Daily musings and writings from the Alchemist


The Holidays

Hi Everyone.  Just a few quick notes. First off, if you are still looking for that last minute gift item, I have Gift Certificates available.

Next,  and hold on to your socks (stockings?), I have a line of Cacao Fruit.  As in fresh Cacao pods.


I am looking at bringing some in.  Noting that they are perishable, I am thinking on taking pre-orders and only bringing in what I need (plus maybe a few extra).

Do you want a Cacao pod?  Let me know.  Just a quick note to alchemist at chocolatealchemy dot com or comment here if you are interested.  Most likely they would be around $15 plus shipping (probably $12.95 USPS flat rate box), but that is only an estimate at this point.  And they can only ship within the USA.  And multiple could go into one box if you desire. Given they are perishable, I sadly can't offer any guarantee except that they will leave here in good order and well padded and packed. If I get enough response I will make them available for purchase.  Delivery would be around a month I suspect.

And a minor other detail.  Right now it looks like many of the Archives and other pages are not linking correct and giving a 404 error. I'm aware and working on it.  Both the Retail and Wholesale stores are just fine.

Finally,  the holiday schedule (yeah, a little late I know):

December 24, 25, 26 - Closed and no shipping and few e-mails returned. December 27 - open as needed to ship and answer e-mails December 31 - January 2 Closed and no shipping and few e-mails returned.

January 3 - open as needed to ship and answer e-mails

Both stores will remain active and you can put in orders, but the normal turnaround will be as above.

Have a great holiday everyone.



1 Comment

Ask the Alchemist #58

Hi, I am using chocolate chips for tempering, since it is kind of thick for coating I wonder if I can add cocoa butter to help liquify it?

I’m not 100% sure what you mean, but I think I get the basic idea. It sounds like you are using chocolate chips to coat something with and the melted, in temper chocolate is a bit thick.

If that is the case, yes, you can add cocoa butter to reduce the viscosity some so the coating is not quite so thick. I would start with 5% of the weight and see what that gives you. And feel free to keep adding until you get to 15%. If you make it there, and it is still too thick, something else may be going on. At that point (or instead) you can try adding a some (0.5-1%) lecithin. And I personally like that even better. Sometimes thickness comes from a touch of water that has found its way into the chocolate and even adding cocoa butter does not seem to help that much. Instead adding something that binds the water helps much more.

Over the weekend I helped a local 8 the grade class make over 50 lbs of truffles for a fund raiser. About 1/3 of them were dipped in tempered chocolate and the dark chocolate was as you described. A bit thick and made the coating too heave without a bit of work. We have been having a stretch of rather cold weather (for here), with snow on the ground for a week (2 days is a lot here) and temperatures in the low teens. I suspect all that snow and humidity found it’s way into the chocolate and I need to do something about it. I melted up about 2 oz of cocoa butter, added 1T of lecithin, stirred until melted/dissolved and added it to the 10 lbs of chocolate. That took care of it. The water was bound up after a few minutes and the viscosity dropped nicely. But that would not have happened with just that small amount of extra cocoa butter.

The other thing I would suggest is checking the label on your chocolate chips. I did some research and although most of the chips were just cocoa, sugar, cocoa butter and lecithin, there were a few that had other oils in them. And a few that had tons of things in them ( Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Chocolate, Milk, Nonfat Milk, 1% of Artificial Flavors, and Natural Flavors, Soy Lecithin, Yellow 5 Lake, Yellow 6 Lake, Red 40 Lake, Blue 2 Lake, Salt, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, and Soybean Oil. ) which I would not be surprised would make it basically impossible for you to temper and dip in with a thin, even coating.

So, check you ingredients. If those are good to go (no oils, no dyes, no water based anything), add some cocoa butter and lecithin and see if that helps.

And for those that are curious, here is the truffle recipe. It’s still not too late for holiday gifts.

Truffles 4 dozen 1 oz truffles

3 lb Chocolate (2 lbs for filling, 1 lb for dipping) (27 oz Ecuador nibs roasted, 6 oz cocoa butter, 15 oz sugar, 1.5 t lecithin, 1 vanilla bean scraped into melted cocoa butter)

1 pint heavy cream

Cocoa powder (I like Dagoba personally)


Heat 1 pint (1 lb) cream to 160 F. Melt 2 lbs chocolate to 150 F. Combine gentle. I prefer to stir the chocolate into the cream and fold it together until there are no streaks. Allow to cool and set up, usually overnight. You may find a small layer of cocoa butter on the top…or not. Just stir it in or scrap it off. It is usually a result of over mixing but does not hurt anything.

Scoop out 1 oz amount and roll into balls. This is a very soft filling and you WILL get melted chocolate all over your hands. Allow to harden.

Make a cocoa powder/sugar coating. Mix 1/4 cup cocoa powder to 4 cup sugar and powder in a blender.

Melt your remaining chocolate. Pour some onto a warm plate or parchment paper. Roll your truffles in the chocolate, coating thinly and immediately toss/roll in your cocoa powder mixture. Allow to set up.

