Phase 1

Well, I have a fun yet completely terrifying announcement.

In the next couple days Chocolate Alchemy (the site, not the business) is going to get a major facelift.  We rolling out on a new platform that has been in the works for over a year actively and passively for more time than I care to recall.

There will be some bumps along the way, I am sure.  You will see a place to report broken links or other issues.

Very sadly for me, there will be a few minor causalities.  Comments to posts for the last month or so probably won’t make it over.

This is the first phase of a three phase upgrade to the site over probably the next couple years.

Ask the Alchemist #185

Level: Novice

Reading time: 8 minutes

I want to make drinking chocolate.  Can you give me a recipe?


I’ve touched on parts of this in the past but now is a good time to bring all the options together.

The first thing is to define what you mean by drinking chocolate.  It means surprisingly different things to different people.   To my mind there are 4 big options in defining drinking chocolate.

  • Whole or extract?
  • Hot or cold?
  • Bean or powder?
  • Instant or prepared

Some of these clearly overlap.  And some don’t mix well together.

First, do you want a steeped brewing cocoa or something like grandma used to make?

The first one is easy, so let’s get it out of the way first.  You grind up whole roasted cocoa beans and mix them with either hot or cold water.  The result is nothing like grandma’s chocolate.  It is more like cocoa tea.  I’m going to assume this probably isn’t what you meant by drinking chocolate.  1-2 T of ground cocoa beans, 8 oz water, steep, filter and there you go.  Brewing Cocoa.  That pretty much takes care of extract, i.e. steeping,  so we can move onto variations of turning whole beans into basically a liquid form.

Can you use whole cocoa beans and make grandma’s thick and creamy cocoa?  No.  This is one of the combinations that just don’t work well.  At least not quickly in the kitchen on demand.    You can’t just grind the beans up in a grinder, blender or fool processor, add milk or water (hot or cold) and turn it into something that anyone would call drinking chocolate.  The cocoa pieces will remain too large and it will be just another thinnish extract like the brewing cocoa.  What you have to do is turn the cocoa beans into chocolate and then turn use the chocolate.

There are two options here.  Both are variations of making a ganache filling like you would make for truffles. The key difference is whether you are just making one or two cups or want to make up a bunch to save for later.

In both cases you melt your chocolate.  I prefer doing it in a double boiler.  This can be as simple as a bowl over a pot of simmering water.  Once your chocolate is melted, you stir in equal parts warm water, milk or cream (or really any other water based milk substitute like soy or almond milk).  The chocolate and liquid should both be around 105-110 F.   You stir/whisk until it is all smooth and silky.  At this point you can either dilute it further if you want to drink it immediately, or stop and put it away if you are making a large batch.

And let’s not forget about sugar.  It’s kind of shocking how much sugar is in most drinking chocolates.   2-3 tablespoons is not uncommon in an 8 oz glass.  But you are making this yourself and in the same way many people like black coffee, you may actually find you like substantially less sugar that you thought.  So this one of those to taste things.   Here is the pretty classic recipe.

  • ½ cup chocolate melted
  • ½ cup warm water
  • 6 T sugar
  • 2 cups milk or water.

Combine the melted chocolate and warm water stirring until smooth.  Mix in half the milk or water and sugar and heat until everything is smooth.  If you want hot chocolate add the remaining liquid and heat until it is as hot as you want.  If you want cold chocolate milk, stir in cold milk and refrigerate if you need.  And again, adjust the sugar level to your tastes.  This makes two nice mugs of drinking chocolate.

I will admit.  That is a little cooking intensive.  Not really hard, but not instant either.  But those are the options for making your own completely from the bean.

At this point I don’t know of a way to make an instant cold drinking chocolate where you just stir powder into cold milk.  But we can get pretty close.  Sadly you have to move away from starting with whole beans and move into using cocoa powder.

To that end, after many requests and much tasting, we are now offering a lovely Organic and Fair Trade Natural cocoa powder.


To make classic hot or cold drinking chocolate you combine cocoa powder with sugar and add a little boiling water. Then you simply top up with more liquid, hot or cold, depending on what you want.  One cup looks like this.

  • 1 heaping Tablespoon of cocoa powder
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 total cup liquid.

Mix the cocoa powder and sugar in a mug.  Add about ¼ c boiling water and stir until smooth.  Then top up with water or milk.

