I had a wonderful visit last weekend from a delightful woman named Heather (I hope it is alright to use your name Heather, no last name though) who was down in California learning to bake bread professionally. On her way back up north, she asked if she could stop by and see Chocolate Alchemy's "operation" and have a tour. I said we were not much of an operation and not setup for tours everyday, but that she was welcome to stop by. Part of the reason Chocolate Alchemy came into being in it's present form was that we live on a hill top, in the center of 33 wooded acres, and have extra outbuildings that allow us the space to run this kind of internet business. We have storage space for bags and bags of beans, a shop for equipment experimentation and a second small kitchen area that is used as our laboratory. Well, a little space got cleared in the shop for the "tour" (it is a little extra full right now as it is holding a lot of our stuff from the fire in March). Heather showed up around noon. I had roasted up each of the beans we have in stock and we tasted and compared them. We had already discussed going through a batch of chocolate from start to finish so we picked her favorite bean (the Carenero Superior) and tossed a handful into my sample roaster. We talked about how there are no real hard and fast rules about roasting, but just some general guidelines. That you have to roast them pretty evenly without burning or baking them. That they can take a lot of heat initially because they are cold, but can't take high heat the entire time as it would be like trying to fry a pot roast, charred on the outside, raw on the inside. We kept stick our noses over the roaster, judging just when the roast was done, based on the cracks (which we both jumped for) and the slight waning of the chocolate smell.
After these were done, we set up the champion juicer to process a pound of the Barinas I had roasted a few days before. I showed her how to take her time putting just a handful in at a time, not "pushing" the equipment and soon chocolate liqueur was flowing. The pound went quite quickly and conversation moved to the final stages of chocolate making, refining and conching. I explained that we don't have a way to do this on a small scale yet, what is was going to take and that effectively we would have to develop a home conch/refiner because there really were no shortcuts to good chocolate.
This lead to her describing her week and baking school where one day they were making "artisan" hamburger buns. The instructor explain they would be spending many hours prepping ingredients, making the starters, treating each part of the process just so, so that in the end, they would have their "buns". That really struck a chord in me. Chocolate Alchemy is the same way. Making chocolate at home looks really daunting at first but it really is not that bad but there are quite the number of steps that have to be done "just so", from the roasting, to the grinding to the final refining that we have yet to develop, but know we have to. She said they had a discussion in class about what was Artisan bread baking. The consensus was that it was the whole process of choosing the best ingredients, treating them in the best way to maximize their potential, not taking any shortcuts and finishing with a quality product that was something to be proud of.
This really struck a chord with me as I said. That is what we are doing (at least in my head) with Chocolate Alchemy. We are offering the best beans we can find. We are working out the best techniques for roasting and grinding (so you don't have to). And we will be working on a final refiner/conch because there just aren't going to be any shortcuts. The result, I now believe, will be nothing short of Artisan Chocolate. I was told at the beginning that chocolate could not be made at home. I did not believe that at the time, and I don't believe it now. I do believe that you can't make chocolate at home instantly. You are going to have to work at it a little bit. You won't have to blaze your own trail, that is what we are here for, making the mistakes and working out the "just so" so that you don't have to. But it will be a labor of love and OH! what you will have for the fruits our your labor. Artisan Chocolate!