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Alchemist's Musings


Ask the Alchemist #137

Chocolate Alchemist, why did you decide to write a chocolate blog?

Huh? That’s in English, but I just don’t understand it. Huh? What chocolate blog? I’ve never written a chocolate blog. What are you talking about? Oh, and who is the Chocolate Alchemist?

Confused yet?

Ok, I confess. That response was exaggerated. But it is also serious. That middle part was and continues to be true. I’ve never written a chocolate blog.

I run a business called Chocolate Alchemy. And it happens to use Wordpress as its landing page. And granted, most people use Wordpress as a blog. But I’m not most people and it’s not why I used it. I picked it and use it because it does the job I need. It tells you (my customers) what is new and by its nature, it shows the newest information first. Handy that.

Maybe it is just a mindset, but I REALLY do not and have never considered this thing you are reading a blog. Frankly it makes my eye twitch. It isn’t that I have anything against blogs. Here is a definition:

“A blog is a frequently updated online personal journal or diary. It is a place to express yourself to the world. A place to share your thoughts and your passions. Really, it’s anything you want it to be. For our purposes we’ll say that a blog is your own website that you are going to update on an ongoing basis.”

I can hear it now. That sounds like what you are reading. Except for one critical difference. This isn’t personal. This is business. It’s never been personal. It has always, 100%, been business. Maybe, just maybe, I just barely might be convinced that part of Chocolate Alchemy has some a blog like similarities. But that is it. This isn’t a diary. Or a journal. And really I’m not trying to ‘express’ myself. It’s just a place to give you information, and it just happens file it away for me in chronological order.

The next part of me being obtuse. Chocolate Alchemist? Did you know I have never once referred to myself with that title? Other people seem to do it all the time. When pressed I have referred to myself as Alchemist John. Or sometimes just Alchemist. Or even AlChemist as I used to be a chemist. “Chocolate Alchemist” feels so pompous. Regardless, it's not how I think of myself. That said, you were asking a serious question and I’m not that dense.

“John, why did you decide to start Chocolate Alchemy?” Well, you could make use of the wordpress feature and go back to the first items I wrote and it pretty well explains it. It is right here. But the short of it is this.

Back in 2002 I tasted fresh hot chocolate from Mexico. I got excited about it and wanted to try making it. And that led to the idea of making my own chocolate. I already roasted my own coffee so I didn’t think it that crazy or outrageous. It turns out that at the time there were absolutely no cocoa beans sold on-line. NONE. Trust me, I looked hard.

At that point you can say I kind of became obsessed with the challenge. Eventually I was able to talk a broker into selling me 1 bag of Ghana. At that point I started back engineering how to make chocolate at home. In short order, the idea blossomed and then crystalized that what I had here was the opportunity to start something that was not around. A chocolate version of the green coffee bean sellers like Sweet Marias. Basically I wanted to BE the Cocoa Sweet Maira’s.

Over that span of about a year I worked out roasting, cracking, winnowing and making liquor. Oven, modified brewing grain mill, bowl and hair drier and the Champion Juicer. Those were all ‘discovered’ here. As was using India Wet grinders for Melangers about a year later. If you trace any one of those home chocolate making techniques back they lead here and the work I did back 2002-2003. Anyway, as soon as I was convinced I had a viable method to share I created the business Chocolate Alchemy, and powered the website with Wordpress. Circle closed.

Just a small aside. I hear time and again how lucky I was that my hobby turned into a business. I’ll grant I was a little fortunate, but luck had little to do with it. Showing people how to make chocolate at home and creating the tools and information that virtually every small bean to bar maker uses was not luck. It is called a Plan.

I knew what I wanted from day one as soon as I created Chocolate Alchemy. I wanted to kick start a bean to bar movement. Back in 2002 that was my goal. No one else new it, but I did. And look around. I’d say my plan came together. I am exactly where I wanted and planned to be. I am selling the largest variety of cocoa beans anywhere in one place, supply equipment large and small to home and artisan chocolate makers and doing my damnedest to make it all an open book. No secrets. Lots of sharing and support. Tons of paying it forward. There is a huge bean to bar movement and I am humbled and gratified to see my fingerprints all over it….even if some people don’t realize whose prints they are.

Chocolate Alchemy isn’t just some random online resource that put together pieces of chocolate making ‘how to’ that was already out there. Chocolate Alchemy is THE original source. All those other sources lead back here. You can read all about in in my wordpress powered website.

I love it when a plan comes together.

