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Ask the Alchemist #203


Ask the Alchemist #203

I am roasting to reduce acidity and boost chocolate flavor: I use a 3k drum coffee roaster. Would you recommend roasting a bit longer or hotter maybe 25 minutes building up to 290 degrees?  For the Ugandan I've been enjoying a 21 min roast at 275 tops. 


Ask the Alchemist #201


Ask the Alchemist #201

Is testing the moisture level of the beans before roasting needed? I thought it may help cut back on the dry phase stage to insure you don't over roast. It's just I've seen coffee roasters do it.


Ask the Alchemist #199


Ask the Alchemist #199

Could I ask your opinion about how the Gourmia compare to the Behmor roaster? I'm thinking of getting either from you. I'm hoping to roast both cacao and coffee beans.


Ask the Alchemist #194


Ask the Alchemist #194

Coming from a coffee roasting background, it's difficult to get away from the roasting precision requirements and theory minutia.  I keep telling myself, its not as important with cacao beans, but I still get a little lost trying to plan out what I'm going to do.


Ask the Alchemist #191


Ask the Alchemist #191

Is 'Behmor' impossible to adjust temperature in any profiles?
I read your articles of Behmor and all I could see was the 'Power(%)' of heat and time.
Not exact temperature.
So it looks as if I can roast beans with fixed profiles only.
Because I like to roast with flexible (manual?) temperature and time running.


Ask the Alchemist #183

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Ask the Alchemist #183

Level: Apprentice

Reading time: 8 minutes

I have been making a batch of chocolate, but I am unable to lower the acidity taste (vinegar like) that i sense on my chocolate. i have been trying to find a solution, and nothing so far. Maybe you can help me lower that acidity taste I have. The mix is 65% cocoa and 35% sugar so far and no powdered milk.

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Ask the Alchemist #182


Ask the Alchemist #182

Ask The Alchemist #182, Question: I got a Behmor (exciting new toy!!!) just did a roast of 500g beans on 400/P2 and they have come out black? Is that normal for drum roasting as I have never had this in the oven and worried that I have burnt them??



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 #163

Level: Alchemist

Read time: 9 minutes

We roast 300g (10 oz or so) in our Genecafe.

We are trying a new batch at 350 F for 15 minutes, and one for 20 minutes. The beans start to pop really quickly after we start (around 3 minutes) though, is this unusual? Also, after roasting, some beans have their skin cracked open, and others don't. Should they all be cracked open, or maybe it does not matter at all?

We get a chocolate cake/brownie smell quickly as well, which we've heard is a good sign during roasting. 

Regarding the 30 minutes at 300F , we decided on that from what we read online and what we saw in various videos... 

You are bringing back memories of me using the Genecafe.  I too seem to recall popping really, really early on.  3 minutes in is the sign that the heat is quite a bit high.  And that does not correlate with 300 F unless the beans are that hot.

Let’s get a couple simple things out of the way.  You don’t have to have pops or cracks in a roast, but can.  You absolutely don’t and won’t ever have them all pop like popcorn.  At most I don’t think you will ever get more than 2% popping. And maybe only 0.1%.  That said, I personally have found I like chocolate made from cocoa that has popped.  But that is comparing against the same beans that did not pop and are vetted beans that I know are good.

So it looks like we are talking roasting again. That is good. In my opinion, it can be the make or break step after fermentation.  And it seems to be the hardest to grasp in it’s totality.

Let’s see if we can make some connections.  Have a look at this graph.  It is a version of the oven profiles I put up a few weeks ago.  We will talk about it in a moment.


Here is the thing with what you are finding for roasting profiles and what you are using.  300 for 30 minutes sounds like oven roasting.  Not drum roasting with forced air, which is basically what the Genecafe is. You have control over heat and profiles and should be trying to use them if you can.  That means not using one temperature for a set amount of time.  I like to call that baking, not roasting.

At first I thought you were under roasting with a 30 minute 300 F roast.  I am going to back up and say that it may indeed be that you are/were over roasting.

Why?  The key here is understanding how the heat is applied and absorbed by the beans.  In an oven (even convection) the heat transfer is very slow.  Only the top of bean on the top layer of beans is really getting heat.  It means most are not in contact with heat so they can’t heat up quickly.  It’s why it can take 40 minutes at 400 F to get the beans to 250 F.  In a drum roaster, and even more so in one with blowing hot air, the heat transfer is MUCH faster.  And that is what you are seeing in your roaster.

I recall having trouble stretching roasts out in the Genecafe (one reason I never pursued it or recommend it).  Actually, if your bean temperature was indeed 300 F then you over roasted.  250-260 if as hot as you want for  a bean temperature.

