Ask the Alchemist #139


Here is my experience with Nicaragua.

• Last summer. Roasted at P3, 18 minutes, may or may not have been before the afterburner crapped out but it should not have made this much difference. It was exactly as you described it and I loved it: As a chocolate, the nuttiness stays on, along with the richness of medjool dates, molasses and interesting tobacco (leaf not smoke) notes. A good full, balanced chocolate flavor wends it's way all through the taste and aroma, with not one aspect dominating the profile.

• Recently, P2, 16 minutes: Fruit bomb. Like the older Peru beans or even Madagascar

• Recently, P4, 20 minutes. Just slightly less of a fruit bomb. No nuttiness and not a hint of the tastes you describe.

• Recently, P2 for 23.5 minutes. A burnt fruit bomb

I don’t think any permutation of roasting is going to give me the flavor you describe, and I had before. The next time you are testing a roaster or grinder, will you humor me and make some of this and see what you think? I swear to you it is a different bean. Do you mind if I send you samples to taste? I have a bar left from last summer and some of the more recent ones so you can taste for yourself.

This week isn’t quite so much a question as a story. A mystery as it were. Who killed who where and with what. The above was part of a dialogue trying to work out what was going on with a recent change in flavor of a chocolate. It was a matter of deduction and clues and a bit of sleuthing.

As you can see the bean in question was from Nicaragua. From the time of the good chocolate and the bad chocolate I had received in multiple shipments. But the container lots were identical. In theory the beans were the same beans.

I both tasted some of the bars in question, and it was amazing just how radically different they were. I suggested different roasts to no avail. We made a little headway determining the afterburner in the Behmor had burned out, so the roasts were not identical But after fixing it, it still was not right.

I made chocolate here from the new (bad?) beans….and it was like the good chocolate. It was a real head scratcher.

I had basically proved the beans were the same by being able to replicate the chocolate here. And chocolate may have lots of variables, but it doesn’t change in flavor just randomly. The key was finding out what was different. Recipe? Sugar? Cocoa butter? Check, check, check.

I really wish I had the ability to write this up as a big, draw you in mystery scenario…but alas, I am not that good. Suffice it to say we found out the issue. Winter!

The new chocolate had been made during the winter….and the key was noting that it was changing as the seasons go cooler. The melanger had been being run in an unheated room on the floor. The refining chocolate was much cooler during the winter than when it was made in the summer. The key was noticing that my setup here was not affected by the climate (they were in the bitter wasteland of rural Vermont). Basically, different temperatures caused different chemistries. Some of the more aromatic fruity compounds were not driven off. Likewise the nuttiness was not able to develop.

The solution was to put the Melanger into an unsealed cardboard box. The motor generates quite a bit of heat and was able to create an environment that mimicked summer conditions. A new batch was roasted up with the old profiles. Refined in a box….and just like magic, the bad chocolate was good again.

So, there you go. We are coming into the winter months. If you have been refining ‘au natural’ and want your chocolate to stay the same, maybe look at a little supplemental heat. The melanger in a box (make sure it’s not sealed up, it can get too hot) can create just the right environment.

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