And let your inspiration be your guide as far as coatings. Cinnamon, coconut, cocoa nibs slightly ground/crushed (I adore these, but some people find them too far outside their comfort level). And of course you can dip them in tempered chocolate with no extra coating.

Oh, and one of my all-time favorites is substituting eggnog for the cream, and using a nutmeg/cinnamon/sugar coating.

Happy holidays all!!!

----- Submit your Questions to the Alchemist: question(youknowtoremovethisright?)@chocolatealchemy.com -----

1 Comment


Ask the Alchemist #57

I notice that you have always advocated a minimum 35% of cocoa butter... yeah, I know about the basic 50% pre-existent in the cacau! However, my 62% is an easy pour, - enjoy this - easier than the 60% that I've tried.

Would I be right in thinking that the bean I'm using, a 3-day dry, Trinitario hybrid in Fiji, has enabled me to get that wee bit of 'extra' cocoa butter that makes the 62% a nice pour, but the 60% that little bit too much of a bother without added cocoa butter.

Well, yes and no to your answer. Maybe, ‘not really’ would be the better answer.

I advocate 35% because I’m painting with a broad brush and talking in generalities. People have a tendency to like hard numbers. Heck, I admit it. I’m one of those. I’m a total numbers geek. I used to be a chemist. I quantitated for a living. But I’m also an alchemist and numbers just don’t always tell the whole story. Or more to the point, there are just too many of them and we don’t know all the numbers involved.

Use 35% cocoa butter!!

Pour your tempered chocolate at 87 F.

Roast at 325 F for 16 minutes.

Cool your chocolate to 80 F when tempering

People seem to like that. What I would much prefer to say is:

Use enough extra cocoa butter to let your chocolate flow like you want it.

Roast at 300-350 F for 10-30 minutes, until the beans smell ‘right’ – chocolate like.

Pour your tempered chocolate about 8 F over your cool temperature, but adjust if you have bloom

Cool your chocolate until it starts to set up when tempering.

I’ve tried that for years…and although closer to the truth of the situation, I found it just didn’t always work. Hence hard(er) numbers. And I’ll admit, it is a good starting place. But that is all it is. A starting place. You start there, observe, change, tweak, revisit and learn. That is the goal. Learn the process by doing the process. Forget (or at least ignore some of) the numbers. Use the Force….or your intuition. Which is another way of saying, use your senses and what your subconscious has learned about what you are doing from starting with numbers.

And you appear to be doing that…but you are still trying to assign numbers. ‘3 day dry’. 62%. 60%. You didn’t get any extra because of those numbers or anything special you did. Next year’s crop may be totally different….or it might not be. You just happen to have a bean that possibly has a bit more cocoa butter than the average…or the cocoa butter from your beans have lower molecular weight chains so it’s more fluid….or the cocoa butter in your beans is a little less saturated….or it’s a combination of all of those.

What it comes down to is that it does not matter.

Start with numbers, but make chocolate by Gestalt. It’s why I say on my from page that it is “The Art and Science of Homemade Chocolate”. You need both.

What matters is that you recognized that you didn’t need extra cocoa butter and you are learning and that is what it is all about!



Ask the Alchemist #56

We just finished Thanksgiving and had a wonderful roast turkey. We put it in for 5 hours at 325 F. Why can’t roasting cocoa beans be this simple? First off, I want to thank everyone associated with Chocolate Alchemy. It’s both and honor and a privilege to work with all the wonderful people that I get to help make chocolate. Thank you.

This is a great question and I have to say almost had me scratching my head a little until I noticed that, in an unintentional way, it was a trick question. Sort of like ‘do you still love hershey’s kisses?’. The reason these are both trick questions is that they are making assumptions. I never loved hershey’s kisses, so I can’t still love them. It is the same above. In my opinion, and with my way of looking at it, what you had yesterday is not a roasted turkey. It was a baked turkey. Not that it was not good, but it was not roasted.

What is the difference? Well, the question might have been better is it said ‘can we bake cocoa beans’? To me, roasting is a process of applying different levels of heat, high at the beginning, gradually decreasing until what you are roasting, is done. Baking is usually at one temperature (although I’ll note, some baking is done at a high initial temperature, and then dropped quickly to a lower temperature for the rest of the time).

I too had a roast turkey yesterday. One I truly consider roasted.

I roasted it at the following temperatures

500 F for 30 minutes

450 F for 30 minutes

400 F for 30 minutes

350 F for 30 minutes

325 F for 1 hour

See the difference? Not unlike how I roast cocoa (and coffee). High temperature to get the roast going, and gradually lower temperatures until the roast is done. And for me, what I got was a lovely browned bird, juicy, not dry, with lots of flavor. And pretty fast. 3 hours instead of 5 hours. And to my tastes, better than baked.

So, can you ‘roast’ cocoa at one temperature. Technically not. Can you bake them? Sure. If you want. You may fine the flavor a little flat, maybe a little bland. Maybe a little like an over cooked holiday bird.

Might I suggest trying to roast your next bird, and see how you like it. And at the same time it should start to give you a little more feel for roasting cocoa. It’s not really any different.

