Ask the Alchemist #111

I roasted 2.5 lbs. of the 2012 Peru beans in the Behmor. I used the 1 lb. P2 settings for 16 minutes and hit start. At 15 minutes I did not have any popping yet, so I added another minute. Still no pops at 16 minutes. As I approached minute 17 mark, still no pops. On the 2012 Peru bag it gives a warning not to over roast, so I decided that I pushed it as far as I could go comfortably, so I started the cooling cycle. 20 seconds into the cooling cycled I heard a couple of pops. This didn’t surprise me, because the Behmor temp always seems to go up abruptly for a short period of time when the cooling cycle begins in my prior experience. The family complained about the unpleasant smell that came out of the kitchen the first few hours in the Premier which seemed to diminish as the hours progressed. I tempered the batch and allowed it to age a few days. My initial tasting leaves me a bit bewildered. I seem to pick up a fruit taste with some associated sourness. One time that thought of an oxidized red wine (like a Sherry) came to mind. I don’t sense a lot of bitterness for a 75% chocolate. I just have no point reference to know if I did something wrong or if I am on target for a Peru bean. The taste is growing on me, but it is just a bizarre experience each time I bite into a piece.

I love questions and tales like this as it gives me so much to touch on and discuss.

This will be a re-visit of roasting in the Behmor (and in general) and how that relates to my warnings and admonishments for various beans. Let’s start with my basic profile for roasting in a Behmor. Set it on any profile on the 1 lb setting (or 400 g if you have a 220V), remove 2 minutes to 16 minutes, and go. This is a STARTING place. This is NOT the perfect roasting profile for any bean. Well, it may be the perfect one sometimes, but that’s just the luck of the draw. It does work quite often, but it also doesn’t work often enough. It is a starting point.

Just yesterday I roasted up a set of evaluation samples in the Behmor. 2.2 lbs (1 kg sample), P1, 18 minutes. I didn’t start at 16 minutes as it was in a cold area, with beans at 50 F (the ambient temperature). At 17 minutes, there were a couple pops, so I added 2 minutes. Somewhere around 19 minutes there were good aromas coming off, more pops, and I added another minute. At 20:30 I got the first whiff of acrid. Basically a nice indicator the roast is in ‘the zone’ and probably near the end. Knowing 30 seconds won’t make a huge difference, I just let it run out to 21 minutes. And I have no fear what so ever that I would have over roasted if I had added yet another 1:30 and let it run out to maximum. It might have been a tad heavier than I might like, but in all likelihood it would have just been different, not ruined.

That last part is a significant point to realize when both roasting in the Behmor and in general. One minute is simply not going to ruin a roast. Two minutes aren’t either. Even 5 minutes (if your ambient temperature is not too much above your target end of roast temperature) isn’t going to over roast your cocoa beans. Somehow, and maybe it is my fault, people have come to the conclusion that 15 seconds can make a huge difference in a roast profile. The difference in ‘right’ and horribly over roasted. It just isn’t like that. Maybe it is comparing it to coffee where 15 or 30 seconds can make a huge difference if you are ramping hard (meaning there is a large difference in your ambient vs bean temperature) AND you are near 2nd crack where varietal flavor gives way quickly to roast character. But that is over 450 F bean temperature. It is a totally different world from cocoa bean temperatures that should not ever be over 320 F at the far outside. And that is key to roasting in the Behmor (or your oven). The Behmor roasts by both time and temperature and it only has so much energy to offer. No, I don’t recall exactly what that temperature is, but 8 years of experience roasting on it tells me it’s low enough to keep you from over roasting 2 lbs of cocoa beans. I once tried to over roast in the Behmor. I loaded 1 lb and let it rip….and STILL came away with beans that were not badly over roasted. Just somewhat. It took me putting them twice to really showcase what badly over roasted looks like.

So ’17 minutes isn’t ‘pushing it to the limit’. Not even close. 21 minutes MIGHT be pushing it IF you had pops around 15 minutes. I am totally comfortable continuing to roast at a moderate temperature differential (i.e. the Behmor’s profiles) for 3 minutes after I hear the first pops, and 4 minutes does not scare me. And certain beans can take 5 minutes. The whole key is the Behmor cycles the heaters to keep the chamber in control. Instead of thinking coffee roasting, put your mind more into bread baking or roasting a piece of meat. You see it all the time in recipes. If your oven is at 350 F, many break recipes call for 25-35 minutes. A piece of meat that you are fully cooking will say 60-90 minutes. Huge windows. You only get into problems when you are baking/cooking/roasting really hot and fast. I like to bake biscuits hot and fast. 450-475 F for 11-12 minutes. Going to 14 minutes there could indeed ‘over roast’ them. But if you go more traditional at 350 F, the range opens up to 13-16 minutes and 18 minutes might be a little darker than you want, but even at 20 minutes they won’t be burned.

So how do you know when to stop the roast then? I alluded to it before. I go by aroma. In many beans there is a sharpish acrid like smell that comes off when you are approaching ‘too far’. And it’s not just a smell. You have to be in the right area of the roasting profile. No matter what you smell at 12 minutes, no matter how sharp or acrid, it is NOT the smell I am talking about because it can’t be. It’s too early. ( Just like hearing pops at 5 minutes. Those don’t count. They just can’t. ) It’s also most likely not there at 15 minutes, and may not be there at 16. Once you hit 16-17 minutes, it starts to be possible. But it still may not show up until 20 or 21 minutes, if it is going to show up at all. It is totally within the realm of possibility that it would take 24-26 minutes to reach that stage of roasting for certain conditions (low voltage, cool room, high bean moisture, etc) which can’t happen in the Behmor. And it may be that YOU like your beans on the far end. There is nothing wrong with that.

At the end of the day, I would love to suggest that you put in two pounds of bean, set your Behmor to the maximum time it can go, and ROAST. Let them pop, and snap and roast and don’t touch it and don’t fret. Observe, smell, and learn. Get past your fear of failure. And actually I have done this for people that constantly under roast out of a fear they are going to over roast. I have to tell you. I love failure. I learn so damn much when I fail. And even more when I try to fail and don’t, learning that the limits were not what I thought them to be. That I had constructed this illusionary box around myself that was much smaller and restrictive than reality.

Maybe you won’t like 2 lbs at 22 minutes…but maybe you will, and either way you will have gained knowledge about roasting and your tastes and hopefully overcome a bit of your fear of ruining a batch of chocolate.

Ok. I want to just rapid fire a few of those other points.

The sourness you tasted was most likely under roasting. As I think you now see.

There is nothing wrong with harsh smells coming off your chocolate at the beginning, or even during the roast. If you are smelling them, it means they are leaving and won’t be left in your chocolate. This is a good thing. And if don’t smell them, that is not a bad thing. Maybe there was nothing bad to drive off.

That’s it. Push yourself. Push your limits. It’s the only way to find out what those limits are. I bet you surprise yourself.