Ask the Alchemist #157

How do I make cold brewed cocoa?

Only as of late have I experimented with this.

First off you can use any of the Brewing cocoas. Combine a couple heaping tablespoons in a pint of cold water, give it a shake and let it set for a day, then strain it off.  It could hardly be simpler.

I have heard of quite a number of people doing it that way and were happy.  In this case, you can also take roasted nibs, grind them yourself (in a blade grinder, never a burr grinder) and do the same thing.

I found I like the flavor a little better if I refrigerate it over night.

The final option that I am aware of is actually my favorite.  It gives a very clean flavor, and you have a couple options.

You can use the cocoa powder you get from the NutriChef Oil Press after you extract the cocoa butter.  As it comes out, the cocoa powder isn’t very powder like – partly because it still contains some measure (15-20%) cocoa powder (just like any cocoa powder).  But it disperses very nicely in water and extracts very well.  Oh, and no, it won’t all dissolve.  Not even close.  But neither does coffee.

If you are going to try it, what I recommend is giving your fresh cocoa powder a grinding in a blade grinder.  It’s still going to kind of coarse compared to commercial powder, but that does not matter in the least.  Again, a couple tablespoons in a glass of cold water, into the refrigerator overnight, and you have a nice refreshing cold brew cocoa in the morning.

You will find it will have mostly settled out.  It is totally your choice if you decant it off or give it a shake and drink it as is.  The reduced fat content seems to allow more flavor to be extracted.

That’s it.  It’s pretty simple.

And while we are at it, I want to segue slightly to other uses of the fresh cocoa powder.  I’ve found that you can use it absolutely anywhere you would use commercial powder.  The flavor is fantastic.  Being fresh and all.  The slightly larger particles you never notice.  Cakes, brownies, cookies.  Any of those.  And my current favorite use is as a sort of an instant mole seasoning.

  • 4 T fresh cocoa powder
  • 1 T dried garlic
  • 1 T dried onion
  • 1 T paprika (smoked if you want)

Blend it all in a blade grinder and enjoy.  It is so rich and lovely.

Two new cocoa beans from Ecuador

Ecuador 2015 Puerto Quito Organic

Ecuador 2015 Pequino Organic

Both are brand new beans that I’ve not had in before.  Lush chocolate and nutty flavors.  And very clean.  Check them out.

Ask the Alchemist #156

If one buys the oil expeller for making cocoa butter, which bean type would you recommend that might counteract to a small degree the astringency/metallic taste that I am getting with my chocolate.  I realize there are other factors that are contributing to this taste, most probably, but I thought it might be a place to start.  I was not thinking of making single origin chocolate, just a less sharp tasting chocolate and thought the cocoa butter might be one thing to address. 

This is not the direction I would take for addressing that flavor you are getting.   Especially since it is only a small degree of off flavor.   To my knowledge, there isn’t a lot of chemistry that goes on with cocoa butter. Or at least once it is formed.

Generally speaking, there are three broad ways to affect the flavor of chocolate.  Not a lot different from maths.  You can add things.  You can subtract things. And this is where it kind of isn’t a perfect analogy; you can alter them.  This third way is what you are asking about and is also what I was referring to as chemistry that goes on.

You know about adding flavor.  You put in some vanilla and you taste vanilla.  It does not change any of the other flavors.  Sometimes with enough it masks other flavors.  But it does not remove them or counteract them.

You know about subtracting flavor.  During the first 12 hours in a melanger lots of acids leave a chocolate.  You can smell them.  They are leaving.

Then there is the chemistry.  When you roast you actually make chemicals that we recognize as smelling and taste of chocolate.  We didn’t add the chocolate flavor no did the removal of other flavors uncover the chocolate flavor.  It was created.

But of course taste isn’t that simple.  And really there is a forth way to alter the flavor, and probably closer to what is going on.  And one of the reasons I associate chocolate with alchemy.  It’s mysterious and magical…and frustrating at time in the way it can’t quite be predicted.

The alchemy is our perceptions.  There is no one chemical that smells or tastes like chocolate.  Really.  What we think of as the chocolate smell isn’t one chemical.  What you smelling is a unique combination of sweat, cabbage and beef.  When they are combined we no longer notice or can even recognize those individual aromas.