I hope everyone enjoys their leftovers. And might I suggest a little chocolate to go with them?



Ask the Alchemist #55

I have heard that some people pick through and screen their cocoa beans one by one to remove all the uneven ones, flat beans or ones that don’t look just right. Do I have to do this? You don’t mention it at all.

Do you have to do this? In a word, no, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. Further, I don’t do it except in rather rare cases where I have very questionable beans (with a note that I do my best to never offer those said questionable beans). But that does not mean I don’t do something to clean up certain beans before they fully turn into chocolate. For me, it’s more of a zen approach. A balance of effort vs results. Here is what I mean by that.

In the first case, you can take the time to rather laboriously spread out your beans and pick through what you think are the questionable beans. When I’ve done this, I have indeed found that they were easier to process, I had less flats and husk getting into my winnowed nibs (which I still picked out) and …. compared to the chocolate where I did not pick through the beans one by one, I could not say there was any perceptible difference in the resulting two chocolates. That right there has me (call it lazy or frugal or smart or efficient ) not wanting to put in extra effort for no benefit that I can discern.

In the other case, using the zen approach, I let the process do the work for me. If I see obvious debris, I pick it out as I am going along. During the roasting process, in my perforated drum, any broken nibs and small debris natural drop out. Screening without an extra step. The agitation will also break up any already cracked (hence questionable) beans and drop them out. Next the cracking and winnowing process further pulls out a lot that isn’t quite right. It’s designed to crack and separate beans that are of similar nature (you are picking and screen for similar beans after all). I’ve found if you have over fermented beans, they tend to shatter more and get carried over (via the Aether or Sylph) with the husk. Under fermented beans don’t release their shell as well or fracture into larger pieces and often have their husk still on the nib. If I notice a lot of these larger pieces I will indeed at this stage pass the nibs through 1/4” hardware cloth (through trial and error, this size discriminates just right I’ve found). Clean nibs of the appropriate size (and presumably preparation) drop through, and the larger pieces are left on top. So, sure, I screen, but it’s a fast process, not a picking through one by one. If there is a lot left, I will run this quickly through the cracker and winnower again (instead of running the whole batch through again). The result is ‘cleaned up’ nibs without any extra steps or time. And it separates on a more objective set of parameters than your visual observation.

So that is my take. Let the process work for you. Don’t coddle the process.



Ask the Alchemist #54

I tried making some ganache with praline which solidified nicely in the fridge. I was able to shape it into cuboids / bricks and then dip it in tempered chocolate.

But if you look at the photo you can see that after the chocolate had set or started to set the filling started to melt / separate and push its way out of the chocolate like a weed through tarmac. This is really frustrating as I was fairly pleased with the results besides that (the rough and ready look of the chocolates were a bit of a mistake from working at too low a temperature, not one I'll make again).

Do you have any idea why the filling might do that? Does the chocolate contract as it sets, squeezing the filling out? How can I avoid that happening?

This is a little bit of a different direction than I normally take as it has not much to do so much with chocolate making as confection making, but still something many chocolate DIY’ers take on. Something I myself have taken on. So I’ll wade in and give you some of my thoughts and experience. But keep in mind, there may be many other ways to do this and these techniques worked for me. Nearly all of my work here is with truffles.

To answer the most important question, yes, tempered chocolate shrinks when it sets. This is why chocolate pulls away from the mold and releases easily. Unfortunately, this is also what is causing your dipped chocolates to crack and compress the filling out. Since you can’t stop the tempered chocolate from contracting, you have to do something to cope with it pushing your filling out. I have successfully done three different things. All have their plusses and minuses depending on your situation, mindset and the final look you want.

1. Make a ‘hole’ in your filling. It has to be something large enough that you create a small air gap that can compress when the outer covering contracts. A kabob skewer is a little small but will work if you make it a long hole. The working end of a chop stick is good. A thumb is usually too large as the chocolate will just fill in the space.

2. Going off the rift of using a skewer or chop stick, this is often a good way to dip the chocolate also. Just skewer the filling, making sure you are in nice and deep, dip it into your tempered chocolate and then using another chop stick to pull against, remove the stick. In theory, this will leave you with a large enough space inside to collapse and keep your shell intact. The benefit here is cleaner hands. 3. Make a hole in your shell and clean it up. I’ve done this a bit and it works just fine. While you are dipping, just as the outer shell is starting to set up, poke a hole near the bottom (or top if you are doing to decoratively add something to the top). This will control where your filling pushes out and should stop random cracks. Then just go back and dab a touch of chocolate over the hole. Again, if you are putting something decorative on top, or want a little flourish, this is an easy way to take an issue and turn it into a feature.

That’s it. All of those have worked for me. And I will leave you with two things that did not work. Double dipping and trying to cover the cracks. In both cases the new chocolate just shrinks and cracks again.

Oh, and one more. Dip in untempered chocolate and then dust with something. Cocoa powder. Praline powder. Sugar. Something like that. That way your connection does not crack, and the dusting will inhibit and/or prevent the bloom from being seen.

Have fun, and get making those dipped chocolate gifts for the holidays.



