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Ask the Alchemist #237

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Ask the Alchemist #237

Level: Novice

Reading Time: 12 minutes

I just read Dandelion’s new book and chocolate making seems very expensive.  Isn’t there some other way make chocolate without a melanger.  Wouldn’t a high powered vitamix work?  How about the Champion juicer?  Can’t I just run the sugar through there?  It all seems so complicated.  There should be a simpler way.  I can roast coffee in a $10 popcorn air popper.  Can I crack the beans In a corona mill and won’t that make chocolate?

Some of you long time readers might be a little confused with why I would answer these series of question when it seems really old news.  The alternative was “What happens if you dip a cat in chocolate?” and well……

I have seen a large resurgence in these kinds of questions in the last couple months.  New chocolate makers are coming in droves (of which I am thrilled by) and with it people seem to be trying to reinvent the proverbial wheel. 

I in no way want to stifle questions, inquisitiveness and innovation but I also really want people to do a little research and maybe realize that nearly all of these questions have been asked before and answered (mostly with a 'no').

I want people to make chocolate.    Keep that in mind.  So ask yourself this.  If there was a cheaper, simpler way to make chocolate, don’t you think I would be the first to announce it to the world?   Really, I’m not ‘Da Man’ trying to keep secrets hidden.  I've built Chocolate Alchemy on the philosophy that there are no secrets and I want to spread all I know.

I guess this is going to turn into a little review of bean to bar history interspersed with some of the questions.  Let’s take it from the top down, going through each step of the process.

 “You are selling beans from 2015.  Aren’t they too old by now?”

I only sell beans that I’ve personally tested and verified.  I make chocolate regularly and pull beans from our stocks once their flavor profile degrades.  In some cases that is 1 year but many (most really) times it can be 2-3 years. 

“Isn’t Criollo the best?”

They are just the rarest and generally the most mild.  I hold by the stance there is no 'best', just your own personal favorite.

“Can I use an air popper like coffee to roast nibs?”

See the above discussion.  I tried it and for a multitude of reasons it didn’t work.  Mostly it has to do with scale and control.

“Won’t a coffee roaster burn my cocoa?”

No, you can turn it down.  

“Will my chocolate taste like coffee if I use my coffee roaster?”

No, I have done it for years.  Any coffee oils that might cross contaminate the cocoa would be absorbed by the husk which you winnow away.  I’ve never even see that happen and I’ve used the same roaster for years.

“Can I use a home brewing mill to crack my cocoa?”

No, the gap (even adjustable ones) is too small.

“Have you heard of the Crankandstein cocoa mill?  Why don’t you offer it?”

You could say I’ve heard of it.  I invented it and had it built by Crankandstein.  I no longer offer it as I find the Champion juicer does a better job for a similar price.  Plus the Champion is multi-purpose.  You can also make liquor with it.


“Doesn’t the Champion get to hot and destroy all the flavor of the chocolate?  It seems like it would burn it”.

I discovered using the Champion Juicer for chocolate way back in 2004 and built Chocolate Alchemy and got this whole bean to bar movement going with it.  If it had burned the chocolate or made it inferior I simply can’t imagine we would be where we are today.    Yes, the chocolate gets warm, and even hot, but stays WAY cooler than when you roast.    No, it does not harm the chocolate.

“Can I use the Champion 4000?”

I’ve not personally used one, but hear it works ok, but not as good as the 2000 I offer.  And while I am talking about the Champion, there is a Commercial version but I have not found any difference in performance or longevity compared to the Household model, so I offer the less expensive household model.

“Do I have to use a melanger?  It is so expensive.  Can I use……”

I cut that off because of all the variations.  You can insert Vitamix, blender, grain mill, and any other of standard household appliance and I will answer that I tried out every one of them over the years and would have told you if they worked.  As it is, I specifically outline a bunch HERE that do not work.  Again, I WANT  you to make chocolate.  If I could lower the financial bar, what possible reason would I have for not doing that?  The answer is none.

I’m going to take this opportunity and say I appreciate that this is not an inexpensive hobby.  But when I started down this chocolate making at home road in 2004, before there was a bean to bar movement, it was not even possible to make chocolate at home.  Aside from no knowledge base, all the equipment was industrial.  There were no melangers.  The cheapest winnower was $2000 and did a huge 2 oz a minute.  There were no roasters.  A basic set up would have cost you $100,000 or more.  Now a good setup is $1000.  That is two orders of magnitude.  Please keep that in mind is all I’m saying.

“I’ve read that melangers make inferior chocolate and that you need a mill and conche to make good chocolate.”

The WHOLE bean to bar movement was built on the stunning results of stone melangers.  I think that evidence right there speaks for itself as an answer to that question.

“Why don’t you invent a small $100 melanger?  I’m sure you would get a lot more people into chocolate making.”

I bet Apple would sell a lot more Iphone X if they were $50 too.  I would have done it if I thought it was possible but there is a lower limit to material and building costs.   And really it comes down to scale in this case.  Although there are 1000s of melangers out there, I would bet there are millions of iphone Xs already out there.  If I made 100,000 small melangers I could probably do it for under $100 each but there is that small issue of the $10,000,000 needed to do that.  As big as the bean to bar movement gets, I don’t see it ever being worthwhile to make 100,000 melangers at one go. 

“I’ve heard you can’t use a tempering machine with bean to bar chocolate, that it is too thick.  How do you temper?”

I am baffled where that opinion came from.  You can.  Certain extra light roasts that retain moisture might be a bit thicker, and some makers don’t like using cocoa butter (which makes for a more fluid chocolate), which I don’t understand, but you absolutely can use a tempering machine.  That said, they are expensive and I don’t see a reason not to hand temper or to use Silk which is nearly fool proof.

That is a selection of questions that have come in the last couple months.   I said at the beginning I wanted to give you a basic history of bean to bar.  Dandelion’s book showed the successes very well, but what they didn’t describe (nor was it their place to) was the multitude of failures I went through.  It would be impossible for me to tell you everything I tried but know that if it was a common household item, I tried it and if you don’t see it as an option, it is because it failed.  And when I say failed I mean were too expensive, too DIY, too cumbersome, too hard to work with or literally just failed.  

What are some of those things that didn’t work ?

