Updates


Daily musings and writings from the Alchemist

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Santha Wet Grinder Available

Actually, it is not quite available but you can order one. The shipment is still clearing customs, but we expect the new vent modified Santhas to be shipping next week. Sorry, no 99 hour timers made it in this shipment. A number of you have been asking if they will be available by Christmas. It is going to be close. In an effort for some of them to make it by Christmas, I am going to go ahead and accept orders for them. That way, the paperwork, payment etc is all taken care of and we can get them right out to you. Also, there are a select number available in a sharp new maroon color. Again, let me know if you want one of these. Also, the deadline for UPS and USPS to guarantee delivery has come and gone (it was 12-12-5). If you want something by Christmas, and absolutely, positively have to have it, you may wish to consider 3 day select from UPS (tell in a note when you order) to make sure it gets there. I will make every effort to get the orders out quickly. I would not recommend that shipping method for the Santhas - they are 50# and the cost would be high.

Here's wishing you a happy holidays, good food, good friends and great chocolate.

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Chocolate for the Holidays - New Products

With the holidays officially on us, I have been getting a few requests for "gift" items. I have done some thinking, asking people here and there, and have come up with a few items I think would make nice gifts (either for yourself or someone else) - especially for the person who "has everything" - I can virtually guarantee they don't have chocolate making kits. So here is what is now available - there are no listings in the Products page yet, but they are in the drop down menus (check the very end) of the Orders section. 72% Dark Chocolate Kit - makes 2.5 lbs - $48.00

You don't need to know much about chocolate making to use this kit. It contains all the ingredients, in the exact amounts you need, to make 2.5 lbs of fresh, home made chocolate. It includes lightly roasted Jamaican cocoa nibs, cocoa butter, sugar and lecithin to make a silky, lush dark chocolate. All that is required is to run the cocoa though your Champion Juicer (another gift?) and refine it in the Santha Wet Grinder. The Champion and Santha are not included. Neither are molds, so pick some out to go with the kit if you need them. - Note: If you have soy allergies, the lecithin may be omitted.

44% Milk Chocolate Kit - makes 4.0 lbs - $42.00

For those who love milk chocolate, this kit all the ingredients, in the exact amounts you need, to make 4.0 lbs of fresh, home made milk chocolate. It includes fully roasted Ghanan cocoa nibs, cocoa butter, dry milk powder, sugar and lecithin. This makes a full flavored, heady milk chocolate. All that is required is to run the cocoa though your Champion Juicer (another gift?) and refine it in the Santha Wet Grinder. The Champion and Santha are not included. Neither are molds, so pick some out to go with the kit if you need them. - Note: If you have soy allergies, the lecithin may be omitted. Likewise, I am trying to find an alternative to the milk powder for those with milk allergies.

As noted says above, you need both a Champion Juicer and Santha Wet Grinder to make full use of the above kits, but you won't have to worry about learning to roast, what recipe to use or anything like that. Complete directions are also included.

For those who want to experiment a little, we are now offering a 2 lb sampler pack. It is similar to the regular Sampler pack, but with a half pound of each of our four types of cocoa beans instead of 4 oz. The Larger Sampler pack is $32.00.

Finally, we are now offering Gift Certificates. They can be for any amount over $10.00 and do not expire during the life of the business. Nice for the person who wants to experiment but you don't know what to choose for them.

Happy chocolate making!

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Updates

The new continuous use, factory modified Santhas should be in around the end of the month. There will not be any with 99 hour timers. That will be next time. I have been doing a little cleaning and updating of the site. The Tempering section has been updated with pictures and I have added a couple new chocolate recipes. In particular I have added a White chocolate and adjusted some of the current directions to include refining by the Santha.

Oh, and just because I said I would post it, aside from mouth feel, here is how I determine when the chocolate should come out of the refiner. It's viscosity starts to change and it (no offense here, men have them too) nipples up.

These three samples are one hour apart, the final one being at 12 hours. I refined it for another 3 hours after that.

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Jamaican Cocoa Beans - Experiments

I have been experimenting with the Jamaican Cocoa beans. I finally got a good shot of the beans that show off that polish of theirs.

And while we are at it, here is 7-8 lbs of the Jamaican 72% chocolate in the Santha (note the hot new color available) before and after the addition of my sugar. I will post a final picture of chocolate after refining and some photos showing how the texture changes hour by hour.

And then finally, just a little experiment to show that you can not just add "a tiny" amount of water to dissolve sugar. I hate to give absolutes, but I think I just might be safe on this one - with a qualifier or two.

You can not add ANY water to chocolate and have it flow and behave like "normal" chocolate.

