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Cocoa Beans

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Organic Belize 2016

We have a lone bag of 2016 Organic Belize in.  At this point, given how the supplier is handling distribution, I'm not confident we will be seeing any more available any time soon. For those unfamiliar with it, the raw beans have an odor of old school juicy fruit hard candy.  While roasting there is toasted macadamia nuts, warm proofing spelt bread and a lovely savory quality with a touch of tang from fermentation.  Once in chocolate form (75% for my tests) there is sweet caramel......go read about it.

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Ask the Alchemist #164

Level:  Apprentice

Read time: 7 minutes

What is your opinion on the use of cocoa butter?  Can you suggest how much I should add?  I don’t want to add too much or too little.

It seems like if you have 4 chocolate makers in a room, you will have 6 opinions on its use.  And a little surprisingly to me, they are often very adamantly held opinions.  They run the full spectrum too, from loving it to thinking it is an abomination.  Or stuff like  “The best chocolate has only two ingredients”.   I don’t see that.  There is no best chocolate.  It is a matter of what you like.  Sometimes I think it is a type of machismo.  Drinking the hoppiest IPA, eating the hottest wings, only having the darkest or ‘purest’ chocolate.  Whatever.  Me?  I like chocolate with a little cocoa butter in it.

With that out of the way, let’s delve into cocoa butter.

First off, you don’t have to add extra cocoa butter to your chocolate.  Or at least some of the darker chocolates.  The reason being that cocoa beans as they come contain 50-55% cocoa butter naturally.  That is what makes cocoa liquor flow.  That is why I say extra, since it already contains some.

At the very basic level you need about 35% cocoa butter in any chocolate you make or it will be just too thick to refine.  That means any dark chocolate above roughly 70% additional cocoa butter is purely optional because it will flow.  For a  50% chocolate though, if you do the maths, you will find there is only about 25% cocoa butter in there, so you will need at add at least 10% extra just to get a workable chocolate.

But how about over and above what is strictly needed?

I add 5% cocoa butter to nearly all of my chocolates as a matter of routine.  Currently my standard evaluation chocolate consists of 75% cocoa nibs, 5% cocoa butter and 20% sugar.  I do it this way for the same reason many people add a couple drops of water to whisky when they are tasting it.  In a rather counter-intuitive way, it actually brings out more flavor instead of diluting the flavor as you might expect.

There seem to be two prevailing theories why this happens.  My thought is that it is probably some combination of the two.

The first goes like this.   Think about a piece of hard rock candy.  It dissolves very slowly in your mouth.  Sure, it is sweet, but not overwhelmingly so.  What happens on the other hand if you put a teaspoon of sugar in your mouth?  It is instantly and powerfully sweet.  But both are effectively pure sugar.  What is different?  It comes down to how quickly the sugar can dissolve and reach your taste buds.  The sugar granules have lots of surface area and dissolve very quickly giving you an intense punch of sensation.  The rock candy takes much longer.

In chocolate the cocoa butter is what carries the flavor to your taste buds.  The more there is of it, the faster it melts and you can get that punch of flavor.  The more the punch, the more flavor you perceive.

Of course, there is a limit.   At some point you are indeed diluting the amount of flavor in there, and even with the punch, there is nothing behind it.   I’ve found 5% is easy and makes a nice difference.  10% can really bring some extra flavor to the table.  And in some cases 15% can allow flavors that you initially could not perceive to become noticeable.

I just recently did a Ghana bar from 50% cocoa nib, 30% sugar, and 20% cocoa butter.  Technically a 70% bar, it was radically different from one without any cocoa butter.  Without any, it was pretty neutral.  There was a fine chocolate flavor, but not a whole lot else.  With the addition, the chocolate was more intense, and there were notes are caramel and vanilla and overall was actually a more memorable chocolate.

And this show the second  mechanism in play.

Ghana has a very intense chocolate flavor.  It can actually be too intense in that it pummels your taste buds.  The result is that they get saturated and you taste less.  This particularly shows up in something like whiskey.  You hardly ever see it at 55% ABV.  It’s just too strong.  And if you do, like in cask strength, it is very well known and accepted that if you add a bit of water to bring it down to 45% there are very noticeably more flavors and aromas.  I’ve tasted this myself with chocolate.  85, 90, 95%.  You are not macho for being able to handle it.  Hell, there is nothing to handle.  It’s just chocolate for goodness sake.    But you could well be blunting your taste buds from the overwhelming input.  Diluted down just a little bit allows you to taste things that otherwise might be lost.