If you are having trouble wrapping your head around that, look at this picture.

yellow pod

What is the color of that cocoa pod?  If you say yellow, you are both right but also wrong.   You computer screen does not display yellow.  It can only display unique combinations of Red, Blue and Green.  RGB. Sound familiar? I’ll grant what you are seeing looks like yellow.  But in reality it is a combination of red and green.  Cabbage and beef as it were.  But you see yellow.  You smell chocolate.

The whole point of this is to say taste is very complicated.  And also not absolute.  What you taste can be very different from what I taste.  I personally don’t have a tendency to taste that metallic taste you mention.  Or at least, it does not taste of metal to me.  It tastes more of tangy acidity.  It is down to this complex dance of our receptors and how our brains put it together.

The best analogy is being color blind for certain colors.  If you show the above image to two people who are red and green color blind respectively, the red color blind person will see a green pod and the green color blind person will see a red pod.

green red pod

I am going bring this back around.  And please know I am making this next part up as an example only.  It most likely is totally not accurate, but it gets the point across.  I propose that what I taste as tangy acidity is the yellow pod.  Not a stand alone chemical, but a combination of two.  Red and green.  You on the other hand can only taste one of the two chemicals and the result is the red pod for you – metallic astringency.

With that in mind I think you can see there isn’t anything concrete I can tell you to do with 100% accuracy that will change how you perceive that flavor.  Maybe adding a certain cocoa butter will combine with it to make it seem to go away, but most likely I doubt that will be the case.  And in any case I’d have to be psychic to hazard a guess.  The combinations are just to immense.

And the photos point out another issue.  None of these tastes exist by themselves.   Let’s pretend the purple in the right photograph is a particular flavor you love in your chocolate.  But you hate the red.  So we do figure out a way to add green to it so that your pod is yellow.  Success!  Right?  Sure, we fixed the red pod and now it is yellow…but that wonderful purple you so adore is not green.  And maybe the green is ok, it isn’t purple.

This is pretty close to what happens when you alkalize your chocolate.  It massively reduces bitterness and astringency, but it also lays waste to all the other subtle flavors in your chocolate leaving you with a pretty bland, one dimensional chocolate.

There is a ton more I could say about taste, taste perception and the like but I fear the dreaded information overload and deer in the headlights syndrome. So let’s circle back to things you can try.

I can offer a few things.  And unfortunately they come with the disclaimer that I don’t know enough about your chocolate or how you roasted it.

Experience tells me metallic astringency can come from over heating your beans.  Scorching them.

But it can go the other direction and come from under roasted beans.

And without knowing how you roasted I can’t tell which if either it is.

Finally, it can just be the bean and no treatment will change it.  And this is what I find the majority of the time.  That no matter what, you are going to taste metal when I taste tang.  In that case, your only option is to pick another bean.

As for adding your own pressed butter.  Sure, give it a shot, but at only 5-10% of the recipe, it is the last thing I would try, not the first.  It could well add a flavor to your chocolate but my gut feeling is that it isn’t going to miraculous alter that one flavor you don’t like.

Ask the Alchemist #155

What would you say is the most sought after type of bean right now between Criollo and Trinitario? Also, where would be the best country to source these beans from?

This is sort of a trick question.  I am pretty sure it was not meant that way, but it is one nonetheless.  It makes too many wrong assumptions.  “do you still kick your dog?”  How do you even answer that if you never kicked your dog or don’t even own one?  In court, I think it is called asking a leading question and they are not allowed for a reason.  They introduce bias.

And the answers, when given are not at all useful.  But I’ll do it to try and make the point.

The first part is easy.  Criollo is by far the most sought after type of bean.  And except from an idle curiosity point of view, I have no clue why you are asking.   Why do you care?

It is sought after because people think it is inherently better.  And because it is the least common.  Pretty much pure supply and demand mentality.  The really funny part about though is that as soon as it becomes readily available, the desire to have it drops.

Many of the beans I carry from Peru are Criollo.  And sure, they sell fine.   But they sell well despite being Criollo, not because they are Criollo.   “Criollo” makes the first sale.  The taste and quality keep people coming back.  The Oro Verde  is a nice fruity beans that is clean and chocolatey.  And it is Criollo.  Those that buy it because it is Criollo are often surprised that ‘it isn’t any different’ from any other fruity bean that is clean and chocolatey.  What I mean by that is that they have put the Criollo up on a pedestal and are disappointed that being Criollo does not in and of itself make it special.  .

