quite close.

After the roasting was done, I thoroughly mixed the two pans worth and got them reasonable cooled off. I divided the batch in two, and prepared to work a little chocolate alchemy, turning cocoa beans into cocoa liqueur. I have yet to work out a way to dehusk these things, but decided to try putting them through my Champion Juicer and see what happens. The worst is 2 lbs of ruined mess. Anyway, I started up the juicer with the pulp screen in place, filled the chute and started grinding. Wow, that is a bit tougher than just nibs. Near the end I was going by the handful and pushing a little hard. The whole juicer was heating up a bit and tried to cut out just at the end. I need to take it a little slower next time. If you follow the photos in the grinder section, you can see the progression of the mass. First pass gets it ground with a little fine liqueur out the bottom through the screen. Each subsequent pass I reduce my coarse mass about by half and it starts to dry out. And, lo and behold, what is not grinding and coming out the front is the husk :-). Maybe I won't have to develop a cracker and winnower after all. Taste of course will determine if this actually works as a separator. Guess I will need a cracker after all just for comparison sakes. That's ok. Anyway, after four passes I am at a point of diminishing returns. Everything is quite hot, including the liqueur. Maybe over 180 F. There is a slight burned smell in the air but no burnt flavor. A bit hot I think. I will cool the liqueur down between runs next time.

Final tally for 2 lbs of cocoa is 21 oz cocoa liqueur, 5 oz husk, and 6 oz "lost" in the juicer and general mess. Another reason to keep those batch sizes up as that 6 oz seems to be pretty constant regardless of size, so a one pound batch would be 6 oz lost, 3 oz (rounding) husk and only 7 oz cocoa liqueur. I think the next batch will be 3 pounds just for comparison sake.

04:52 pm : Posted to: General : Please leave a comment (0)

Wednesday February 18, 2004

I received in my order of cocoa butter today. I have not figured out how to make it yet, but maybe one day. That is what I have been waiting on as far as getting may test batches ready for refining and conching. I started doing some figuring and realized I really needed an automated way to calculate ingredient amounts, so I went ahead and built a small excel spreadsheet to do the calculations. I enter how much cocoa I have to work with, and what I want the percentages of cocoa, sugar, cocoa butter and lecithin to be, and it gives me the data I need in lbs, oz and grams of each ingredient. What I realized is that to really do the comparison tests I want I either have to do less than the 1 lb cocoa batches that I wanted or roast and grind up some more cocoa. I only have about 3.5 lbs of the five pounds I started with (husk and general loss, from numerous batches). I had planned on only 3 tests. I have five comparisons I want to do now, ranging from just cocoa and sugar to up to 8 % cocoa butter. I have a feeling I will roast more, but I just don’t know yet. Depends how much time I can find. Yeah, I will roast more. All in the name of Alchemy!

01:51 pm : Posted to: General : Please leave a comment (0)

Monday February 16, 2004

I tried roasting another 4 oz in my air roaster today. It went just about as I expected. My target temperature was 260 F with a time as long as I could do it. It turned out that my roaster is just not set up to do a long low temperature roast. I was able to keep it at 260 F, but only for 6 minutes before it got too tedious turning the heat off and on. It did do what I needed it to do though. It substantiated that 260 is a good roast level for this Forastero bean. The beans had a very nice flavor, and no hint of the burnt flavor as before. The crux is that the interior was not as roasted as I would have liked as the roast time was just too short. This size batch is likewise going to have to go as it is just too small to be practical. I am going to try oven roasting in a few days or so. Probably a pound or two.

I’m on the path…

11:21 am : Posted to: General : Please leave a comment (0)

In honor of Valentine's Day, I was requested to make a chocolate dessert. Having just roasted up four pounds of beans the night before (starting work on a husk vs no husk experiment), I decided to pull out my Champion Juicer and make a quick chocolate sauce for some cherries we picked and preserved this year.

I measured out a small amount of roasted beans, about 10 oz. I sent them through the Juicer, collecting what flowed through the lower juice screen, and returning the husk and other cocoa from the spout back to be ground again. After two more quick passes, I had about cup of cocoa liqueur, and a tablespoon or so of husk that I threw away.