Many a teenager blasted music to 11.  At that level I’ll grant it is a visceral experience.  And maybe you like it.  But if the music in question has anything else going on, it’s going to be lost.  Dial it back to 7-8 and suddenly there is more to notice and more to appreciate.  As we get older, we learn these things.  We mature.  We learn balance. We discover more is not, well, more.   Quite often, it’s less.

So I submit to you that there is no competition to eat the darkest, hard core chocolate.  If you really, truly enjoy it, then more power to you.  Hell, I love a good vindaloo  dialed to 11.  But maybe try dialing it back a little and see what other melodies and counter points come to light.

You might be surprised.

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Ask the Alchemist #160

Level: Apprentice

Read time: 4 minutes

After winnowing I was told to remove all excess of twigs from the nibs (which is the root of each bean- see picture attached) otherwise my chocolate would be bitter! The task is huge!!! We can only remove 2 pounds per hour per person so for me it is rather an additional stress.

I have been grinding 3 different batches. The first 25lbs batch I left it for 24hrs. It was good but a bit over roasted, the second was much better and I left it for 36 yours. I tried a batch with the “twigs” to taste the difference and this batch grinded for 36 hrs too. I agree that it tasted bitter in the grinder but not so bad once tempered….Please give me your thoughts on these twigs.

 

germ-nibs

My opinion is that it is utter nonsense.  And I’ll say it again, it is my opinion.

Now let’s talk about it.

Those twigs are called the germ of the cocoa bean.  The theory goes, as you described, is that they are horridly bitter and must be removed to make quality chocolate.  I’ve heard this over and over, and have yet to see any solid proof of it.  Just opinion.  Which is all I am giving you.

But try this.  Get a roasted cocoa bean.  Look to the large end.  You will see a small circle like indentation.  With your fingers or tweezers pull out the germ.  Or just crack the bean and pull it out.  Taste it.   Chew it up really well.

Is it bitter?  To my tastes it is not.  It’s a bit harder than a nib (but it will still refine down), but mostly I find it woody and neutral tasting.  And even if it were, how could something that amounts to less than 1% of the weight of the chocolate ruin it?  I have real trouble believing that.

So maybe it reacts with something in the chocolate and makes it bitter?  Great theory, but having done tasting after tasting, I have yet to find that substantiated.   I cannot taste any difference and I’ve never met a person that can tell me from a blind tasting whether a chocolate has had the germ removed.  I’ve only seen the reviews where a bar is raved over and it is disclosed that the maker has gone to the extra trouble to remove the germ.

Correlation is not causation for one.  And two, that sound suspiciously like cherry picking data or knowledge based bias.  You know it does or does not contain germ and skew your expectations and what you think you taste accordingly.

And also the assertion does not take into account the huge number of award winning chocolates out there that have germ.  It seems conveniently ignore that.

My suggestion is to do the test again.  Make sure you use the exact same roast batch and that you blind taste the results.  And in a perfect test, have more than just two samples.  Make up 4 of each and taste them all.  Blind.

I’d put money on you not being able to tell them apart reliably.

If it turns out you can, then ok.  I’m a supporter of data and YOUR tastes.  If you like it better without germ, then by all means remove it.  But do it because it REALLY makes a difference AND you like the difference more.

My suggestion as always is to make the chocolate you like.  And not do extra work that is not needed.

In my case that means I ignore the germ.  And think you should too.

Those are my thoughts.

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Direct Trade Vietnam is in

Today is all about Direct Trade.  It's been six months coming, but 3 new beans are finally here from Vietnam.  And all of them are big, bold, intensely flavored beans.  Just look how round the displays on all the spider charts are.  They are just big everywhere. Ben Tre - The flavor is big and intense. It is tangy and the deep sharp flavor of raisins and a hefty doses of chocolate.

Lam Dong - Fruit cake.  In so many ways that sums up this bean.  Chocolate aroma with a touch of allspice. I have to admit,  I actually moaned (just a little) with my first bite.

And Tien Giang - This chocolate is high in spice, tobacco and nutty flavors.

And on the chance you missed it, go check out the other new Direct trade bean that is in.

Honduras Wampursirpi.  In particular, check out the Details tab.  I just updated a bunch information about Biosphere and what they are actively doing to support the farmers and communities in the region long term.  I'm really stoked about all they are doing.

