Level: Novice

Reading Time: 13 minutes


 I attended the NW Chocolate Festival and wanted to follow up with you on a few things:


It was wonderful meeting and talking to so many fantastic, gracious and lovely people at the festival this year.  For every person I spoke with there were probably 3 I could not.  I know it took me 2 hours to make it around one third of the vendor floor as I kept getting recognized and stopped to talk.  Not that I am complaining. My apologies to all those that reached out before the festival that I was not able to connect with. 

 There is a running theme through today’s questions and I am lumping them all together due to that theme.  In short, and I know it is a little disheartening at first, it boils down to being that there is no one right way to make chocolate and if you hear someone make a absolute pronouncement then you should probably be a little skeptical.  Few things in this world are absolute and the same I find with chocolate.  For the record, in regards to life, you need oxygen and water to survive and you eventually die.  Just about everything else can be done a multitude of ways.

 This was one of the very first lessons I  had way back when and you can see how it informs how I speak and write.  I am not trying to be wishy washy when I won’t give a straight answer. Too often there isn’t one.  I’m trying really hard not to give absolutes.  This is why you will find I say ‘I have found’ and ‘In my experience’ quite a bit.  It allows for different experiences and room for different ways of doing things as we learn. 

 That first lesson was with Fredrick Shilling, the original Founding Alchemist of Dagoba.  I was asking this and that and at some point he said “there are no rules in chocolate making”.  At that point my brain leaped to an obvious exception and I asked about adding water to which he responded that at that point it was no longer chocolate so it was not an exception.  So there!

 Really the only time you are going to find me giving a rule or saying something isn’t possible is when I’ve tested it myself and found zero exceptions to the rule (keep in mind that one exception disproves a theory) or for it to succeed one of the laws of physics/chemistry/reality need to be broken. Gravity isn’t just a suggestion, its the LAW.

 If you are good at foreshadowing you know by now that I’m about to poke holes in all the following statements one way or another..


           1.I heard it recommended running the melanger without screwing the roller wheels down as it was felt this would wear the wheels down prematurely as well as introduce a lot of grit or stone into the chocolate. As you are my mentor and having watched your videos often I believe you recommend keeping the screw tight or turned all the way down.  Any further thoughts on this?  I was wondering if the melanger would process the chocolate much more quickly if the wheels were much tighter as you recommend and perhaps get the same results if one reduced the amount of time proportional to how tight the grinding wheels are set?

 My experience contradicts this.  I am running the same 3 melangers for years now.  With the exception of the first hour or so where I am getting the nibs ground down, I use full tension.  I am, to date, seeing no wear in the stones and note no grit.  Can it wear some stones?  Sure, there is no contradiction there but in my experience (see I can’t not use that phrase) good stones last without wear without you needing to coddle them.

 As for the proportional spring tension thing, springs don’t apply proportional pressure against their amount of compression.  In short since you don’t have a way to measure the tension at any point, any adjustment would be blind.  My suggestions is just to tighten them all the way as soon as you can. If you start seeing wear, then address it.

            2.  Lars Saquero from Ingemann believes that the fermenting and drying process predominates over genetics and terroir  to the flavor of the beans:. He had an interesting presentation but I notice you don't sell nibs from Nicaragua.  Have you tried his beans and do you have any opinion about his theory?


This is one of those things that is ripe for mis-quoting.  If his statement was “Fermentation and drying process CAN predominate over genetics and terroir  to the flavor of the beans” I would have no argument but it is not always the case.  I have some samples right now that the varietal is totally dominating the flavor profile regardless of the fermentation protocols.  This is not to say fermentation and drying are not critically important, but it is only to point out that each step in the process is important and there is no making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

 As for not having beans from Nicaragua, please don’t read something into the lack of something.  Me not carrying a particular bean does NOT mean I don’t like it.  I have to make judgments on what to carry now that good beans have become so prevalent.  It is a complex balance of experience, quality, current stock, price, certifications and of course flavor when I decide to carry a bean or not.  In this case I have tried some of their beans over the years and have mostly be non-plussed.  That doesn’t mean I found them bad, but only that that factor lead me to pass on them at the time.  I’ve not reached out recently to try more.

            3. One of the presentations from Dandelion recommended not adding sugar for at least a few hours after the nibs were added (in contradiction I believe to where you suggest doing it perhaps an hour later).as they felt sugar tends to lock in the flavors once added   As we are still trying to get rid of the bad flavors in the initial stages of melanging it is better to add the sugar much later in the process when you want to "lock" in the flavor.  Any thoughts on this?

 I’ve heard this too.  I find way too many contradictions to this experience for me to give it any credit for all circumstances.  I will NEVER say I think they are not liking the chocolate they make when they do this. What I will say is I did my own rigorous study.  It was 6 beans, with three different roast profiles, with sugar being added a time zero, 18 hours and 36 hours.  The result was that with one lone outlier, I (and the others tasting with me) found no discernible difference in taste in regards to the timed addition of sugar.  My conclusion was if there was an effect it was so small that I found it insignificant.  I also can’t come up with any theory in chemistry where sugar should bind flavors.  The closest I can get is that the addition of cold sugar could conceivably drop the temperature of chocolate thus change the volatility of certain compounds or slow the chemical reactions of others but that is it.  Since I controlled for temperature, maybe that is why I saw no differences.  But I don’t know Dandelion isn’t adding warm sugar.

 At the end of the day if you like your chocolate, don’t go looking to complicate the process more.

            4. Vanilla seems to me to be a natural complement to cocoa for me yet many purists feel it does not belong in chocolate - only sugar and cocoa. I realize much of this is personal but do you have an opinion about vanilla with chocolate?

 Yes I have an opinion.  I think if you like it you should add it.  Full stop.  This is ALL about making what you like and/or what your customers like.  If that means vanilla, 50% sugar and fermented yak butter enrobbed around preserved duck eggs, then that is what you should make.  If that means 3% sugar and unroasted nibs, then that is what you should make.  The corollary to this is don’t be a judgmental ass about other people’s chocolate.  Tolerance and acceptance people.  You don’t have to like it, but you don’t have to be a jerk about it either.

             5. I have been melanging the chocolate for 12 hours and very satisfied with both the flavor and texture.  In your opinion what is gained by melanging instead of 12 hours but perhaps 24 or even 48 hours as I haven't noticed a big difference?  Furthermore I wonder if some of the good aromas and flavors evaporate after 12 hours of melanging?

 What is gained?  A higher power bill?  Really, it is again about what you like.  If you are happy at 12 hours, then stop.  It is no more complicated than that.

 As for flavors evaporating, well, I routinely run 24 hours.  Texture aside it is not hugely different from 12 hours or 36 hours.  Again, it is the same as the vanilla.  If you like it, don’t try and fix what is not broken.

So when you end up hearing something and wondering if it is true all the time, I’d suggest assuming it is not and going from there. Aside from that, just keep it as simple as you can and remember why you got into this. Hopefully it has a lot to do with loving chocolate. And if it is some other reason, that is ok too. I won’t judge you.