Ask the Alchemist #131


How do I make chocolate taste like chocolate? I don’t want raspberry, peaches and leather in my chocolate! I just want chocolate! Please help. OK, that made me chuckle….but I know exactly what you are talking about.

First off, it does. Taste like chocolate that is. All those flavors you read about are on top of the basic chocolate flavor.

And it is worth going off on a minor tangent to tell you there is no single compound or chemical that tastes of chocolate. In the same way there isn’t one that smells like chocolate (chocolate smell is a combination various compounds that smell like sweat, cabbage and beef (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/sensomics-chocolate-smell/) there many compounds that once combined make us say “chocolate”.

This is actually pretty critical and I guess not so much of a side tangent. More in a moment.

Back to the flavor of chocolate. I have found that it seems to happen in every ‘new’ or rediscovered area of food. Bread. Beer. Cheese. Everyone knows that those flavors are. You probably grew up with them. They taste and smell like home or childhood….and I bet you have not tasted them since. Why? Well, I am hypothesizing but I think a lot of it has to do with homogenization, industrialization and how modern food are/were made. Basically, they were made into the least common denominator. Something that tasted like bread, beer and cheese in general, but not like any one exact style.

Now you have artisan sourdough bread, French baguettes, and fresh rye bread.

You have hoppy IPAs, malty brown ales and roasty stouts.

And tangy fresh farm cheese, 6 types of aged cheddar and live culture soft rind cheese that is bursting with flavor.

The same thing happened with chocolate. Before there was chocolate. Now there is raspberry, peaches and leather!! And you want it back.

I could easily tangent (again) to soap boxing about the state of modern food, but it isn’t constructive here. Instead let’s determine the common factor and use it to our advantage to make that chocolate you want.

Everyone it seems is all about making their chocolate unique. Celebrating how different they are from everyone else. And thus was born Single Origin Chocolate. And there is nothing wrong with that. Heck, it’s what I’ve worked over a decade on, bringing single origin, bean to bar, to you Makers out there.

But, yeah, sometimes you want something familiar. Something that tastes like childhood.

The answer, I believe, is homogenization. It is what gave bread, beer, cheese and chocolate their taste. And there is a much simpler word. It’s called blending.

It is both that simple and that complicated. And no, it is not sacrilegious. We make our own chocolate because we want to enjoy it, and if blending lets you enjoy it, more power to you. It is all about YOUR tastes and enjoyment after all. And while we are at it, maybe we can make it taste even better than you remember. Let’s talk blending.

First, why do I think this is an answer? Remember that there isn’t a chocolate molecule? It is our perception of multiple molecules, taken as a whole, that make us perceive the flavor of chocolate. The same is true of many (if not all) flavors. If you mix a ‘raspberry’ chocolate and a ‘leather’ chocolate the chances are very good you are NOT going to get ‘raspberry leather’ chocolate. You might (or might not – this is just a made up example) get ‘apple’ chocolate. One time I mixed banana and pineapple in a smoothie. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Except it tasted lite classic pink bubblegum!! Just like mixing yellow and blue, the resulting color is ‘yellow blue’. It’s is all its own ‘flavor’ and it is green. More on this in a bit.

There are 2 or 3 basic ways you can blend beans to make chocolate

1) You can blend various beans together before or after roasting.

2) You can blend the roasted beans and make chocolate.

3) Or you can make multiple single origin batches of chocolate and then blend them together

Each one has advantages and disadvantages and like pretty much all the rules here (there are none (except don’t add water to chocolate)) there is no wrong or right way to do it. Just your own personal way.

The easiest and most approachable way to make a blend is to mix your beans and then roast them. I would personally suggest at least 3 beans on up to 5. Two is barely a blend and more than 5 is really just diminishing returns (unless you just happen to have 3 oz of 10 beans left over, then blend away!).

The drawback to this method is that most beans don’t roast to exactly the same level. One may be a little under roasted, one just right and one over roasted. You can mitigate this by picking beans that are roughly the same size and of similar ‘type’. Basically, I would not mix a lot of Forastero with a lot of Criollo. You are kind of asking for trouble in this regard. But Criollo/Trinatario and Trinatario/Forastero should be fine. And again, there are not hard rules.

To alleviate the roasting issue, you can of course roast each bean ‘to perfection’ and then blend them and make chocolate.

The last option is nice for R&D and dialing in a blend but not something I would suggest initially. That amounts to making multiple batches of single origin chocolate and then blending them together in different proportions and tasting the results. In effect, this is what I do every year when I combine all my test samples throughout the year to make holiday truffles. The result, year in, year out, is chocolate tasting chocolate!

So, now you know how to blend and how many beans to put in. But what about the exact beans? Well, this is where I am merely a Novice. My personal take has been to take beans that I like the overall flavors of (Papua New Guinea and Ghana are two favorites of mine) and mix them with something that is sort of opposite. Papua New Guinea has non-acidity tamarind. Ghana is ‘chocolate’. At one point I tossed in some Trinchera (nutty and a little fruity) and Jamaican (rum and dark fruit). The result is a well balanced, not acidic, not fruity, not smoky, not sharp blend. It’s also call Alchemist’s Blend #1 – Balance.

The big thing to note here is that by blending, the ratio of chemical compounds that made ‘tamarind’ and ‘cashew’ and ‘dark fruit’ were disturbed so they no longer tasted like those things. They were not diluted, but actually changed from a perception standpoint. Just like mixing colors on a palette. What also happens though is a kind of neat alchemy. “Chocolate” comes through more often than note. Just like mixing ‘brown’ on a palette, there are lots of ways to get there, and the same goes for the chocolate flavor. The more you mix, the better chances are you will get the needed compounds together that you recognize as ‘chocolate’. And really, it isn’t so surprising. We learned this flavor as chocolate because the majority of chocolate we grew up with were blends – blends instigated to keep a consistent chocolate flavor even though crops and origins changed.

Acidity, astringency and bitterness are not flavors though. Unlike flavors, these can be diluted and are therefore pretty straight forward. If you use nothing but high acid beans, your result will be high acid. The same with bitterness and astringency. But it is worth noting that these things are not necessarily linear. Quite often, you can cut a bitter (or astringent or acid) component by 1/3 and find it is only half as strong as it was.

Finally, and this is only my own personal recommendation, get outside your comfort level. I am not a bright, fruity chocolate fan – so it is good to toss in at least some percentage of bright and fruity. Or if you want a brighter chocolate ‘chocolate’, then go with a lot of high end flavors (Madagascar, Rizek, Peru) but get at least one base note in there for contrast and complexity (like Ghana, Ivory Coast or Bolivia). I’m often blown away buy certain paintings I see that look so real, but when you really look at them have these vibrant and colors you would never see in real life. But the whole is more ‘real’ feeling than if it was just monotone.

So, suggestions for blending.

1) Mix 3-5 beans of similar size and type and that you like in equal proportions.

2) Roast them together.

3) Mix in at least one ‘outlyer’ flavor

4) Have fun – it’s chocolate for goodness sakes.

Single origin is good, but blending is fine, and making what you enjoy is what it is ALL about.

Oh, and don’t take yourself TOO seriously. Otherwise, this might happen.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=3&v=TBb9O-aW4zI

Hrm….custom bean by bean hand select blend….only $499/lb…

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