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100,000 Visitors

Wow, I realize in the world we live in, 100,000 is not a particularly large number, but I personally think it is rather neat to have had Chocolate Alchemy visited that many times in under two years. Thank you everyone. I appreciate the support. And so this is not completely devoid of chocolate content, we are expecting new modified Santhas in within the month. A number of you have asked and I will put a note up here as soon as I know more.

I would like a little assistance, and only you who visit can help me. We are soon to implement a shopping cart with integrated shipping and billing (please hold the applause until it is in). At the same time I want to clean and tidy up the site and maybe give it a slight facelift. Noting the cart above, are there things you as customers and visitors would like to see either added or go away? You can either leave a note here or email me directly.

And here is to making 1,000,000 together!

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Review and New Jamaican Cocoa Beans

Some time ago I was able to directly compare the Santha Wet grinder and the Sharp. The quick summary is that I did not find the Sharp usable for Chocolate refining. You can read the review here And the shipment of Jamaican Cocoa beans have arrived. I will have the review up this weekend and they will be available then.

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New Molds and New Jamaican Cocoa Beans

We have a couple of new molds to offer. Nothing real fancy, just kind of fun. There is a new pumpkin mold and fish mold.

The pumpkin because Halloween is coming up, and the fish because my life partner said "get it" and...I did.

Also, due early next week, we have a brand new Cocoa bean due it. It is a polished grade one Jamaican. I know there are getting to be a number of cocoa beans out there, but this is a little different. It has been kiln dried and polished because of the tumbling action of the drier. Aside from that, the sample I received made a fine smooth tasting chocolate. Nothing exotic, snappy, or fruity. Just good dependable chocolate flavor. I am really looking forward to experimenting with this one.

Oh, and for those of you who know me, I would hope you would know by now, I try not to particularly "spin" things. So when I say, this is a small lot (the smallest I have had), and I don't know how long it will last, that is all I mean - I am not trying to garner sales. Get some while it is here if you want it as I don't know when I will have it again. It came around this time last year and I had to pass on it. I grabbed it this time, and it will probably be another year before it comes around again.

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NewWay to Crack Cocoa Beans

By way of a customer's comment (thank you John H.) I tried cracking some cocoa beans with my Champion Juicer. I had thought of this some time ago, but never pursued it because the Crankandstein Cocoa mill works so well. I just ran the whole cocoa beans through the juicer without the lower plate on. It cracks them with a single pass and shoots them out the bottom. It works with both raw and roasted beans. When I first tried this, I was a little worried about how well it works and whether I had just made the Crankandstein obsolete. Well, after a number of pounds of beans, both raw and roasted, I have the following observations:

  • The Champion cracks the beans into smaller pieces than the Cocoa Mill
  • There is more dust, and thus more waste with the Champion
  • The Champion makes a larger mess while cracking (nibs fly everywhere)
  • It takes longer to crack the beans with the Champion (about 1lb/90 sec vs 4-6lb/min)
  • The Champion does a better job at separating the husk from the nib in raw unroasted cocoa beans.

And likewise, this leads me to a couple of conclusions.

  • The Crankandstein is not obsolete as it is quicker and creates less mess and waste
  • If you are only doing a couple of pounds, the Champion may work fine for you.
  • If you want to make you own raw nibs (for eating or post roasting), the Champion does a great job

Basically, it is up to you and what your needs are. I found the husk pieces were smaller with the Champion and so winnowing was a little easier, but as I said, there was more dust (husk and nib) that needs to be removed (I shook my nibs in a fine mesh colander for this test) so that takes a little more time. Either way, we have a new tool in out Alchemy arsenal, or more like, a new use for an existing tool.

Please try it out and report back. I am especially interested in those of you who have both a Champion and Crankandstein Cocoa mill.

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New Crop Ocumare - The Good and the Bad News

The good news is that the new crop of Ocumare Criollo from Venezuela will be in around the end of the week, and I have begun accepting orders. The bad news is that it has lost its certified organic certificate. Now, that is not as bad as it sounds. They did not lose it per se, as much as they decided not to obtain it for financial reasons. In order to be certified organic, the farmers have to be inspected and certified in addition to the co-op needs to be certified. For financial reasons the co-op decided to forego inspection until the next go around at the end of the year. So, it is like this. This crop of Ocumare is from farmers who were certified organic, and plan to be certified organic again, meaning they can't be doing anything right now that is not organic. Likewise, this shipment is coming direct from Venezuela and so will avoid the port fumigation. So I leave it to you to judge how "organic" these cacao beans are. They do not have their certification, paper trail, etc and that is important. But they are the same beans, grown by the same people using the same techniques as they did before. And that is important too. So, if you want so, go ahead and order and I will ship out your order as soon as they arrive. Aside from that, a new crop of Ghana has arrived and I like it a little better than the previous crop. A little more complexity of flavor. Some hints of vanilla and cardamom to compliment that deep chocolate base flavor.