Ask the Alchemist #53

I have become interested in home chocolate making (with the possibility of selling one day) and have been slowly learning about the process and acquiring equipment. However, I have some concerns after seeing posts on your forums and elsewhere about pathogens (salmonella, e. coli, etc) in unroasted beans. It sounds like roasting is really the one and only kill step in the chocolate making process. However, there are some people who suggest that, if present, salmonella and e coli may be able to survive roasting. To address these issues, it seems that you could take the following actions:

1. Purchase beans from a source that you can trust, keep equipment clean, use good manufacturing practices to avoid cross contamination

2. VERIFY that a particular roasting profile reduces pathogen counts to acceptable levels (this will depend on bean characteristics, roast time, temperature, roasting technique, etc)

3. Spot check pathogen levels in the final product

Item 1 is well within the capability of a home or small production chocolate maker. However, items 2 and 3 would require some lever of expertise, lab testing, and money that may be beyond the reach of a small scale chocolate maker. Is there a way to quantify the effectiveness of the roasting step for home production? Is there anything that a small chocolate shop can do to provide some confidence that the final product is safe?

Thanks for your input,


This is something I’ve touched on before, and it is worth addressing again. Yes, in theory, salmonella and e.coli could survive some roast treatments, especially if you view the temperature vs time kill curves for wet and dry media for these contaminants. But that is theory to my knowledge. In practice, I have not ever see a roast not kill e.coli or a much more heat resilient spore. If I had to surmise why, I think it might have to do with the nature of how I roasted and how that differs from how the kill curve data were collected. Please keep in mind this is just a hypothesis based on my observations.

Labs where these kill curves are produced use either ovens or autoclaves. In both cases they are filled with test media, and are pretty static environments. They might have some air circulation, but the items themselves never move. They are testing for worst case scenarios. And the e.coli is inside a liquid or wet media. In roasting (for my test) the beans were heated in a roasting drum, with a significant temperature gradient, lots of convection and a very thin layer (the husk) that had to be heated for decontamination to occur. Mostly bean movement, the convection and thin layer are the reasons I surmise roasting works.

That said, I should clarify that static pan roasting in an oven may not do the trick, especially if the beans are at all stacked up. That’s worth considering when you roast.

As for your points, let’s just tick them off.

Agreed. Source is important. And avoiding cross contamination is paramount. It is very often overlooked. Do you have dedicated bowls and buckets for raw and roasted beans? You need to.

1.  This is something that each person can do, but not something I or any supplier can do for you. As surmised above, the roasting method can possibly radically affect how effective a given roasting profile is. And related to point 3) I would not go to this level unless you have positive results in your finished product.

2.  Agreed. This is good to do, and if you are in production, I think the peace of mind way outweighs the cost. And if you look into it, I don’t think you will find testing is all that expensive. Sure, maybe for the home chocolate maker it is (which is why 1 is important) but not for the one doing it for business. Less than $100 I’ve seen. It is also worth keeping in mind that final product testing is more likely to pick up contamination as it will have been more evenly distributed through the product. I find spot checking 10 beans out of a 2 lb roast not greatly comforting.

3.  So what can you do at home? Well, the only true way to be very sure is to test. Everything else is just precaution. But if you do, don’t get lulled into a false sense of security by doing one final product test with a clean result. If your beans were clean to start with, there is no reason to expect the chocolate not to be clean. You pretty much have to run a control where you contaminate your beans and run them through your whole process (making sure you clean well afterwards just in case).

That all said, sadly, I have to say no. There is no easy, cheap, reliable method to test whether your chocolate is safe. Life is full of uncertainty and some amount of risk. And in the scheme of things, making chocolate is not one of them. Sure, it can be an issue, but the few cases of product contamination have always come down to a breakdown in some procedure that is in place. A faulty temperature sensor. Cross contamination. Post contamination. In that in nearly a decade I’ve not heard of one single case of someone getting sick from chocolate they made or that was made in small scale says something. Sure, it too is a minor false sense of security, but there is something to be said for vast pools of no positive data. Generally, I know, it is bad practice to try and prove something by the lack of evidence (which is what I am saying) but at the end of the day, if that is what you have, it is what you have to go with. And you must keep in mind no one (to my knowledge) says roasting 100% kills pathogens. I’ve been VERY clear about that. But I have reported that when I actually tested basic roasting profiles with contaminated beans valid data was produced (sample set of about 24) that no live pathogens were found afterwards.

So we are not totally working in evidence vacuum after all. There is data that drum roasting profiles are effective and so far, there is no evidence to the contrary.



New Crop Venezuelan

The new crop is in and lovely.  Right now just the raw Retail pages are up.  Roasted and Wholesale will take me a little longer, but it's coming. Canoabo - A new region and farm, by a farmer (Rodrigo) who knows his cocoa.  This is a delightedly soft cocoa.

Mantuano - It's back, and even better than before.  Delicate and integrated.  And this year, there is plenty to go around.

Ocumare Lugo - This is from the farmers who made Ocumare what it was.  Is this different from the co-op Ocumare.

