Ask the Alchemist #170

Level: Novice

Reading time: 10 min

I’ve tried to make “just add hot water” drinking chocolate.  However I’m having two problems:

  1. When I add hot water, the chocolate has to be stirred A LOT to get it to mix and even then, there’s tiny blobs of it left in the bottom of the mug.  
  2. I want it to have a creamier texture, but it’s quite watery, in spite of all the milk powder and cocoa butter I added.  I’ve tried adding up to 44% milk powder to get more creaminess but then I lose more chocolate flavour.

How could I improve these please?  My basic recipe is:

27% sugar, 39% cocoa liquor, 9% cocoa butter, 24% milk powder, 0.7% vanilla, 0.3% sunflower lecithin 

Also, how best can I imbue caramel flavour into a milk chocolate?  I’ve tried caramelizing sugar, chopping it up and then conching it.  But the caramelized sugar is super hygroscopic and also gets stuck in my conche.  What else could I try please?

What you are running into are the preconceived notions of what and how hot chocolate should behave.  What it seems you are used to with “just add hot water” is very significantly processed chocolate.  I don’t mean this negatively per se.  Just that you are not seeing the massive amount of work that went into making a product that will dissolve virtually instantly for the American consumer market.

My very first thought on 1) is “that sounds about right”.  Chocolate is oil based and you trying to dissolve in a water.  It would be exactly the same if you were surprised if you lightly stirred an egg yolk and cup of oil together and didn’t get mayonnaise.  It takes a very specific set of conditions to get oil and water to mix and be stable… you are seeing.

Now that I’ve said that, what I have had some success with is making a ganache with my chocolate and then mixing that into water.  If you combine chocolate and water (or cream) at approximately 1:1 at 100F, rather gently, then let it set up, you may well find a spoonful of that then dissolves much easier into hot water without all the stirring and blobs at the bottom.  Basically you have made an emulsion.  Just like mayonnaise.

Your second item is playing right into the first issue.  Let’s go back to the egg yolk and oil.  If you just mix the two together, it would look watery and thin.  Certainly not creamy, yet mayonnaise is creamy.  It’s the emulsion that is giving it its creamy texture.  Again, there is quite a bit added to instant hot chocolates to give them their creamy mouth feel instantly.  Quite often guar gum, gelatin, modified starches, and the like.  Basically a ton of food chemistry to get the mixture to behave smoothly and easily.

On to the advice now.  Where you are going to find success is developing your technique.  Basically, it is a variation of the ganache prepared on the spot.  Have a look at both of these.

Hot Chocolate

2 Ingredient Homemade Hot Chocolate

In short, I kind of hate to tell you, is that you have to give up the idea that you can have both an instant hot chocolate and one that didn’t take time to prepare.  It’s sort of like a magic trick.  You are used to only seeing the final trick –  Ta-da!  just add water hot chocolate – without realizing how much behind the scenes work there is to pull it off.  i.e. pulling out a pan, heating everything just so, so that you form a nice thick, creamy emulsion.

As for the caramel flavor.  I don’t have a surefire answer for you.  I can give you hints, but just like the above magic trick references, it isn’t as easy as adding caramel to your chocolate as you have found.  What I’ve found is you need to create it in the chocolate.  Using high acid beans and elevated refining temperatures greatly increase the amount of caramel flavor in chocolate.

The hands down most caramel chocolate I ever tasted in a milk chocolate was from a Madagascar.  In this particular case the 20% cocoa butter had been pressed (using the Nutrachef Oil press) from the same Madagascar beans used to make the chocolate. It resulted in a deep caramel flavor.

It is also worth pointing out you want a full fat spray dried milk powder.  The process itself adds caramel notes.  That’s one of the main reasons I offer the milk powder that I do.  Non-fat milk powder just doesn’t seem to do it.

And I should clarify.  Do you want the caramel flavor in your chocolate or in your hot chocolate?  Making your own caramel syrup is the direction I would go if you want it in your hot chocolate.   Basically, caramelize the sugar as you did before, but then immediately dilute it with hot water.  This spells it out:

How to make Caramel Coffee Syrup

Prepare your own homemade caramel syrup for coffee (or chocolate) from scratch. It’s easy to do.


  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup boiling water


Heat sugar over medium high heat until it begins to melt. Stir constantly. If the sugar begins to burn, discard, and try again. When the sugar begins to brown quickly stir in boiling water. Stand back, as the mixture may steam. Stir until well blended. Cook mixture for an additional 15 to 30 seconds. Do not let the sugar burn. Remove pot from heat source, and allow mixture to cool before placing in an air tight container.