I added an equal portion of "raw" sugar to the cocoa, mixed well and sent it through the Juicer. First lesson. Use powdered sugar, or pre powder it in a blender before you use it to make chocolate. It just did not work well. The particles stayed to large. For tonight it worked out just fine as I was already planning to add a liquid (milk of some type) so I knew this would dissolve the sugar. Indeed it did. After collecting the sweetened cocoa, I mixed this with about an equal portion of milk. Now, remember, I was making a dessert, not eating chocolate. Anyway, as I fully expected, the addition of a liquid to the warm chocolate made it want to seize up. I passed this through the Juicer, and wow, I almost stalled it. I took it very slow and added a little more liquid and passed it through one more time. This time, with the liquid out massing the chocolate, a smooth rich milk chocolate sauce poured forth.

I heated this gently on the stove top, and then poured it over the warmed spiced cherries. Even though the cocoa only made up 20% or so of the mixture, it was a strong deep, smooth chocolate flavor.

So those of you not quite ready for chocolate making, might I suggest just making your own baking and cooking chocolate. The whole endeavor took maybe 20 minutes and I could see it taking even less the next time. If you are one to cook from scratch, as I am, this extra step of grinding the cocoa you need on the spot is not difficult at all and well worth the effort.

07:24 am : Posted to: General : Please leave a comment (0)

Saturday February 14, 2004

Rant mode on.

Cocoa beans come in three primary varieties, Criollo, Trinatario, and Forastero. Presently the bulk workhorse chocolate that is grown and made into chocolate is Forastero. It is hearty and disease resistant. It is what is sold on the commodities market and what everyone has eaten and learned to love as chocolate. That goes from Hershey (thanks, no) to some rather good micro chocolate makers. One that comes to mind is Green and Black. I have commented elsewhere already that Forastero is akin in some ways to Robusta coffee beans, which has a rather bad (and disserved) reputation. Does that mean Forastero is that bad? No, definitely not. It can make some damn fine chocolate. You (or in this case, I) just have to search out a good source of Forastero. The one I presently have I choose from a number of options. It was the best of those options. It has a good hearty chocolate flavor, a very low mold and breakage count, was well fermented and was well stored.

Now, Criollo has a reputation of being the best. People seem to almost search it out like the Holy Grail of Chocolate, for no other reason than that others say it is the "best". I have read all about it, tasted chocolate made from it a number of times and, well I have to say I was less than overwhelmed. Mind you, it was good chocolate. Quite delicate, flowery and with a nice chocolate flavor. From my taste, that was the problem. I like my chocolate strong, hearty and heady. The chocolate I mentioned about (Green and Black) is a mixture of all three types of chocolate and is a very nice balanced bar. Criollo (and often Trinatario) is usually referred to as a flavor bean. I am starting to think that this means it can add flavor and depth to your chocolate creation. Not that it is the only bean with flavor. There's a difference there. A big difference.

Don't get hung up on a name or idea. Try them all, mix them together, experiment, and make your own choices and decisions.

On a final note about cocoa bean prices. In general, you will find Criollo will be the most expensive. It is not terribly hearty. It is grown in relatively small quantities and demand is high (it is a nice flavor bean after all). Trinatario is a hybrid between Criollo and Forastero, and therefore has heartiness characteristic of both and prices according. Forastero is the easiest to grow and has the largest market, so naturally has the lowest price. Just try to remember this when you note the prices of various cocoa beans you may find around. The price heavily reflects how much is grown and how much is sold. When I get Criollo and Trinatario, they will be more expensive than my Forastero. How much? I don't know yet and will not until I find a solid source. I expect to pay more and will have to sell for more to reflect that.

Am I Forastero fan? Yes. Is some of it bad? Yes, terrible. Is some of it good? Yes, quite good. It just takes looking harder for good Forastero than for good Criollo. Currently there are two other businesses selling cocoa beans on the internet. Stone & Giacomotto list both Criollo and Trinatario beans in stock. You can read about their experiences working with those beans. The other is out of stock at the moment. I'll report on my own as I get some in stock and experiment.

Try them all, mix them, enjoy them!

Rant mode off.

