Level: Novice

Reading Time: 8 minutes

I would appreciate if you could provide any specific bean recommendation to make milk chocolate. Would a trinatario be ok?  I am also specifically interested to know how long you would recommend grinding each bean, whether (and when) to do conching, and the best percentage chocolate recipe to try. 


If you have come here looking for answers to questions like these then I have good and bad news. 

The good news is that you have come to the right place.

The bad news is that I respectively submit you really need to do a bit more research as there are too many incorrect assumptions about chocolate making in these questions. Don’t worry though, i’m going to try and smooth them out.

I know we all have to start somewhere when we don’t know something yet you also have to do a bit of due diligence in wrapping your head around the basics.  To that end, I’m going to go ahead and lay out the answers here.

Any (good) bean can be used for any chocolate whether it is a light milk, dark milk, semi sweet 60% or dark 80+% chocolate.  It is all a matter of taste and no more or less complicated than that.  One bean isn’t best for milk or dark or whatever.

If that is the case, how do you pick out a bean?  You need to get in there and read the tasting notes and see what appeals to you in a general way.  Just because my tasting notes are all based on an 80% chocolate doesn’t mean they are not also valid for a 35% milk chocolate.  In that case the flavors are simply going to be less intense.

Over time, as you make more chocolate, you will start to find your own personal preferences that relate to the general flavors of the beans and which one you prefer in a particular recipe.  The key here is I can’t lay those things out for you any more than I can lay out which apple you should pick for making an apple pie.  For all the recommendations to use it, I just don’t like tart granny smith apples in my pie.  Cameo, an eating (as opposed to baking) apple is my personal favorite. So I might really like the new Uganda in a milk chocolate, but that absolutely does not mean you will like it. But if you think the cinnamon and fig notes might play well with a milky flavor, give it a try and see.

My whole point here is really you can’t pick wrong which is what I think the crux of the question is.  You don’t want to make a bad choice.  So relax, pick a bean that sounds nice, and make some chocolate with it and learn whether you like it or not.

With that in mind, “Would a trinatario be ok?” suddenly becomes a simple question doesn’t it?  Yes, a trinatario would be a fine choice. It is not because it is trinatario but because any bean would be ok for you to see what you like.  Got it?  Good! The same goes with a random bean from some particular country.

Let’s go ahead and get those other incorrect assumptions out of the way.

Bean choice is in no way correlated to either how long you have to grind/refine and whether or not you have to conch.

There are things that go into affecting how long you will refine a chocolate, but at the outset you just don’t have to concern yourself with that.  After you have made 10-20 batches of chocolate you will note some of those variable naturally and by that point you won’t even think about how long you have to refine.

The basic rule of thumb is a 1-8 lb batch of chocolate will take between 18-36 hours to refine.  Many of mine I do for 24 hours because it is easy from a scheduling standpoint.  Going an extra few hours is ok.  Going 12 hours more is also fine.  And guess what, another 24 hours (or 48 hours) is not going to ruin it.  Let it run in the melanger until it is smooth, pull it out and either temper it or don’t (see ATA 265 ) taste it and go from there for the next batch.

Conching.  I have to tell you, I hate the concept of conching chocolate on the small scale.  I know you have read all about it all over the internet and you are utterly convinced it is something you need to concern yourself with but I’m here to tell you that you can for all and intent purposes totally forget about it at least the first 50-100 batches and after that my suspicion is that you won’t even think about it.

I have this stance for two really big reasons. 

Conching is a pretty specific process of aerating the chocolate with additional heat with the purpose of driving off undesirable flavors.

Reason number one is that there is no good way to conch on the small scale (1-8 lb) we are working on.

I realize you have probably read that releasing the tension on the melanger is conching but all you are doing there is no longer refining.  There is little aeration and certainly no extra heat so it isn’t conching.  I will grant that I’ve said melangers refine and conch at the same time, and that is not untrue, but once you release the tension no heat is being produced so you stop both processes. Even if you were to add heat the aeration is so minimal and to be non-existent from a conching standpoint.

The second reason not to concern yourself over conching is just plain need.  The whole point conching came about was to improve the flavor of chocolate, quite often from the use of less than quality beans or due to roast defects.  So much of today’s cocoa available (and everything I offer here) is quality and chosen specifically because it works without our small scale processes, without conching.

I can’t stress that enough.  All the cocoa I offer and most likely any you find out there meant for chocolate making will have been evaluated without the use of a conch and approved because it was not needed.

Basically all of these questions are there because you are trying to take short cuts  I realize that you may not even be doing it yet you are doing it nonetheless.  You are looking for answers that will save you the work of learning them yourself.  But there is no substitution for putting in the work and letting the experience teach you.

You know though, I also feel there are no bad questions, and I’m truly happy to answer them.  So here it is.

Go make chocolate.  Set a goal for yourself to make 100 batches of chocolate without concerning yourself with picking the perfect bean, using the right bean for the right recipe and whether you are going to refine too long.

Pick a bean and run with it.  Make it as 60%, 70% and 81.25%.  Use no cocoa butter in some, and 5% or 10% in others and compare them.  Do a few milk chocolates using 10% nibs to 25% nibs.  Refine 24 hours and try it again (or just remove some 24 hours) at 48 hours. What you are most likely going to find is that once you have made a bunch of chocolate you are going to think back and realize you no longer have those questions you had at the beginning.  No one will  have told you the answers, but you’ll know them anyway and at a deeper, more complete level than if I had just handed them to you in a 2000 word essay.

Did you notice I didn’t answer the best recipe question?  You know my answer, right?  It doesn’t have to be a comfortable answer, but it is the answer anyway.

Go make some chocolate.