Keeping in mind I've not used this roaster in nearly 13 years, here is where I would start.

I would first start at looking at that graph.  I’m going to decide I want about a 15-18 minute roast and find the curve/line that corresponds to it.  The 400 F OVEN temperature looks good.  We picked a line.  Now forget the 400 part.  It is for an oven.  We don’t care.  It is immaterial.  What is important is the bean temperature and the time it takes.

Shoot for this profile. I'm mostly just taking numbers off the chart.  Meaning adjust your temperature knob as you go, keeping an eye on your bean vs set point.

65 C/150 F for 5 minutes 80 C/175 F  4 minutes 96 C/205 F 3 min 110C/230 F 2 min 120C/250 F 2 min

In general, those are the set point and I'm trying to estimate where the beans will be at those time points.  So, in this case, if everything goes right, those are also the bean temperatures.  Or to give it its technical name, that is my “roasting profile”.  To say it again, a roasting profile is the plot of bean temperature vs time.  NOT  ambient temperature vs time.  Yes, sometimes you will be given an ‘oven profile’ because it is easier, but as you can see it isn’t that useful whereas a bean profile is.  It is transferable to ANY method of roasting if you can get bean surface temperatures.

And that is where you went wrong.  I mistook an oven temperature profile for a bean profile.  The later is transferable to any roaster, the prior almost never so.

So what is going on up there in my suggested profile is that I hope to hit those bean temperature markers in that allotted time.  I’m not just putting the ambient temperature at 300 F because this roaster transfers heat to quickly and you can indeed burn or scorch the beans.  I’m effectively assuming heat transfer is going to be very fast and so I keep the difference between my target (say 150 F in the first step) and the initial temperature (ambient in this case) pretty small (only about 80 F).  I stretch it out to 5 minutes so there is plenty of time for the heat to soak into the beans before I start my next step or ramp.

A couple final things.  This roaster has a bean temperature thermocouple also.  You get actual feedback.  If at 5 minutes the temperature is at 120 F, then I want to increase my temperature set point to something a little higher.  Press on the gas pedal more as it were to go faster.  If they hit 150 in 2 minutes, the I need to back off the temperature a bit so they are not just hanging out at 150 so long.

I realize this may be way more that many people want or can use, but I also rather hope that if you read it enough, look at the situation different ways, that eventually there is be a click or ah-ha moment where you get it.  With that, see if these make sense, and if not, give them some thought.

  • The more your beans move, the quicker the beans will heat up.
  • The faster beans heat up, the smaller the difference ambient temperature has to be to the bean surface temperature. This can be as little as 50 F in a good drum roaster or as much as 300 F in the oven
  • The faster your beans move, the cooler you can keep your ambient temperature.
  • You can only heat up beans so fast before the outside scorches.
  • If your cocoa beans are not moving much you have to have a higher ambient temperature to keep the heat transfer moving at a reasonable pace.  Make it as big as you can without scorching the beans.
  • Cocoa beans can scorch if the difference in temperatures is more than about 300 F.  A 200 F difference is safer.

Give that a try and report back.

Oh, and one last thing.  I don’t sell or really suggest the Genecafe roaster. It’s not because it can’t do a good job.  It’s because I find it expensive to the amount of beans you can roast.  It’s kind of off putting to my mind and my goal is all about approachability and affordability wherever possible.  If you have one, go ahead and use it, but otherwise don’t go out and get one just for cocoa.




Ask the Alchemist #161

Level: Apprentice

Read time: 7 minutes

I have been making a batch of chocolate over and over.  It is sharp and astringent.  I think I keep over roasting it but nothing works.  I have tried roasting from 250 to 300 degrees for 15-30 minutes.  What am I doing wrong?


Somewhere along the line the trend has been to roast cocoa lighter and lighter for fears of not over roasting it.  That is an admirable goal.  You don’t want to over roast your cocoa.  Unfortunately this is the classic result that I am seeing every single week.  Effectively under roasted beans or possibly even raw beans that are sharp, astringent and lacking in chocolate flavor.

Before we going any further, I want to define who I am talking to.  If you like your chocolate and how you are roasting, then this article isn’t aimed at you.

If there is that little voice in the back of your head wondering why you chocolate isn’t quite right and you are fearful of over roasting because all the experts (self proclaimed?)  out there who have never roasted a cocoa bean in their life warn against over roasting, then maybe you should read on.

I’ve tried to over roast.  It is REALLY hard.  I’m talking  you have to try to over roast and you still might fail.  I’m not joking here.  I am kind of dumbfounded where the idea came from that it is easy to over roast cocoa let alone that it burns easily.

