Do I have to use all that equipment for making chocolate? Can’t I just use (fill in this or that random appliance)?"
Ok, so first off, I cobbled this one together because I get this about once a week at least. The appliance changes, but you get the gist of it. And almost always, it is referring to the use of the Melanger.
In a word, no.
Now that isn’t me wanting you to buy what I sell. Honestly, I make hardly anything on equipment. Just so that is on the table. I sell Melangers (and the other equipment) because it’s what I have found that works. It’s really no more complicated than that.
Over the years, I have had LOTS of failures trying to find something that was a little less hard on the checkbook. But the fact of the matter is that grinding sugar and cocoa down to around 50 microns is HARD. Let alone15 microns that some people want. It’s a technical feat.
Why? You need to picture what you are trying to do.
Ok, you have a small swimming pool (analogy of scale time). One that is about 12 feet in diameter. Cover the bottom about a foot deep with golf balls. Now, fill it up with water about half way. You have your unrefined chocolate with sugar (bowling balls) in it. Your goal is to get the golf balls broken up to the size of sand. And you have a sword to do it with. Go ahead and hop in and let me know how far you get. That’s basically what you are trying with any blender, food processor, etc. You might break those balls up some, but in the end, they are just going to move out of the way and not get chopped up.
What you need is a something that actually grinds. A grinder one might even say. And that’s what the Melanger started out as – a wet grinder. Something that grinds a fluid over and over until it’s the fineness you want. And that first part is key. WET. It’s why flour mills, coffee grinders, Corona mills, etc won’t work. They are all dry mills and meant for coarse grinding (even fine flour is in the 200-300 micron range) of dry material a single time. They might work if you could recirculate the mixture for hours on end, but in the end that pump or mechanism to do it is going to be way more expensive than a Melanger.
As for the rest, I’m going to just give a fast overview and maybe come back to it later. In general, you have choices, and you can either put out sweat equity or money, but basically, TANSTAAFL (look it up).
Roasting. You have to roast. An oven will work if you want to stir and not have huge control. A Behmor works great. You can build your own.
Cracking. You can hand peel. A champion works great without the filter. A cocoa mill works well. Everything else I’ve tried makes too fine of a powder or leaves too many whole beans. Other things may be out there, but these work well, and generally speaking I try not to fix what is not broken.
Winnowing. Hand peel again. Blow dryer and bowl. Sylph winnower. That’s about it aside from building your own Sylph style winnower (sure, you could design and build something else, but I’ve seen nothing simpler or less expensive – if I had I’d be offering it).
Grinding/refining – see above.
The final option is to purchase roasted nibs, but it’s that tradeoff of money vs. equipment.
So, do you HAVE to use all that equipment? No, but you (or I) do need to get through the whole process one way or another. And I will say, I LOVE the process. So consider working up to it slowly and backwards. Melanger and roasted nibs first as there is no other option. Then cracking and winnowing with roasted beans, and finally do your own roasting if you find you love the process as much as I do. Take your time and enjoy the journey, because to my way of thinking, it’s all about the journey, not the destination.