Level: Novice

Read Time: 5 minutes

Hi John! I apologize if I am inquiring at the wrong time; I'm not sure who is managing emails right now. I hope all is well and you are having a nice recovery! If you are able to reply, I had a few questions.

Hello everyone.  I am back and getting back into the swing of things, albeit a little bit slowly and delicately.  The surgery was a fine success.  90% of my symptoms are gone  and should in theory fully fade in the next year. 

I am back to answering questions, both in general, about troubleshooting and ATA (Ask the Alchemist).  If you have questions about an order you placed already I’ll ask you keep sending them to my trusty assistant Jasmine at support@CA.com (I totally expect you can work out what CA ACTUALLY stands for so I don’t have to write it out for spammers to harvest here). 

If you have sent me/us an email and have not received a response at this point please write again as I or Jasmine have answered everything. And a huge thanks to everyone for being so great and understanding during my absence. You are all awesome.

With that I’m going to tackle a few simple questions to get things rolling again. 


1) I think I saw that you mentioned roasted nibs somewhere in one of your blog posts. If roasted nibs are already available for sale, then why do companies go through the trouble of buying whole beans and then roasting them? Is there a difference between buying raw beans and then roasting versus buying pre-roasted beans?

It is all about control and making the product you want.  Roasting radically affect the flavor of the final chocolate.  When I roast I go for a profile* that gives me the characteristics I like in a chocolate.  You may want to highlight or down play certain characteristics and you can do that by starting with the raw whole bean.

Also, roasted nibs go stale faster than whole raw beans

Finally, raw beans are significantly less expensive.  If you are making chocolate at home that might not be a big deal to you but those costs add up fast if you are in business. 

*If you want to know more about profile roasting in a drum roaster and how to control those flavors checkout ATA 200-206.

2) I noticed I prefer the soft bite of 70% dark chocolate (in comparison to 85%). What percentage of cocoa butter do you recommend for 70% chocolate? I'm aware that the amount of sugar can vary (I have seen 11-13 grams of sugar for 70% chocolate), but I would rather stay on the low end of that spectrum.

The softness of the bite of 70% vs 85% isn’t necessarily related to the amount of cocoa butter nor even the amount of sugar.  Mostly it has to do with the degree of temper.  You can read a whole lot about that here The general idea is that chocolate tempered to a higher degree will be harder.  Now 85% can be harder because it has more cocoa butter but it does not have to be the case.  My go to amount of added cocoa butter is about 5%.  That would mean that 70% chocolate would be 65% nibs and 5% butter leading to about (65/2 + 5) 37.5% cocoa butter.  The 85% would be about 42.5% which in this case is why it would be easier for it to be in higher temper and thus harder.

Another little trick you can use is to add a little milk powder or even just clarified butter to your 85% chocolate and that will inhibit temper a touch and you will end up with a softer bar.  Start with about 5% and see how that does.

3) This isn't completely relevant, but I've noticed that companies add "natural flavors" to some chocolates (and many other packaged products). These confuse me; are they liquids or powders; can you buy these? One of my favorite chocolate bars include these flavors and I was wondering how that flavor is created.

For chocolate they are always going to be powders or oils.  You can’t add anything with water or the chocolate will seize .  Sure, you can buy them.  Many essential oils will work (but make sure you test them first for seizing)   For powders, look for good freeze dried powders.  They can add a good punch of flavor without concern for water or moisture.