John Nanci

Alchemist John

Founding Alchemist for

Chocolate Alchemy


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Mythbusters, makers and chocolate

I admit it and am proud of the fact that I am a huge Mythbusters fan. And it saddens me greatly to hear that they have been canceled and their upcoming season will be their last. Why? Adam and Jamie have been a fixture around here. What and how they do what they do. They have brought such an approachability to both making and science that I value so much. I credit the popularity of Mythbusters to the rise of Makers with a capital M. I’ve always made and built things. Nothing so grand as what I see them do many times. But until their contributions, I never thought of myself as a Maker. I just made things I needed and wanted. And I always get a kick out of seeing “left side” or “up” in sharpie on their stuff. It’s exactly how I build. Not for show, but practically. Their influence therefore pretty much related to me back engineering how to make chocolate at home and on the small scale. And how to make it approachable.

In many ways it is no more than the scientific method. Ask, research, plan, test, observe, conclude. Then of course rinse and repeat if it didn’t go as planned, realizing that failure is always an option and a great opportunity to learn more and that failure in this case isn’t failure in a bad sense. It’s just part of the process. And of course SHARE what you learned and pay it forward.

That all said, I really consider everyone that makes chocolate a Maker. It is not an insignificant amount of work and commitment. No, it’s not all that hard, but it’s not really turn key either. And I’ll share a little secret with you. I probably could make it a little easier. Videos, more photos, more detailed directions. But I have this little philosophy that you will appreciate something more that you have to work just a little bit on compared to something that is handed to you on a platter. And time and again I find that sentiment confirmed by people who write in. A little struggle makes the success all the more sweet. So, please, dive in. Ask questions., read, plan, make, judge and share it forward. And be proud of what you have made as a Maker. Because that is what you are by being here. A Maker.

I’m going to miss them both. Adam is the front man as it were. He loves to be in front of the camera and telling a story. I have to say I relate more to Jamie though. It’s a struggle for me to in front of a camera or in photos. I like doing what I am doing and do it best by myself. (But I love answering questions and helping people out thirsty for knowledge.) So although I will miss them both, I know Adam will stay out there making things in the public and Jamie will continue making things behind the scenes and be happier for it. I can respect that. And as the tag is going around, I’ll #Mythyouguys.

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Northwest Chocolate Festival and two new beans

We will be closed and away starting Wednesday 9/30/15 - Sunday 10/4/15 at the Northwest Chocolate Festival.  Please let me know if you will be there.  I'd love to meet up!  If in doubt, look for the kilt and vest - I should not be hard to find.No orders will be processed during that time, nor will emails be read or answered.  I travel technologically light.

In the mean time, we have two new elegant Guatemalans in.  Chimelb and Lachua.  Both are very restrained chocolates.  In a world of super IPA's, massively hot spices, monster quadruple shot power drinks and general 'how big can we make it' there is something to be said for a nice, well balanced restraint chocolate that you can enjoy.  Don't undersell 'approachable' - in this case it's a compliment.

Also, supply is very limited.  Enough so that I won't be offering them Wholesale.  So get them before they are gone for good.


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Ask the Alchemist #121

Who do you look up to?

Ok, this one is sort of out of left field. It’s a valid question. And one person jumps to mind. It isn’t an importer or farmer. Nor a chocolate confectioner. It is not a chocolate maker, or equipment maker. In fact they are not even anyone associated with the chocolate industry But the hint is there. It is Adam Savage. The non-self proclaimed poster child of the Maker revolution. I find both he and his Mythbuster partner Jaime Hyneman inspirational. They are both Makers. They make things. But to make them, they have to understand them. They approach problems, break them down, systematically develop potential solutions and then make what they need to test out their hypothesis – basic scientific methodology.

How does this relate? Well, it’s what I do day in day out. And what you, as a chocolate Maker, or aspiring chocolate Maker, are. A Maker.

Last year I hear a speech Adam gave at a major Maker Faire. It was his 10 commandments of making. It made such a positive impression on me, and per 6, I want to pass them along and comment on them and how they relate to what we do here. You can hear the full talk here: Please, go listen to it.

This is my adjusted take on what we do as chocolate Makers.

1. Make something. Anything. Don’t make this complicated. Of course the obvious is putting some roasted nibs and sugar in a Melanger and making chocolate. But this can also be as simple as toasting up some raw nibs in a pan so you have made roasted nibs. Or even getting a large bowl and blow dryer together so you can winnow your own nibs. Do something. Make something.