Patanemo and a micro-lot.  Patanemo Donaldo.  See what different hands can do for the same basic bean.  Donaldo is the farmer who hand selected and fermented this micro-lot.

And so it is not forgotten, I have new fair trade Ghana



Ask the Alchemist #52

I have seen the blendtec twister jar and vitamix making awesome nut butters, grinding coffee etc. Now why wouldn't you use such a thing for pregrinding the cocoa beans? For example it takes only a couple of seconds to grind coffee. I am very curious and looking forward to your answer.

Hi everyone and welcome to One year of Ask the Alchemist. Please keep those questions coming to question@chocolatealchemy.com.

The basic answer to this is it does not work. In theory it should (since they do nut butters) , but in practice it does not. In both cases I found the nibs would start to liquefy and then simply stick to the container wall, and all grinding would stop. The blades are not suited to keeping the material in play. And in the Vitamix’s case, that amazingly strong motor caused so much friction it literally burned the chocolate.

As for it taking only a couple seconds to grind coffee….well, the same can be said for both blade grinders and burr grinders and neither work for cocoa due to the high cocoa butter content. It sticks to the side of the blade grinder and clogs the burr grinder. So it really does not matter that a given piece of equipment will do coffee well. Cocoa isn’t coffee. As for the nut butters, the crux here is that the fats in nut butters are oils, i.e. liquid at room temperature. As they start to grind, they immediately fall back into the blades and it’s all good. This doesn’t happen with the cocoa since the cocoa butter is solid at first.

I’m keeping this short today as I have a bunch of cocoa to get tasted and up. Look for them tomorrow.


1 Comment

Ask the Alchemist #51

I have not yet tried making chocolate. I've just been trying to research it as much as possible before I begin the process. I originally was going to grind cocoa nibs and try to make my own chocolate that way. But as I've continued to research there is just so much work involved in that simple process! So now I am considering purchasing cocoa liquor/mass from another manufacturer and using the santha to create my own finished product. Any general thoughts or recommendations? I know of E. Guittard, Callabaut, any other suggestions for manufacturers that I can buy the liquor from?

Well, to my mind, and of course I’m biased, you lose 90% of what makes homemade chocolate so great. The freshness and the ability to choose just the profile of flavors you want based on origin and roasting. The best analogy to me would be buying a cake mix, adding your own eggs (and maybe a couple spices) and calling it homemade. I guess it kind of is….but it’s not. The cake mix has most of the flavor development all built in.

And to remind you of a few things that might help you decide to go nib to bar.

If taken slowly, the Melanger will grind nibs. i.e. no Champion needed

If you buy nibs, you won’t need a Cocoa mill

If you buy nibs, you can roast them in your oven

The short of it is if you are going to invest in a Melanger, there is really no great reason not to just make your own totally from scratch.

1 Comment


Ask the Alchemist #50

I got a bean from you that you said was milder ... I thought you had mentioned that criollo was more difficult to make chocolate than Forestaro or Trinitario. but from what i've been reading, criollo is more mild b/c less polyphenols. Shouldn’t this make it easier to make chocolate from? I’m finding my criollo kind of bitter and astringent.

I've looked over our correspondence, and honestly, I don't see where you asked for milder. You initially asked for Criollo, and chocolaty and less fruity. That led me to Peru because it is NOT mild. I didn't mean to give you that impression. But you illustrate a good point that you asked for Criollo, but remember asking for mild.  They are not synonyms, but people constantly try and make them such.

"caution - lecturing rambling alchemist ahead"..

The main thing here is that chocolate is a living thing. It has bred and cross bred a lot. It very, very, rarely can be stuffed into neat and tidy cubbyholes that many of us humans desire. Most everything you have said, and most everything I've said are true....and totally a lie...because they are not the full truth. For instance "criollo is more mild b/c less polyphenols" is true but not the whole truth. The better phrase is "the milder criollo are more mild because they have less polyphenols that the ones that are not as mild". The even better phrase is 'it has been observed there is a statistical correlation (r^2 > 0.90 {which is actually pretty horrible from a cause and effect and prediction relationship - that falls into the 'general trend' category}) between polyphenols amounts and perceived bitter/astringent flavors' and 'many Forastero have polyphenol counts (warning bogus example numbers) from 50-100 mg/kg, many Trinitario have polyphenol counts from 30-80 mg/kg and many Criollo have polyphenol counts from 20-60 mg/kg". Note the "many", the hedging language, the overlapping ranges but the general trend? THAT is much closer to the truth. That there is a lot of variation in beans and you simply can’t make an all-encompassing statement and hand a hope it will be true. .

As for Criollo harder to make....yes....it CAN be, but does not have to be. And note, you are writing me just because of that. No contradiction there. And given that Peru is not one of the milder Criollo, (but is still on the milder side of cocoa in general) it needs a 'full' roast. It's very possible I over emphasized how delicate to be on this bean. It needs a good roast to develop flavor, but not one so strong to drive off all the flavor. If you under roast, you get more astringency. When you fully roast, you develop the flavors we think of as chocolate. When you over roast, you add bitter flavors and in some of these ‘milder’ beans, burn off some of the already mild chocolate flavor.