Let’s talk about roasting.  As in really what is happening.  To do that I need you to put away what you think you know about roasting cocoa and instead engage what you know about cooking and baking in general.  Because the rules are the same.  There is nothing special or magic about roasting cocoa beans.

Ok.  Agreed?  Great, let’s begin.

What has to happen when you roast?  You need to take a cocoa bean that is around 70 F and take the whole thing, all the way to the center, to somewhere in the range of 230 to 260 F.  From experience, I have learned that I personally like it best when that can happen in 15-30 minutes.  And anecdotal evidence suggests so do most people.  So that is what we are going to talk about.

I said this is like any other cooking or baking.  So instead of a cocoa bean, let’s talk about roasting a hunk of meat.  Or loaf of bread.  Either works fine.  I’m picking those because they are usually 2-3 lbs, start at room temperature and come to some higher final temperature.

What is the classic way to roast these?  350 F oven for an hour is not uncommon for either one.

You put your loaf/roast into a 350 F oven.  Here is the first important thing.  The surface does not immediately become hot.  After 10 minutes, the surface is probably only 100 F and the interior is still room temperature.  And you are not surprised, right?  As time progresses, the heat sinks in.  Two inches in becomes 90 degrees, 1 inch in is 100 degrees and the surface is 110.

Notice the gradient?  That is how the whole roast is going to proceed.  At 30 minutes in the surface might finally be starting to get hot to the touch.  150-160 F.  But If you put in a thermometer to the center you will find the very center is still under 100 F.  Raw.

Not until nearly an hour later is the center getting to 150-160 F for a small roast and maybe 200 F for the bread. The meat has more water so it heats more slowly if you were wondering.

Roasting cocoa is the same.

But cocoa beans are not a loaf of bread I hear you saying.  Well, they kind of are.  They are a solid like mass in the pile they are in.  You can speed the roast along by stirring.  Distributing the heat.   This is exactly why I suggest stirring every 5 minutes.

And let’s look at a few other common things you bake.

Muffins or cup cakes.  350-375 F for 15-20 minutes.

Biscuits 400-425 for  12-15 minutes

What would have happened to either of those things if you had put them in at 250-300 F?  Totally under baked,  right?  Yep.

It’s all the same thing.  Cocoa behaves exactly the same.  Why wouldn’t it?  They are not magical.  It takes quite a bit of heat and time to heat them all the way to the center.

You are worried about burning them at 350-400 F I hear you say.  You notice that gradient I talked about?  That is why they don’t burn.  The oven can be 450 F even at the start.  The only way for the bean (or you bread) to burn is if the whole entire thing is that hot.  But it isn’t.  The heat is continuously sinking in, in effect keeping the surface from burning.

I know many of you are shaking your head in disbelief.  This isn’t just my theory.  I spend a few weeks recently testing just this.  Look a little of the data.

Temperature plot

Those are actual surface temperatures.  From everything we have seen the interior has to be cooler.  They don’t have a choice.  Absolutely none of those beans were even close to burned, let alone even over roasted.

What that means, even at 300 degrees for 30 minutes, your beans probably never made over 150 F on the surface.  Which means 100-115 F inside.  Raw by any definition for the majority of the bean.

That is why they were so sharp and astringent.  They were massively under roasted.  They were still raw.

It’s really that simple.  It takes a lot of heat to roast cocoa beans in any reasonable amount of time.  And to keep it to a reasonable time, you have to have a hot environment.  Heat flows and how fast it flows is proportional to how big the difference is between your beans and the oven.  At 300 F, although it seems hot, it  isn’t that different from your target of 250 F.  The consequence is it takes a long time to get there.

Just think about baking bread or a roast of beast and go from there.   Be fearless.

So get the beans in the hot oven.  Stir them often to help the heat distribute.  Take temperature readings (I use this IR thermometer) and stop worrying you are going to burn the beans.

Be fearless.  It’s only chocolate.



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.



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.



Ask the Alchemist #134

Would spraying water via a water bottle work or would a small pipe running the length of the roasting drum with small holes in it to spray water be better? Of course, there's the question of how much water and when to add water during the roast. I know this can be used for flavor development and better micro kills at lower temperature; as I have read.

This seems to be a very common misconception. That being that adding water during roasting will give a better micro kill at lower temperature. This seems to be a classic variation of the telephone game, as so many things are. Someone hears something and repeats it slightly changed until it really does not resemble the original facts.