Can you use less sugar?  Of course.  But I’ll tell you from experience childhood memories are strong and most people prefer it as above.

Feel free to experiment.  You may find that 1 Tablespoon of cocoa powder with 1 teaspoon of sugar in 2 oz of water is the perfect intense shot of chocolate you have been looking for.


Make sure you mix it up.

I personally like that exact proportion, mixed thoroughly in my shot glass (mixing is important or it clumps) topped up with boiling water and maybe ½ t of cream (it’s the holidays after all).


If you don’t mix it will probably clump up on you.

There you go- all mixed up.

And it is worth noting.  This cocoa powder is not dutched or alkalized.  But if you like that flavor, a tiny amount (that classic pinch) of baking soda mixed into the powder and sugar will deepen the color and subtlety change the flavor and texture.  In actually chocolate making I don’t like alkalizing, but mixed in right in the cup, and briskly consumed, I find it a nice variation on occasion.

One other combination I’ve found I like every so often as a pseudo-instant mix is equal parts cocoa powder, sugar and milk or cream powder.  A spoonful or two of that blended with boiling water and topped up with hot or cold water is fast, easy and surprisingly enjoyable.

Heck, it is the holidays.  Top up with eggnog and a little rum!

There you go.  All the variations of drinking chocolate I can think of and how you can produce them.

Have fun, enjoy and let me know what you think.

Holiday Schedule

The last day we will be shipping is Friday December 23. And hopefully if you need anything by that Sunday (December 25 – Christmas) you will have ordered well in advance.

It would of course be in your best interest to have your last orders in Monday December 12. That will allow us processing and packing time to get it out by standard delivery and have it to you by Christmas (really December 23).


We will do our complete best to get any order out on Monday December 19 if you have your order in by midnight the day before (Sunday the 18th).  No standard Ground shipments (USPS Priority or UPS Ground) are guaranteed to arrive before Christmas if shipped the week of 19-23.  Anything shipped this week requires UPS 3 Day or better.  And you will note a 2 day padding.  1 day to process.  1 day because UPS demands it.  See below.  All dates are ORDER dates, not ship dates.

To summarize:

December 12 – recommended ‘polite’ last order date for standard shipping by UPS or USPS

December 15 – Last day for UPS Ground and USPS Priority for east coast delivery.

December 18 – Last day we will guarantee shipping before closing if you pick UPS 3 day select

December 19 – – Last day we will guarantee shipping before closing if you pick UPS 2 Day Air.

December 20 – – Last day we will guarantee shipping before closing if you pick UPS Next Day Air.

December 21-22.  Your order will go out before we close but will not arrive before Christmas

December 23 – Last day of shipping – Will not arrive before Christmas.  Orders received this day will most likely not ship until 2017.

December 26 – January 3 – Closed for moving and holidays – no orders will ship out but the online stores will remain active.

IMPORTANT – When you are choosing your shipping method for the holidays, it is best to add in 3 WORKING days for processing, packing and general mayhem.  I’ve tried to account for them above.

So if your estimated transit time is 5-7 days (sorry, my software won’t tell you this, you will need to look it up on either UPS or USPS), then you would be well advised to order 10 days before you need it. i.e. December 14-15 for delivery by Christmas if you live across the country (we are in Oregon).

It is also worth noting that USPS as various options for Priority mail labeled “2 Day Priority” or “3 Day Priority”.  These are estimates only.  I’m going to repeat that.  Those names are USPS trademarked names and not shipping guarantees.  They are still Priority mail and no different than the various Priority Flat rate options.  I’m not offering any USPS Express this year.  It had too many issues last year.

Ask the Alchemist #184

Level: Apprentice

Reading time: 8 minutes


 I have learned that some makers (myself included) are lightly baking (in the oven at ~170F) their sugar on a baking sheet before it goes into the melanger.  The idea being that the higher temperature of the sugar will maintain the liquor at a higher temperature allowing you to feed the sugar into the melanger more quickly.  I have however heard that by baking the sugar one may be altering the flavor and/or structure of the sugar crystals, possibly affecting the flavor or rheological properties of the chocolate.  While I have not performed any comparative tests to verify this I would be curious to know the science behind it.