2. Make stuff that improves your life, either mechanically or aesthetically. This could be building some of your own equipment. But it does not have to be. There is a great satisfaction to un-molding shiny, glossy chocolate that you have made. You can also go laterally. How about making up a label for that chocolate you just made? Don’t discount the importance of aesthetics.

3. Don't wait. This goes back to 1). Maybe you don’t have all the equipment. But you have something and can make something NOW.

4. Use a project to learn a skill. I learn by doing. I have a confession. Ask the Alchemist is my own project for learning. It keeps me researching and thinking. Yours could be making your first batch of chocolate. Or learning roasting by methodically over and under roasting and makng the resulting chocolate.

5. ASK. Ask for help. I need to just quote Adam here. “People who make things love to share their ideas and knowledge. Makers love to talk about their work. Any husband or wife of a maker knows this is true. Learn how to work well with others and it will give back to you tenfold. Ask questions. Ask for advice. Ask for feedback.” This is why I am always here to answer questions. Please ask.

6. Share your methods and knowledge and don't make them a secret. This is the other side of the coin to 6). When asked, share what you know. Nothing, absolutely nothing, pisses me off more than hearing someone talk about trade secrets. Bullshit. What in the world are you afraid of? If what you do is so precarious that it’s based on a secret, then to my mind it’s just a house of cards. I’ll grant that sometimes there are very alternative formulations or new technologies that need to be protected for financial reasons, but claiming a bean mix or roast profile is secret is just insecurity talking. Get over it and share what you know….and it will come back to you. And besides, you OWE it to the people that shared so freely with you.

7. Discouragement and failure are intrinsic to the process. It’s going to happen. Again, Adam says it so well. “Don't hide from these. Talk about them. They're not enemies to be avoided, they're friends, designed to teach your humility. Go easy on yourself. Don't compare yourself to others; go ahead and be envious of others' skills, because frequently you can't not. Use that.” Use it to get better. Use failure to learn. I can’t tell you how many times I have failed while building and making something. But I learned from it and made myself and what I was making better because of it.

8. Measure carefully. Have some tolerance. “Do you know what tolerance is? If something fits tightly into something--that's a close tolerance. If something fits loosely, that's a loose tolerance. Knowing the difference between tight and loose tolerance is perhaps the most important measure of a craftsperson.”. There are two aspects of this in chocolate making I find. Knowing when to be accurate and precise and when you can, and should, be looser are key. 1 or 2 or 3% differences in a formulation are barely going to be noticeable. Combining 1) and 7) just get something going and stop fretting it will be 100% perfect the first time. Computer controlling your roast to 0.1 F and the exact second is just silly to me. The tolerance is too tight. You can’t tell the difference in the end product roasted to 251.7 F for 14:16 min vs 252.6 F. On the other side, a candy thermometer that is accurate to +/- 5 F just isn’t going to cut it for tempering where 1 F can make a difference. And you will only learn the difference by doing and failing on occasions. Embrace that..

9. Make things for other people. I love the look on someone’s face when I give them something I’ve made. Be it chocolate, or a truffle or anything. It can also make you vulnerable and keep you humble. These are not bad things. This is another form of sharing.

10. And if I could go back in time and tell my young self anything--any specific thing at all--it would be this: Take more notes!

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Ask the Alchemist #109

You said you should roast criollo delicately but you also say in some of your reviews for criollo beans that they should be roasted fully. Isn’t that a contradiction?

Thanks for the question. That is a great follow up to last week’s question. To answer your question, no, it’s not a contradiction. You knew I would say that of course. So, why isn’t it? That’s what we are going to talk about.

It’s really that we are talking about TWO different things. How the heat is applied (delicately/aggressively) and how much you roast the beans (light/dark). As soon as you grasp we are talking about two things, and that they are not related, the apparent contradiction disappears.

To give an example that you are probably more familiar with, think about the two extremes of the slow simmer/braise of a piece of meat vs tossing it on a hot grill. The braise is cooking it delicately. The grilling is cooking it aggressively. In theory, both can be rare, medium or well done. And that is (mostly) independent of how you cook them. But that is theory.

The reality is that it is kind of hard to cook something slow and rare. You CAN do it, but I personally can’t think of a single time in cooking that I would want to. Every instance I can think it could be applied (rare gentle cook hamburger, rare braised steak, barely sautéed onions) the result usually isn’t termed ‘rare’. It’s under done and lacking in flavor. Every single one of those would do so much better cooked aggressively for a short amount of time. Seared hamburger. Blackened steak. Fajita style sizzling onions! They are are all still lightly cooked, but that heat transformed them to something more instead of leaching something away. Given that, I would hold that it is a ‘rule’ in general for cooking and that would apply to ‘cooking’ cocoa beans.

