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I made my first batch of milk chocolate using you nibs from Bolivia. I liked the flavor overall, but found that the flavor was more interesting about 8 hours after putting it into the melanger. I'm not good at describing flavor, but it had more to it compared with the way it settled out after 24 hours and I liked it a little better. What bean would you suggest I try next, given my preferences.
I can be a sneaky bastard. When I have given talks and attended conventions the chocolate that provided to taste was running in a melanger. It is getting to be a pretty common sight now but in years past no one had ever seen one and the novelty was magical. They could dip a taste of chocolate (with a spoon) right from the melanger and taste it. Invariable their face would light up with the burst of flavors. I did this on purpose (being sneaky) because I’ve found that chocolate in the melanger often tastes, to use the phrase above, more interesting compared to the same chocolate that has been tempered.
At 8 hours there are lots of flavors in there and interesting is a good term and I’ve found most people like the chocolate at that stage. The sugar and cocoa has been refined significantly and many flavor and aroma compounds have been released. At 24 and 48 hours the flavor gradually mellows and often becomes less interesting.
What is worth noting though is this is the melted chocolate.
With the chocolate being liquid and warm, our perceptions are significantly different and almost invariably more intense. You don’t have to chew or wait for the compounds residing in the chocolate to be released. They are ready and waiting to trip the lights fantastic all over your tongue at a moment’s notice. The result is intensity. More receptors in your mouth are being activated all at one time.
The opposite of this is true also. Ice cream is often better as is softens just a little bit. Cold chocolate seems to have less flavor than room temperature chocolate. And sometimes this is used to a products advantage in the other direction. Most people tend to drink American yellow beer ice cold. Marketing tells you it is because it is more refreshing. My personal take is that it is hiding its less than pleasant skunk piss flavor and why good British ale (and many American micro brew) is best served at cellar temperature – so the great flavors can actually be tasted and appreciated and not covered up by being ice cold.
All this leads me to wondering if you that is all you experienced. You don’t mention if you removed some chocolate at 8 hours and actually like it better than the chocolate that ran for 24 hours. I suspect if you had you would have found that whereas it was more interesting in the liquid form at 8 hours, once tempered it would have been too harsh and/or unbalanced.
I can’t really offer another bean recommendation based on the information you gave me. There just isn’t enough information. Liking a chocolate in the warm liquid state at 8 hours vs at 24 hours doesn’t tell me your preferences especially in a milk chocolate. Maybe you like a little more acidity? That is about all I have here except I suggest you take an actual sample next time at 8 hours, temper it and compare it to the 24 hour chocolate. Then they are on equal footing.
This leads me to a variation of what you asked. Even if you liked the chocolate at 8 hours, you really don’t have the option of stopping since the chocolate is going to be more gritty than you want most likely.
“What do I do if I like the flavor of my chocolate before it is at my desired smoothness?”
My base answer is that you should adjust your roast profile to better give you what you want when it is at the appropriate smoothness.
The other option (in theory) is breaking up the melanger step into its two component parts, conching and refining. Remember, refining is reducing particle size, and conching is stirring with added heat.
If you have a chocolate that tastes like you want it before the particle size is where it needs to be, you don’t have many options which is one of the reasons separate refiners and conches were made. The other main reason they were made is that melangers don’t scale up well once you doing very large (over 500 lb) and even at 200 lb the run times may get longer than you like.
The solution is to single pass chocolate though a roller mill or ball mill and then conch (heat and stir) it until it reaches the desired flavor without further reducing particle size.
It is very much worth noting that there are no dedicated home scaled refiners and conches. There are laboratory scaled machines but they are well outside the budget of most home makers and most small chocolate makers ($5-10K to start).
Some people claim/think/believe this separation of process yields a better chocolate. I counter that it MAY give a chocolate that certain people like better. To date though, I find I like the flavor of chocolates produced in a melanger.
Now having two machines certain gives you more control, and if you are trying to make huge (on the artisan bean to bar scale) batches of chocolate, it is more efficient to break the process up and I can support that. But more control does not mean better chocolate be default. It just means more variables and places you can mess up. With great power comes great responsibility as it were. I have also yet to taste a conched chocolate that blew me away.
At the end of the day it is about your process. As I said, I prefer chocolates made with a melanger. What that also means is I roast a certain way that allows the particle size and flavor development to come together at the same time.
So if you do have a chocolate that is tasting like you want it before it reaches the smoothness you want you should look at your whole process. Adjust the roast so the flavors peak later (i.e. develop certain flavors harder so there is more to dissipate) and/or run the melanger in a cooler area so the chocolate is cooler. Thinning the chocolate down a little can also keep the temperature down as there is not as much friction and heat can dissipate faster.
The other side of that (which I find more common) is to loosen the tension (so it does not over refine) and increase the chocolate’s temperature (by outside means) if the flavor isn’t ready when the texture is.
So don’t be tempted to think of a melanger as making inferior chocolate. It makes different chocolate than the refiner/conch combo. It is up to you to use the system you have to the best of your abilities to make the chocolate that tastes right to you.
As a final thought, my suggestion for a new bean would have been to not switch beans at all and keep to Bolivia. It is out of stock now but the sentiment is the same. Stick with one bean unless you totally hate it and tweak it until you have what you want. That iterative process is invaluable for learning how you can affect the flavor of the chocolate. Maybe all you needed was to thin the recipe down a little or run the chocolate cooler. Or depending on what flavors you liked, maybe push the Development phase a little harder to bring out more flavor or keep the EOR a little lower so astringency and acidity are a touch higher and can handle a longer time in the melanger.
And it could be none of that matters and you simply didn’t use enough cocoa since it is a milk chocolate. Without way more information there is no way to know.
Mostly, look at your process and think about what you can change to encourage the flavors you want.