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Cocoa Beans

Ask the Alchemist #237

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Ask the Alchemist #237

Level: Novice

Reading Time: 12 minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Isn’t Criollo the best?”

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

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

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

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

No, you can turn it down.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can I use the Champion 4000?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regardless, keep experimenting, making and asking questions.

Cheers.

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Ask the Alchemist #211.5

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Ask the Alchemist #211.5

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

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Ask the Alchemist #211

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Ask the Alchemist #211

We've noticed that different beans seems to have different amounts of intrinsic oil. The Peruvian Maranon seems to have quite a bit of oil and produces a chocolate that flows very easily but it tricky to temper correctly. Is there a way to know in advance the amount of oil in a bean so we can adjust the amount of cocoa butter we add?

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This and that

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This and that

Today is just a small laundry list of announcements, some of which I would like your opinions on. There is no Ask the Alchemist because my queue is empty. 

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Fiji - a new Direct trade origin.

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Fiji - a new Direct trade origin.

Let’s start off with saying this bean ranks in my top 10 favorites ever.  It has virtually everything I love about chocolate rolled into one. Just look how it pegs the chocolate category in the spider graph!  And sweet.  And fruity. And nutty.  The flavors just keep coming and coming.

Yeah, I’m that impressed.

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Video Tuesday

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

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLYEGb3f5ps[/embed]

I hope you enjoy it.

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The long dark tea-time of the soul

It's more like cocoa-tea-time but you get the drift I suspect. May I present Alchemist's series #7 - The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul.

TLDTTOTS is replacing Fire and Brimstone #4.  It is a semi-dark, richly chocolate, brewing cocoa.  Very possibly the best yet (at least I like it the best).  I really enjoy it at 202 F in the Brazen Brewer.

New Direct Trade India is in.  It also makes a killer Brewing cocoa.  Hot or cold.

4 new Venezuelan are on the way.  Fruity Sur del Lago, delicate Cuyagua, silky Canoba, and rich Guanino.

Most likely Belize and Maranon....still finishing the tasting and evaluation.

Testing and Evaluation beans are back.

Finally, I am now offering the Behmor 1600 plus with free shipping (lower 48 USA only and with no beans).

Oh, and some of you may have noticed that Ask the Alchemist went AWOL last week.  That happens from time to time when no questions are in the queue.  So, what do you want to know?

long dark tea time.jpg

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New Wild Bolivia in is

This is almost, but not quite, an 'it's back' moment.  I have offered a wild Bolivia in the past.  That was from the Alto Beni region.  This time the beans are from the Beniano.  Basically the same local native (heirloom?) stock but a different elevation and soil type.  And still very small and full of flavor. Also, a brand new origin has cleared customs and is in route to the warehouse.  Direct trade India.  I'm very excited working with a group of about 20 farmers there.  Stay tuned.

 

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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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