That you can even add to your ganache as the liquid portion and the sugar content will both help it keep longer (ganache is perishable when made fresh) and allow the mixture to incorporate more water or milk to turn into hot chocolate.

I hope that helps.

Ask the Alchemist #169

Level: Novice

Reading time: 5 min 

I’m considering creating a bean to bar chocolate shop.  My reading so far indicates I’ve got a lot of reading to do.  Good thing I’m not planning on starting it for about 18 months.

 Other than Chocolate and The chocolate life, what other resources & references can you recommend?  I’ve quickly read through all your ‘ask the alchemist’ questions and didn’t see this one, or even similar.

 Amazon seems to recommend Chocolate, Cocoa and Confectionery: Science and Technology 3rd Edition by Bernard Minifie  and The Science of Chocolate 2nd Edition by Stephen T Beckett as decent books.  If maybe a little heavy (especially the first one).


You have a good hand on a place to start.  The two sites are invaluable and both of the books you mention are on my shelf.  I particularly like Beckett’s book.  In both though my take is that they are probably of limited value in the sense that my college text books are not useful to me right now on an active basis.  They lay down quite a bit of fundamental information that I know and is worth knowing but do not particularly think about, but instead inform how I approach problems, issues and troubleshooting advice.

Reading them comes with a caveat that I hint at.  I don’t think you should be reading them for the sake of implementing what is in them fully.  My lasting memory of both is that they are geared for large production consistency and dealing with less than optimal cocoa beans.  Basically they discuss using what was generally available when they were first written and on a very large scale.

As you say, they are a bit heavy.  Industrial practices can be a bit heavy.  And if you are opening a bean to bar shop, it isn’t really your world.  And I suspect, you don’t want it to be.  But it is good information you should have in your quiver of knowledge.

There are three other books that I think are worth looking at.

  • Making Artisan Chocolates by Andrew Garrison Shotts
  • Chocolates and Confections: Formula, Theory, and Technique for the Artisan Confectioner by Peter P. Greweling
  • The Art of the Chocolatier: From Classic Confections to Sensational Showpieces Hardcover –Ewald Notter

You used the phrase bean to bar, and that in the strictest sense may indeed be what you mean exactly.  Stopping at the bar form.  Those three books delve into chocolate confections and presentation of chocolate that is very appealing to many (read many customers).  Again, good information and techniques to have.  Maybe upon reading and experimenting with them you will discover you want to do more than bean to bar.  Not that you have to, but again, it’s another arrow of knowledge.

Right now there is no book detailing the artisan bean to bar method.  It is on my much too large to do list.   But it is all on the site (and one thing that is chewing up time right now are videos and a site overhaul to make that information more accessible).

After all that, the other direction to take is just getting in there and making chocolate.    You have to learn what you like and what you do not like and no book will tell you that.  The heavy industrial books aim toward good and consistent which given the quality of beans now available  and your smallish batches should be a pretty low bar.  They don’t discuss how to make a bean more or less fruity or earthy or piquant.  That is what you have to discover based on your tastes and the equipment you choose.

So that is it.  Pretty short this week.  In effect, go read and treat what you read as text book reading.  Build your base of knowledge.  Pick what works for you but don’t feel there is only one right way because there isn’t.  Hopefully you have a passion for experimenting and learning as that will serve you very well.

Ask the Alchemist #168

Level: Novice

Reading time: 5-15 min (depending on how you follow maths)

I have a batch of 75% chocolate running.  70% cocoa nibs, 5% cocoa butter, the rest sugar.  I want to make it 80% by adding cocoa butter.  I started with 85 oz of nibs.  Can I just add the same amount of cocoa butter again?

Sadly, no you can’t.  But let’s run through the maths if you were to add that amount of cocoa butter and then how much you actually need to add.

It goes like this.

First I need to find out how much total chocolate you have so I can know how much cocoa butter you added.

T /  85 =  0.7  Rearrange that to:

T = 85 / 0.7 = 121.43 oz total chocolate

With that, I can get how much sugar.

121.43 * 0.25 = 30.36 oz sugar.

So you have

85 + 30.36 + 6.07 = 121.43 oz

If you add 6.07 oz more cocoa butter it is now

85 + 30.36 + 6.07+ 6.07 = 127.5 oz total chocolate

To find the new cocoa butter percent  it is

(6.07+6.07) / 127.5 = 9.52%

The new chocolate total percent is:

(85 + 6.07 + 6.07) / 127.5 = 76.2%

Not 80%, even though the cocoa butter is near 10% as the new total is higher.  The cocoa nib portion has dropped from 70% to 66.6%.

85 / 127.5 = 0.666 = 66.6 %

If you want to actually make it 80% you have to pull out algebra again.