Happy chocolate making everyone.

BTW, Santha update. I will be offering modified motor covers that will allow continuous use of the Santha for refining. Look for those in a week or so. In addition, I have been working with Santha and they have decided to supply me with pre-modified Santhas sometime in November. I will let you know when those become available.

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Cocoa Bean Roasting

Now that I can actually take cocoa beans all the way to chocolate (with the discovery of the Santha Wet Grinder), I have started revisiting each stage and step in the chocolate making process. Sort of re-evaluating what I have learned, believed and talked about. In doing that I have started to examine how I roast cocoa beans. I have always noticed that the temperatures and times I suggest are hotter and often longer than those given by the "professionals" and I have wondered about that. One "range" that has consistently stuck in my head is from Frederick Schilling of Dagoba Chocolate. He roasts his beans 15-20 minutes at 220-250 F. When I do that, I have virtually raw beans. I have come to believe it is a matter of roaster heat capacity. When he (they) roast, the beans are agitated, they come up to temperature very quickly and hence, start roasting right away. When I tried this at home, I put the cocoa beans into a 250 F oven and it is almost 20 minutes before the beans even reach 200 F. No wonder they are under-roasted.

To try and emulate some of the delicate roasts I have seen out there, I decided to crack and winnow the cocoa beans before roasting and roast the nibs. The thought was that there would be more surface area, and each piece was smaller, so the whole roast could heat up faster. I cracked and winnowed two pounds of Carenero Superior, put them THINLY on a tray, and set them to roast at 250 F in my gas oven. Within a few minutes, the smell told me they were roasting very nicely. In 15 minutes I could tell I was almost done, and I pulled them out at 20 mins. Right on target!

Visually, they had not changed at all, but the aroma was this great dry biscuity cocoa smell and I could tell when I stirred them that they were much dryer (one of your roasting goals) and harder. All in all, a complete success. The cocoa bean nibs were completely roasted, not charred on the outside and raw on the inside (which can happen if you hit them with REALLY hot temperatures) but nice and even.

So, if you are a little intimidated by drum roasting, or some of the fancy whole bean temperature programs make you nervous, or your roasts are just not as chocolatey as you might like, give this a try. Crack and winnow your cocoa beans, spread them thinly on a tray, and roast them in the oven at 250-260 F for 15-20 minutes. You have to go by smell this way, but that is fine - they smell great when done.

I am trying a whole bean roast tonight, 250 F - 30-40 minutes. I will let you know how it comes out. Hopefully they start roasting in 15-20 minutes, and then roast 15-20 minutes. What I really want to see is if the roast is even and if the beans have a nice bright flavor (like the nib roasting above) or if the flavor is muted at all. Time will tell.

More later.

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Chocolate Making is not Cheap

That is the present sad truth. I bring this up because of the following question I received. It is a good question.

"I'm interested in making chocolate at home, and am also wondering how inexpensively can I do it? its tough to invest $600+ into a hobby that I have no idea if I will like. My thoughts? Well, how did they USED to do it?"

I will start off addressing the last part first. How did they used to do it? Well, who do you mean by "they"? If you are talking about those in Mexico and that area, they used and still use large, flat griddles to roast on. They peel the cacao by hand. They grind it with a heated stone metate. It is a LOT of work AND you will not get the smooth modern chocolate that you are used to. If you are meaning, how did "they" used to make smooth "modern" chocolate the answer is that large, heavy expensive equipment has always been used. Chocolate as we know it today did not exist before the industrial revolution.

$600. I will not say that is not a lot of money - it is. What I will say is that it is not even close to what a small chocolate lab pays for chocolate making equipment. Let me give you some idea.

Roaster - $5-$10,000 Small cocoa cracker - $2,500 Winnower $1,500 Refiner $15,000 Conche $10,000

Close to $40,000. Now that is a lot of money and that is where I started a few years ago. That is why I am pretty happy that I can offer all the tools you need for under $1000. I was told time and again when I started looking into making chocolate at home that you could NOT do it. That the equipment was not available, too expensive and the techniques too difficult. Well I have proved that wrong. No, it is not inexpensive, but it is not prohibitively expensive either. I look at what some people spend on making their own espresso at home - $400, $800, $1500 for an espresso machine (not that I would not mind one myself). Yes, those are people dedicated to espresso. They are not doing it for the cost savings - they are doing it for the superior product. And that is what making chocolate at home is all about really. Making a product that has the potential to be vastly superior to what is out there, and making it how YOU want it!