  • Ice cream maker (conche)
  • Rock tumbler (refiner/conche)
  • Air popper (roasting)
  • Ball bearings in mixer (ball mill refiner – expensive)
  • Rolling pin (cracker)
  • Mortar and pestle (well, becaue)
  • Hand peeling (too hard)
  • Corona type mill (poor results)
  • Champion Juicer (refining sugar – fail)
  • Champion Juicer (winnowing  - hard on machine and tasted bad)
  • Vita-Mix (burned the chocolate)
  • Other Juicers (ride up and fail)
  • Home convection ovens (under powered)
  • Meat Grinders (crackers and refiner)
  • Food processors (refiner)
  • Grain mills (cracker and refiner)
  • Coffee grinders (refiner)
  • Indian Wet Grinder (burned out, but we modified them to the Melanger you now know)

And that is just a sampling.  Various other Rube Goldberg type contraptions were tried and there were many variations of those above.  All that and more brought us to this place at this time where the web is full of free information on how you can get into chocolate making for the barest fraction of what it would have cost 20 years ago. 

By all means keep trying though….but maybe not the same things others have tried and proved doesn’t work. There is that semi-urban myth that the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.  Try not to be crazy.

 Just like they say there are no new ideas for story lines anymore, I am pretty confident there are no longer any obvious solutions for making chocolate simpler and significantly less expensive than there currently is.

Regardless, keep experimenting, making and asking questions.


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Ask the Alchemist #229


Ask the Alchemist #229

This week I want to review and put in one place how time relates to chocolate making.  What you are going to see again is that there is a range, and there is no cut and dry X length of time it takes to make chocolate from the bean.


Ask the Alchemist #211.5


Ask the Alchemist #211.5

ew questions have been a little light lately.  I want to share a correspondence I had due to Ask the Alchemist #211.  Because I have something planned Ask the Alchemist #212 (is it obvious to everyone what the subject will be?) I’m going to call this one 211.5.



Ask the Alchemist #177

Level: Alchemist

Reading time: 13 min

Hi, John - I just watched your roasting video. I am one of those people (for the last 1.5 years since I moved to Seattle) who doesn't currently have an oven. I hope to move in the next few months, but until then I've been taking my beans to my son's house to roast them in his oven. After watching this video, I'd like your opinion.

The oven is a Wisco - 1300 Watts.

Somehow I made the assumption that using this for my beans wouldn't be a good idea because the air circulation is so strong inside it; much stronger than a traditional convection oven. When using it for typical baking I need to drop the temp about 25* from what recipes recommend. Now I'm not so sure. This thing is small - about 15in wide, so these are the Pyrex dishes I have that will fit. Of course, I don't want to take a chance on wrecking a batch of beans. Given what I've described, do you see any problem using this for cacao?


Let us get this out of the way early.

I am going to lie to you today.

That is a lie.

What I mean by that is that in a binary world, something is either the truth or a lie, and if I am not telling you the whole truth, I therefore must be lying to you.

This is basically I joke I tell to get the attention of a group of 8th graders when I talk about the science of chocolate making.  Go watch my youtube video ( ) where I tell the whole story.  Suffice it to say, I am NOT going to actually lie to you (on purpose) but I am going to leave a lot out since what I am going to talk about is full of maths and thermodynamics that are going to make many people’s eyes glaze over.  My goal is to get you to understand what is basically going on and why I am making the statements and assertions I make.


And it’s very possible many of you CAN handle the truth.

With that, hold tight, and let’s jump in.


First the answer.  Yes, you can use that oven.  For 1 to 2 lbs of beans.

Now I will tell you why I say that.  But I need you to be somewhat conversant in some basic terms and how I think.

From Google – “The British thermal unit (BTU or Btu) is a traditional unit of work equal to about 1055 joules. It is the amount of work needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit.”

I am starting there because I know from empirical experience that my Royal #5 coffee roaster produces about 42000 btu/hour with propane.  How do I know that?  I measured the orifice of the propane outlet and looked up the BTU/hour connected to standard liquid propane.

Multiplying that out, that translates to 44310000 joules/hour.

I can roast 35 lbs in my Royal in about 20 minutes or one third of an hour.  That means I need  14770000 joules of energy for 35 lbs regardless of time it takes me to get it there.  Dividing by 35, that means 422000 joules per pound are required.

Part of this kind of number crunching is verifying I am in the ballpark.  I’m going to do that with checking my pre-heat requirements against how long I know it takes me to pre-heat my roaster.

Iron has a specific heat capacity of 0.45 j/g C.

I know my roaster weights about 300 lbs, but estimate the portion I heat up to 350 F is only about one third of it or 100 lbs.

100 lbs = 45 kg iron =45000 grams

350 F is a change in temperature of about 150 C.

0.45 x 45000 x 150 = 3037500 joules to pre-heat.  If I divide by the heat input (44310000 j/hr) and convert to minutes (multiply by 60)

3037500/44310000 * 60 = 4.11

4.1 minutes to pre-heat.  Yep, that is not a lie.  Some days it’s a touch longer, but it’s in the ballpark, so I am counting that as confirmation that my heat input and roasting requirements are about right.

Next, we can use those numbers to see what a 1300 watt convection oven should be able to do.  But we need to get everything in the same unit.

Again, from Google:

“One watt of power converted to joule per second equals to 1.00 J/s. How many joules per second of power are in 1 watt? The answer is: The change of 1 W ( watt ) unit of power measure equals = to 1.00 J/s ( joule per second ) as the equivalent measure for the same power type.”

That just means that 1300 watts = 1300 j/s

We know we need   422000 j/lb.  A little quick math canceling out joules and the minimum time needed in seconds falls out.

422000/1300 = 324.7 seconds.

Dividing by 60 seconds/min tells up how many minutes we need to roast a pound with perfect efficiency.

5.4 minutes per pound.

On the surface, that sounds great.  Except you really don’t want to roast that fast.  If you try, you are going to over roast the outside and under roast the interior.  So you need a slower roast.  No faster than 12 minutes for a roast is what my experience tells me.  But you don’t want to turn the heat down and not use the oven to its capability so that means you should put in more than 1 lb of beans.  How much?  Just divide 12 by the 5.4 minutes for a reasonable estimate.

12/5.4 = 2.22 lbs = 1 kg

Which amazingly enough is right what I said at the top of the article.