07:28 pm : Posted to: General : Please leave a comment (2)

Posted Comments for this update:

[Mon 21:21] frelkins email ~ site
fascinating stuff here, big guy.

but must with all due respect disagree with you at least on the robusta. i've cupped that stuff with the pros. while there is the rare robusta worth adding to a specialty espresso, the vast majority of robusta is horrible, horrible, horrible.

it's not a question of "some is bad, some is good," as may be with forastero. with robusta it's definitely the overwhelming majority is swill.

happy chocolate!

[Tue 10:36] Alchemist John ~ site
Actually, I have to agree with you about robusta. 99%+ is horid. And that was just my point. I had linked robusta and forastero, and that was really an insult to forastero. I probably should just get rid of the comparison. It just does more harm than good.

Happy chocolate - I like that

Thursday February 12, 2004

A while ago I rediscovered a great site for chocolate lovers. Assuming for one reason or another, that is why you are here, please check it out. Chocophile is a great place to gather information on virtually everything chocolate, especially high end, well made chocolates. There is really too much quality information there to even try and describe its width and depth. Do yourself a favor and spend a little time there. If you are going to be making your own, this gives you a great place to start gathering names and types of chocolate that you can taste and look to as benchmarks. It has good reviews and up to date information. Also, there is a nice forum there. One topic, surprise, is making chocolate at home. I don't have a forum here yet (except in the comments section, which hardly anyone is using) so this is a great place to talk chocolate making with other enthusiasts or just find out what is good out there.

May your chocolate always be fresh and good.

05:34 pm : Posted to: General : Please leave a comment (0)

Tuesday February 10, 2004

After the long search, numerous dead ends and delays, I finally have a bag of Forastero cocoa beans from Ghana. I say a bag, but in actuality, it is two 65 lb jute sacks of chocolate alchemy waiting to happen. Without even roasting, they smell quite good. Not at all boring like green coffee beans. These are a mottled brown, and almost look as if they have already been roasted, but it is just the fermentation and drying that gives them that color.

"Bag" of unroasted Cocoa Beans

I went ahead and measured out 4 oz and dropped them into my coffee roaster. My roaster is a fluid bed roaster and these beans are much bigger and flatter than coffee. They really did not circulate very well and I had to continuously rock the roaster to keep from scorching the beans. The temperature climbed and I started smelling chocolate. 210 degrees and climbing. The smell is just growing and becoming richer and richer. 250 F. It is almost intoxicating. 260F. Seems to be a real sweet spot for these beans. Slowing the aroma starts to back off and I killed the heat and cooled the beans at 280F. They taste a little toasty and maybe a little too roasted, but there is definite chocolate flavor there. It is not even sweetened but these are great. It is NOTHING like unsweetened bakers chocolate. This is crunchy, nutty (a little burnt) and a touch chocolatey. I think the next time I want to take it to 260 and hold it there.

A definite first step in my path of learning Chocolate Alchemy.

07:20 am : Posted to: General : Please leave a comment (0)

Well, I guess that says it. I thought the link cocoa beans to the right would be obvious, but I have had a few people miss it. Head over there for some general discussion about cocoa beans in general and specifically what I have for sale, including prices, discounts and quantity recommendations. Right now, all I can accept is checks, money orders and Paypal, although with Paypal you can use a credit card. I don't have an automated shopping cart and check out (yet, it is in the works), so I am just handling that through e-mail, but it seems to be working out fine for the time being.

Aside from that, I am going to start posting some of my older notebook logs, probably interspersed with some of the current news of my Chocolate Alchemy. It will give you an idea of some of the steps I have taken and hopefully save you some needless R&D and failures. If you come up with something that you think might work for processing cocoa beans, please comment about it. Maybe I tried it and failed to write about it or have not even thought about it. If you think it up, and I can try it, I will. In regards to the logs, I will label them past and present, along with their dates. Watch the dates. I will do my best to keep the past in chronological order though. On that note, here is my log entry from when I first received my present supply of cocoa beans.

07:18 am : Posted to: General : Please leave a comment (0)

Cocoa Beans
Cracking & Winnowing
Conching & Refining
Tempering & Molding

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