Cocoa Bean Roasting

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 Schilling 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.

6 Responses to “Cocoa Bean Roasting”

  1. 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

  2. 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?

  3. 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?

  4. 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).

  5. 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 :)

  6. 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.

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