Friday August 19, 2005

Now that I can actually take cocoa beans all the way to chocolate (with the discovery of the Santha Wet Grinder), I have started revisiting each stage and step in the chocolate making process. Sort of re-evaluating what I have learned, believed and talked about. In doing that I have started to examine how I roast cocoa beans. I have always noticed that the temperatures and times I suggest are hotter and often longer than those given by the "professionals" and I have wondered about that. One "range" that has consistently stuck in my head is from Frederick of Dagoba Chocolate. He roasts his beans 15-20 minutes at 220-250 F. When I do that, I have virtually raw beans. I have come to believe it is a matter of roaster heat capacity. When he (they) roast, the beans are agitated, they come up to temperature very quickly and hence, start roasting right away. When I tried this at home, I put the cocoa beans into a 250 F oven and it is almost 20 minutes before the beans even reach 200 F. No wonder they are under roasted.

To try and emulate some of the delicate roasts I have seen out there, I decided to crack and winnow the cocoa beans before roasting and roast the nibs. The thought was that there would be more surface area, and each piece was smaller, so the whole roast could heat up faster. I cracked and winnowed two pounds of Carenero Superior, put them THINLY on a tray, and set them to roast at 250 F in my gas oven. Within a few minutes, the smell told me they were roasting very nicely. In 15 minutes I could tell I was almost done, and I pulled them out at 20 mins. Right on target!

Visually, they had not changed at all, but the aroma was this great dry biscuity cocoa smell and I could tell when I stirred them that they were much dryer (one of your roasting goals) and harder. All in all, a complete success. The cocoa bean nibs were completely roasted, not charred on the outside and raw on the inside (which can happen if you hit them with REALLY hot temperatures) but nice and even.

So, if you are a little intimidated by drum roasting, or some of the fancy whole bean temperature programs make you nervous, or your roasts are just not as chocolatey as you might like, give this a try. Crack and winnow your cocoa beans, spread them thinly on a tray, and roast them in the oven at 250-260 F for 15-20 minutes. You have to go by smell this way, but that is fine - they smell great when done.

I am trying a whole bean roast tonight, 250 F - 30-40 minutes. I will let you know how it comes out. Hopefully they start roasting in 15-20 minutes, and then roast 15-20 minutes. What I really want to see is if the roast is even and if the beans have a nice bright flavor (like the nib roasting above) or if the flavor is muted at all. Time will tell.

More later.

04:08 pm : Posted to: General : Please leave a comment (6)

Posted Comments for this update:

[Sun 13:30] Sonia email ~
How did your roasting of the cacao beans go at higher temp? (August 19th post)

I've tried it at home in my gas oven and they toast too much at the longer-higher temp Sonia Big Island of Hawaii

[Tue 13:41] Alchemist John ~ site
They were not so much a higher temperature, but a longer single temperature. What I found was that I did not care for them as much as compared to the single low temperature nib roasted. The time is what I think the issue is. In order to get the inside fully roasted, the outside - well, it doesn't over roast, but the flavor profile seems to flatten out.

Basically, for "simple" roasting, I think it either has to be as nibs, or in a roasting drum. A "profiled", hot to cool oven (325 - 275 over the roast), does give a nice evenly roasted whole bean in 20-25 minutes.

Sonia, what temperature and times are you doing? How many beans?

[Mon 12:53] Tomaito email ~
Hello! i am really impressed with your site, but i must admit that I may not be ready to shell my own cocoa beans to make my own chocolate. i would like to make milk chocolate with soymilk instead of real milk b/c of a dairy allergy, could I just melt dark chocolate and add powdered soymilk to the mixture? If not, what alternatives are there to creating the chocolate from scratch?
[Mon 18:54] scott ~
Most dark chocolate is made on the same equipment as milk chocolate, so if you've truely got a milk allergy, I'd make sure that whatever product you're using truely does segregate it's products (parev is a good way to do this). If it's an issue of lactose intolerance, then it's much less of an issue, and you could probably do what you indicate. You'd want to make the soy powder very fine, however, otherwise it'll feel gritty, and you're likely going to need to add more cocoa butter to it to thin it out (once you add your powdered soy milk, the result will be that your product will thicken, perhaps turn to a clay like consistency).
[Wed 12:27] Tomaito ~
Thank you! I'll try what you suggested- I have a few brands that I've used without problems, it's a good thing too, I did not know that dark and milk chocolate shared machinery. I will post the results :)
[Thu 12:19] Alchemist John ~ site
Scott, Thank you for answering that. I really appreciate your knowledge and desire to share.

As for making milk chocolate, what Scott says is true about the gritty. The only way I have found to eliminate this is by refining in the Santha Wet Grinder. No amount of pre-powdering will sufficiently reduce the grit - it will help shorten refining time, just not eliminate it.