“First the answer.  Yes, you can use that oven.  For 1 to 2 lbs of beans.  “

But you will note I said 1-2 lbs.  Why 1 lb?

Well, that delves into modes of heat transfer.  That means when you add heat to a system, there are three ways for it to get from the source to the item you want to heat up.

Convection, conduction and radiation.

This is a convection oven.  That basically means air heating up by the heat source, circulating to the air to what you are roasting and that heat transfers to the cool items (cocoa beans).   It’s pretty efficient since hot air can surround the beans except where it is touch the pan or other beans.  In a thin layer (what I advocate, and why I advocate it) 70-80% of the surface of the bean can be exposed to the hot air.

Conduction happens with contact.  From the surface the beans are on to the beans.  It’s actually pretty inefficient for anything that isn’t perfect flat.  In the case of a cocoa bean, there is probably only 10-20% of the bean touching the surface of the pan.  That is why it doesn’t do well.

Radiation is basically direct line of sight.  When the sun comes out and shines on your skin and you feel warm, that is radiation.  You are not touching the sun and it isn’t because it caused air to move and warm you.  So if there are elements shining on the beans from above, then they are being heated that way too.  If they are heating from the bottom, then very little radiative heating is happening.  Instead the elements are heating the pan and the pan is conducting the heat (per conduction – above) and heating the beans.  In this case, it’s probably the least efficient way to heat.

Ok, deep calming breath.  I know that was a lot.  We are almost done.  And I can now use those terms to talk in a more efficient manner about why you might only be able to roast 1 pound.

Even though this is a convection oven it doesn’t mean it is efficient convection or convection as good as it can be.  Also, conduction is going to be very low due to the very low percentage of bean surface area actually touching the pan.  And where radiative heat might be effective in some cases, the convection in a way circumvents it by distributing the heat around the chamber.  In this case though, that is not a terrible thing and is actually pretty good or the top of the beans might get scorched.

After all is said and done there is probably only 50-60% efficiency going on here.  The rest of the energy is being lost.  Either through the non-insulated walls and glass door or through direct energy loss when you open up the door to stir the beans every 5 minutes or so.  Remember, you still have to stir. If you don’t, the top of the beans will be over roasted and the underside that is in contact with the pan will be under roasted.

And how do I know so much is being lost?  Again experience and puzzle solving.

Years ago I had a drum roaster that I built.  Over time I modified it for efficiency.   It started off at 2000 watts, with a slow 6 rpm motor and no insulation.

If we do the same calculations, recalling we need 422000 joules per pound  and have 2000 watts we find we, in theory, could roast  a pound of beans in 3.5 min.

422000 / 2000 * 60 = 3.5 min/lb.

The drum contained 5.5 lbs of beans.  So if this roaster was working as well as my Royal, I can apply this math:

3.5 (min/lb) x 5.5 (lb) = 19.25 min

And predict it should have taken me a touch over 19 minutes to roast 5.5 lbs of bean.  But the reality of the situation was that I could only roast about 3.5 lbs of beans in that time.  Doing that efficiency check :

3.5 lb / 5.5 lb = 63.6%

This showed me my system was inefficient.   A little over 35%.

It was not until my 6 rpm motor died and I replaced it with a 45 rpm motor did I discover how important REAL convection is.  As soon as I did it, my roast time dropped to 14 minutes. It was like a 35% boost in power.  Efficiency really.   Consequently I was able to add more beans to my roaster.  When I put in 5.5 lbs, my roast time went back to 19-20 minutes – exactly where a good efficient system should be.

See, it was not enough that the beans were tumbling.  Too many were touching and protecting each other from the heat.  Just like in a table top convection oven with beans on a try.  It was not until I got them lofting did real, full convection kick in.  And it is worth noting that after I insulated my roaster, the roast time dropped to about 17 minutes showing again how much heat gets wasted out the walls and over time.  Just like when you open the door to stir.

So, sure, it is a convection oven, but the beans are only partly benefiting from the moving air.  Sure, if it was not convection, then the roast times would go way out to 30 minutes like a classic oven.    But you really can’t have too much convection in a non-tumbling roasting situation.

That is where I get the 50% efficiency count from.  30% or so from non-ideal convection (no loft) and 20% loss from continuously having to open the oven to stir and there you go.

A bunch of lies.  Well, half truths of omission.  And it was STILL a ton of reading.

Yes, you can use that oven.  For 1 to 2 lbs of beans.

And  now , hopefully, you know why and how to work it out yourself if you need.

Go have some chocolate.  You deserve it.



Ask the Alchemist #174

Level: Apprentice

Reading time: 10 min

I am struggling making my 70% chocolate with only two ingredients.  It seems like what I should do but it is really thick and hard to work with.   It blooms really badly. What am I doing wrong?

Why are you not adding a little cocoa butter?

I mostly keep my head down in social media but I’ve heard through various grapevines that two ingredient chocolate is becoming a *thing*.  And I completely do not understand it.  It is talked about like it is superior or the maker is superior for using only two ingredients.

I guess I am going to soap box here a little, and I don’t mean to offend anyone in particular.  Just take it as my musings on the subject.

It seems maybe this is where you are getting the idea you should be using only two ingredients.  Cocoa beans and sugar I assume.   Trying to suss out why, people toss out phrases extolling the purity of flavor or staying true to the cacao or other such nebulous statements.  At the end of the day, it feels like marketing.  A way to set themselves out from the crowd.  Ok I guess.

If that is what you like, by all means make it.  But I caution the thinking that using only two ingredients is in inherently better.  By what metric?  Sure.  Few people want to eat a chocolate with 27 ingredients where 95% of them are chemical names.  But once you are out of that mindset, I don’t truly get how 2 is better than 3 or 4. Why not 1 ingredient?

But to my way of thinking, it is some kind of pendulum reaction to 27 ingredient chocolate product.  That if that is considered inferior (no real argument there) then the absolute bare minimum must be the best.  This is the same logic that raw chocolate folks make.  Over roasting is bad, so no roasting is best.  That’s bad logic and the world does not work that way.   Too much food (obesity) is bad so no food is best?  Really?  It is the same logic and makes as much sense.  None.

Going back to metrics and why two ingredients are better I would propose these two metrics for consideration.

