Thursday December 16, 2004

Some time ago, Frederick of Dagoba suggested I add some stainless steel balls to my ice cream maker "conch" in an effort to refine the chocolate a little. Well, that did not work really great. Some, but not a lot. It did get me thinking, and looking and wondering what I was actually trying to do and why it was not working. I realized I needed to get the whole thing rotating on it's side, but to do that, the container would have to be sealed like a jar.
It turns out, what I was trying to "invent" was a ball mill or jar mill. Well, there are no inexpensive ball mills out there that fit our needs, but what there is out there are rock tumblers. I pick one up, put a plastic "jar" in it (the one it comes with is NOT food grade plastic), added a handful of 1/4" SS balls and some granulated sugar and started it tumbling. A day later, I have a wonderful powdered sugar ready to add to my cocoa liqueur.

A little more research into ball mills lead me to a number of pyrotechnic sites, as they grind their own chemicals. Reference seem to indicate ball mills can easily reduce particles to 10-20 micron, which is exactly where refined chocolate needs to be. I even found a few references that chocolate can be refined this way. Go figure.

The next test will be to add the sugar to some cocoa liqueur and see how the resulting chocolate is. I will also be trying to grind the cocoa nibs directly this way (maybe no need of the Champion?) and various combinations of nibs and sugar, pre-ground and not.

I will keep you all up to date with this "new" refining technique.

08:15 am : Posted to: General : Please leave a comment (4)

Posted Comments for this update:

[Fri 12:32] irene ~
Hi John

I've been using the tumbler for a few test runs now and using the conched sugar makes a reasonably big difference to the grittiness of the end chocolate. The tumbler does get reasonably warm with the friction, but not enough to warm up the whole chocolate mix - so it's only realy useful with the sugar at this stage. My next step with this method would be to try it out on a heating pad to see if it's possible to heat the chocolate liquor with the sugar mix and conche the whole thing.

[Thu 13:02] muD ~
Once you mentioned the ball bearings a guy at work suggested a rock tumbler so I already have one. Will be using a metal drum instead of the stinky rubber one it came with. What I need are the ss ball bearings. Found a company in India that makes them for the polishing industry, but where do you obtain in the US in small quantities and for less then the $18.50 I found at a rock polishing site?

As for the heating issue I'll be experimenting with a heat lamp but using a wall of reflective insulation between the motor housing and drum so I don't heat up the motor any more. Excessive heat is not good for electric motors.

[Tue 16:45] Alchemist John ~ site
Just so we have some consistant terms, this drum and ss shot is a refiner, not a conch. This setup will give some conching action, but not being exposed to the air, it is not really conching. Just refining. Conching requires air to oxidize and release volatiles.

I have a source for the ss shot at about $12.00/lb and less in bulk. I don't have the link right now, but will put it in the conching/refining area. Or just email me.

I am using a glass jar right now instead of the stinky black plastic. The jar is inside the plastic. Padding this way. It is showing no wear so far. Stainless steel will be a lot better.

It is good to know it will not melt the chocolate. I will try a dry refining and see how that goes. Particle size is particle size. I don't see where it has to be in a liquid form to refine. We will see.

[Thu 15:35] Charle email ~ site
General, Thank you we are in need of GOOD chocolate here in Ukiah CA..Mendo Co. I am a personal Chef, for Alzheimer Care givers... end of life Illnesses.... and will be ordering soon....

Thursday December 9, 2004

I have been wrestling with whether Chocolate Alchemy should start offering Cocoa nibs for sale. I am of two minds about it. I really want to convince you that it is not difficult to make your own chocolate, and that roasting is not that bad and come one, just jump in and do it. But on the other hand, I don't want to roast up pound after pound of beans just so you don't have to. It isn't that it is difficult and I really want you to have the control of your chocolate. But it is time consuming to set up the grill, in the pacific NW (north wet :-), and supply in a timely fashion, roasted nibs. It is just a different order of magnitude to roast enough for a batch of chocolate and roast enough to supply a business.