And if you have made it this far, there is a new bean in.  A Fair Trade Certified Ghana.  And bucking the Forastero expectation a small amount, it's a little bit floral.



Cocoa vs Cacao - Adult supervison recommended

First off, I get this a lot.  i.e. what is the difference?  Very simple really.  English vs Spanish. Next, someone shared this with me and I just had to share it.  And we are are all adults here?  Right.  Ok, close enough.  Remember.  Adult supervision recommended.  No, really.  Don't say I didn't warn you. Enjoy!




Ask the Alchemist #49

Will you be at the NW Chocolate Festival

No.  I dislocated my knee last weekend and that just won't be possible.

My chocolate bloomed.  Is it ruined?  Can I temper it again?

No, it is not ruined.  You can temper it as many times as you like.  It is like asking if once your ice melts, if you can freeze it again.

Is your cocoa butter food safe?


Is your lecithin food safe?


Can I eat your raw cocoa beans as is?

Well, I can't stop you, but I don't recommend it.  I've always thought the need something like this:

"Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish, eggs or cocoa beans may increase your risk of foodborne illness, especially if you have a medical condition.   Do so at your own risk."



Ask the Alchemist #48

Is the Puruvian bean a slightly less oily bean? The liquor was decidedly thicker than my Conacado.

This is not something I keep track of currently, but painting with a rather broad brush, being a Criollo, it would tend toward having a lower cocoa butter content. That said, the observation and conclusion you are drawing from it isn’t necessarily accurate. From days gone by, when I did actually test the beans for cocoa butter content, it varied from 49-56%. Forastero, on average, had more, and Criollo. So where is the problem? It’s this. That small difference has very little effect on the viscosity of the base liquor. I’ve never noticed much of a difference as long as the fat content is above 40% (once you start adding ingredients).

So what is causing that thickness? Well, I say not to over roast the Peru, and I mention Conacado and accept a heavier roast. What I’d hazard to hypothesize is that the Peru was roasted lighter (maybe a touch too light?) and contained more moisture. And that can and will make a huge difference in the base viscosity. 1% moisture can radically increase how thick your chocolate is. It’s good to keep in mind when reading about light and heavy roasts, that in all cases it should be a full roast to make sure the moisture is properly driven off. And don’t forget to let them completely cool before grinding into liquor. Water continues to be let off for some time after roasting.

I had the bright idea once to use that residual heat to jump start my grinding process….and over and over ended up with a seized mess. Some time later, I sealed up some barely warm to the touch roasted beans (maybe 100F) and came back to find all sorts of condensation in the bag. Moisture! And the cause of my seizing. It’s why I generally recommend 6 hours cooling before processing at all. Let that moisture escape.

So, good observation, but most likely the wrong conclusion, but good for the data you had on hand. I’m glad you asked.



Ask the Alchemist #47

You say the efficiency on your winnowers re 75-82%. As others say 99-100%, I’m sure I am not understanding something because can’t believe you would sell something that doesn’t work that well. Can you explain what is going on.

Lovely question. The crux of the issue is that one number does not do justice to the answer of efficiency of winnowing. When you winnow cocoa there are actually a few factors that come into play that make one number impossible. It’s because three things can happen when you winnow.

1 - You can have husk in your nibs

2 - You can have nib in your husk

3 - You can have both.

So, in the ONE CASE where there is no nib in your husk, and no husk in your nib, you can claim 100% efficiency. But there is no winnower out there to my knowledge that can do that. So anything that bases off that system is inherently not telling the whole story, and should be suspect. Let me lay out a couple cases.

You winnow and have 1 % of your starting weight of nibs in your husk.

Is this 99% recovery because you lost 1%? Not really.

You winnow and have 1% husk in you nibs.

Is this 99% recovery because it could not remove 1% husk?

You winnow and have 1% husk in your nib AND 1% nib in your husk?

Is this 98% recovery? Certainly not as that is absurd.

The first two MIGHT be 99% but are totally misleading because they are describing two different outcomes but are using the same number and language.

Really, you need multiple numbers. Any my preference is to note that depending on the bean, the weight of the husk is anywhere from 18-25% of the weight of the bean. And why I usually say that the recovery is 75-82 % (100 – 18 = 82 got it? Good) AND there is usually less than 0.5% husk in the nib and vise versa. Three pieces of data because there are three things going on.

Furthermore, you will notice I say usually. Any winnower can only work as well as what is fed into it. Irregular, raw, or cocoa beans with a lot of flats simply will not winnow as well as clean, even, roasted cocoa beans.

So there you go. I hope that clears up why I can’t give an exact number and why if you see one, you might want to be suspicious.

And I’ll leave you with a quote I found today that sums this up nicely.

Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise. -- Bertrand Russell

Finally, after 4 years, Fair Trade from Koapa Kokoo is back.  It's on the way.  Look for it, and a bunch of new crop Venezuela in the next week or two.