This all brings me around to saying that I will not say it can not be done less expensively. I did not like being told I could not do something and I won't do the same to you. But I will say I have brought the price WAY down and that I don't know how to make it much less expensive - maybe someone out there will come up with some other alternatives.

Oh, and the original question - "how inexpensively can I do it?" If you want to put some sweat equity in, and coddle the equipment you have to get, I think someone can get into making chocolate at home for the price of a Santha. You need the wet grinder to get rid of the grit of the sugar. It is the ONLY thing I have found that will do that. The rest you can make do with what you have around. You can roast in an oven. You can peel by hand (although I can only do 2-3 lbs an hour). If you add the roasted cocoa nibs slowly to the Santha, they will grind them, but it takes time patience and perseverance. I really recommend going on e-bay and getting a used Champion for $100 or so, in addition to the Santha. It will save you lots are work and frustration. With the Champion you can grind the unpeeled roasted cocoa beans. The flavor may not be as "clean" as winnowing the husk away first, but it will do the job.

So, $250-350 is about the bare minimum you can spend at the present to get into chocolate making at home. What you will have then is smooth, silky chocolate with a great fresh flavor that is hard to find anywhere else, and the satisfaction that you made it yourself!

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The Right Tool for the Right Job

First off, we will be closed for a few days, until Monday, August 8 th. In the mean time, I wanted to talk a little about some things that have been on my mind as I follow this chocolate making path. What comes most to mind is the importance of using the right tool for the right job. Each piece of equipment and step sets you up for the next tool and process. Some people are wanting ONE piece of equipment to make chocolate at home with (and want it for $50). Well, there might be a way, but I don't know how.

Right now, it goes like this.

You need a way to roast your beans. A conventional oven works fine for that but a roasting drum is easier in the long run.

The Champion Juicer will remove husk, but that is hard on it. Cracking with a Cocoa mill helps the Champion do it's job of grinding the cocoa beans to liqueur and removing trace husk.

The Santha is used to refine your chocolate after it comes from the Champion. It might be able to grind cocoa beans, but it can't remove husk like the Champion can and you really don't want husk in your chocolate.

I am going to try and go into each of these in a bit more detail over in sort of an ongoing series of things I have learned, discovered and believe about making chocolate at home.

Also, if you have any questions, please ask and I will address them.

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Ocumare - Out of Stock

The Ocumare Criollo has been selling so well that we have been having trouble keeping enough in. We will probably be out for about a month, but it is hard to tell. Now, that does not mean we are out of Cocoa beans, or even good Cocoa beans. If you are getting some for snacking, I really like the Carenero Superior. I have mentioned this before, but they are not the prettiest beans, but they are clean and have a nice bright friutiness. They also have a great complex flavor after lightly roasting them.

For making chocolate, the Carenero is great, but can be a little delicate to work with if it is your first time. The Ghana on the other hand is very forgiving and rewards your efforts with a great deep chocolate flavor, with hints of dry leather and a touch of vanilla. It is good for snacking, but being a smaller cocoa bean, it is a little difficult to peel.

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Chocolate Alchemy Creations - White Chocolate

It is not really chocolate, but I have received enough requests, that I finally had to put a batch of White Chocolate on. It was very simple. The only piece of equipment you need is the Santha Wet Grinder. Just combine the following: Homemade White Chocolate

26 oz Cocoa Butter 25 oz White Sugar 22 oz Dry milk powder 1 t vanilla extract

I put all the dry items into a 150 F oven for about a hour, then slowly combined them and the vanilla in the Santha Wet Grinder and let it refine for about 8 hours.

I then got a little creative with molding as you can see above.

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July Updates

The ordering system will be off-line for a few hours today for maintenance. If you find the system gives you an error, or a "page not found", please try back later. And just to give you a few things that have been happening here, we just received our order of various molds. There are hearts, truffles, bar molds and some really beautiful half egg shapes that are great to use for making filled chocolates. I am taking the photos of all that now, and should have them up and available in a few days.

Also, arriving any day, I should have a Sharp Wet grinder to start testing, modifying and evaluating. Sharp is interested in making the air flow modification at the factory, depending on my work and reviews.

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Santha Wet Grinder Modification

As purchased, the Santha Wet Grinder can not be run more than an hour at a time. For refining chocolate, this is a hassle. I have been doing some tests to determine why it over heated and what I could do about it. It turns out that the motor was simply not getting enough air flow. I cut a hole in the top of motor housing, and added some extra vent holes at the bottom, and now it does not over heat. So far I have run it 24 hours straight, 3 days in a row, with no problems.

