One of the stages in chocolate making is peeling or separating the husk from the cocoa bean. This can either be done before or after roasting and is usually dependant on what kind of roasting equipment you have and whether you want to roast whole beans or nibs. For doing it at home, I did not like the option of hand peeling. I tried a number of pieces of equipment (meat grinders, rolling pins, grain mills) and either they could not handle the larger beans (in comparison to a grain of wheat) or it crushed the nib and husk so completely that the two powders could not be separated. The long and short of it is that I approached Crankandstein and they were able to modify one of their grain mills for use in cocoa – the Crankandstein Cocoa mill was born – “IT”S ALIVE” – sorry, couldn’t help myself.
In general, the Cocoa mill is what I suggest and recommend to people when they ask about peeling the cocoa or making nibs. It is a 3 roller mill meaning it has a pair of rollers set a particular gap to draw the cocoa in. One of those initial 2 rollers are also paired with a third roller to standardize the nib size during the crush. Finally, there is a slight differential in the gears between the two sets of roller – the effect of this is the pull the outer husk literally away from the nib as the rollers in each set move at a slightly different speed. The result is that you can crack about 4 lbs of beans in a minute and have a nice even distribution of nib size and large pieces of husk that are relatively easy to separate with a fan or blow dryer.
After a couple of years, the idea came around that it might be possible to use the Champion Juicer to crack the beans into husk also and thereby reduce the amount of equipment (and initial capital expense) needed to make chocolate at home. **Legal Safety Warning: Champion Juicer and Chocolate Alchemy specifically concur and warn that this is a safety hazard – you are exposing the sharp rotating auger to fingers and is NOT recommended for standard use. Do so at your own risk.** After a small amount of experimenting, I determined that by removing the bottom plate and running the cocoa beans through quickly, nibs and husk are shot out the bottom. The result are nibs and husk that are a bit smaller than you get with the Cocoa mill and a fair amount of general dust.
So, “Can I just use the Champion?” you ask. “I can live with smaller nibs, I am to be grinding it up anyway” you say. Well, that is up to you to decide. But what I will do is give you a little more data to make an educated decision upon. I cracked, sieved and winnowed a pound of roasted Cuyagua cocoa in the Cocoa mill and the Champion juicer. I filtered out any “dust” under 1 mm and winnowed the nibs in a bowl with a blow dryer, saving the husk for weighing. Here is what I found.
|Cocoa mill vs Champion sieve analysis|
|Equipment||Nibs %||Husk %||Dust %|
|Crankandstein Cocoa Mill||81.3||13.8||4.9|
And for you visually inclined, here are what those percentages look like.
|Crankandstein Cocoa mill||Champion Juicer|
|I think it is obvious from the percentages, but the dust produced from the Cocoa mill is on the left|
|Same here. The Cocoa milled husk is on the left. Notice how much more intact it is.|
What is obvious to me is that the Crankandstein produces less dust, gives larger pieces of husk and can give you less waste in the end. The Champion makes dust of some of the nib that otherwise you could make chocolate with. Now, we are talking about only an ounce or so of “wasted” cocoa, under a dollars worth. Is that worth anything to you? Well, only you can decide that.
I will mention three other pieces of data.
1) From a physical standpoint, I found it easier to winnow the Cocoa milled nibs. The larger pieces of husk blew away much easier and I did not have to contend with dust blowing in my face. Point Cocoa mill.
2) It took seconds to crack that pound of cocoa beans in the Cocoa mill (4-5 lbs/min) but about 1 minute in the Champion. Not a big deal for 1 lbs, but 10 lbs can be tedious. Two vs 10 minutes. Point Cocoa mill.
3) From other experiments, the Cocoa mill does not do a great job on raw/unroasted beans. It usually takes 2-3 passes to separate the husk sufficiently, and then you are still going to pick some out by hand. The Champion rips right through (with dust) raw beans. Point Champion.
And then of course, do you want another piece of equipment? Point Champion. Or is that a point? If you don’t have a Champion at all, you can make nibs with the Cocoa mill, winnow well, and use the Santha Stone Melanger as I described below to grind the nibs. Or you have the Champion, crack and grind with it (might as well grind with it if you have it) and refine in the Melanger. Either way you have two pieces of equipment.
My personal recommendation is all three pieces. And no, it is not because I sell them. I don’t play those kind of games. My duty here is to present information and tools and help you decide what path you want to take. I like the specialization each piece of equipment brings to the table, and the idea of using the right piece of equipment for the right job. A Mill for cracking – a grinder for grinding, and a Melanger for refining. But in the end, I understand it is a bit of money, and real world practicalities do rear their ugly head. Hopefully, I have given you a bit of information that will help you make an informed decision.