Ask the Alchemist #106


I am a little disappointed in the wild boliva I got. I have thrown away a third of the beans. They are full of webs and moth eaten beans. Can I still make chocolate out of these? I’ve read from some chocolate makers that they are throwing out 30%. I’m assuming you got them from the same supplier. Is that right?

 

I’m a bit disappointed in the appearance of the Wild Bolivia too. It didn’t match the approval sample. And they are also full of dust. This clearly is not right and I’ve been talking with the supplier and they are likewise not happy. That said, they are what they are. And they still taste fantastic (more on this in a bit).

We have taken to sieving the beans for dust and tossing the worst beans. But that is probably only 2-3%, not 30%. So you may still see something in the beans. But (knock on wood) nothing live. Just old damage.

Regardless, I don’t like it and I just don’t feel right charging a premium for these beans. I have dropped the price by 20%. This is NOT to try and unload them on you. It just like I said. I don’t feel right charging a premium for something not in really great condition. Why am I still offering them you might ask? Because I stand behind my assessment that they are still great tasting beans…..without additional sorting or picking.

But I have partly withdrawn them from the wholesale side. If you are interested in full bags from the warehouse, please contact me directly and I’ll see what is left. I’m not going to be carrying warehouse inventory on this for now.

Up on seeing them (after panicking slightly), I immediately roasted up a batch, as is, without sorting. I let the process do the sorting for me. My winnowed recovery was a little less than normal (74 vs 80%, another reason for the discount) but the nibs looked and tasted great. And the resulting chocolate, although a little different from the sample (which isn’t super uncommon) was still a really great flavored chocolate. Let me show you something. This is yet again that you should not judge a bean by its appearance.

wild-bolivia-v-clean-sm.jpg

That is some of the worst of the Wild Bolivian (not what you would see or receive) and a stunningly prepared sample. The result? No surprise since I am making a point. The Bolivia is full of great character and flavor – AS IS. The beautiful unnamed sample was one dimensional, a bit astringent and mostly a comparative disappointment.

So I say to you again, you do NOT have to pick through these. At least not to the 20-30% level. Analogy time. Say you cut up a nice loaf of bread so you can make stuffing. You take a chaste nibble off half of the cubes of bread and then make croutons and stuffing out of the result. Are you going to notice that you took off nibbles of bread? I challenge you to say yes. You will have less bread (hence again the discount) but it just isn’t going to affect the quality especially if you blow away the crumbs. This isn’t just theory. Every single one of my tests and tasting notes are based on beans as you will receive them.

Why are some chocolate makers tossing out 30%? You would have to ask them. I am not them and don’t agree with it. Visual clues are just not a good indicator of quality. I’ve seen it over and over. Go to the supermarket and check out much of the organic vs conventional. Generally speaking the conventional will look nicer (it’s often bred to be more durable). But generally speaking the organic will taste better (because it tends to be more heirloom, not just because it is organic). Moving on. That horse is dead for the time being.

As for the supplier question. That is a touchy subject. But this has been a ‘full disclosure’ Q&A so no reason to stop now. Yes, I and others got this bean from the same supplier (which I will do the courtesy of not naming). The rub here is that I have been working with this supplier to bring these beans in for me and me alone. But unfortunately they decided it would work better for them to bring in more and sell direct to whomever they wanted. Our gentleman’s agreement clearly fell apart. Many of the customers were ones had I cultivated and only knew about wild Bolvian beans because I was so captivated by them years ago and have been making a big deal of having them again.  To their credit, they have stopped selling them for the time being until a handle can be gotten on the extent of the damage and condition of the remain bags. But I guess life has a way of balancing things out. I’m actually kind of relieved I do not have to deal with a bunch of less than happy people. Lemons to lemonade, what goes around comes around and all that fun such stuff.

So you could say I am somewhat disappointed on this this whole endeavor. The beans are not as nice as I’d hoped. My supplier went around me. Some of you are not super happy. I am not super happy. But it is tempered against others who have stuck with me, who agree these taste just as good as they hoped and at the end of the day these beans still make a damn fine chocolate and for that I am happy and grateful. I would not be offering them otherwise. Please trust me and give them a chance. You won’t be disappointed.

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