In this case, from the best I can piece together, it comes from a combination of two things. One is that you can have ‘moist’ heat and ‘dry’ heat kill curves and that the ‘moist’ are lower than the dry. The second is the fact that some coffee roasters are equipped with water spray systems. The issue is that to my knowledge these are completely unrelated.

In the first case, it has been taken way out of context. Here is context in full.

Of all the methods available for sterilization, moist heat (steam under pressure ) in the form of saturated steam under pressure is the most widely used and the most dependable. Steam sterilization is nontoxic, inexpensive, rapidly microbicidal, sporicidal, and rapidly heats and penetrates materials”

When you read that I think you will see very quickly that ‘moist’ converted to the lay term of moist or wet when in reality it means steam under pressure when read in context. In short, steam carries a lot of energy. But you have to keep it around, and really, the only practical way to do that is to have a pressurized vessel. None of our roasters are sealed. If you spray steam in, it quickly goes away and has no effect on the microbes. And notice I said steam. If you spray water, you are potentially doing less than nothing as the water, in order to turn into steam, must absorb quite a bit of energy. That energy comes from your beans and your roaster. The result is that if you spray water in, you cool off your roast. In no way does this help microbe kills.

But it does explain why water sprays are in roasters. It is a very effective way to get a very hot roast (one potentially out of control) in cooled down and in control again. Adding steam adds energy to a roast and helps kill things (if you can keep it contained for minutes). Water takes away energy.

As for flavor development, that is news to me. I would postulate that water’s only purpose is to keep the roast profile where you want it. It isn’t like it is going to be absorbed by the beans. At anything over 212 F it is going to flash evaporate thereby cooling the roast, or at least decreasing the rate at which the profile is increasing.

Funny how the telephone game works, and what we think we know, huh?

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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.


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.



Ask the Alchemist #111

I roasted 2.5 lbs. of the 2012 Peru beans in the Behmor. I used the 1 lb. P2 settings for 16 minutes and hit start. At 15 minutes I did not have any popping yet, so I added another minute. Still no pops at 16 minutes. As I approached minute 17 mark, still no pops. On the 2012 Peru bag it gives a warning not to over roast, so I decided that I pushed it as far as I could go comfortably, so I started the cooling cycle. 20 seconds into the cooling cycled I heard a couple of pops. This didn’t surprise me, because the Behmor temp always seems to go up abruptly for a short period of time when the cooling cycle begins in my prior experience. The family complained about the unpleasant smell that came out of the kitchen the first few hours in the Premier which seemed to diminish as the hours progressed. I tempered the batch and allowed it to age a few days. My initial tasting leaves me a bit bewildered. I seem to pick up a fruit taste with some associated sourness. One time that thought of an oxidized red wine (like a Sherry) came to mind. I don’t sense a lot of bitterness for a 75% chocolate. I just have no point reference to know if I did something wrong or if I am on target for a Peru bean. The taste is growing on me, but it is just a bizarre experience each time I bite into a piece.

I love questions and tales like this as it gives me so much to touch on and discuss.

This will be a re-visit of roasting in the Behmor (and in general) and how that relates to my warnings and admonishments for various beans. Let’s start with my basic profile for roasting in a Behmor. Set it on any profile on the 1 lb setting (or 400 g if you have a 220V), remove 2 minutes to 16 minutes, and go. This is a STARTING place. This is NOT the perfect roasting profile for any bean. Well, it may be the perfect one sometimes, but that’s just the luck of the draw. It does work quite often, but it also doesn’t work often enough. It is a starting point.

Just yesterday I roasted up a set of evaluation samples in the Behmor. 2.2 lbs (1 kg sample), P1, 18 minutes. I didn’t start at 16 minutes as it was in a cold area, with beans at 50 F (the ambient temperature). At 17 minutes, there were a couple pops, so I added 2 minutes. Somewhere around 19 minutes there were good aromas coming off, more pops, and I added another minute. At 20:30 I got the first whiff of acrid. Basically a nice indicator the roast is in ‘the zone’ and probably near the end. Knowing 30 seconds won’t make a huge difference, I just let it run out to 21 minutes. And I have no fear what so ever that I would have over roasted if I had added yet another 1:30 and let it run out to maximum. It might have been a tad heavier than I might like, but in all likelihood it would have just been different, not ruined.

