This desire to make chocolate at home all started through a rather circuitous route. I roast my own coffee at home. I got into it because of a gift from my partner a couple of years ago (Yule 2001). It was a coffee roaster called a Fresh Roast, plus a sample pack of 8 different beans from the best
green coffee bean
. In addition to selling meticulously cupped and rated beans of top quality, they also have a e-mail list for those who want to really get into roasting
and want to talk to other people of like mind. It is really a great list in that it is a real think tank. Anyway, one thing led to another and we on the list set up to meet up for a day of roasting, talking, showing off of roasters and some really fabulous food and drink at what we dubbed the Pacific Northwest Gathering (PNWG). In the drink category was of course coffee (a choice of some dozen coffees, vacuum sealed and luscious) and what one list member called the only "real chocolate you will ever have". This fellow, Oaxaca Charlie as we know him, told us about his stash of authentic hand-prepared cocoa, used for making hot cocoa, that he acquired the last time he was in Oaxaca lining up his own sources of coffee beans. It was made by a wonderful old woman, Marina, down there who said this was her last year making it. (She had been making it for something like 60 years). Charlie received some 10 pounds of it, which his shared with us at the PNWG (he came all the way from Canada). As he promised, it was out of this world. He softened some, whipped it up with hot water and we drank. It had already been sweetened and was this great, fresh, heady drink. He said it was made by fermenting the cocoa beans, roasting them, peeling them and then working them on a warm, fire-heated stone metate (think a flat mortar and pestle), with sugar and cinnamon until it was a gooey, chocolatey mess. That was portioned out and set up. That was what he brought. Anyway, that is what started me on this quest. I figured if this could be made by hand in Mexico, I could do the same. So I started looking for cocoa beans, and learning A LOT along the way. First off, I found there are not cocoa beans available (well I will sell them now, but more of that later). Second, I hit numerous "brick" walls in the industry.
The basic message was you can not make chocolate at home. It takes sophisticated, expensive equipment and is just too difficult for the average person. Well, I have heard this before in two industries. The first was beer making. I recall wanting to make and sell small batches of good ale about (wow) 20 years ago. I was hit squarely with "are you crazy, no one would want to buy your homebrew". Five or so years later, these microbreweries starting popping up -- and what do you know, people liked this "homebrew". Ah well, one missed opportunity. When I got into coffee roasting in 2001, I did some research and found that the big professional roasters said "what"!, you can't roast coffee at home, it is too technical, and expensive, and there are no green beans and...? and now I roast at home every couple of days, have built two of my own roasters and the industry is about to come out with another roaster targeted right at the desires of the home roasting community (although they have again missed the mark again, IMO). So "they" say you can't make chocolate at home, well I say just watch me!
Well, I was finally able to track down and purchase some cocoa nibs. They are the roasted, cracked and winnowed cocoa beans.
They were pretty pricey at around $15/pound, but it let me start experimenting. All the while, I was searching out sources of raw cocoa beans. Through various leads and leads of leads, I was able to purchase a single 135 lb bag of cocoa beans from Ghana. The gentleman who I was able to get them for me was joked with as having made the smallest purchase on record. Most sales are at a minimum 2000 lb, and more often 40,000 lb. Well, finding these took me nearly a year, but now I have a source of general-grade Forestaro beans. For those who want to join me on this quest, I will happily sell you some. Next I want to get some of the Criollo "flavor" beans that are the cream of the cocoa crop, but these work for my needs at the time being.