So, I have come to a compromise. We are now going to offer unroasted cocoa nibs at no additional charge. This really goes to the heart of making chocolate at home approachable, without sacrificing service (I just could not keep up with demand), quality (fresh roasted is just so much better), and price (the cost of roasting is just not profitable, in the time sense). In addition, I think unroasted nibs may end up being a lot more easy to roast than the whole beans. I am going to start testing on this, but you should be able to roast them very effectively on top of the stove in a wok or large skillet, or with a heat gun in a bowl. Either way you should be able to see so much better how the roast is progressing and have immediate visual and aroma feedback about your roast.

So, if you want fresh unroasted cocoa nibs instead of whole beans, just say so in your order. There should be almost no extra delay as cracking and winnowing with the Cocoa Mill is very easy, and that I can keep up on. What you will get approximately 20-25% less in nibs than in whole beans. You wouldn't be losing any nibs, just husk. But you wouldn't be getting an extra "nibbing" fee. So for 2 lbs of cocoa beans, you will get about 1.5 lbs of cocoa nibs, more or less. There is going to be a little husk here a there. I am not perfect and they don't have to be either. Once you have roasted, the remaining husk will be much lighter and if you just use a blow drier like I outline the in Cracking and winnowing section, that bit of husk will blow right away. The worst case is that the Champion Juicer's screen will catch it just fine.

Like I said, these will still need to be roasted, but I know it can be done on the stove top. I have roasted coffee that way, and this should be even easier . Sweet Maria's has a great mailing list for coffee roasting. Wok roasting and heat gun roasting are discussed there quite a bit (I am a member there) and any technique you use for roasting coffee can be applied to cocoa roasting. The temperatures are a bit lower for cocoa, but the techniques are the same. If you want to give one of these methods a try I would recommend practicing with something else first. From my own roasting experience, I would use sunflower seeds. They are about the same size as cocoa nibs and you can see very well if you are burning or scorching them. Once you can roast/toast them gently and evenly you are ready for cocoa nibs. In general, get a good heavy wok or skillet and put it on medium heat. Add your sunflower seeds (or nibs) and gently stir them. Don't rush them and get the heat to high, you will just burn them. Adjust your heat a little up or down depending on how they are behaving. I would expect a pound to take 10-15 minutes. The seeds should end up a nice even burnished color. Cocoa nibs should be done when they have darkened a little (but not too much) and smell of baking brownies. If you ruin them, try again. Seeds are a lot cheaper than cocoa nibs. Finally, this is a lot more difficult to explain than to do. Practice with the seeds, ask me questions and finally, just give it a try.

01:52 pm : Posted to: General : Please leave a comment (5)

Posted Comments for this update:

[Wed 17:39] Alexsandra email ~
Thanks for that--you are a star! This site is a dream, thank you and Thank you! My husband always says I must've been an alchemist in a previous life, but I always point out that I still am! I love cocoa and its properties are far reaching and the process of making and using cocoa -or really, an food for that matter- is an alchemy that if done with good intention and good vibes, really can transform situations and people. You are doing wonders, bless you!
[Thu 08:38] Alchemist John ~ site
You are quite welcome. It does my heart good to hear your excitment. It lets me know I am not alone in all of this. Thank you!
[Mon 03:47] ngbn ~
you need to get better information and make it easier for people to understand
[Sun 20:28] MICHELLE email ~
I JUST FOUND YOUR SITE AND IN JUST 5 MINUTES YOU HAVE ANSWERED ALL MY CURRENTQUESTIONS AND TAUGHT ME ALOT ON THE SUBJECT. AND SPARKED ANOTHER INTEREST OF MINE AND ADDED FUEL TO A FEW MORE.. THANK YOU FOR PROVIDING INFORMATION SUCH AS THIS TO US AND MAKING IT EASY TO UNDERSTAND.(oops sry for caps) anyways thanks and ill be checking back.. my husband is frowning because now i have another interest to occupy all my time and money towards.. (fiber arts, quilting, spinning, crochet. cullinary arts and so many other thing i have mastered. it is nice to see that people like be do in fact have other things (besides wasting lives at work) to do like play with chocolate.:)
[Tue 13:58] alicia email ~
Hello, firstly I want to say how much I love your site! You provide so much chocolate making information in such honest and informative way. I was wondering if the whole beans can be roasted in a wok and/or skillet or just the cocoa nibs? (I am attempting to create drinking chocolate like the kind served in Oaxaca Mexico, and trying to keep it authentic. )

Cocoa Beans
Cracking & Winnowing
Conching & Refining
Tempering & Molding

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