That last part is a significant point to realize when both roasting in the Behmor and in general. One minute is simply not going to ruin a roast. Two minutes aren’t either. Even 5 minutes (if your ambient temperature is not too much above your target end of roast temperature) isn’t going to over roast your cocoa beans. Somehow, and maybe it is my fault, people have come to the conclusion that 15 seconds can make a huge difference in a roast profile. The difference in ‘right’ and horribly over roasted. It just isn’t like that. Maybe it is comparing it to coffee where 15 or 30 seconds can make a huge difference if you are ramping hard (meaning there is a large difference in your ambient vs bean temperature) AND you are near 2nd crack where varietal flavor gives way quickly to roast character. But that is over 450 F bean temperature. It is a totally different world from cocoa bean temperatures that should not ever be over 320 F at the far outside. And that is key to roasting in the Behmor (or your oven). The Behmor roasts by both time and temperature and it only has so much energy to offer. No, I don’t recall exactly what that temperature is, but 8 years of experience roasting on it tells me it’s low enough to keep you from over roasting 2 lbs of cocoa beans. I once tried to over roast in the Behmor. I loaded 1 lb and let it rip….and STILL came away with beans that were not badly over roasted. Just somewhat. It took me putting them twice to really showcase what badly over roasted looks like.

So ’17 minutes isn’t ‘pushing it to the limit’. Not even close. 21 minutes MIGHT be pushing it IF you had pops around 15 minutes. I am totally comfortable continuing to roast at a moderate temperature differential (i.e. the Behmor’s profiles) for 3 minutes after I hear the first pops, and 4 minutes does not scare me. And certain beans can take 5 minutes. The whole key is the Behmor cycles the heaters to keep the chamber in control. Instead of thinking coffee roasting, put your mind more into bread baking or roasting a piece of meat. You see it all the time in recipes. If your oven is at 350 F, many break recipes call for 25-35 minutes. A piece of meat that you are fully cooking will say 60-90 minutes. Huge windows. You only get into problems when you are baking/cooking/roasting really hot and fast. I like to bake biscuits hot and fast. 450-475 F for 11-12 minutes. Going to 14 minutes there could indeed ‘over roast’ them. But if you go more traditional at 350 F, the range opens up to 13-16 minutes and 18 minutes might be a little darker than you want, but even at 20 minutes they won’t be burned.

So how do you know when to stop the roast then? I alluded to it before. I go by aroma. In many beans there is a sharpish acrid like smell that comes off when you are approaching ‘too far’. And it’s not just a smell. You have to be in the right area of the roasting profile. No matter what you smell at 12 minutes, no matter how sharp or acrid, it is NOT the smell I am talking about because it can’t be. It’s too early. ( Just like hearing pops at 5 minutes. Those don’t count. They just can’t. ) It’s also most likely not there at 15 minutes, and may not be there at 16. Once you hit 16-17 minutes, it starts to be possible. But it still may not show up until 20 or 21 minutes, if it is going to show up at all. It is totally within the realm of possibility that it would take 24-26 minutes to reach that stage of roasting for certain conditions (low voltage, cool room, high bean moisture, etc) which can’t happen in the Behmor. And it may be that YOU like your beans on the far end. There is nothing wrong with that.

At the end of the day, I would love to suggest that you put in two pounds of bean, set your Behmor to the maximum time it can go, and ROAST. Let them pop, and snap and roast and don’t touch it and don’t fret. Observe, smell, and learn. Get past your fear of failure. And actually I have done this for people that constantly under roast out of a fear they are going to over roast. I have to tell you. I love failure. I learn so damn much when I fail. And even more when I try to fail and don’t, learning that the limits were not what I thought them to be. That I had constructed this illusionary box around myself that was much smaller and restrictive than reality.

Maybe you won’t like 2 lbs at 22 minutes…but maybe you will, and either way you will have gained knowledge about roasting and your tastes and hopefully overcome a bit of your fear of ruining a batch of chocolate.

Ok. I want to just rapid fire a few of those other points.

The sourness you tasted was most likely under roasting. As I think you now see.

There is nothing wrong with harsh smells coming off your chocolate at the beginning, or even during the roast. If you are smelling them, it means they are leaving and won’t be left in your chocolate. This is a good thing. And if don’t smell them, that is not a bad thing. Maybe there was nothing bad to drive off.

That’s it. Push yourself. Push your limits. It’s the only way to find out what those limits are. I bet you surprise yourself.



Ask the Alchemist #109

You said you should roast criollo delicately but you also say in some of your reviews for criollo beans that they should be roasted fully. Isn’t that a contradiction?

Thanks for the question. That is a great follow up to last week’s question. To answer your question, no, it’s not a contradiction. You knew I would say that of course. So, why isn’t it? That’s what we are going to talk about.

It’s really that we are talking about TWO different things. How the heat is applied (delicately/aggressively) and how much you roast the beans (light/dark). As soon as you grasp we are talking about two things, and that they are not related, the apparent contradiction disappears.