Monday August 15, 2005

That is the present sad truth. I bring this up because of the following question I received. It is a good question.

"I'm interested in making chocolate at home, and am also wondering how inexpensively can I do it? its tough to invest $600+ into a hobby that I have no idea if I will like. My thoughts? Well, how did they USED to do it?"

I will start off addressing the last part first. How did they used to do it? Well, who do you mean by "they"? If you are talking about those in Mexico and that area, they used and still use large, flat griddle's to roast on. They peel the cacao by hand. They grind it with a heated stone metate. It is a LOT of work AND you will not get the smooth modern chocolate that you are used to. If you are meaning, how did "they" used to make smooth "modern" chocolate the answer is that large, heavy expensive equipment has always been used. Chocolate as we know it today did not exist before the industrial revolution.

$600. I will not say that is not a lot of money - it is. What I will say is that it is not even close to what a small chocolate lab pays for chocolate making equipment. Let me give you some idea.

Roaster - $5-$10,000
Small cocoa cracker - $2,500
Winnower $1,500
Refiner $15,000
Conche $10,000

Close to $40,000. Now that is a lot of money and that is where I started a few years ago. That is why I am pretty happy that I can offer all the tools you need for under $1000. I was told time and again when I started looking into making chocolate at home that you could NOT do it. That the equipment was not available, too expensive and the techniques too difficult. Well I have proved that wrong. No, it is not inexpensive, but it is not prohibitively expensive either. I look at what some people spend on making their own espresso at home - $400, $800, $1500 for an espresso machine (not that I would not mind one myself). Yes, those are people dedicated to espresso. They are not doing it for the cost savings - they are doing it for the superior product. And that is what making chocolate making at home is all about really. Making a product that has the potential to be vastly superior to what is out there, and making it how YOU want it!

This all brings me around to saying that I will not say it can not be done less expensively. I did not like being told I could not do something and I won't do the same to you. But I will say I have brought the price WAY down and that I don't know how to make it much less expensive - maybe someone out there will come up with some other alternatives.

Oh, and the original question - "how inexpensively can I do it?" If you want to put some sweat equity in, and coddle the equipment you have to get, I think someone can get into making chocolate at home for the price of a Santha. You need the wet grinder to get rid of the grit of the sugar. It is the ONLY thing I have found that will do that. The rest you can make do with what you have around. You can roast in an oven. You can peel by hand (although I can only do 2-3 lbs an hour). If you add the roasted cocoa nibs slowly to the Santha, they will grind them, but it takes time patience and perseverance. I really recommend going on e-bay and getting a used Champion for $100 or so, in addition to the Santha. It will save you lots are work and frustration. With the Champion you can grind the unpeeled roasted cocoa beans. The flavor may not be as "clean" as winnowing the husk away first, but it will do the job.

So, $250-350 is about the bear minimum you can spend at the present to get into chocolate making at home. What you will have then is smooth, silky chocolate with a great fresh flavor that is hard to find anywhere else, and the satisfaction that you made it yourself!

01:54 pm : Posted to: General : Please leave a comment (3)

Posted Comments for this update:

[Tue 04:25] Rod email ~ site
Hi John,

Wanting an idea of shipping costs to NZ for an apprentice kit. Perhaps it is better to purchase more beans in the order being it is such a distance (ie. cost effective?) Thanks

[Tue 08:28] Alchemist John ~ site
Yes we ship to NZ. I will drop you a note.
[Wed 00:52] Alex Mendoza email ~
I read your comments about getting started to make chocolate starting from the dry beans. While I was traveling in Ecuador this summer I purchased approximately 100 lbs of organic cacao beans the "Nacional" type (these beans have low acidity, are supposed to be the best tasting and produce the best aroma in the world. Is it true?). At any rate, I would like to learn more about the equipment you mentioned in your email. It sounds like you found a way to make chocolate from the beans without having to spend $50K. I would like to learn more about it. Can you please tell me what equipment do you have for $1,000. and pointers on how to use these beans to make good chocolate.

Thank you for your help. A. Mendoza

Thursday August 4, 2005

First off, we will be closed for a few days, until Monday, August 8 th. In the mean time, I wanted to talk a little about some things that have been on my mind as I follow this chocolate making path.

What comes most to mind is the importance of using the right tool for the right job. Each piece of equipment and step sets you up for the next tool and process. Some people are wanting ONE piece of equipment to make chocolate at home with (and want it for $50). Well, there might be a way, but I don't know how.

Right now, it goes like this.

You need a way to roast your beans. A conventional oven works fine for that but a roasting drum is easier in the long run.

The Champion Juicer will remove husk, but that is hard on it. Cracking with a Cocoa mill helps the Champion do it's job of grinding the cocoa beans to liqueur and removing trace husk.