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Two new cocoa beans from Ecuador

http://shop.chocolatealchemy.com/products/ecuador-2015-puert-quito-organic http://shop.chocolatealchemy.com/products/ecuador-2015-pequino

Both are brand new beans that I've not had in before.  Lush chocolate and nutty flavors.  And very clean.  Check them out.

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Ask the Alchemist #155

What would you say is the most sought after type of bean right now between Criollo and Trinitario? Also, where would be the best country to source these beans from?

This is sort of a trick question.  I am pretty sure it was not meant that way, but it is one nonetheless.  It makes too many wrong assumptions.  “do you still kick your dog?”  How do you even answer that if you never kicked your dog or don’t even own one?  In court, I think it is called asking a leading question and they are not allowed for a reason.  They introduce bias.

And the answers, when given are not at all useful.  But I’ll do it to try and make the point.

The first part is easy.  Criollo is by far the most sought after type of bean.  And except from an idle curiosity point of view, I have no clue why you are asking.   Why do you care?

It is sought after because people think it is inherently better.  And because it is the least common.  Pretty much pure supply and demand mentality.  The really funny part about though is that as soon as it becomes readily available, the desire to have it drops.

Many of the beans I carry from Peru are Criollo.  And sure, they sell fine.   But they sell well despite being Criollo, not because they are Criollo.   “Criollo” makes the first sale.  The taste and quality keep people coming back.  The Oro Verde  is a nice fruity beans that is clean and chocolatey.  And it is Criollo.  Those that buy it because it is Criollo are often surprised that ‘it isn’t any different’ from any other fruity bean that is clean and chocolatey.  What I mean by that is that they have put the Criollo up on a pedestal and are disappointed that being Criollo does not in and of itself make it special.  .

It is ‘special’ because the farmers took care harvesting it.

It is special because it was fermented well and evenly.

It is special because it was handled well from start to finish and had good potential to start with.

It is not special because it is Criollo.

It is special because it’s natural potential was cultivated and realized.

And those that taste it expecting something different (I’m never sure what they are expecting) are invariable disappointed, and 9 times out of 10 tell themselves the story that ‘it must not REALLY” be Criollo and continue on with their holy grail search.  They have introduced bias into their evaluation because of false, unfounded expectations.

And speaking of holy grails.  Let’s talk Criollo Porcelana.  That rare of the rare, super special of the special.  There is rarely a week that goes by that I don’t get asked if I can get some.  Hugely sought after.

About 6 weeks ago the question stopped coming in.  Why?  I am carrying Porcelana.  And it had VERY brisk sales for about 2 weeks…..and now I still have a couple hundred pounds selling at a moderate pace.  Why?

Once something is found, quest finished, end of story.  Why?

Because although it is a nice bean, people have found that other beans are more to their liking.  Being called Porcelana may even have worked against it, setting expectations so high that no bean, no matter how good, could attain the god like status it was granted because of it’s name.  A real pity too as it is a nice bean.

Ok, I’ve beat that horse quite enough I think.  Next question.

Where?  Which country?

The semi sarcastic yet very real answer is those countries that have Criollo.  That would be the Americas.  The issue here is again it is the wrong question.  “Countries” don’t make a bean good or bad.  Genetics, handling, farms, weather, fermentation, drying, people etc make a bean good or bad and that is independent of country.

Maybe the better question is ‘how do I find good Criollo?’ And better yet, ‘How do I find good cocoa beans?’

The short answer is there is no one answer.

I evaluate dozens if not hundreds of beans a year.  I don’t evaluate them on their pedigree, country or certifications.  Sure, those many come into play AFTER I determine if it is a good bean, but that is it.

I make chocolate from the samples and evaluate them.  Blind.  If they pass muster, then I look at those other very important pieces of data and weigh if they are worth offering to you. Are they organic?  Are they fairly traded?

The key here is that a beans quality and taste are what are important to me.  Not it’s ‘type’.

And so I recommend the same to you.  Don’t look for a type. Don’t look for a country.  Look for a cocoa bean that makes a chocolate that you love.

Keep an open mind.   Look and taste different beans.  Evaluate them for what they are, not what you want them to be.  And should you determine you don’t like one, for heaven’s sake don’t write off any entire country or type.  It makes as much sense never dating another person with brown hair that is from Chicago because you once didn’t get along with a brown haired person from Chicago.

That pretty much sums it up.

Don’t discriminate.  Don’t prejudge.  Keep an open mind.

Those are good life rule and work very well for chocolate too.

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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, question@chocolatealchemy.com 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.