I have always advocated in heating the sugar for the exact reason you mention.  I do the same thing with my nibs and I melt any cocoa butter I am using.  It all adds heat to the melanger and helps it get going faster.  As you have discovered if you don’t pre-heat your ingredients the cocoa butter in your nibs may still be solid and refining goes much slower until the melanger can generate enough heat from friction to allow everything to flow.

But that is all stuff you know already.  You asked about science.  In the context of food, there are only a few reactions that affect flavor in regards to sugars.  The main two are Maillard and caramelization reactions.  And neither is applicable to heating sugar at 170 F.

Maillard reactions require amino acids and non-reducing sugars.  Sucrose though isn’t a reducing sugar.  And we are talking about heating only sucrose by itself so that is out on both counts.

Caramelization requires heat.  And quite a lot of it.  Here is a good definition from the Science of Cooking:

Caramelization or caramelisation (see spelling differences) is the oxidation of sugar, a process used extensively in cooking for the resulting nutty flavor and brown color. Caramelization is a type of non-enzymatic browning reaction. As the process occurs, volatile chemicals are released producing the characteristic caramel flavor. The reaction involves the removal of water (as steam) and the break down of the sugar. The caramelization reaction depends on the type of sugar. Sucrose and glucose caramelize around 160C (320F) and fructose caramelizes at 110C (230F).

320 F.  That pretty much puts the nail in that coffin too.

“Could it be caramelizing just a little?” I hear you asking.  The answer is still no.  When sugar caramelizes it changes color (note it says brown color above) and the degree of color change is pretty indicative of the level of caramelization.  Here is a sheet of lightly caramelized sugar I made by melting and boiling sugar for 10-15 minutes.


The main thing to note is that even with that really nice auburn hue it had a very surprisingly mild flavor.  If your sugar that you are pulling from the oven is solid and unchanged visually from when you put it in, then it is unchanged.  It’s that simple.

You also asked about rheological differences.

Rheology is a way of describing how something flows or how thick it is.   Since there are no chemical changes happening when you heat sugar at a low temperature, if there were going to be viscosity changes in chocolate it would have to come from something else.  What?  The only answer I can come up with is water.  I would not really expect any change as dry granulated sugar has less than 0.1% water.  There is significantly more than that left in roasted cocoa beans so any change from the water’s contribution should be negligible.

From anecdotal evidence I have not noticed any real difference between heating sugar or not, but that is anecdotal,  and I do tend to always heat my sugar.  So, a comparative test was in order.  It was pretty straight forward.  I needed to test to see if there was any water driven off from heating the sugar and/or if the heating the sugar had any difference in the chocolate’s final viscosity.

In one melanger I made a batch of 65% chocolate my standard way.  I heated the nibs and sugar to 150 F and combined them in the melanger.  The bowl and rollers I heated to 110 F.  The final running temperature of the chocolate was about 120 F.

The second batch was of course also 65%, but I didn’t heat the sugar.  Because I wanted to try and compare apples to apples as it were, I heated the nibs to 150 F.  I also heat the bowl and rollers to 150 F to add more heat to the system since I would be adding cold sugar.  In everything went and the running temperature of the chocolate was 122 F.  Close enough.

The result was exactly as I expected.  I could not tell the two chocolates apart.  Both viscosity and flavor were indistinguishable.  Maybe if you heated the sugar to the lower 200s and the running temperature was hotter for the chocolate, more moisture would be driven off from the cocoa resulting in more fluid chocolate. But that wasn’t the scope of this test.

The long story short is that heating of basic granulated sugar isn’t going to change your chocolate but will probably make it a more pleasurable experience to start.

Haiti is in

We seem to be adding brand new origins left and right.  It’s really exciting to see how the market and options are exploding.

This time I am thrilled to offer a brand new bean from Haiti.

Haiti 2016 – Organic Produits Des Iles SA (PISA) is a new cacao processor and exporter in Haiti’s North.  The chocolate is a soft and slightly meek or reserved flavor profile that opens up as you continue. Tart Bing cherry, strawberry and touches of Read more….

Ask the Alchemist #183

Level: Apprentice

Reading time: 8 minutes

I have been making a batch of chocolate, but I am unable to lower the acidity taste (vinegar like) that i sense on my chocolate. i have been trying to find a solution, and nothing so far. Maybe you can help me lower that acidity taste I have. The mix is 65% cocoa and 35% sugar so far and no powdered milk.