The Santha is used to refine your chocolate after it comes from the Champion. It might be able to grind cocoa beans, but it can't remove husk like the Champion can and you really don't want husk in your chocolate.

I am going to try and go into each of these in a bit more detail over in sort of an ongoing series of things I have learned, discovered and believe about making chocolate at home.

Also, if you have any questions, please ask and I will address them.

07:15 am : Posted to: General : Please leave a comment (7)

Posted Comments for this update:

[Fri 15:52] Alchemist John ~ site
And we now appear to be up and working again. Let me know if something does not work for you. Thank you.
[Tue 20:43] therabbidcat email ~
Hi, i'm new to your site! I'm interested in making chocolate at home, and am also wondering how inexpensivly can i do it? its tough to invest $600+ into a hobby that i have no idea if i will like.

My thoughts? Well, how did they USED to do it? I'll be doing some research on this, checking back to your site, and soon ordering a kit.

thankyou for this wonderful resource.


[Mon 02:28] Rod email ~ site
A question with regards to the juicer. Have you a comment on the suitablity of the Green Star juicer as opposed to the champion. I realise the Green Star is more expensive but it has better reviews than the champion for it's overal performance.


[Mon 13:28] Alchemist John ~ site
Rod, I have not tried that one. One of it's primary selling points leads me to think it would not perform very well for cocoa. Cocoa grinding actually needs heat to let the liqueur flow. The Green star runs at a low (but powerful) rpm and supposedly does not generate heat. OTOH, it does claim to do nut butters, which effectively is what cocoa liqueur is. If you have one, I would say give it a try, but I wouldn't go get one without testing it first. Does that help?

Therabbidcat - check out the post above for your answer. I have been meaning to address this.

[Mon 13:44] Cindy email ~
After months of research, I am now ready to begin the chocolate path. I have purchased the mill, the champion juicer, and the samantha. I feel that if I take this path, then I want to make sure that I have the equipment needed to make good chocolate. I recently ordered the cocoa beans, however I am still a little confused on how to do the tempering. Is there a machine that I can buy to help with that process? I would hate to make it that far and then do the double boiler issue wrong. What do you suggest for this process?
[Mon 15:29] Alchemist John ~ site
Cindy, the nice thing about tempering is that if you mess up, you can always do it again. A bad temper does not ruin, or even effect the chocolate. A good thermometer is important for tempering - you only have a couple degrees to play with. Unfortunately, I have not found a retail one that is accurate enough.

Aside from that, I am working on a proceedure that will use the Santha as a tempering device. Chocolate running in the Santha equilibrates to around 110 F, which is the perfect starting temperature for tempering. I will keep you up to date as to what I find.

[Mon 18:08] scott ~
Most scientific supply places (VWR, Thomas, Fischer, etc) offer inexpensive digital stem thermometers for around $15 dollars. They are NIST certified (meaning very accurate) and precise to 0.1 degrees F. I'd suggest finding one of those.

Yes there are automatic tempering machines availalbe, but you really s hould know how to hand temper, as at some point, the machine will fail you and you'll have to do it anyway. For the quantities you're considering doing, hand tempering will only take a few minutes. Here's what I'd do: 1) put your chocolate in a plastic bowl. microwave it until melted, and stir thoroughly to ensure equal heat distribution. heat to 120F. Do not overheat. let cool to 90-100F. 2) your room temperature shouldn't be above ~ 73F or so. ideally you'll have a flat, polished stone surface (granite coutertops are great - however most of us don't have them.. look in the phone b ook for stone cutters and ask if you can have a sink cutout piece of scrap - tell them what you're doing. i got mine for free. offering chocolate helps sweeten the pot...). pour 1/4 of the melted chocolate onto the stone surface, and using a scraper, continually spread the chocolate out in a thin layer, then scrape it up into a ball. continue doing this until the chocolate becomes very firm, but not hard. 3) add the firm chocolate back into the melted pot of chocolate. this is called 'seeding' it, and the temperature should drop down to ~88F. if the temperature is above 90F after you do this, take a very small amount out of the pot and do this again. 4) at this point, you should have tempered chocolate. there are a few variations on a theme on how to do this, but essentially this is it. if you 'mess up' don't worry, as john said the beauty of it is that you can always just do it again. And you should expect to have a few do overs, it's all part of the learning process! as you become familiar with it, you'll likely be able to dispense with the thermometer and do it by feel and look. Good luck!

Cocoa Beans
Cracking & Winnowing
Conching & Refining
Tempering & Molding

Please Subscribe to our E-mail Discussion List and/or Newsletter



Do you collect buttons?

Chocoate Alchemy

Site tools, support etc:
Listed on BlogShares
BigBlogTool 2003
Site & Graphic Design by
: i. m. ruzz creative