Ask the Alchemist #46 and USPS Tracking

Some of you may have noticed, contrary to what it currently says about USPS and no tracking numbers (soon to change) tracking numbers are now available for USPS packages, including Standard Post (which previously was Parcel Post and is still just as slow). I am going to toss a disclaimer out there though. I don’t know how well the tracking numbers work nor how accurate the estimated delivery time are. They now make it sound like it is a guarantee. I’ve seen “2 Day Shipping”. I’ve already had people ask why it showed up three or four days later. The answer is that that is USPS’s estimate and that is all it is. And just to remind you, the day you get your shipping confirmation is not always the day your shipment goes out. It’s the day I processed the order and took it out to pack. Often it is the same day, but sometimes it is not. Onto Ask the Alchemist.

Is it ok to roast the beans and then go straight into the melanger without any other process, will you get the smooth chocolate ? I read a lot of good research on cacao bean husk so prefer to keep it in:

Comparative evaluation of chlorhexidine mouthrinse versus cacao bean husk extract mouthrinse as antimicrobial agents in children.

Chocolate mouth rinse: Effect on plaque accumulation and mutans streptococci counts when used by children. 

Extraction and chromatographic separation of anticarcinogenic fractions from cacao bean husk.

Identification of cariostatic substances in the cacao bean husk: their anti-glucosyltransferase and antibacterial activities.

Well, yes, you can. But having done it, you will in all likelihood get a chocolate with a great number of off flavors. I've done it a few times, even with very clean beans and the product was never anything I or anyone wanted to eat.

And although you didn't ask it, I read over those abstracts and they all very specifically deal with extracts of the husk, not the husk themselves. The significance is concentration and application. None of those took a route via ingestion. Your research, as you listed, is not applicable to keeping husk in the chocolate. I can't see how any of those benefits would be transferable to chocolate with husk intact. Antibacterial properties of compounds are very sensitive to concentration and total dose and application and what you propose has you reducing and changing all three.

Instead of putting it into your chocolate, I would instead suggest making a tea via Brewed Cocoa. None of those articles mentioned whether they were hot or cold water extracts, so it is entirely possible a hot water extract would reduce the anti-bacterial properties…but then again, it may not.

Finally, going back to the tests I did, I wanted to mention that I’ve watch people pick out every last piece of husk they can after winnowing. Personally, I find that overkill (unless you are doing raw chocolate). I’ve seen values that industry standard for husk is 0.5-2%. I’m not saying to leave that much in. But I am saying that if you decide to, I highly doubt you will notice at all unless you are super super taster or the beans have very serious mold issues. I and those I gave samples to could not notice any difference up to 5% and then it could well have been suggestive. 10%. Yeah. Noticed it. 20%. Yep – nasty. Oh, and those are are percentages of total weight, meaning 20%, being roughly the weight of the husk, was leaving all the husk in. Taking out 3/4 made it barely perceptible. So, basically, relax a little with your winnowing. A little husk isn’t the end of the world. And if you are going to actively add it to your chocolate, (although I don’t see the purpose based on the current research) maybe keep it too under 5%.


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Semi-Closed 8/21/13 - 8/25/13

As I mentioned earlier in the summer, we are going to be closed today through the weekend.  At the time of leaving all orders will be fulfilled and as before, I will leave the shopping carts in the stores on. I will have very limited e-mail access, so if you don't hear back, that is why.

As a small back story, and for simply sharing - children grow up.  My daughter Logan is growing into a young woman and  has been quite the entrepreneur this summer, saving up for a trip to Portland for a weekend of 'girl time' with some friends.  Spa, shopping, swimming, good food and the like.  And she earned it.  A summer of work, and helping me with orders (two different things).  Below was from yesterday as we pushed through the last of the orders (so we could leave today) and a shipment that had to be put away.   And yes, it's a real bag of cocoa.  That's my girl!


Also, look for some new crop Venezuelan (with two new sub-origins) and finally some Organic/RFA Ecuador soon after I'm back.

See you on the other side.

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Ask the Alchemist #45

"I have been reading about bacteria and pathogen content on the shells of raw cocoa beans, and commercial techniques used to prevent them from transferring into chocolate. Would there be any benefit for home and small artisan chocolate makers to using practices like misting beans with water at the end of roasting, or maintaining a certain temperature during conching and refining?"

The short answer here in no.

Now I’ll explain why. There can indeed be bacteria and pathogens on cocoa. The two that come up the most often are e. coli and Salmonella. And it’s true, it is basically restricted to the outside of the shell. And both of these are killed relatively easily, and happens ‘naturally’ during a roast.

First, let us look at what we are trying to accomplish. In a word, it is sterilization. There are a many ways to approach this, and it’s been well documented. In short, you can have low, long heat, or higher heat for a shorter time. If you plot these various combinations, you get what is called a kill curve. Each organism has a particular kill curve. As mentioned, e. coli and salmonella have relatively mild kill curves.

One of the hardest to kill is the spore of Geobacillus stearothermophilus. This is what most methods use as their indicator of sterilization, with the train of thought being that if you can kill the Geobacillus stearothermophilus spore, nothing else can survive.