 

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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!!

naked

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:

question@chocolatealchemy.com

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Ask the Alchemist #149

I heard you are getting some porcelano in. How do I roast it? I know it should be very light because it is puree Criollo, but I’m lost after that. I don’t want to ruin it.

First the bomb. Yes, I have some Porcelano in that will be available next week. Next, if you roast it very light your chances of ruining it go WAY up.

Let’s talk about assumptions, pre-conceived notions, patterns, extrapolations and the fallacies of trying to use patterns we think we have found to make predictions. It’s human nature. I get that. But it’s a nasty trap to fall into. It is a variation of ‘correlation is not causation’. What that means is just because you see a pattern, “My knee hurts. The last time my knee hurt, it rained,. It must be about to rain” doesn’t mean that the two facts are related.

The variation I tend to see is slightly different than the knee pain one. It is usually associated with around general cocoa types, their availability, worth and how to handle them. It usually goes like this.

There are three types of cocoa (not really true, and part of the problem, but moving forward). Forastero, Trinatario and Criollo.

Forsatero is the most common accounting for around 85-90% of cocoa grown.

Trinatario is next about 10-15%

Criollo is the most rare in the lower single digits.

Next, there is a general trend we see in price. Forastero is the least expensive, Trinatario and Criollo are more expensive.

And similarly, painting with a broad brush, there is a general trend of cocoa quality is Forastero at the bottom, Trinatario next and Criollo at the top.

Finally, when you roast cocoa, there is a very generalized trend that emerges.

Criollo 235 - 270 F Trinatario 250 - 285F Forastero 260 - 310 F

And what we now have are three groups of data that appear to reinforce one another and that is a very powerful thing in the human mind. It makes us want to draw conclusions and predictions where they don’t exist. The ‘conclusion’?

“Forastero is the cheapest bean, of the lowest quality and roasts the hottest”. Therefore, (trumpets sound), “Criollo is the most expensive, best quality and must be roasted very cool”.

I cannot tell you how often I hear this. It is so ingrained. And so very wrong.

Forastero is the cheapest NOT because of its poor quality but because it is produced in the most quantity. Basic economics. Supply is high, so price is low (again a not quite true premise, but helpful in this case). Notice I never said Criollo is more expensive than Trinatario? I’m will to wager though that is what you thought I said. Your brain forced the pattern. I only said it was the rarest. The same goes for a lot of Forastero being ‘bad’. If only 25% is bad, then just by the nature of there being so much of it, the ‘bad Forastero’ out numbers all the other non-Forastero.

And there it is. The issue. Rarity and how it does not relate to quality (or roasting). Porcelano is the rarest of the rare. Therefore the logic goes, since it is the rarest it MUST be the best and MUST be roasted to coolest…..and it is totally wrong. It doesn’t work that way.

There is a range of roasting for Criollo of 235-270 F. It is because each bean is different. It is NOT because there is a pattern in the pattern. It does not mean that the more pure the Criollo is the cooler it much be roasted. It’s just an empirical observation from roasting Criollo over the years. If you look again at the temperature ranges I gave up there you will see they all overlap in the 260-270 range. Roast any bean to 260 F and you have a better than not chance that the roast will be fine. Any more fine tuning than that and you are asking for trouble.

Back to the original question and the assumption:

I know it should be very light because it is pure Criollo.

By now you should see how wrong that assumption/conclusion is. The only thing you can say is that it is rare. And that is just because it cross breeds easily, is a low producer and isn’t as hardy as many cacao trees. That’s all. Just because it is on one end of one parameter (availability, i.e. it’s rare), does not mean all its parameters are shoved over to one end of the graph.

I’m going to repeat this.

Porcelano is rare. End. Stop. That doesn’t mean it is the best, must be roasted the lightest, has the most antioxidants, will give you the best endorphin rush or anything else. It just means it is the rarest.

Ok, so the rant is over.

So how do you roast the rarest of the rare of cocoa beans? You certainly don’t want to roast it super light because it is super rare? Right? Right!

Might I suggest you treat it like any other bean. Hrm, I bet shooting for 260 F would be a GREAT place to start. Maybe take it a little more gentle because it is Criollo, but note, I said a LITTLE. Not “a lot” because it is Porcelano.

It is already starting out a little light on the chocolate flavor as it isn’t Forastero, so you want to encourage those flavor developments by giving it a good solid roast. Develop those flavors. But nice and easy. At the end of the day, enjoy the chocolate for what it is. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that because it is rare, and because it is sought after that it is because it is going to be the best chocolate ever. Those are all unrelated items. Maybe it will be, maybe it won’t be. You won’t know until you try it and decide for yourself. Because, after all, that is all that counts. Do YOU like it.