It is ‘special’ because the farmers took care harvesting it.

It is special because it was fermented well and evenly.

It is special because it was handled well from start to finish and had good potential to start with.

It is not special because it is Criollo.

It is special because it’s natural potential was cultivated and realized.

And those that taste it expecting something different (I’m never sure what they are expecting) are invariable disappointed, and 9 times out of 10 tell themselves the story that ‘it must not REALLY” be Criollo and continue on with their holy grail search.  They have introduced bias into their evaluation because of false, unfounded expectations.

And speaking of holy grails.  Let’s talk Criollo Porcelana.  That rare of the rare, super special of the special.  There is rarely a week that goes by that I don’t get asked if I can get some.  Hugely sought after.

About 6 weeks ago the question stopped coming in.  Why?  I am carrying Porcelana.  And it had VERY brisk sales for about 2 weeks…..and now I still have a couple hundred pounds selling at a moderate pace.  Why?

Once something is found, quest finished, end of story.  Why?

Because although it is a nice bean, people have found that other beans are more to their liking.  Being called Porcelana may even have worked against it, setting expectations so high that no bean, no matter how good, could attain the god like status it was granted because of it’s name.  A real pity too as it is a nice bean.

Ok, I’ve beat that horse quite enough I think.  Next question.

Where?  Which country?

The semi sarcastic yet very real answer is those countries that have Criollo.  That would be the Americas.  The issue here is again it is the wrong question.  “Countries” don’t make a bean good or bad.  Genetics, handling, farms, weather, fermentation, drying, people etc make a bean good or bad and that is independent of country.

Maybe the better question is ‘how do I find good Criollo?’ And better yet, ‘How do I find good cocoa beans?’

The short answer is there is no one answer.

I evaluate dozens if not hundreds of beans a year.  I don’t evaluate them on their pedigree, country or certifications.  Sure, those many come into play AFTER I determine if it is a good bean, but that is it.

I make chocolate from the samples and evaluate them.  Blind.  If they pass muster, then I look at those other very important pieces of data and weigh if they are worth offering to you. Are they organic?  Are they fairly traded?

The key here is that a beans quality and taste are what are important to me.  Not it’s ‘type’.

And so I recommend the same to you.  Don’t look for a type. Don’t look for a country.  Look for a cocoa bean that makes a chocolate that you love.

Keep an open mind.   Look and taste different beans.  Evaluate them for what they are, not what you want them to be.  And should you determine you don’t like one, for heaven’s sake don’t write off any entire country or type.  It makes as much sense never dating another person with brown hair that is from Chicago because you once didn’t get along with a brown haired person from Chicago.

That pretty much sums it up.

Don’t discriminate.  Don’t prejudge.  Keep an open mind.

Those are good life rule and work very well for chocolate too.

Ask the Alchemist #154

Now that you have a cocoa butter press, have you experimented with different ways of making chocolate (to improve flavor/texture/etc…)?  While I realize that “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”…. My mind is now spinning with thoughts of things that could be done during the process… pressing butter out of the liqueur before putting it into a melanger to refine/conche…  Doing something to warm/process the butter to change its flavor before reintroducing it to the cocoa “powder”… different ways to introduce the sugar into the butter and/or powder?   

Well, the first answer is that no, I have not yet experimented with this.  I am actually in the middle of a long series of oven roasting tests.  So far I have 10 different combinations of roasting beans and nibs in a conventional oven.  More on that later.

For those that are missed the ‘press’ that is being discussed, it is the Nutrichef oil expeller that works on cocoa beans and gives your own cocoa butter.

What can be done?  Well, given we are limited to a Melanger, I think some of our options are limited by the necessity to have a flowing product.  You could press some cocoa butter out, but you still need to maintain 30-35% fat, so even with a 70% dark chocolate, you are already there and can’t remove any cocoa butter.

I am glad you mention ‘just because you can, doesn’t mean should”.  We CAN process our chocolate more, but I’m not sure we should.  It’s one of the big reasons I constantly make it known that I don’t find you can make a good chocolate from cocoa powder.  It was been processed too hard.  But there is also no reason not to try.  This is fresh cocoa butter and powder and is ‘processed’ more gently than others by nature of the small scale.  I will certainly try making a batch recombined.  For science’s sake.