1)            Adding a little cocoa butter (2-3%) to you chocolate can actually enhance the perceived flavor of the chocolate.   It does this by allowing the chocolate to dissolve faster in your mouth, creating the sense of more flavor.  You are familiar with this phenomenon in regards to sugar.  Which seems sweeter?  Rock candy or granulated sugar?  Both are 100% sugar, but the granulated seems sweeter since it can dissolve faster.

2)            Two ingredient chocolate can be thicker, and more temperamental to temper.  How does this make it better?  It doesn’t.

It is also worth noting that in conversations with supposed two ingredient makers, well over half say they used *a little* cocoa butter in their melangers to make life easier…..which suddenly sounds like 3 ingredient chocolate to me.   This more than anything makes me think they are just playing a marketing game and that it really doesn’t matter.

That all said, let’s see if I can help.

First off, I am going to recommend you reconsider why you want to use only 2 ingredients.  Put aside  what you see other people doing.  Keep in mind that that two ingredient chocolate you tasted and love *may* contain extra cocoa butter.   Evaluate the chocolate you are making for what it is.  Did you actually try making it with a little extra cocoa butter and if so, did you like it better without added cocoa butter?   And why didn’t you make 1 ingredient chocolate if you wanted to *pure* cacao flavor?

Seriously, this is about what you like and enjoy.  And that means the process too.  If you can’t temper it because it is so thick, and it blooms, and you didn’t like the chalky texture, just how did you improve the experience and/or final product by keeping it *pure*?

Ok.  I was going to offer help.  I have heard that people have had difficulty with Tien Giang  being especially thick.  So I roasted 6 lbs and divided it into 3 batches.

1)            The control.  74% cocoa, 26% sugar.

2)            Heated control

3)            20% vodka soak

Spring boarding off my success with the honey chocolate, I mixed in vodka 20% by weight into the roasted nibs.  After soaking in for 2 days, I dried them in an oven for 2 hours at 150F.  To make sure it was not just the heating that made any difference, I also heated an equal amount of roasted nibs the same way.  My hypothesis here was that moisture was causing the extra thickness and that by reducing that moisture, I could reduce the viscosity.

The final results were everything I hoped they would be.

1)            This was thick and very hard to work with.

2)            This was thinner and easier to work with.

3)            This was the thinnest of the three.

The extra drying helped significantly to dry out the nibs, even though they had been previously roasted.  In many cases I think this might be all you need to do if you insist on only 2 ingredients.

The vodka really helped to pull out extra moisture.  I took weight measurements before and after drying  and out of 740 grams of nibs, the heated control lost 5 grams of water, and the vodka treated lost 12 grams.

And the flavors were basically the same.

Alternatively, 3% cocoa butter reduces the viscosity nicely and if you are not allergic, 0.5% lecithin will very nicely bind with the water and make the chocolate easier to work with.  And to my tastes, they all taste just as *pure* and true to the cocoa’s potential.  Your mileage may vary.

If you have not guessed, I lean toward solid data and rigorous evaluation.  Don’t follow a path because everyone else is.  Make what you like and be honest about it and challenge your per-conceived notions.  Maybe they will be right….but maybe you will find there was a heavy placebo effect going on and that 2 ingredient chocolate isn’t anything particular special.

Chocolate you made yourself.  That’s special.



Video Tuesday

Every Tuesday, for the next few months we are going to be putting out a new video on our youtube channel, How to Make Chocolate at Home.  In a similar manner to my walls of words in text, I ramble a bit, taking this or that side path as it suites what I am attempting to convey. All about cocoa beans is new.


I hope you enjoy it.



Ask the Alchemist #173

Do you have any videos showing how to make chocolate?  I’ve looked all over and can’t find them.

I was just going over with my  a member of my team how to announce our video series.  Thank you for the absolutely perfect introduction.

Yep, you heard it right.  We have videos on the way.

I’m going to go into full self deprecation mode and say that although they hopefully will do the job, they are not as polished and smooth as I might want.  And in pretty classic Alchemist fashion, noting that I often communicate in great walls of text, I talk a lot in these videos.  No.  Really.  A lot.  So here is the official announcement:

For years I’ve been thinking that a video series on making chocolate would be a good complement to this site and to my weekly “Ask the Alchemist” series.  Well, I finally got it done and today we are announcing the beginning of Video Tuesdays.  Every Tuesday we’ll add a new video to our You Tube Channel until all 15 of them are posted.  Think of it as an online correspondence course in how to make chocolate at home. 

If you subscribe to the channel you’ll be alerted whenever a new video is posted.  Today our first one is an overview of the Chocolate Making Process I’ve developed over the past 14 years. 

There is the first video.

Eventually these will all live on our site as well as on You Tube, but we’re waiting until our site gets a facelift later this year (yep, more foreshadowing there).

 The videos that are queued up are as follows:

  1. Chocolate Making Overview
  2. How to pick your beans
  3. Behmor 1600 Roasting
  4. Oven Roasting
  5. Drum Roasting
  6. Cracking Beans
  7. Winnowing
  8. Making Chocolate Liquor
  9. Making Dark Chocolate
  10. Making Milk Chocolate
  11. Making White Chocolate
  12. Tempering Philosophy
  13. Cocoa Butter Seed Tempering
  14. Bowl Tempering

Plus one on how to change the belt on the Spectra Melanger.

Enjoy.  And please let me know what else you would like to see.


1 Comment

Three brand new products

First and foremost, I want to present the NutraChef 'cocoa press' oil expeller.  You can now make your own cocoa butter at home at the press of a button.  I tasted the most amazing milk chocolate made with some fresh pressed Madagascar cocoa.  The caramel notes were amazing and fully due to the single origin butter, as it was totally missing from the 'control' made with the natural cocoa butter we offer. IMG_3699

The next new product is a variation on whole milk powder.  This is Heavy Cream powder.  So, instead of milk chocolate, you can make Cream Chocolate.  At 72% butter fat, you can add it directly to an existing dark chocolate recipe without adding any extra cocoa butter like you would with a milk chocolate.

Finally, a new origin.  A lovely base note cocoa bean from Trinidad and Tobago.  The taste that comes through for me is dried mission fig, date sugar and toasted pecans.

Trinidad and tobago 2016

Might I suggest a Single Origin Trinidad Cream chocolate?