And that brings up the final point. It is very possible you WILL want to roast it light. That you like the bright snappy flavor, the low chocolate level and that too is perfectly ok. Just don’t think you have to.

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New cocoa beans

We are kicking the new year off with three new beans. First, the brand new one, and maybe my favorite of the bunch (since I just finished writing up the review, it is of course the last chocolate I ate, so of course it is my favorite).

Peru FT/Org Norandino 2015/16 - There is orange marmalade, molasses and dried pear competing for dominance.

Madagascar Sambirano Valley Organic 2016 - We ran out briefly last year.  This is the newest crop.  Still a powerhouse.  This year instead of raspberry, it is virtually exploding with cherry and raisin.....

Uganda Org 2015 - There is an undeniable roundness to the flavor profile this year.  Very base and solid chocolate.  I find an inherent sweetness that contributes to the perception of a full flavor.

And lastly, I want to remind you of one we put up last month.  Honduras Wampusirpi.  We are down to the last bag, so get it before it is gone.

Honduras Wampusirpi 2016 Direct Trade/"organic"    The first aroma I get is of soft leather, like a supple piece of deer skin.  Buttery almost.  With that comes along flavors of bright dried fruits.  This just might be my favorite bean from last year and this lot is imperceptible in it's differences.

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Two new offerings

Two new bean offerings.Tanzania - Direct Trade Kokoa Kamili Cooperative.  There is a clean earthiness and up front chocolate aroma.  There are deep base fruits, dried prune and damson plum in the nose. The chocolate has dark flavors of brown sugar, toffee,  coffee  and a fully balanced citrus (lemon?) acidity

The next is #2 in the Alchemist Blend Series.  May I present the whimsical and dynamic:

Alchemist Blend #2 - Floor Sweeper -

Let's get this out of the way first and foremost.  No beans in this blend were actually swept up off the floor.  Okay?  Good.

That said, this blend was totally inspired by the end of day sweepings.  It scary/sad how much cocoa gets dropped while packing, even when we are very careful (it doesn't go to wasite, I use it for my own in house tests).  But it got me thinking.

This is the result.  And I'll tell you the secret recipe.....equal parts of everything in stock at the time.  The result?  Read on...

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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.

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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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Beans from Eden and more

The new crop of 2015 Belize is in.  Organic and Fair trade.  Full of juicy blackberry this time.  At this writing, half is already gone so act fast and stock up if you want it. Although La Red is gone for now, we now have two new  beans from the Dominican Republic.

Dominican Republic Rizek - Fair Trade /Organic - It's been a couple years since we last had this.  Dark fruits like plum and fig, There are also hints of holiday spice particularly cardamom and cinnamon.

Dominican Republic Eden O Organic - This is a elegant bean and brand new in our offerings. There is a fruity tang of kiwi and passion fruit.  Also the pretty classic light leather of the Dominican Republic.  But everything here is soft and balanced.

The new crop of Organic Bolivia will be in next week, plus a great new smaller lot of Papua New Guinea.. In the mean time, don't miss out on the last of last year's crop of Organic Bolivia - we were able to get one last bag.

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Ask the Alchemist #123

How do you find the beans you sell?

Lots of ways. I have long standing relationships with importers, farms and individuals selling cocoa. I also buy beans from chocolate makers that have brought in beans and have too many or wish to share. Routinely farms contact me as do sellers that have found me on the web. Basically I have no one avenue and am always looking for good beans to offer. Feel free to contact me if you have some. I’ll need a sample (more below on that).

Whereas I have no one source of beans, I do have one method I use for purchasing beans. Or at least deciding whether to buy them. Whenever I am offered beans I request a sample be sent for evaluation. And I do just that.

I look at the preparation when it comes in. Is it clean? Well and evenly fermented? I break a few beans open. Light break? Purple? Rich brown? Notes are made.

Smell it. Is it musty or moldy? Does it smell sharp? Fruity? Woody? Whatever it is, I record it.

Next I roast it up. I’m not looking for the perfect roast here. It is the rare bean that needs an exact profile, so I just roast it on a standard profile, relying heavily on my sense of smell, the temperatures and the clock. I record the smells and aromas and put as many names or gestalt impressions down as I can.

