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I'd like to announce what I hope will be a weekly, and on-going, new tradition.  Ask the Alchemist.  I answer questions.  I do it every single day.  As many of you hear, it's why I am here.  It is never an imposition.  Questions are never stupid (that is NOT a challenge).  I love doing it.  Teaching.  Passing along what I know.  And researching when I don't know something.  Over the years, I've tried to keep a weekly, or monthly or quarterly tradition going...and often one thing or another happens and it falls by the way side.  Well, I've noticed i can and do answer questions a lot, and I keep up on it, and it feels right that I can do this.  So, here it is.  "Ask the Alchemist".  Every Wednesday, I will post a question I have received along with the answer.  In some cases it may point you to more detailed answers somewhere else, but the base answer will be here.  At some point down the road I will probably actively solicit questions, but until then I will be pulling from a store of questions that I have been collecting, whose answers will be both informative and entertaining if I get so lucky.

Without further ado,

Ask the Alchemist #1

“Can I use the traditionally method of hand grinding with a metate or large mortar and pestle to make chocolate? “

Well, this really requires picking the question apart, and trying to divine the intended meaning.  Why?  Because otherwise “Yes” is a boring answer and vastly misleading.  “No” – also boring and again misleading.

So, what I suspect you mean is ‘Can I make modern chocolate with a traditional Metate?’.  The answer to this is no.  Note "modern" does not go well with "traditional" in this case. It’s mostly because a traditional metate was never used to make modern chocolate.  It was used to pulverize the cocoa beans into a mass, often along with sugar and spices, that was then rolled into balls, and then grated into a hot liquid to make traditional ‘hot chocolate’.  In the balls, it was coarse and gritty and not modern chocolate.

As for the mortar and pestle….well, given the relation to alchemy and all, I certainly understand why this comes up (I myself even think of it and have tossed it around as a logo) but a mortar and pestle just does not work.   I have tried on many an occasion to make it work, but the little ones you can routinely find for the kitchen can hardly even get you to a coarse cocoa meal (and only hold 2-3 oz if you are really lucky).  Big (and expensive) ones can get you a bit further, but basically, the dynamics are such that it just does not work, as romantic as it may be.

Basically, keep in mind what is going on here.  You are trying to grind cocoa and sugar between two hunks of rock, down to under 50 microns.  A Melanger does this with a motor and at a bare minimum, it takes 12 hours of continuous grinding.    Can you grind by hand for 12 hours?  My hats off to you if you can, but I can’t and have yet to meet anyone that can.

So, if you want to try your hand at literally making ‘traditional’ chocolate with a metate, make sure you heat it up first, and give it a try.  It’s actually kind of a blast. And quite a lot of sweaty work.  Just don’t expect modern chocolate.  But I would not recommend the mortar and pestle at all.

Now,  keep in mind that the very first hand made chocolate I ever tasted was made with a metate and prepared as hot chocolate – and it was fantastic.  So  fantastic in fact that it eventually lead me to start Chocolate Alchemy.  But that is a story for another time (psst, right here if you would like to read it)