Level: Novice

Read Time: 8 minutes

Hi: I was watching your video series to make chocolate. I have a couple questions. I am new to the process and want to make sure I understand before I embark on the journey.

 1. If I am using the melanger to make Dark Chocolate, I do not make chocolate liquor correct? I just use the roasted/cracked/winnowed cacao nibs and put them directly into the melanger? When would I need to make chocolate liquor?

 2. The ratio for 75% Dark Chocolate is (70% nibs, 5% cocoa butter, and 25% sugar). What would the ratio for 85% Dark Chocolate? I am just wondering how the cocoa butter to nibs ratio changes. I understand that for 85% Dark Chocolate the sugar would be 15%.


Welcome aboard.

First a quick side note. The term is cocoa, not cacao, unless you are speaking in Spanish.  We are conversing in English so let’s keep it simple, approachable and unpretentious, ok?  Moving on.

The process I advocated for years was to make liquor from the roasted cocoa nibs.  The reason why is due to the fact that when I back engineered the small scale chocolate making process years ago (2003 or so) there were no good winnowers yet and melangers were not quite up to the task. 

You had to use a blow dryer and a bowl and winnow outside, scattering a ring of husk and dust in a 6 foot circle and the results while good would not fantastic or 100%.  By making liquor with the Champion Juicer a filter bed was produced and the majority of remaining husk was removed.

If you were devoted and careful and meticulous you could use the blow drier to get very clean nibs.  But it was for naught.  Back then, 2004-2008 or so, there were only a couple of melangers to choose from.  There was the original Spectra 10 and one with cone shaped wheels from a company called Innoconcepts.  Both had just a bit too much play in the frame to allow enough tension to not have the belts slip. The result was that almost any amount of nibs bogged down the machines, even with really slow additions and copious pre-heating. I recall giving up at 2 hours trying to get a single pound running.

But life and times move on, things change and improve and what was necessary before is no longer required.  Around 2010 I started working on an actual winnower, Spectra came out with the Spectra 11 and it started becoming less common to use the Champion Juicer for making liquor.

In 2016 we started our foray into video making and struggled with the idea of making the Champion/liquor video.  We knew it was a bit obsolete but at the same time it was very common knowledge so it seems like we’d be leaving information out if we didn’t cover it., so we did. I really think it was a no win situation. There was no perfect solution or answer, so we made the video and nearly immediately people started to ask if it was necessary since in subsequent videos I showed adding nibs directly to the melanger.

And this question is the result 3 years later – still a little bit of ambiguity.  But it is getting better because you have indeed understood correctly that you don’t have to make liquor.  You certainly can if you want to, and if you are making a really large batch of chocolate it is sometimes pretty handy to add warm liquor to the melanger instead of warmed nibs.

It comes down to understanding the process in its entirety and picking the parts that work for your situation.  For what I rather hope will be the last time, I’ll lay the chocolate making journey and you can see and pick the paths you want to take.

At its core you need to take roasted nibs and combine them with sugar and refine them for about 24 hours in a melanger.

If you have clean, well winnowed, roasted nibs you are basically set to go and you can warm you nibs, melanger bowl and rollers and get everything running together with pretty minimal effort and no Champion is needed.

On the other hand if you have raw nibs you need to think about how you will roast them (conversation for another time).  Once they are roasted though, you are back at those conditions above.

Starting with raw or roasted beans means you have to consider roasting (if raw) and how you will crack and winnow them.  The Champion has stuck around because it is also a great cracker if you remove the bottom screen, so that is an easy solution.  Then you are at winnowing and a fork in the path has now presented itself.

If you have a winnower like the Sylph then you are all set to make clean roasted nibs and again, you are back on the path above.  Should you decide that you want to brave the blow drier method then enter the Champion juicer option (if you can’t get them quite as clean as you want).  How clean is clean enough?  100% free of husk is a nice ideal but honestly it just isn’t a requirement.

 I’m not advocating leaving husk in your chocolate that could easily be removed but there is absolutely a point of diminishing returns.  1% husk of the total weight (not volume) is perfectly acceptable.  I’ve tested this many times over the years and in double blind tastings I’ve yet to find any difference in flavor or texture at that amount and even on up to 2%.  Again, no, I’m not suggesting you be lazy or sloppy but instead methodical in your decisions that ACTUALLY affect the taste of your chocolate. 

And one last note before I stop on the side tangent.  1% of husk looks like a LOT of husk.  It has a very low density.  I’ve found most people extremely overestimate how much husk is present in nibs, sometimes being off as much as 500%.

And now I am going to back pedal just a little bit and say I’m going to rift off my comment above about understanding what makes a difference in the chocolate you make. 

Do not make liquor with the Champion. 

It is easier not to. Even if you are cracking and winnowing your own beans into nibs, then go ahead, regardless of how good or poor your winnowing is, and add them directly to the melanger.  Then evaluate your chocolate and ONLY if you find it not to your tastes, go back and investigate why.  If you are happy, and I would wager you are going to be, then don’t look at complicating your life by trying to fix something that isn’t broken.

Next question.

The ratio for 75% Dark Chocolate is (70% nibs, 5% cocoa butter, and 25% sugar). What would the ratio for 85% Dark Chocolate? I am just wondering how the cocoa butter to nibs ratio changes. I understand that for 85% Dark Chocolate the sugar would be 15%.

You are having trouble with this question because you have made an incorrect assumption.  THE ration for 75% dark chocolate is NOT 70% nibs, 5% cocoa butter and 25% sugar.  That is ONE ratio.

The actual ratio is on the total of the nibs and butter to other ingredients.  All of these are 75% chocolate

  •   60% nibs, 15% butter, 25% sugar

  •   65% nibs, 10% butter, 25% sugar

  •   72.5% nibs, 2.5% butter, 25% sugar

  • 74% nibs, 1% butter, 25% sugar

  • ·75% nibs, 0% butter, 25% sugar

In all cases the nibs plus cocoa butter add up to 75%

The same holds true for the 85%.  You are 100% correct the sugar would be 15%. It is then up to you to divide up that 85% however you want.  Personally I would start with 5% cocoa butter but that is just me.  You can add none or crank it up to 50% butter if you want.  It probably won’t be the dark chocolate you expect with 50% cocoa butter but it will still be 85% chocolate.

I can almost hear you asking about what defines dark chocolate and I’ve already answered that in Ask the Alchemist 228.  Spoiler….dark chocolate isn’t defined.  Only White, Sweet and Milk are defined by law.

Happy chocolate making everyone.