After cooling, I take my first taste of the beans. 90% of the time I know right then and there if I want to buy the beans. But I don’t stop there. I make a batch of chocolate. The chocolate I make for evaluation is the same every single time. It’s my way of normalizing what I am tasting. It is a 75% dark with 5% cocoa butter.

700 g nibs

50 g cocoa butter

250 g sugar.

1 t lecithin

Isn’t the metric system great? I melt the cocoa butter to 200-250 F and add the lecithin (I bake with the resulting chocolate a lot and lecithin makes it easier to handle). I warm my melanger bowl and stones, nibs and sugar in the oven for about ½ hour at 150 F. In goes the cocoa butter into the warm bowl and 1/3 of the nibs. 15 minutes later another 1/3 of the nibs go in, and 10 minutes later the remain nibs go in with the sugar.

I note the smells coming off and taste the proto-chocolate immediately. After that I taste it ever few hours while I am around and at some point after it is fully smooth (12-18 hours) I make a judgment call as to whether to continue or stop the batch. What I’ve found is that good chocolate won’t go bad, but sometimes questionable chocolate will turn around with more time. After I deem it as good as it’s going to get I pour it up in a bag and let it set up. Untempered. Although the last ½ dozen batches have been tempered using cocoa butter seed from the EZTemper (review coming – it rocks). After it sets up and I taste it and decide if I want it and how much I want. But no notes are taken.

Assuming I get the beans, I pull a sample once the pallet of beans arrive, I check my previous notes and make another batch of chocolate. These two samples I now compare and make sure they are the same or close enough. Sometimes I take the opportunity on the 2nd batch to fine tune to roast profile and note that if I do.

At this point I sit down and Taste (not the capital) the chocolate. I make notes and write my review incorporating where appropriate the other notes I’ve taken. And I construct the spider charts. And you see the results of that when the beans go up for sale.

And that is how I find and bring in beans. A little peak behind the scenes.

Send in your Ask the Alchemist questions to questions@chocolatealchemy.com

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Ask the Alchemist #117

What does Single origin mean? How about single estate? Does that mean all the beans are the same?

I have to say I never considered talking about this. It seemed obvious....until I started talking with someone else and I realized that it is very much not obvious. I just took it for granted that 'single origin' just meant you didn't blend your beans. And on the surface, it is no more complicated than that.

I have a single Brazil cocoa. If you use it as it is, it is pretty clearly single origin. The origin is Brazil.

I also have two cocoa beans from the Dominican Republic. Roig and La Red. Both from very distinct regions in the Dominican Republic. If you were to make a chocolate from them blended together, from the standpoint of country, they are single origin, but you are blending, so they are not. Except I have spoken to MANY chocolate makers that use Dominican Republic beans and add cocoa butter from the Dominican Republic and call it Single Origin and no one blinks an eye at it....except it IS now a blend.

But what about Peru Tumbes? I have two different lots. If those are combined (the ARE the same region) are they single origin? In one camp, many people say yes. I would say no as it's going against the basic premise of Single Origin. Namely that you are not blending anything, regardless that they are from the same region.

Great, we are starting to nail it down. Single origin is one bean, from one region, not blended together.

Let's look back at Peru Tumbes. It is Fair Trade Certified. By definition, that means it comes from a co-op. Single farms are ineligible for Fair Trade status (by Transfair USA). The co-op (the Cooperative) buys beans from local farmers and blends them together. Do you see where this is going? In the most rigid sense, no Fair Trade bean can be Single Origin. They are mutually exclusive. But personally, I find myself drawing the line there. Or at least a line. That just feels too restrictive. I have no issue with someone calling their chocolate Single Origin Peru Tumbes, or La Red or Lamas. But some people might.

There is also something called Micro lots or Single Estate. I currently have four of these. They are from four distinct regions and kept separate. In this case, all four were produced by one company, but they were kept separate. And this distinction by implication is something special. More than Single Origin. Single Estate. So they by virtually any definition Single Origin, but are also (or can be) Single Estate.

So now we have "Single Origin is one bean, from one region, not blended together from different sub-regions".

At this point, it is a good time to remind that the Ecuador Single Estate Cedeno has FOUR bean types in it. EET 19, 95, 96, 103. So it can't be Single origin....or can it? In this case it is a natural blending. All four types of tress grow in the area. All are harvested together, fermented together and have never really been separate. For that reason, I am 100% comfortable calling this one Single Origin still. But it requires a definition update:

Single Origin is chocolate made from cocoa beans, from one region, not blended together after processing.