What does come to mind though is a cocoa powder, cream powder chocolate.  At 72% fat in the cream powder, you have the ability to get that chocolate flowing again.  That is now on the list too.

That all said, I think the first place to start is making your own butter, and using it in 5-10% amounts in your existing recipes and seeing if it makes a difference.  I know it can make a radical difference in a milk chocolate where there is 30%.  Time to play people!

Finally, I will mention that the resulting cocoa powder is not as fine as commercial powder.  But it is pretty fine (straight out it is coarse, but a quick run in a whirly blade grinder gets it fine).  And I’ve been using it in mochas (it mixes nicely with hot water), hot chocolate (ditto with hot water and sugar) and quick mole spicing (I sprinkle it on sauteing chicken and add a little chili sauce).

So, what do you folks want me to test?

Ask the Alchemist #153

“As I understand it, when one fills a mold, the chocolate, which is at working temperature, contains predominantly Type V crystals.  As its temperature drops, what keeps the undesirable crystals from forming?”

Nothing.  I bet that was not the answer you were expecting.  Of course, I will explain.  It actually allows me to dig a little deeper into what is tempering.

I’ve mentioned before there is something called degree of temper.  It is a measure of how much your chocolate is tempered.  To review, many think of chocolate temper in a binary sense.  It is either tempered or it isn’t.  Off or on.  0 or 1.  Tempered or bloomed.  And that is a handy model.  But it isn’t the whole truth.  It is more like a number line.  Negative numbers are bloom (crystals other than Type V).  Positive numbers are temper (lots of Type V).  And there is even a zero where there is no crystal structure at all.  Like glass.  It is what we call amorphous.

The higher the number, the greater the temper.  That means that there is more Type V crystal.  If you follow that train of thought that means for some tempers there is something else.  That something else is Types I-IV.   So, see, that is what I mean by ‘nothing’ keeps those ‘undesirables’ from forming.  They do form.  But only in small amounts.  So maybe there is a  better question.

Why don’t those undeniable crystals cause bloom?

Scaffolding.   Seed.  It is the same mechanism that lets seed tempering work.  Namely that if given no direction cocoa butter will randomly form.  If you give it just a little direction, it will stack up appropriately.  So if you have Type V in there, that is the scaffolding that the rest of the cocoa butter will build upon.  In the most technical sense there is some Type IV in there in the tiny spaces that there is not Type V seed.  That ratio of V:IV is degree of temper.  The more IV there is, the softer the temper.  At some point that I don’t know, the type IV disrupts the framework of the Type V and you get bloom.

In essence the Type V out competes the undesirables.  With seed the Type V hits the ground running as it were and uses up available cocoa butter to build more Type V.  If everything goes right, it’s is all used up by the time the temperature is low enough for Type IV to start forming.

Since we are talking seed, picture this as a garden.  If you prepare a bed you can either direct seed a plant or transplant a growing seedling.    Experience tells you the seedling will do better.  It has a head start.  The seeds have a tougher go as they have to out compete the weeds.  If you don’t weed then the weeds can win and your seedling dies and your chocolate blooms.  But if you can get your seedlings established and healthy with will use up the nutrients (think free cocoa butter) faster than the weeds and win the race (to mix metaphors).

So your goal is to nuture a good crop of Type V so it can ‘grow’ into healthy tempered chocolate before the Type IV weeds can take over.  You do this by starting with a good amount of seed (seedlings) and keeping the temperature high enough so Type IV can’t form (weeding).

Finally, it is worth noting that sometimes there can be too much of a good thing.  Just like you can have too many seedlings in a given area and you need to thin them for the betterment of the whole area, it is possible to get too much seed in your working chocolate.  If you have been working with your chocolate a long time (it’s all relative) and you notice it thickening up, then that is what you are seeing.  Too much seed.  You need to thin.  And you thin by heating the chocolate up a little bit (just 0.5-1 F for instance).  And just like thinning kills some of the plants you actually want, that heat will ‘kill’ some your Type V.  The result will be that the chocolate will thin back down and you can keep working with it.  You are not destroying all the Type V.  You are just selectively thinning.

There you go.  Tempering as gardening.  I hope that gives you a bit more of a peek behind the curtain.




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