2 lbs Trinidad and Tobago roasted cocoa, winnowed to 24 oz.

5 oz Trinidad and Tobago home pressed cocoa butter (results from a 500 gram batch)

1 lb Heavy cream powder

1 lb sugar

This should be unlike ANY chocolate you have ever tried.



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New Products on the way

No Ask the Alchemist today.  The queue is empty. Mind you, I thought I was setting a new record this week for submissions, but somehow things have become confused.  All the messages were general questions to me.  Do you ship here?  Can you ship this out today?  Do you sell tempering machines?  Where can I buy a Champion?   To clarify, is for 'in depth' questions generally about the chocolate making process.  Not like the above.

So, have I really answered everything you want to know out there?

And to give you something to look forward to, three new products should be available tomorrow.

  • Whole cream powder
  • A deep, chocolatey bean from Trinidad
  • An electric oil press so you can make your own cocoa butter.  I've been having quite a bit of fun testing it out.

Stay tuned and get those questions in.




Ask the Alchemist #152

I have an Italian espresso maker with individual control of brew temp and pressure and I would like to start making "mocha" shots, 50/50 coffee/cocao. Any suggestions on a particular bean, grind, proportion, or technique to get started.

I am an totally coffee geek.  I have my own lever espresso machine.  I just finished a lovely 1.5 oz burnished  auburn 80% crema shot, silky, thick and lingering.  And oh how I've wanted that same experience with chocolate. You can imagine it, can't you?  Heady chocolate, heavy in the mouth, coating and lingering for what seems like hours.  You want it.  I can tell.  Me too!!


Alas, it is not to be. That's the hard truth.

It is not for lack of trying. I've have tried.  For years.  So this is going to be a story of failure.  But that's ok.  We learn things.  And maybe.  Just maybe.  Someone will have inspiration and stand on the shoulders of my research and succeed where I (and others) have failed.

Let's get out of the way what I have tried.

100% Cocoa from raw to virtually burned (ok - burned!)

90% Cocoa/10% coffee down to 10% cocoa/90% coffee in 10% increments

100% Cocoa nibs

Cocoa nibs with varying percentages of cocoa husk mixed back in up to 85% husk.

I tried all of these with various grinds from very fine to very very coarse.  I mixed fine with coarse and coarse with fine.

The results.  Well, they sucked.  No two ways about it.  I simply can't tell you all the results.  There are just too many. But I can give you the run of how it went.

First and foremost, cocoa does not want to pull.  You know that oil and water not mixing thing?  That pesky seizing thing chocolate does in the presence of water?  Well, add pressure (yep, varied that to from 2 bar to 15 bar) and hot water and it just makes matters worse.

That is the very first hurdle you have to get past.  In coffee you deal with a stalled shot by making the grind less fine, using less coffee and/or tamping less hard. None of these worked for cocoa.  In coffee espresso things are more or less linear.  There is a broad(ish) window.  10% less coffee, 10% coarser grind, 10% softer tamp (sometimes) give you SOME result differences without the shot turning into a gusher.  Meaning you don't go from a stalled shot with an infinite pull time to one that pulls in 5 seconds.  It goes from stalled, to maybe 50 seconds (for 2 oz).  10% more gets you to 30 seconds.  3% more gets you 24 seconds and a good shot.

No so in cocoa.  It isn't linear.  It's like a cliff.  And it's a steep on.  You go from stall, (10% change), to stall (10% change), to gusher.    Smaller step?  5%?  It's damn near binary.  Either it stalls or gushes.  There is no middle ground.

All those other combinations were my way of trying to find some middle ground.  And to some degree I did.  The addition of either husk or coffee (basically reducing the oil content) allowed me to get something that pulled in something resembling a decent time, (15-45 seconds).  I was thrilled.

Unfortunately the taste was terrible.  Another cliff.  Either the shots were watery and insipid or so bitter and vile that there was no acquiring a taste for them.  They were just bad.  Oh, and of course I tasted those initial gushers - watery and insipid, for the record.

And that was it over and over.  Find a combination, dial it is so it was something you could actually pull, and time and again, the result was one extreme or the other.

I tried sifting the ground cocoa to get a very narrow "perfect" range of grind.  And I actually made moderate progress here.  I could get ok shots, that tasted not terrible.  It's honestly the closest I ever got.  Unfortunately the results were near to impossible to reproduce due to steep cliffs on both sides.  One cliff was dose (how much).  The other was tamp pressure.  0.5 gram difference in dose could be the difference in stall and gush.  And same with tamping pressure.  It had to be 'just so'.  A 2 lb difference would drop you off the cliff.   Basically, it gave me results I could not share as they were just too fussy.  Even knowing the variables I could not pull 3 good shots in a row.  Oh, and the taste of the good shots?  Meh!

On a similar note.  To give credit where credit is due, I was sent once some specially ground "100% cocoa beans" for espresso.  It actually allowed me to pull shots with minor dial in.  Sadly the results were the same as I had before.  Nothing I actually wanted to drink.  Kind of bitter in a bad way.  Some cocoa aroma, but watery and no really chocolate flavor.  Certainly not the droid I was looking for.

To be fair, there was one other option.  When mixing with coffee, somewhere around 70-80% coffee I could get a pretty good time window, the shots were not watery nor vile....but they also had no real cocoa flavor.  They were just mediocre (to bad) coffee espresso shots.

That's about it.  For those of you who know Venn diagrams, this was kind of it.

cocoa espresso venn

There just don't appear to be any overlapping sets of "Cocoa Percent" and "tastes good".

I'm off to pull another naked espresso shot (the portafilter folks, the portafilter! - google it)

Submit YOUR questions for  Ask the Alchemist to:



Ask the Alchemist #145

I tried different roast profiles ranging from 250-325F 4-28 minutes. I am trying not waste many beans by putting only a cup full of beans in at a time. I realize that the roast wouldn't be representative of a full oven, but my goal was to try to find a good dwell temperature and time. Once I found my dwell time and temp I would increase total roast time to account for the increased ramp time of a loaded oven. Do you think this approach is acceptable or should I always experiment with what will be my typical roasting weight?

Roasting. Some of you will love this. Some of you will hate it. Some will eat it up and suddenly everything will make sense. Some will fall into despair that you will never get it and you are doomed to wander the wasteland of uncontrolled roasting. I really hope the former outweigh the later.