To give an example that you are probably more familiar with, think about the two extremes of the slow simmer/braise of a piece of meat vs tossing it on a hot grill. The braise is cooking it delicately. The grilling is cooking it aggressively. In theory, both can be rare, medium or well done. And that is (mostly) independent of how you cook them. But that is theory.

The reality is that it is kind of hard to cook something slow and rare. You CAN do it, but I personally can’t think of a single time in cooking that I would want to. Every instance I can think it could be applied (rare gentle cook hamburger, rare braised steak, barely sautéed onions) the result usually isn’t termed ‘rare’. It’s under done and lacking in flavor. Every single one of those would do so much better cooked aggressively for a short amount of time. Seared hamburger. Blackened steak. Fajita style sizzling onions! They are are all still lightly cooked, but that heat transformed them to something more instead of leaching something away. Given that, I would hold that it is a ‘rule’ in general for cooking and that would apply to ‘cooking’ cocoa beans.

In the same way different meats need different cooking methods, different cocoa beans benefit from the different roasting styles. We will disregard meats that generally should be fully cooked (pork, chicken, etc) and just take different cuts of beef as an example.

Any prime cut of meat can, and some would argue, should be cooked quickly. The goal is to cook it, but not tenderize or flavor it. It’s basically going to let the flavor shine through with the sharp heat lending a hand in alchemical transformation. This would be like a tenderloin, fillet mignon and rib eye. Basically, it does not react in a negative manner to hot fast cooking and really benefits from it. If you were to slow cook it, it might still be good, but it is going to be too tender (since it was already tender) and there is a good chance a lot of those delicate flavors are going to ‘cook out’.

On the other hand, there are meats like bottom round roasts, ‘stew meat’, brisket and flank steaks that are going to turn into shoe leather if you try to cook them fast, but a slow braise or simmer will tenderize and bring out the flavor.

And then there are those cuts that you can treat many ways. Tri-tip comes to mind. You can give it a slow medium roast, you can slice it thin and grill it or even braise it and it will come out fine (but different) for each method.

Cocoa beans are similar. Except there is a major difference. In meat, the ‘quality’ expensive cuts are cooked fast and hard and the poorer cuts are slow cooked. Do NOT think of cocoa that way in either quality nor type. Get that out of your head. Many people think of Criollo as the prized ‘quality’ bean and Forastero and the ‘other’ bean. The reason in both cases is really due to supply and demand and not because of how they are cooked. Criollo and filet mignon are both ‘rare’ and so are prized. And there is lots of Forastero and lots of stew meat per cow. It‘s that simple.

That said, over the years I have found that each type of beans benefits from a certain style of roasting. A particular profile if you will.

Forastero takes a more aggressive roast just great. And Criollo you want to treat a bit more gentle, with Trinatario bridging the gap and being the chameleon.

Now we can talk about roast lever. Light, medium or heavy. How much you cook them is dictated by personal preference. You can have a light roast, a medium roast or heavy roast. Except that you need to keep in mind the same ‘rule’ we saw above. You should not try and slow/delicately roast a bean AND try and keep it ‘rare’/light. In my experience what you end up with is analogous to crunchy warm wet onions….which I personally find rather insipid.

What if you want ‘rare’ criollo? I guess I would ask you why. If you only like rare meats, then you probably don’t want to pick a brisket that requires a long slow cook. If you do, then your options are rare and tough or fully cooked and tender. Basically I am trying to reiterate that ‘delicate’ and ‘rare’ are two different things. I would instead suggest that you want your criollo delicately roasted, but not lightly roasted.

So, to review these are the combinations I’ve found work well

Criollo, delicate to moderate heat, medium to heavy roast.

Trinatario, delicate to aggressive heat, light to heavy roast. Noting the more delicate you roast, the heavier you should roast.

Forastero, medium to aggressive roast, light to heavy roast with the same inverted caveat as the Trinatario.

Finally, one final thing I will probably touch more on later. Each type of bean’s roast level is at a different temperature, which is kind of evil. What I mean by that is light, medium and heavy are relative to each type of bean in regards to temperature.

Criollo is light somewhere around a bean temperature of 235 F and heavy around 270 F

Trinatario is light around 250 F and heavy around 285F

Forastero is light around 260 and heavy can go as hot as 310 F in some instances.

What that means is it’s difficult to say ‘take it to a medium roast’ without knowing what type of bean you are talking about. And often we don’t know the exact genetics. But it is also hard to say ‘roast to 265 F’ as many people don’t have access to set ups that allow accurate bean temperatures. Which is what makes it so challenging to teach you, my faithful reader, how to roast with words alone.