This is tough to answer without tasting the chocolate.  Near impossible really.  But of course I’m going to try.

Vinegar is acetic acid and is a natural by-product of the fermentation process of cocoa beans.  My storage facility smells very strongly of acetic acid. This surprises many visitors as they assume it will smell of chocolate.

Acetic acid is pretty easily driven off in the roasting process.  Pure acidic acid boils at 244.6 F.  I’d like to say all you have to do is make sure your beans are above that temperature and your issue is taken care of, but it isn’t quite that simple.  But it isn’t that far off either.

There is moisture in cocoa beans.  If you stick your hand near the outlet of your oven or roaster you will feel the water coming off the beans.  And it is carrying other compounds with it.  One of the neat things about boiling points and chemistry are all the interactions.  As I showed in making honey chocolate, where ethanol pulls water out of chocolate below 212 F, water also drags acetic acid out of the beans below 244.6 F.  It isn’t quite as strong of an effect because water and acidic acid don’t form what is called an azeotrope,  or mixture that can’t be separated but it does a pretty good job.

You can smell the acidic acid coming off well below 244.6 F.  Often 215-220 F.  But the hotter you go, the more that will come off.  And also the longer you are at an effective temperature, the more that will be driven off.

A practical consideration of this is slowing your roast down near the end and giving the beans time to soak in the heat and time for the acetic acid to rise to the surface and evaporate.  Remember, just because the surface of the bean is 250 F does not mean the interior is.  And unless you have hung out at 250F for 10-15 minutes (not what I am suggesting) than the interior simply won’t be at that temperature.

So that is the first bit of advice.  Make sure you are roasting fully enough.  If you have a thing for light roasted chocolate but don’t like acidity pick a bean that is a bit lower in acetic acid to start with.  You don’t have to remove what isn’t there in the first place.  And even if you do like it roasted lighter, it doesn’t mean you can’t get rid of it.  Just extend your roast a bit.  Maybe you will have to go outside the standard suggestions and really stretch it out.  I don’t have concrete examples of this because mostly the resulting chocolates are not to my taste.

Regardless, you have roasted as you like or missed the roast you wanted and have beans with a bit more vinegar than you like.  All is not lost.  There is quite a bit you can do while the chocolate is refining in the melanger.

Just by the natural process of grinding and aerating a lot of volatiles (acetic acid included) will be driven off.  If you can raise the temperature a little it will help.  Point a heat lamp on it.  Put the whole melanger in an open top box (the motor heat will warm it – but leave the box open or you can burn out the motor).  Over the 24-48 hours that little extra heat will help drive off the undesirables.  Adding a fan to blow gently over the top of the chocolate can also do wonders.

But be warned, all things come at a price.  You don’t like acetic acid because it is strongly flavored.  And you are doing stuff to drive off the strong flavors.  But you want some strong flavors in your chocolate most likely.  And some of those other compounds ARE going to come off at the same time.  It’s a matter of balance.  When has enough acetic acid come off but not some of the key fruit esters.  Note I say ‘raise the temperature a little’ and ‘blow gently’.  Balance my friend.  Balance.   Too much heat and air and you can make neat brown stuff without much flavor at all.

And if that doesn’t do the trick?

Well, you mentioned milk.  That can and does do wonders.  Madagascar, one of the most acidic beans out there, is not often one of my favorites (I’m a deep brooding kind of chocolate guy) but on the flip side some amazing chemistry and alchemy happen when you add milk powder.  The acids are not just hidden, but converted.  And converted into lovely flavorful compounds.  You don’t necessarily have to make a milk chocolate per se.  2-3% milk powder could well do the trick without turning it into what you think of as milk chocolate.

Finally, and I’ve had this happen more than once when troubleshooting this issue in person, it may simply be that you are misinterpreting another flavor in the chocolate for acetic acid because it is what you are familiar with.  And in cases like this, there is often nothing to be done to ‘fix’ the problem as there is no problem.  It‘s is simply that you don’t like the flavor of a certain bean.  Keep that option open.

To summarize,

  • Make sure you roast fully and if you are roasting low, then roast longer.  260 F is good and safe.
  • Refine at a little higher of a temperature.  135-145 F.
  • Blow a gentle stream of air over the chocolate (and taste often)
  • Try adding a little milk powder. 2-3%.
  • Consider that you don’t like a given bean and move on.

And above all, have fun.






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