In that I don't know of any cocoa that is delivered in the raw state (in the pods or unfermented, wet beans) that really takes care of 'what if different separate bean types are blended before fermentation?'

And by putting that in place, I have taken care of the one other case I can think of. A while ago I had two different Single Estate offerings from the same farm. Venezuelan Patanemo and Venezuelan Patanemo 'Donaldo'. Both from the same country, region, farm and harvest. What differed was that Donaldo segregated out select pods for his own special fermentation. So in this case there were two different Single Estates from the same estate.

The coffee industry has gone through this and still goes through it. This is a good write up about coffee and how the definition has changed over time.  Looks kind of familiar doesn't it.

In the end, it comes down to intent. Or can come down to intent and what you claim. And to me at least, the specificity of what you claim nails down at what level of 'Single origin' it is.

  • Single Origin African
  • Single Origin Dominican Republic.
  • Single Origin Peru Tumbes
  • Single Origin Ecuador Cedeno
  • Single Origin Ecuador Cultivargo CCN-51
  • Single Origin Venezuelan Patanemo 'Donaldo'

To me, every single one of those is both true and self explanatory as to which definition is being used.And if we make it too the stars, maybe one day Single Origin Earth will be valid enough too.

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Ask the Alchemist #116

How important is it that my cocoa beans pop when I roast them? Sometimes I only get a couple pops but the chocolate seems fine.

I don’t have a great answer for this. Well, I have answers, but they are not definitive. Overall, I have an unsubstantiated preference for beans and roasts that pop and crack, but pretty clearly it is not a necessity for a good roast, nor is it an indicator of a good roast….but it does fall into the more favorable category for me.

What in the world does that all mean? Let’s face it. Listen for pops and stopping your roast there is easy. If you follow most any of my roasting suggestions you will get a few beans to pop most of the time, and the results will be good. And I’ve personally found with my roasting style, if beans are popping I am satisfied by the roast. That said, JUST making the beans pop isn’t the goal. You can really sear and char the beans by applying too much heat and they will pop just great. But they may mot taste very good.

Taking a small step back, popping is something you are probably familiar with. Most seeds pop if you heat them. Popcorn. Classic example and the most dramatic. Heat up the kernel and the water inside super heats and pressure increases. When that pressure can no longer be contained, the kernel ruptures, water vapor is explosively released and you hear a pop. It’s basically the same thing with sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, coffee (it actually pops twice, 1st and 2nd crack) ……and cocoa.

That said, you can see there are three factors (at least) for getting cocoa to pop. Heat, moisture and intact cell structure. If you heat the beans very slow the moisture will have time to make its way out without cracking or popping. If the beans are very dry there isn’t anything there to make them want to pop and if the beans are broken or cracked already, no pressure can build up. Remove any one of those and the beans won’t pop.

In the first case, there are many people out there that like very long (over 30 minutes) and/or cool (under 225 F) roasts. Beans won’t generally pop under those conditions. I’ve found it takes getting the bean temperature to around 250-260 F before it will occur. Can these be good roasts and make good chocolate? Yeah, it’s possible. But I’ve found it is not generally to my taste, so I try to avoid those kinds of roasts.

In the next two cases, you are more dealing with possible quality issues. Good beans that have been fermented and dried well should have an intact cell structure and a moisture content of around 7-8 %. Outside those parameters and it’s easier to have beans that don’t taste as good. Cracked beans can give paths of ingress for bacteria. Not good. The can indicate rough handling. Not good. Low moisture can make beans for friable (brittle) and prone to cracking. And why are they low in moisture? Were they artificially dried at too high of a temperature thus changing the flavor?

And taking the other side, have a look at these Honduras beans that just came in (and are gone) that I roasted.  Just an amazing amounts of pops.  10-15%.  Maybe even 20%.  And they tasted great.

crack1.jpg

But correlation is NOT causation.  Just because they popped did not make them good.  More likely the moisture was a tad high because they were very fresh having been flown in from origin just last week.  It helped too that I roasted them very strongly and they were pristine beans.  Basically a perfect storm for snap, crackle pop!  But I've had some Brazil that did the same thing that I did not offer because it tasted like soggy cardboard - aggressive cracks and all.

If you notice I am using lots of qualifiers. It is so difficult to make absolute statements of fact about these things as I’ve found so many exceptions. I’ve had very dry beans that popped just fine. I’ve had beans that showed poorly because they were cracked and very dry and didn’t pop, but the resulting chocolate was great. And I have had pristine, intact beans that popped like crazy that tasted like dirt. There is almost no predicting it….from this side of the tasting table. But really, this isn’t something you have to worry about.