In person, light, medium and heavy roasts have pretty distinct aromas. And likewise, they have pretty distinct flavors. But they don’t translate great in words. You have to learn and experience them on your own. What that means is that you should take notes and try to apply the concepts that I’m trying to convey and keep it relative to YOUR set up.

As one very brief example, say you roast some Nicaraguan (a solid Trinatario) in the oven until you’re your IR thermometer says it’s 270 F, but the resulting chocolate is over roasted to your taste. Then you know in your system my 285 F is around your 270 F and so you should try the next roast to 255 F or 15 F lower.

Go forth and roast and eat chocolate. And don’t forget to take those notes.

I hope that clears up why delicate vs fully roasted are not contradictions.


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Ask the Alchemist #108

How do I measure the temperature in the Behmor and match them to your temperature recommendations?

You don’t.

Caution, rambling Alchemist lecture ahead. There is no good, reliable, repeatable and consistent way to roast by any temperature measurement you can get from the Behmor. Over the years I have tried to tease out useful temperature data from the Behmor, and eventually determined that due to a host of reasons, it is not possible to get data you can actually use to roast with. Root Chocolate  ran a bunch of roasts with the Behmor 1600, took a bunch of measurements and the results look basically like what I found. Unfortunately, ‘basically’ is the key word here as they did not look exactly like mine. Nor will theirs look like yours or even their own if they change beans, weight or even ambient temperature. And that inherent variation is what makes any temperature data less than helpful.

Then what are you to do? As outlandish as it seems, what I suggest is using the Behmor as it was designed and intended. Call me crazy. The whole point of the Behmor is to give you a way to roast in a simple and repeatable manner and of course, have properly roasted beans at the end. And that is what it does. Your only need is to find the program(s) and setting(s) that work for your tastes. Notice I didn’t say ‘find the program and setting to roast properly’.

You may have noticed I don’t give many specific profile recommendations for the Behmor. The reason is they all work. All of them. I have done hundreds of roasts in the Behmor with dozens of beans and by following one set of rules, I have had 100% successful roasts. And what are those rules? It’s nothing more than I have outlined time and again.

Load: 2-2.5 lbs cocoa bean

Profile: Any

Time: 16 to maximum time

That’s it. For some reason people want more. They want me to say that they should roast 2.2 lbs of Nicaragua on P3 for 17:15 mins. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way because my tastes are different than yours and I don’t know what you want or if we perceive the same flavor the same way. Only you can work that out. The truth of the matter is that you can roast 2 lbs on P1 for 21 minutes (the hottest, fastest roast you can do) or 2.5 lbs on P5 for 16 minutes (the coolest, shortest roast) and both roasts (and all the ones in between) will be acceptably roasted. The key is that some may or may not be to your tastes. It’s up to you to zero in on what you like. And pretty quickly you will come to find you probably like a relatively narrow range of roast profiles, regardless of which bean you use. It’s that saving grace that will keep you from having to fine tune each and every bean.

So how do you do that? I’ll admit. I’ve be negligent here. I’m too close to it. I’ve been roasting too long. I feel into thinking that it was just an intuitive process that everyone naturally knew how to do. My apologies. Here is how to go about it without a bunch of temperature measurements and complicated plots. And it is worth noting that you can apply this iterative process to your entire chocolate making endeavor.

I want to talk a moment about what I am calling the iterative process. It’s just a fancy way to say that you do something (roast, winnow, refine, add cocoa butter, add sugar, etc) a certain way, evaluate it, and then change ONE item and do it again, noting the difference. You do multiple iterations. It’s by this process that you can learn rather quickly how a given change affects (or doesn’t affect) your overall product and which direction it affects it (do you like it more less or is it just different).

It’s said that it takes 10,000 hours of doing something before you become a true master at it. We aren’t talking about mastery here, but the concept holds. You can’t make the perfect chocolate the first time out. It takes time to learn what you like, what you don’t like and how different parts of the process affect the outcome. But there is something implied in those 10,000 hours that isn’t said out right (I guess that is why it’s only implied). You can’t just do something for 10,000 hours without trying to get better and expect to get better. You have to actively try. You have to pay attention. You have to do it methodically. Doing one iteration after another with intent in mind helps build that mastery. If you spend 10,000 hours throwing darts at a dart board without trying to hit the center you won’t get any better at hitting the center. You have to modify what you are doing with each try (iteration) if you want to have a hope of improving. That’s what the iterative process is all about. And one final point about this. It is critically important to not change too many (the best is 1) things at once. When I was in the lab I watched many very intelligent people fail to understand a system or fix a problem because they changed lots of things and hoped for the best. Every so often it works, you make things better, but you don’t learn anything. And without learning you are no better off than you were before. Those that don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it an all that. So that is my goal here. Not to teach you how to roast, but to teach you how to teach yourself how to roast (or do anything else) based on a solid process that works.