I understand your reasoning about roasting just a cup. Unfortunately, the reality is that to effectively use that technique you will probably end up using more beans in the long run as you scale up. The reason is this. You learn best from an experiment by changing one variable at a time. Otherwise the permutations get too great and you can't tell really what effect your changes had. You are changing two (or possible three things) as you progress up in weight. Weight, time and temperature/profile. It's possible to glean information from this but it actually takes more runs and more cocoa unless you get lucky. I know you said your plan was to increase roast time. Experience tells me that won’t work. Fundamentally because by changing the time, you are changing the roast profile which means you are in the apples and oranges situation. They are not comparable. More on profiles in a little bit.

The main problem is that by roasting only a cup of beans, the data you get isn't transferable to a larger load expect to say you will know you will need some combination of more time and heat. But you already know that, right? In essence you used a cup of beans and have no more useful information that you did before. If your 1 cup of beans took 8 minutes at 325 F you have nowhere to go with that information if you try and roast 2 cups. It's not linear. It won't take 16 minutes @ 325 F, nor will it take 8 minutes at 650 F. It will be somewhere in the middle....which you already knew most likely.

On the other hand, if you roast 1 lb for 16 minutes @ 300 F, and determine they are under roasted, you have somewhere to go. You should either increase the roast temperature (my first choice) OR time. If 1 lb is still under roasted at 16 @ 350 F, then for your next roast you increase the temperature to 350 F for 16 minutes. If that is still under roasted, you can start to increase time as you don’t want the oven much hotter, generally speaking. In short, yes, it will take a few runs, but you will get useful data from the methodical approach.

So to directly answer your question, I think you should test roast the weight what you will be roasting in your standard batches. Here is what I hope is a good analogy.

You will never master baking a 2 lb loaf of artisan bread by baking 2 oz bread rolls. Rolls need a cooler temperature or you will burn them. And they need a shorter time. 350-400 for 10-12 minutes will do the trick. A 2 lb loaf could well take 60 minutes at 350 F. To compensate for that large mass, you can put it in at 500 F for 15 minutes. It won't burn since there is so much there that has to heat up and soak in. But you can't keep it there or is will burn. After 15 minutes, you turn it down to 425-450 for another 15-20 minutes and it continues to cook without burning the outside. Sounding a little familiar?

In short, you have to learn your over for a given batch size of beans. You have to actually load the oven enough so it's doing some work. And you have to find the sweet spot, batch size wise, for your oven. All ovens have a setting for 350 F. But they all don't apply the heat at the same rate. Some might take 5 minutes to get an empty oven up to temperature, and another might take 15 minutes because it is lower wattage or has less BTU/hr (electric vs gas). That right there is the crux why I don't and simply can't give people exact temperature 'profiles' to roast in an oven. We have zero knowledge that your oven matches my oven and without that, a temperature is useless.

I'm going to keep repeating this different ways. Let's say you need to go 1 mile in your car. 1 mile is well roasted beans. How am I to tell you (without an odometer) how long to push on the gas pedal to the floor when you only have a speedometer? I should make the note that we can't talk about partly pushing it down. We have to push it to the floor as that is how ovens work. They apply full power until they hit temperature, then turn off until the oven cools some amount below temperature. In short, I think you can see I can't give you that information.

My car might make it to 60 mph in 5 seconds. If that is the case I need somewhere around 55 seconds to go 1 mile. But if your takes 25 seconds, you clearly are going to take well over a minute total to get there. And without that exact data, and pulling out some algebra equations, I can't tell you how long it will take.

But let us assume we have that data for both cars. What can we predict if we hook up a 1 ton full trailer to the cars (i.e. roasting more beans). I think you can see that the answer is nothing at all. Maybe my car is light and can accelerate well under a light load but has no extra capacity so takes 60 seconds to get to speed under load. Yours on the other hand is huge and that is why it took so long to get to speed the first time. Yours, because it has plenty of extra capacity hardly notices the extra load and takes only an additional 5 seconds and you are up to speed in 30 seconds. Clearly yours will make the mile in just about the same time, whereas mine will take 50% longer.

At the end, what I am trying to get across is that AMBIENT oven temperature (i.e. the dial setting) is a terrible gauge to describe roasting profiles....but it is all we have!! By preference I would like to say this to describe a roasting profile.

For 6 lbs of beans, apply 2000 watts of power for 12 minutes. Then apply 1200 watts of power for 3 minutes. Finally, apply 1000 watts of power until the beans either smell done or the beans are at 265 F. Why? Because it is scalable! If you have 2 lbs of beans, then you need to apply 1000 watts for 12 minutes, 600 watts for 3 minutes and 500 watts until you hit 265 F. Half the beans, half the power. Because THAT is a roasting profile. Energy input in a given time. Not temperature settings.

And just so I don't skip the detail, that is for a well insulated system, neglecting heat loss. The reality (based off a given roaster's insulation - see, more variables again) is that I may need only 900 watts for the 2 lbs of beans in the first leg of the profile, or I might need 1100 watts. And how do you know which it is? NOW temperature comes into play. Because we are getting to how I roast day to day. For the above profile, for me, this is what is actually going on.

Apply enough energy so my surface bean temperature goes from room temperature to 210 F in 12 minutes. For MY ROASTER this is 2000 watts.

Turn down the energy input so the bean temperature goes to 245 F in 3 minutes. For my roaster this is 1200 watts.

Turn down the energy again so I reach final target temperature of 265 F (which I have predetermined by SMELL and TASTE of previous roasts) in 3 minutes.

That now is an honest to goodness roasting profile that anyone can take and apply to their own roasting situation and with any amount of beans. Assuming they have a way to control the power (energy input) of the roaster AND know the bean temperatures at different stages along the way. Without all three of those items, my profile is useless to you. Which is why I don’t offer them up as a matter of rote. It is also why I give the very generic ‘profiles’ I do give.

From my Roasting page:

In general, if you try oven roasting, you will start hot (350-400) for a short amount of time and slowly lower it to you target temperature (300-320 F). The more you are roasting, the higher your initial temperature can and has to be.

