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.