So let’s do it.

Roast 2 lbs of cocoa beans 18 minutes on P2. It’s that simple. I recommend the profile, weight and time for a specific reason. They give you a direction to take depending on what you think of the chocolate. More beans, hotter or colder profile and shorter or longer profiles.

A quick side note. I make all my test chocolates at 70% nibs, 5% cocoa butter and 25% sugar. Vary it to your taste but having one recipe you use for learning is very helpful.

First off, did you like it and do you think it could be better? Let’s ignore that you got lucky and this is the best chocolate you have ever had and don’t want to change anything. It’s probably not going to happen and isn’t helpful. So what didn’t you like? Let’s go through some of the most common things you might taste and the direction you could try.

Is it green and grassy? It’s possibly under roasted. You have two options.

Increase the time or go to P1.

If the chocolate flavor is there, I would just increase the time by 2 minutes. If it has not really formed, I would increase the heat by going to P1 or reducing the load (not in this case but in further iterations since you started this iteration at the lowest weight recommended).

Is it to a bit acrid? It’s possibly over roasted. It could also be that it was roasted too strongly.

If there is a good chocolate flavor but it has that burnt edge to it, you probably need a more gentle profile. Just go in order. P3, P4 or P5. If there isn’t much chocolate flavor, you may have just roasted too long. Stay on P2 and roast 2 minutes shorter.

Is it too fruity? Increase the roast time a couple minutes or go to a hotter profile.

Does it just not match my tasting notes? Throw a dart or flip a coin to pick what to do next. If in doubt, just change profiles and keep weight and time the same.

I clearly can’t give you every possible taste combination. But hopefully this gets you going. Look for patterns. Start to understand what happens during a roast. Look for some of these items.

Volatile acids are initially driven off. These are not fruit notes. These are like vinegar and other sharp to the nose aromas. Next chocolate flavor develops. Also fruit flavors start to form. At some point fruit flavors start to change and reduce. Nutty and savory flavors can become more noticeable at this point if not before. Finally roast flavors start to dominate. And if you continue, chocolate, fruit and nut flavor is burned away and you are left with a powerful acridness.

The REALLY great thing about the Behmor is that it is nearly impossible to under roast IF you roast not less than 15 minutes. Likewise, as long as you have 2 lbs in there, there is basically no way to burn your beans. You can get to the level of roast flavor becoming noticeable, but I have made perfectly good chocolate on P1 with 2 lbs of beans roasting for over 20 minutes.

Finally, I want to touch on bean type and paint with a very broad brush of generalization. Keeping firmly in mind that what I have said above holds for ALL beans. This next part is really about fine tuning and choosing whether to go longer vs hotter, or shorter vs cooler.

Criollo. Longer is better than hotter, shorter is better than cooler

Trinatario I tend to like longer over hotter and cooler over shorter.

Forastero. Hotter over longer and cooler over shorter.

Notice the pattern?

One other thing to remember. Your bean mass can be used to affect the profile. If you are roasting on P1 and you want it hotter, then reduce the weight of your beans. And you can do it just a couple ounces at a time. But don’t drop below 2 lbs generally speaking. If you are at 2 lbs, then increase the time as it’s your only good option. In theory you could drop the weight even more but you start to defeat the purpose of the very nice profiles if you do. Trust me and all the testing I’ve done and keep to those initial ranges I gave. 2-2.5 lbs, any profile, 16 minutes and up.

One last thing about iterations. If you make a decision (I over roasted, I have to roast less) and take it all the way in one direction (you decide cooler vs shorter) but you have made it all the way to P5 (the coolest profile) and you can’t go any shorter because you are already at 15 minutes with 2.5 lbs of beans, then you need to re-evaluate your initial decision. Maybe you didn’t under roast or maybe you are mistaking the given flavor profile of a bean for under roasted. Even though it doesn’t feel right, try roasting longer or hotter and see what you get. Learn. Oh, and take notes! Don’t trust your memory. After a few roasts you will forget what you have done and that is as good as throwing darts randomly.

Finally, please keep in mind these are guidelines and not rules. If you find that taking Criollo hotter instead of longer give you the taste you want, then that is fine. Do it! These are just what I have learned that work for me over some 2-3000 hours of roasting. Your mileage may and probably will vary. And if you get totally stumped, my door is always open.

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