Mine now looks like this.

You can see how I did the full modification Here

I think it is easy enough that anyone can do it with basic tools, but I am thinking about offering the Santha-Hack service if there is interest. Is there?

Happy chocolate refining.

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New Products

We are now offering Champion Juicer and the Santha Wet Grinder. The Champion takes your roasted cocoa beans and liquifies them into cocoa liqueur. Then the Santha works as a refiner and conch, reducing the cocoa and sugar particle size in your chocolate and smooths out the flavor profile. We have also added fine Whole vanilla beans. The are from Madagascar and are of the Bourbon variety. They add a nice depth of flavor to your chocolate creations.

Finally, we have decided on some molds and should have those in within a month or so.

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Caranero Superior - 2005

The Carenero Superior shipment has arrived and is now available. The Review is up. This crop is a little brighter and cleaner than last year's crop (and less expensive again). The Sampler pack is also available again, now that we have three origins in stock. And a quick update: I successfully modified my Santha Wet grinder for continuous use. It ran all weekend, 12 hours a day. It will of course void the warranty, but that is the price you pay for innovation. I will tell you how very soon. It was very simple and virtually anyone can safely do it.

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New Ordering System

I wanted to let you know that we have put a new ordering system in place. It is not quite a full "cart" system yet, but it is hopefully much smoother and easier. I really appreciate all of you sticking with me through the previous, rather cumbersome e-mail ordering process. This is a variant of that. You type all your information into a web page with product drop downs. I will then email you back with the order total (payment request where applicable), or quote total.

If/when you try it out, let me know if something doesn't work quite right.

Alchemist John

P.S. I did a bit of house keeping this weekend. In particular, the Subscription link to the right is new, the Refining & Conching area is updated with the new Santha Grinder information, and the "Our Philosophy" section is all tidied up with current information.

P.P.S I have been in contact the Santha and may well be offering them in the near future. Maybe even one with electronic timer controls.

P.P.P.S Would anyone be interested in a 3-5 oz "Chocolate Alchemy" logo bar mold, or am I the only one that would find that neat?

That's all, I promise.

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Refining Chocolate at Home

I have been waiting for this moment for almost two years now. For those of you who have been following the progress here, or have tried to make chocolate at home, you will know that so far, the granules in sugar have left a gritty texture to homemade chocolate. I have been working to find a solution. Well, I have found it. It is not all the way there yet, but it is by far the best yet. And I think it is not all the way there yet, simply because I have not run it long enough. On my first test I ran it a little over 3 hours and there was a marked improvement in the chocolate texture and particle size reduction. Based on the continuous changes it was making, I figure about 5 hours to refine. Oh, you want to know what it is? Well, the good news is that it is not an R&D product and so it is available.

The bad news is that it is not an R&D product and it is a little expensive - about what a Champion runs - around $265.

It is a Santha tabletop Wet grinder. It has a heavy motor that rotates a granite slab and two large heavy granite rollers at about 150 rpm. The whole thing is just under 50lbs! Oh, and I just saw they say it is "light weight" - don't you believe them - this thing is a heavy duty monster - and that is great! Just have a look.

If you notice, it looks a whole lot like a commercial Melangeur.

I had something exactly like this on the drawing board and here it is - very cool. Right now, I am confident that it will run an hour at a time with no fear of overheating, but more than that and the motor needs a fan on it to keep it cool. Not too tough actually. On the other side, the chocolate benefits from some gentle heating. I just pointed a hair dryer at it for 2-3 minutes. After the first hour though, the chocolate becomes more liquid like and the whole thing generates enough heat by friction that additional heat is not really needed.

Here is a sampling of the chocolate over the refining time, roughly at half hour increments. The lighting was really not good enough for you to see the textural changes, but what is obvious is how much better the viscosity is. As the refining progresses (left to right, then down), it definitely becomes more "chocolate like".

Finally, I can tell you it will not grind the nibs into liqueur. It starts to and then effectively locks up from lack of heat. I even tried heating the nibs and it just didn't work. So to make chocolate at home, you will still need the Champion Juicer (with a fine juice screen, someone called my attention to the fact that I only mention this in passing). But this finally gives us the ability to start REALLY producing some chocolate!

Stay turned - I will update the Refining area in the next week or so. Actually, go check it out now - I did some major updates just the other day.

Now the real fun begins - discovering the techniques to make really great chocolate now that we have the tools we need!

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