Ask the Alchemist #2

When do I press the cocoa butter out?

I have actually received a lot of variations of this question.  Somewhere along the lines,  the idea has gotten around that you need to press out the cocoa butter from your liqueur, dry refine the chocolate and then add it back.  Or that you are making chocolate by simply mixing cocoa powder and cocoa butter together and dissolving the sugar in.

I’m going to take a moment touch on both of those, then get back to the question at hand.  There is some basis for the first  thought.  In some processes, most common in milk chocolate,  cocoa, sugar and milk powder (if it’s a milk chocolate) are combined together into what is referred to as ‘crumb’.  This is then refined with….wait for it…a refiner.  This is distinctly different from a Melanger.  A Melanger refines (reduces particle size) and conches (aerates, mixes, oxidizes, etc) your chocolate at the same time and is what is commonly used on the small scale of chocolate making (ok, to be fair, it’s the ONLY option on the small scale currently).  A refiner on the other hand only refines the chocolate, usually by means of multiple rollers under very high pressure.  Once the chocolate crumb is smooth, cocoa butter is added (‘crumb’ by the way because with the proportions used the mixture is crumbly) to allow it to flow, and then it is added to the conche.  (And no, I have not found practical roller mill for home chocolate making).  As for making chocolate by mixing cocoa powder (that someone else made), cocoa butter (that someone else pressed) and sugar….well, that is a question for another time, but I will say I did it once (with the use of a Melanger and good quality ingredients) and can’t see doing it again as the result was bland, one dimensional and not good at all.  Now, back to the question.

This is one way it can be done…note, I did not say one way you can do it.  This is a pretty traditional way on a small scale, but the principal is sound.  And expensive.  You roast the beans, grind the beans into liqueur, place it in a bag (or two), place that into a heavy hydraulic press, and a few thousand pounds later (and very often after the addition of quite a bit of heat to get it to 140-160 F), you have cocoa butter (about 35-45% by weight of bean).   Simple huh?  No?  Okay.  Chocolate Alchemy is about approachable methods of making small scale chocolate and you won’t find that here as I’ll admit it is not very approachable.  Rather cool, yes, but not approachable.

So, there is another method known as the Broma Process.  In many ways, it is not a lot different from the various methods of removing the whey from cheese.  You put the cocoa to be pressed in a bag, hang it, and let gravity do the job.  Because cocoa butter is solid at room temperature, you need to heat the cocoa mass.   So, that is how you would go about it at home….and get maybe 10-20% cocoa butter – there is a lot of (interstitial attraction (google is your friend folks) so recovery is very low) .  Now, as I am wont to do, I immediately think of how to improve this, and moving right on to other cheese making techniques seem to be the way to go.  Like an actual cheese press.


And personally, what I would do is place either the hanging bag or the press itself into a cooler or insulated box, along with a heating pad, and let it go for a day.  I’ve not tried this, and I am nearly sure there were be some technical issues to fine tune along the way, but that is how I would (and will.  It is on my ‘to do’ list) attempt it.

That all said, my pat answer when I am asked ‘when do I press out the cocoa butter’ is ‘you don’t’.  On a small scale, there is no real practical reason.  We don’t work with crumb, nor do we have a way to.  You never want less cocoa butter in your chocolate.  Many time you want more, but to get 4 oz of cocoa butter to add to your  5 lb batch of chocolate (as an example), you are going to need to press 2-3 lbs of cocoa (recalling the poor recovery of at home Broma Process) and then have a mound of cocoa cake that without a dry refiner to turn it into cocoa powder (yep, that is where cocoa powder comes from, a WASTE product of cocoa butter), you really will not have a lot of use for.  WAY easier (yes, I know it’s not all about easy, but that is a consideration you have to admit) to just buy the cocoa butter you need.

But of course, I will be the first to admit it’s fun to play around, experiment and see what you can do.  I think the above will get you going if you want to try.  Just don’t think  you have to press the cocoa butter out to make chocolate.

4 Responses to “Ask the Alchemist #2”

  1. I am looking at different economical designs of a cocoa butter press and priced one out with a machinist. I am an American living in Honduras where one cannot simply order cocoa butter. Cocoa beans, however, are grown domestically, so it makes more sense down here to think about pressing your own butter.

    Another factor here, is that with some haggling, you can get a machine built without a major investment. I looked at different designs around the web and we’re looking to build a simple press using a car jack.

    I agree, in the USA, where cocoa beans are more costly, it’s better to just skip this step and buy the butter. If you can’t render most of the butter, you’re wasting a lot of money.

    I tried the “Broma” process last month, in a warm oven overnight, and as you stated, got maybe 10-20%. Incidentally, the word “broma” in Spanish means “joke”. The wiki on this process states that you can get more butter from the broma process than you can with a hydraulic press. Now, that definitely is a joke.

  2. Just a little update on this, we ended up buying a small machine from Alibaba. I later found out that this machine is classified as a “screw press”. The machine was about $250, including shipping. It presses out about 2-3 lbs of nibs per hour, and the separation is probably about 90%. The cocoa butter is dark, because it still has some solid in it. The cocoa powder seems pretty dry, but it surely has at least a little in it. Nevertheless, it serves our purposes.

    Once again, if you live in America where cacao is expensive, go ahead and buy cocoa butter separately. If you live outside the industrialized world, especially where cacao is grown, this little machine is almost a necessity.

  3. Hey mark can you link to the press you got? How much was shipping? I’m looking to get one in Costa Rica

  4. Hi Tyler,

    Sorry for the late reply. I did not receive a notification and had not checked this page. I actually just clicked over here from a wiki page ref.

    I found the machine on Alibaba a couple years ago. They are still for sale there. I have since upgraded to a machine that works a bit faster, and did not cost much more. $250 is what I paid with shipping, to Miami.

    Here is the first one I bought:

    The one we use now is:

    Though I cannot remember paying $500+ for it. There might be another supplier in the $400+ range.

    Mark C.

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