0.8 = (85+6.07+x) / (121.43+x)

0.8 (121.43 + x) = 85 + 6.07 + x

97.144 + 0.8x = 91.07 + x

97.144 – 91.07 = x – 0.8x

6.074 = 0.2x

x = 30.37 oz

So, you make it all the way to an 80% bar with only adding cocoa butter you have to add a whopping 30.37 oz as:

(85 + 6.07 + 30.37) / (121.43 + 30.37) =0.8 = 80%

You didn’t ask,  but I would add more cocoa nibs and/or a mixture of cocoa butter.  Just for fun, let’s run through the maths involved in making it 75% cocoa nibs, 5% cocoa butter still, and sugar from your existing batch.

I’m going to take this in another direction calculation wise since we know how much sugar we have and don’t have to change it.

S = 30.6

We have decided it will be 20%, so we can get the new total from this:

30.6 / T = 0.2

T = 30.6 / 0.2 = 153

With that in hand, we can find out how much cocoa nib we need.

153 * 0.75 = 114.75

And since we had 85 oz:

114.75 – 85 = 27.75 oz cocoa nibs

We can do the same thing with the cocoa butter:

153 * 0.05 = 7.65

7.65 – 6.07 = 1.58 oz cocoa butter.

The main downside to this option is you have to refine your chocolate further.

Either way, there is the maths.  I hope that helps.

New Wild Bolivia in is

This is almost, but not quite, an ‘it’s back’ moment.  I have offered a wild Bolivia in the past.  That was from the Alto Beni region.  This time the beans are from the Beniano.  Basically the same local native (heirloom?) stock but a different elevation and soil type.  And still very small and full of flavor.

Also, a brand new origin has cleared customs and is in route to the warehouse.  Direct trade India.  I’m very excited working with a group of about 20 farmers there.  Stay tuned.


Ask the Alchemist #167

Level: Novice

Read time: 5 minutes

When I peruse through your selection of cocoa beans for sale, the stark contrast in colors between the different origins always catches my eye.  It’s pretty interesting to look at for me.  But then that’s always made me wonder, have you standardized how you take the photo of each bean origin?  As in, do you put the same mass of beans in the same container every time?  Do you then use a tripod at a set distance away from the beans to take your shot?  Is the lighting always consistent?  Blah blah blah. The reason I ask is partly because of the motley colors I see, but also some of the origins simply look more attractive to me than others.  I see some origins that are a beautiful consistent deep brown like the Madagascar.  Then I see some origins that are really gray like the Honduras.  The gray origins make me wonder if there’s surface mold on those beans. Then I think if there’s surface mold, what are those beans like on the inside?  Other origins look multi-colored in the picture like the Mexican Chiapas.  That makes me wonder if there’s uneven fermentation in those beans or are those beans of mixed age or ??? I understand that you personally vet each origin you bring in and vouch for them.  And I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by it’s cover, but for me some of the pictures may not be doing some of your origins much justice. Can you clue me in?  Is there a similar story among gray-colored origins versus the multi-colored origins, etc?


Let’s put this on the table.  I am a terrible photographer.  So terrible that I should not even be allowed to use that term.   I take pictures.

But to answer your question, I actually do my very best to standardize how I photograph the beans.  They are all in the barrel I pack from, with a fill level near the top.  The lighting is mostly the same, as is the distance.  But I don’t use a tripod.  For years I have known I should set up a white space so there are not shadows (I do know to keep my shadow out of the light source) but as of yet, I have not done it.  Clearly.

At this point it is pretty much an ingrained rule for me to take photos of the beans as they come in.  Nothing annoys me more than seeing the same repeated image when I am shopping for similar items.  And I do my best never to do that.  I also do my very best to capture the differences in the beans.  Which it seems I am doing as per your comments.  Again, there is little I find more annoying than misrepresentation of what is being sold.  Some many years ago this slightly bit me when I reused an image of a previous crop year and although the image was of what I was selling, the new crop looked a bit different and some people objected to a small degree.  Which I sympathized with.  Which is why I now photograph each new bean.

Which brings me to how representative the beans are.  Your comments actually reinforce my original statement that I am not a photographer.  I think a photographer (a good photographer) does not so much take good photos, but captures what they see AND presents what they see.  This is where I fall down.  You mention the deep brown of Madagascar.  This makes me cringe as to my eye it is a very solid red/brown.  Auburn if that can be applied to non-hair colors.  That is what I see.  That is what I would like display.  Likewise, when people visit, I show them the Honduras as the poster child of even and consistently colored beans without even the hint of mold.  It’s almost crushing to hear some may think they are moldy.  And then we have some beans like Rizek from the Dominica Republic.  They look all over the board in the photo, but in person only show some pretty minor variation.