Remember, you want to roast the cocoa beans, not bake them. This is how this looks: Whole cocoa beans 375-400 5 minutes 350 5 minutes 325 5 minutes 300 until done. Look for the aroma of baking brownies and/or pops. Both are good indicators you are there.

I’ve tried the best I could to give something usable based on what I know and what the limitations are to oven roasting.

So, there. What does that get you? Hopefully a peak into my thought processes about roasting, profiles, what they are and what they are not. Hopefully there is a nugget or two in there on what you need to develop your own profiles, or at least an understanding the limitations of your tools (your oven). And why I’m not being obstinate about sharing my profiles. To rift off of A Few Good Men, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”

I’m not withholding the truth because you can’t handle it. Or maybe I am. I’m withholding it because in most of the cases out there, it’s useless information because you don’t have the background and equipment to use it.

This is my first concerted effort to get you the background so you can handle the truth.



Last minute details

No Ask the Alchemist this week as the queue is empty. And we are packing like crazy for getting your packages out for the holidays.  As a reminder, yesterday was the last day for Ground deliveries to easily make it for Christmas.  But we are accepting orders through Sunday night for Monday shipping. Dominican Republic Rizek is back in stock.

Finally, I had REALLY hoped to be able to tie something into Worldbuilders foundation and their current donation run.  They are raising money for Heifer International.  Really positive, concrete support. They say it best:

"We empower families to turn hunger and poverty into hope and prosperity – but our approach is more than just giving them a handout. Heifer links communities and helps brings sustainable agriculture and commerce to areas with a long history of poverty. Our animals provide partners with both food and reliable income, as agricultural products such as milk, eggs and honey can be traded or sold at market. "

I personally donated. Two goats get new homes and help a people and community.  If you can help this season, please do.  You will have to follow the up coming link to get the reference, but Bilbo it up!

bilboitupsm.jpg Happy Holidays all.



Ask the Alchemist #140

Before we get to this week's question, a number of people have told me about this article.  I'll just let it speak for itself, except to say I'm gratified to be mentioned.

HELP! You have totally inspired me to make truffles for gifts this year. But I’ve tried four times and they keep failing. I get this hard crust of something all over the top and they are all grainy. What am I doing wrong? HELP!

Note – this too a little emailing back and forth to find out where the issue was since it was not obvious in the question.

I actually had this happen this year also during a particularly large batch. In my case, and coincidentally this case, the causes were exactly the same.

In the past I too have struggled with some of my batches separating. That is what that hard crust is. The cream/chocolate emulsion has ‘broken’ and the cocoa butter has risen to the top and solidified. If you are desperate you can just remove the cocoa butter and move forward, but as noted, the texture may be a bit off. Grainy is a good description. In some cases, if you heat the ganache back up until it is about 100 F, you can stir the cocoa butter back in, sometime with the addition of a little cream at 100 F, and the emulsion will re-form and the texture will smooth out. If it is a really bad break, the best you can hope for is it simply not separating again.

But how do you keep it from happening? I have previously mentioned lecithin in your chocolate. In this case it acts as an emulsifier and can assist in keeping your ganache from breaking. But I can attest to the fact that it can still break. Stirring gently will also help. I have heard too if you add a small amount of alcohol then that will keep it from breaking….but I must be very special as I have done that and still broken the emulsion. So what to do? Those are all fine and good, but have the feel to me of urban (kitchen?) myth and susperstition.

Well, I think and hope I have a 100% full proof method now, and know what the culprit in all these cases has been.


There are basically two ways to make a ganache.

1) Heat your cream and pour it over chopped or grated chocolate

2) Heat your cream and melt your chocolate and mix them together.

In either case, if you get your mixture over some moving target temperature your ganche WILL break. The crux of the matter is that that temperature changes depending on a bunch of other factors (lecithin, technique, fat content, batch size).

So I took an afternoon and made WAY too many test batches of truffle filling. Here is the short of it related to the final temperature, making the ganache with one of the two methods above. >105 F 100% success

110 – 120 F 80% success

125-135 F 60% success

140 – 155 F 20% success rate

Pretty obvious huh? If you are not carefully tracking temperature it can seem downright random. But there IS a solid pattern. Given that, here are my two recommended ‘fool proof’ methods.

1) Heat your cream to 100 F. Melt your chocolate to 100 F. Stir together until smooth. Let set up.

That’s my favorite method. So very easy and straight forward.

The next way has you doing less heating but I found is more prone to user error. In theory it should react the same every time, but the reality is that depending on your ambient temperature, the fat content (and bloom state) of your chocolate and your exact recipe proportions, your final temperature can vary. It is directly related to the chemistry and the amount of heat it actually takes to melt different crystal structures of cocoa butter.

With that caveat out of the way, here you go. It is predicated on my ratio of 60% chocolate, 40% cream, by weight.

2) Heat your cream to 145 F

Finely chop or grate your chocolate.

Pour the cream over the chocolate and let it set 10 minutes covered.

Stir until smooth.

About 50% of the time I had unmelted chocolate. Sometimes the termperature was pushing 110 F. When there were chunks left, I heated the mixture further by putting it on top of a pot of boiling water. It worked well enough but it is more fussy in my opinion. But it works if it suits you.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes.



Ask the Alchemist #137

Chocolate Alchemist, why did you decide to write a chocolate blog?

Huh? That’s in English, but I just don’t understand it. Huh? What chocolate blog? I’ve never written a chocolate blog. What are you talking about? Oh, and who is the Chocolate Alchemist?

Confused yet?

Ok, I confess. That response was exaggerated. But it is also serious. That middle part was and continues to be true. I’ve never written a chocolate blog.

I run a business called Chocolate Alchemy. And it happens to use Wordpress as its landing page. And granted, most people use Wordpress as a blog. But I’m not most people and it’s not why I used it. I picked it and use it because it does the job I need. It tells you (my customers) what is new and by its nature, it shows the newest information first. Handy that.

Maybe it is just a mindset, but I REALLY do not and have never considered this thing you are reading a blog. Frankly it makes my eye twitch. It isn’t that I have anything against blogs. Here is a definition:

“A blog is a frequently updated online personal journal or diary. It is a place to express yourself to the world. A place to share your thoughts and your passions. Really, it’s anything you want it to be. For our purposes we’ll say that a blog is your own website that you are going to update on an ongoing basis.”

