Level: Apprentice

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In the picture attached, I have arranged cacao beans: large, medium, and small.
None of them have cracks or appear totally flat.
Will each size group have a noticeable taste difference (roasted the same way, of course)?
On the medium row, the first bean on the left is round, and its neighbor, partially flat.
Will this affect taste (in a way that matters, or is worth the trouble) of the finished chocolate if I were to make a chocolate from a perfectly round medium sized batch , and another batch from medium but partially flat?
bean size.jpeg

There is a lot to unpack here with a bunch of assumptions and leading questions. 

Will each size group have a noticeable taste difference (roasted the same way, of course)?

I think they would call this a leading question if you were on the stand in a court of law.  Or maybe it is a trick question, not that I think it was done on purpose.  The problem is that different sized beans cannot be roasted exactly the same.  Or maybe more to the point, what exactly is the same?  Is it the ambient roaster temperature?  Is it the profile based on surface temperature?  Is it the temperature gradient through the bean at the end of the roast?

The key here is that we are not able to separate multiple variables from one another to answer this question.  Basically, there is no way to roast them the same way, and because that is the case, any flavor different can’t be attributed solely to a difference in size.

To answer the implied question though is yes, they will probably taste different.  The why is the whole key.  Think about roasting a small, young chicken at 2 lbs and a 5 lbs year old chicken.  You simply can’t roast them the same.  The small one is going to cook faster at the same temperature, and if you change the time, then they are no longer being cooked the same way.  It is a no win situation.  If they taste different (and they probably will) how do you know it isn’t because they were different ages?

Let’s take a step back and talk about what matters.  I think you want to know if you should sort your beans.  My answer as always is no.  But it isn’t just from normal point of view that you can’t tell what is inside the bean from the outside.  Clearly you can see they are different.  Instead this comes from years of roasting and tasting beans out of the roaster.  Virtually without exception I have found smaller beans to taste better right out of the roaster.  I don’t know if it is because of the insulating properties of the larger beans, the nature of the smaller bean or some combination of the two.  I just know I like them.

I’ve never actually sorted out enough small beans to test this.  Maybe I will, maybe I won’t.  I lean toward not doing it because I don’t believe the assumption that individual treatment of each bean size will inherently make for a better roast or a better chocolate.  Quite the contrary, the tiny beans I’ve tasted when mixed in with larger beans generally taste fantastic.  But even that observation is fraught with problems as there are numerous beans I flat out don’t like out of the roaster (Honduras and many Nicaraguans) that make chocolate that I adore.  And vice versa, most bright beans (think Madagascar and tangy Peru) I adore from the roaster but am more often than not nonplused about the chocolate.

I have a pet gut theory/feeling that the mixture in sizes is part of what makes the smaller beans taste good.  The large beans insulate the smaller beans, keeping them from over roasting.  The entire mass of beans is acting as a buffer to the individual beans, keeping the smaller ones from feeling the brunt of ambient temperature that might otherwise scorch them. 

If you were to sort the small beans out (which is just a lot of work, even with a screen) I think you are more likely to damage the smaller ones then optimize their profile by individual treatment. 

Over the years I have had entire batches of small beans.  To date they have all been wild harvest beans, most notably from Bolivia.  (As a matter of fact, a new shipment is in and will be available in the next couple weeks.)

Roasting tiny beans (140-160 beans/100 g) is just like roasting any standard sized beans (90-110 beans/100 g) if you roast by your senses, as you really should when developing a roast profile.  And looking at the profile after you have developed it you will see it will look pretty much like another other profile.  The difference though is in how you control the roast.  Your heat input (something I rarely talk about) has to be a little more gentle when roasting smaller beans or you run the risk of tipping or scorching them leading to a bitter roast defect.  How do you know if you are applying too much heat?  It can’t answer that with a number.  I can only tell you that you have to go by aroma.  There is a sharp prickliness when you are pushing a bean too hard.  If you smell it, you need to back off.  It is the sign you are applying heat faster than it can soak into the bean and penetrate to center.

In many ways roasting smaller beans is easier.  Which is easier to cook to perfection? A whole chicken or a whole turkey.  Clear the chicken. The smaller item allows heat penetration throughout more easily with a lower temperature gradient.  Practically that means you don’t have to dial your ramp back at the end so that heat has time to penetrate the beans.  Smaller beans are already there. 

The corollary to all this is that since you don’t have to draw the profile out as long, and since the temperature is always increasing as the profile progresses, if you are roasting only smaller beans the EOR temperature is going to be lower than you might expect.  But again, to reinforce the idea, the smell will turn a little sharp sooner than you might be used to.  Expect it and roll with it.  Maybe 10-15 F.  Beans with large chocolate and fruit flavors I regularly take to 260-265 F and sometimes 270 F for something huge.  For a similar potential in a tiny bean you should expect 245-255 F. And as luck would have it, for some reason tiny beans tend to have more density of flavor so that range holds pretty true.

A final note about roasting in the Behmor.  Because the drum does not loft the beans into convection, the whole mass of beans tends to act as a 2 lb unit.  The Behmor doesn’t care if the individual beans are large or small so you can just roast as normal whether the beans are huge or tiny.