A widely used method for heat sterilization is the autoclave. . Autoclaves commonly use steam heated to 121–134 °C (250–273 °F). To achieve sterility, a holding time of at least 15 minutes at 121 °C (250 °F) or 3 minutes at 134 °C (273 °F) is required to kill Geobacillus stearothermophilus spore.

Alternatively, dry heat can be used to sterilize items, but as the heat takes much longer to be transferred to the organism, both the time and the temperature must usually be increased, unless forced ventilation of the hot air is used. The standard setting for a hot air oven is at least two hours at 160 °C (320 °F). A rapid method heats air to 190 °C (374 °F) for 6 minutes.

I know. That is a lot of information and it is NOT what I am suggesting you do to your cocoa beans. But it allows to talk and answer questions. First off, notice the wet heat method. It requires at the shortest time, 3 minutes at 273 F with moisture present. In short, spraying water at the end of your roast does not accomplish this. You spray your water in, it vaporizes, and it’s gone in more like 3 seconds, let alone three minutes. That right there basically shows it’s totally useless from a sterilization standpoint to mist your beans.

Once we recognize that, we move onto the dry heat method. As I am trying to tie this into roasting, I’m not going to consider 2 hours at 320 F. The other is “ A rapid method heats air to 190 °C (374 °F) for 6 minutes”. And because we are talking about the air AND we are only concerned with the thin husk on the outside of the cocoa bean, is accomplished in practically any roast. And even if it is not 374 F, we can apply the principal of lower heat for longer time…..which is just what a roast does.

So that is the theory. How do you know works. This is where it was handy I used to be a chemist and years ago performed an array of analysis on cocoa beans contaminated (on purpose, as a control) with Geobacillus stearothermophilus and e .coli. The final result was any ‘good’ roast, be it a high temperature 5 minute roast or a long, cool 40 minute roast, reduced the levels to non-detectable. The only times I had found any of the Geobacillus stearothermophilus spore was when I severely under roasted the beans and they basically still tasted raw…. But even these had killed the e.coli.

As for temperatures during refining and conching, my take is just to take the care during your roast and transfer, don’t potentially re-contaminate your beans/nibs and you are good to go. But if you do want to look at that, pasteurization (mind you, not sterilization) is either 145 F for 30 minutes or 165 for 2 minutes. That is take care of e. coli but I honestly don’t know about Salmonella.

Happy roasting.



Ask the Alchemist #44

I’ve always wondered if it would be possible to thin out a liquid ganache with some regular milk and run it through an ice cream machine. (Mine is a counter-top model that has a canister which is frozen prior o use, and has a paddle that stirs the mix as the canister freezes it.) Would that make a really simple ice cream recipe or would it be too rich or break, or just not freeze well? Suggestions?

So, the research begins. After a little cogitating, it came to mind that this seemed that this would come out more like something I had as a child. Ice milk. In a rather odd turn, I found almost no recipes for ice milk to base this answer off of. That kind of seemed like a dead end. So instead I put a few recipes together on paper (well, a spread sheet really) and noted that the main thing that is missing in what you are suggesting are the eggs. And I’ve seen lots of ice cream recipes without eggs. And as it turns out, it was kind of interesting that the recipe I settled on was almost the exact recipe for the ice cream, just minus the eggs.

Ice Cream with eggs

2 cups heavy cream 6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (with lecithin), chopped 1 cup whole milk 3/4 cup granulated sugar Pinch of salt (smoked salt anyone?) 6 large egg yolks 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract Ice Cream without eggs

2 1/2 cups heavy cream 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped 1 cup whole milk 3/4 cup sugar Pinch salt 1 teaspoon pure vanilla As you can see, there is just a touch more cream and chocolate. But that is not what you asked. Continuing on, a standard ganache is about 1 c cream to 1 lb of chocolate which gives you about 1.5 cups of ganache. Keeping that in mind, If you use about 3/4 cup of ganache, you will have 1/2 cup of cream and the chocolate you need for the recipe. If you want to add just milk, then go for it, and the recipe would look like this:

3/4 c ganache 3 cup whole milk 3/4 cup sugar Pinch salt 1 teaspoon pure vanilla And I hope you notice – there is sugar there you still need to add. Close enough in my book. The catch is that this is most likely not going to be quite ice cream, but most likely, as I originally thought, more akin to ice milk. Now, if you really want ice cream the solution is pretty simple. Just add milk and cream and it should be near perfect.

3/4 c ganache 2 c cream 1 cup whole milk 3/4 cup sugar Pinch salt 1 teaspoon pure vanilla To review:

Can you just dilute ganache and make ice cream?

No. There is not enough cream nor sugar.

Can you use ganache with other ingredients and make some ilk of frozen dessert?

Yes. Sure can and it’s your call if it’s milk or cream…just don’t forget the sugar.

And yes, you could leave out the sugar (you can do anything you want) but it’s most likely going to be rather hard and crystally and not very much like what you want.

Finally, it certainly is not going to be too rich.  It may be a little hard depending what your choice of liquid it.  Most likely, if your ganache did not break (i.e. separate), neither will your ice cream/milk.  Basically, in lieu of a custard base, you have a ganache base, so the chances of success are pretty high.

Good luck.