I can hear it now. That sounds like what you are reading. Except for one critical difference. This isn’t personal. This is business. It’s never been personal. It has always, 100%, been business. Maybe, just maybe, I just barely might be convinced that part of Chocolate Alchemy has some a blog like similarities. But that is it. This isn’t a diary. Or a journal. And really I’m not trying to ‘express’ myself. It’s just a place to give you information, and it just happens file it away for me in chronological order.

The next part of me being obtuse. Chocolate Alchemist? Did you know I have never once referred to myself with that title? Other people seem to do it all the time. When pressed I have referred to myself as Alchemist John. Or sometimes just Alchemist. Or even AlChemist as I used to be a chemist. “Chocolate Alchemist” feels so pompous. Regardless, it's not how I think of myself. That said, you were asking a serious question and I’m not that dense.

“John, why did you decide to start Chocolate Alchemy?” Well, you could make use of the wordpress feature and go back to the first items I wrote and it pretty well explains it. It is right here. But the short of it is this.

Back in 2002 I tasted fresh hot chocolate from Mexico. I got excited about it and wanted to try making it. And that led to the idea of making my own chocolate. I already roasted my own coffee so I didn’t think it that crazy or outrageous. It turns out that at the time there were absolutely no cocoa beans sold on-line. NONE. Trust me, I looked hard.

At that point you can say I kind of became obsessed with the challenge. Eventually I was able to talk a broker into selling me 1 bag of Ghana. At that point I started back engineering how to make chocolate at home. In short order, the idea blossomed and then crystalized that what I had here was the opportunity to start something that was not around. A chocolate version of the green coffee bean sellers like Sweet Marias. Basically I wanted to BE the Cocoa Sweet Maira’s.

Over that span of about a year I worked out roasting, cracking, winnowing and making liquor. Oven, modified brewing grain mill, bowl and hair drier and the Champion Juicer. Those were all ‘discovered’ here. As was using India Wet grinders for Melangers about a year later. If you trace any one of those home chocolate making techniques back they lead here and the work I did back 2002-2003. Anyway, as soon as I was convinced I had a viable method to share I created the business Chocolate Alchemy, and powered the website with Wordpress. Circle closed.

Just a small aside. I hear time and again how lucky I was that my hobby turned into a business. I’ll grant I was a little fortunate, but luck had little to do with it. Showing people how to make chocolate at home and creating the tools and information that virtually every small bean to bar maker uses was not luck. It is called a Plan.

I knew what I wanted from day one as soon as I created Chocolate Alchemy. I wanted to kick start a bean to bar movement. Back in 2002 that was my goal. No one else new it, but I did. And look around. I’d say my plan came together. I am exactly where I wanted and planned to be. I am selling the largest variety of cocoa beans anywhere in one place, supply equipment large and small to home and artisan chocolate makers and doing my damnedest to make it all an open book. No secrets. Lots of sharing and support. Tons of paying it forward. There is a huge bean to bar movement and I am humbled and gratified to see my fingerprints all over it….even if some people don’t realize whose prints they are.

Chocolate Alchemy isn’t just some random online resource that put together pieces of chocolate making ‘how to’ that was already out there. Chocolate Alchemy is THE original source. All those other sources lead back here. You can read all about in in my wordpress powered website.

I love it when a plan comes together.

John Nanci

Alchemist John

Founding Alchemist for

Chocolate Alchemy


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Mythbusters, makers and chocolate

I admit it and am proud of the fact that I am a huge Mythbusters fan. And it saddens me greatly to hear that they have been canceled and their upcoming season will be their last. Why? Adam and Jamie have been a fixture around here. What and how they do what they do. They have brought such an approachability to both making and science that I value so much. I credit the popularity of Mythbusters to the rise of Makers with a capital M. I’ve always made and built things. Nothing so grand as what I see them do many times. But until their contributions, I never thought of myself as a Maker. I just made things I needed and wanted. And I always get a kick out of seeing “left side” or “up” in sharpie on their stuff. It’s exactly how I build. Not for show, but practically. Their influence therefore pretty much related to me back engineering how to make chocolate at home and on the small scale. And how to make it approachable.

In many ways it is no more than the scientific method. Ask, research, plan, test, observe, conclude. Then of course rinse and repeat if it didn’t go as planned, realizing that failure is always an option and a great opportunity to learn more and that failure in this case isn’t failure in a bad sense. It’s just part of the process. And of course SHARE what you learned and pay it forward.

That all said, I really consider everyone that makes chocolate a Maker. It is not an insignificant amount of work and commitment. No, it’s not all that hard, but it’s not really turn key either. And I’ll share a little secret with you. I probably could make it a little easier. Videos, more photos, more detailed directions. But I have this little philosophy that you will appreciate something more that you have to work just a little bit on compared to something that is handed to you on a platter. And time and again I find that sentiment confirmed by people who write in. A little struggle makes the success all the more sweet. So, please, dive in. Ask questions., read, plan, make, judge and share it forward. And be proud of what you have made as a Maker. Because that is what you are by being here. A Maker.

I’m going to miss them both. Adam is the front man as it were. He loves to be in front of the camera and telling a story. I have to say I relate more to Jamie though. It’s a struggle for me to in front of a camera or in photos. I like doing what I am doing and do it best by myself. (But I love answering questions and helping people out thirsty for knowledge.) So although I will miss them both, I know Adam will stay out there making things in the public and Jamie will continue making things behind the scenes and be happier for it. I can respect that. And as the tag is going around, I’ll #Mythyouguys.

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Northwest Chocolate Festival and two new beans

We will be closed and away starting Wednesday 9/30/15 - Sunday 10/4/15 at the Northwest Chocolate Festival.  Please let me know if you will be there.  I'd love to meet up!  If in doubt, look for the kilt and vest - I should not be hard to find.No orders will be processed during that time, nor will emails be read or answered.  I travel technologically light.

In the mean time, we have two new elegant Guatemalans in.  Chimelb and Lachua.  Both are very restrained chocolates.  In a world of super IPA's, massively hot spices, monster quadruple shot power drinks and general 'how big can we make it' there is something to be said for a nice, well balanced restraint chocolate that you can enjoy.  Don't undersell 'approachable' - in this case it's a compliment.

Also, supply is very limited.  Enough so that I won't be offering them Wholesale.  So get them before they are gone for good.