You are not having to evaluate beans. That is my job. I’m pre-sorting for you and only offering beans that I’ve found taste good. Regardless of whether the popped when I roasted them. So from your point of view, at least with our beans, you don’t have to worry whether they pop or not. If they do, great. If they don’t, no harm, no foul. To be fair, most of the beans I offer do pop at 250-260 F when roasted in 12-18 minutes and can be considered done with they do. And I try to warn you when they don’t. Regardless, if they don’t pop for you, that is fine. You are not necessarily doing anything wrong and it’s not an indicator you have ruined the roast.

As a final side note, I have found I particularly like the taste of popped beans compared to their unpopped compatriots in the same roasting batch. But that is very specifically for eating whole. Given that even on a good batch, you may only see 5% popped, I’ve yet to ever sort out popped specifically to see if they make exceptional chocolate compared against the rest of the batch. Maybe I’ll try it some day, but mostly it would be purely an academic exercise as it just isn’t a practical way to make chocolate.

So, to bring It home, you really answered your own question when you said the chocolate with only a couple pops was fine. That is par for the course. A few pops and the chocolate tastes fine and those two things are only barely related. Remember, correlation is NOT causation. It’s just an observation. Happy chocolate making everyone.

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Ask the Alchemist #115

I am new to the cacao scene and wanted to know the answer to a question that I have had for a while. How do you know what type of cacao bean you have? Is it by the shape of the bean? Is it the taste? Is it the combination of both? The reason I am asking every year my family send over some cacao beans to me for hot coco. They tell me it’s trinitario and sometimes criollo but I wouldn’t know because I have no experience. I just want to know for my owe sake because my friends are always asking but I don’t have an answer. The cacao beans are from Haiti by the way.

Unfortunately, without some form of solid traceability, or hard data, it is very hard to tell one strain from another with anything close to certainty.

On the far extremes, Forastero and really pure Criollo you can tell apart since the interior of the bean of the former is purple, and the later a light brown to cream. But after that it gets pretty non-helpful as the natural variation runs from purpleish to brownish and everywhere in between with little correlation to parentage. But those are bean colors. Not pod colors.

There is a nice article that shows there are genetic markers for color and in certain regions (Ecuador in this case) some relationship to desired qualities. But not really what it is. And it makes this point. “Now, the color of the cocoa pod – red or green – does not mean much to either cocoa farmers or consumers,”

The same goes for shape. Cocoa pods come ribbed, smooth, oblong, round. But the issue is that they are what are considered non-exclusive sets. To use an arbitrary example,

Sometimes you can get lucky. Amelonado is known for it’s very round melon shape (hence the name). It has a dark violet cotyledon (the fancy name for the bean). And it is verified Forastero. That’s great. Most likely given that very specific description, you can say what it is. But it is also true that not all round, purple cotyledon are Amelondo. Beniano is a good example.

Likewise, certain Criollo bear some pretty striking characteristics. Very elongated fruits with nipple-like apex and wart like surface, often with a redish coloration.

But then we get to others that are described as “ multi-variegated fruit pods, some colored red-brick brown filled with relatively small beans”. That is for Chuao, a Criollo. That totally does not match the previous Criollo

If we get to something like Ocumare, it’s noted as elongated, ribbed and red. Which could easily be the description of Chuao.

And it goes on and on like this. Many types look a certain way, but they also look a lot like other strains. It basically takes genetic sequencing to tell them apart. And when you do that, it is not at uncommon to find out that two pods that look radically different are actually pretty closely related. The Amazon, Guiana and Amelonado all sharing pretty common genetic ground, yet looking nothing alike.

So what it comes down to is some educated guessing. Pod size, shape, color, texture, bean color and count, flavor and aroma all play into getting an idea of what you have. And to me, at the end of the day, what you have to show for it is the pod you started with. It does not change the flavor. It’s a name. And sure, it’s nice to know a name sometimes. But to me what is important is the flavor of the chocolate you make from it.

That all said, if you want to send me a photo of what you have, I’ll give it a guess…but know, it’s just that, and if it isn’t one of the really distinctive morphotypes, a wild guess is all it will be. If it is one of the distinctive morphotypes, then it will be an educated guess. I did some brief searching on the G-engine and found Haitian cocoa that was red, orange, green and all ribbed and elongated…..meaning I have not a clue.

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