And I simply must address mold.  I won’t sell moldy beans.  What many people think of as mold is dried mucilage from the fermentation.  Some is just crappy photography.

Recently I had two bags of beans arrive.  One bag of great.  The other was CLEARLY moldy (and not for sale).  Not grey.  Moldy!  Have a look a what mold looks like.


On the other hand, here are two photos of Honduras.  What is on the site (left) and how I personally think they look.  Not moldy at all to me.  The right photo is from my perspective more how they look.

honduras 2015           honduras 2015 - color


Likewise, here is Madagascar.  On the left is what I photographed.  On the right is what (I think) is in my mind’s eye of what Madagascar looks like.

Madagascar - as is             Madagascar - color


And the same goes for consistency.  Sometimes lighting just magnifies subtle differences that when viewed in person are just not as stark.  Let’s do the Chiapas you mention.  Left, again, as is, right what I think I see.

Chiapas2              Chiapas2 - color


Is one more honest or representative than the other?  Sure there is more variation than other beans, but when I look in the barrel I don’t see the photo on the left.

It’s frustrating.  And has been for years.  I used try and adjust the color balance to what I saw….but I’m a ham fisted ogre there too and I made matters worse.  And does it really matter that you think Madagascar is brown when I think it has a hue of red?  I don’t think it does.  Do you?

So now I shoot for basic consistency.   And accept, for now, that you are right.  Maybe I am not doing some of the beans justice.  I point out time and again one should not judge a book by its cover (I’m glad you point that out too), try to write up really detailed tasting notes and paint a picture of senses, not just visually.

And at the end of the day, it mostly works.  I’d rather be known for being straight shooting and earnest in my presentation of beans than being a photoshop wizard.

What are you thoughts on the matter?

Ask the Alchemist #166

Level: Alchemist

Read time: 6 minutes

I have been bowl tempering with good success until the ambient temperature in my kitchen went up.  Typically in the morning when I temper the kitchen is about 60 degrees.  We had some unusually hot weather and we have no air conditioning, so my kitchen was about 80.  However, knowing this I took my liquid chocolate directly from the melanger, cooled it with a bowl of 65-degree water to 79 when it started to thicken, then immediately put it into a bowl of 100-degree water and slowly brought it up to 88.  The molds then went immediately into a 45-degree refrigerator for 30 minutes, and then into my basement where the ambient temp is about 70.  It’s with a bean, Bolivia, that I use a lot and my normal formula and melanging time.  Yet the finished product had a soft temper.  It was OK but I would not call it a full temper because it was softer than usual.  It did not have the same snap and when you laid one bar on top of another it did not have that satisfying click.  With this close control over my temperatures why did that 80-degree ambient temp have an effect on it, when the chocolate was not left at that temp at any time?  (I even melted it down and re-tempered with the same result).  Seems like I am not getting enough type 5 in there but can’t figure out why.


This is a really great question and I have to admit had me stumped for a little bit.  You are correct, it sounds like everything should be working perfectly.  Yet clearly it isn’t.

When I first read this I had an idea what it might be, but I needed to ask a few question In order to suss out.

It turned out that when it was not as hot, the molds hung out on the counter a little while since there was no rush to get them out of the heat.

This difference, the time on the counter, between going into the mold and chilling in the refrigerator, was the key.

Most of the time this time does not matter.  But it can matter.  Clearly.  The problem was not so much that there was not enough Type V.  It was that there was not enough time to allow it to do it’s job.  By going from 88 F and a nominal amount of V, it was plunged straight into the equivalent of deep freeze.  The Type V didn’t have time to do its job and propagate throughout the chocolate.  Basically it was flash frozen.   And the result was a soft temper.

Chocolate needs a little time for the Type V matrix to form.  Just 5 or 10 minutes will often do the trick.  At 80 F, as in this kitchen, it might have needed 15-20 minutes.  The other alternative, which quite a number of chocolate makers use is to use a cooling cabinet.  Those are cool, say 50-60 F, but not really cold.  They give the Type V time to spread throughout.

In your case here I would have just taken the chocolate straight down to the basement where it was 70.  Or alternatively, just left it in the 45 F refrigerator for 5-10 minutes.  Not enough to flash freeze it as it were, but to take the edge off, get it cooling and crystalizing but not too fast.

And if you don’t have that 70 F basement, and the refrigerator is all you have, you may just need to wait out the heat.   Chocolate can be a demanding and finicky lover.

So, in these warm days of summer, do keep that in mind.  It’s still all about balance.  You have to hit that Goldilocks zone.  Get the chocolate chilling, but not too fast and not too long as you can have too much of a good thing.

Good luck and try to keep cool.



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