In the same way different meats need different cooking methods, different cocoa beans benefit from the different roasting styles. We will disregard meats that generally should be fully cooked (pork, chicken, etc) and just take different cuts of beef as an example.

Any prime cut of meat can, and some would argue, should be cooked quickly. The goal is to cook it, but not tenderize or flavor it. It’s basically going to let the flavor shine through with the sharp heat lending a hand in alchemical transformation. This would be like a tenderloin, fillet mignon and rib eye. Basically, it does not react in a negative manner to hot fast cooking and really benefits from it. If you were to slow cook it, it might still be good, but it is going to be too tender (since it was already tender) and there is a good chance a lot of those delicate flavors are going to ‘cook out’.

On the other hand, there are meats like bottom round roasts, ‘stew meat’, brisket and flank steaks that are going to turn into shoe leather if you try to cook them fast, but a slow braise or simmer will tenderize and bring out the flavor.

And then there are those cuts that you can treat many ways. Tri-tip comes to mind. You can give it a slow medium roast, you can slice it thin and grill it or even braise it and it will come out fine (but different) for each method.

Cocoa beans are similar. Except there is a major difference. In meat, the ‘quality’ expensive cuts are cooked fast and hard and the poorer cuts are slow cooked. Do NOT think of cocoa that way in either quality nor type. Get that out of your head. Many people think of Criollo as the prized ‘quality’ bean and Forastero and the ‘other’ bean. The reason in both cases is really due to supply and demand and not because of how they are cooked. Criollo and filet mignon are both ‘rare’ and so are prized. And there is lots of Forastero and lots of stew meat per cow. It‘s that simple.

That said, over the years I have found that each type of beans benefits from a certain style of roasting. A particular profile if you will.

Forastero takes a more aggressive roast just great. And Criollo you want to treat a bit more gentle, with Trinatario bridging the gap and being the chameleon.

Now we can talk about roast lever. Light, medium or heavy. How much you cook them is dictated by personal preference. You can have a light roast, a medium roast or heavy roast. Except that you need to keep in mind the same ‘rule’ we saw above. You should not try and slow/delicately roast a bean AND try and keep it ‘rare’/light. In my experience what you end up with is analogous to crunchy warm wet onions….which I personally find rather insipid.

What if you want ‘rare’ criollo? I guess I would ask you why. If you only like rare meats, then you probably don’t want to pick a brisket that requires a long slow cook. If you do, then your options are rare and tough or fully cooked and tender. Basically I am trying to reiterate that ‘delicate’ and ‘rare’ are two different things. I would instead suggest that you want your criollo delicately roasted, but not lightly roasted.

So, to review these are the combinations I’ve found work well

Criollo, delicate to moderate heat, medium to heavy roast.

Trinatario, delicate to aggressive heat, light to heavy roast. Noting the more delicate you roast, the heavier you should roast.

Forastero, medium to aggressive roast, light to heavy roast with the same inverted caveat as the Trinatario.

Finally, one final thing I will probably touch more on later. Each type of bean’s roast level is at a different temperature, which is kind of evil. What I mean by that is light, medium and heavy are relative to each type of bean in regards to temperature.

Criollo is light somewhere around a bean temperature of 235 F and heavy around 270 F

Trinatario is light around 250 F and heavy around 285F

Forastero is light around 260 and heavy can go as hot as 310 F in some instances.

What that means is it’s difficult to say ‘take it to a medium roast’ without knowing what type of bean you are talking about. And often we don’t know the exact genetics. But it is also hard to say ‘roast to 265 F’ as many people don’t have access to set ups that allow accurate bean temperatures. Which is what makes it so challenging to teach you, my faithful reader, how to roast with words alone.

In person, light, medium and heavy roasts have pretty distinct aromas. And likewise, they have pretty distinct flavors. But they don’t translate great in words. You have to learn and experience them on your own. What that means is that you should take notes and try to apply the concepts that I’m trying to convey and keep it relative to YOUR set up.

As one very brief example, say you roast some Nicaraguan (a solid Trinatario) in the oven until you’re your IR thermometer says it’s 270 F, but the resulting chocolate is over roasted to your taste. Then you know in your system my 285 F is around your 270 F and so you should try the next roast to 255 F or 15 F lower.

Go forth and roast and eat chocolate. And don’t forget to take those notes.

I hope that clears up why delicate vs fully roasted are not contradictions.


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Ask the Alchemist #99

In making chocolate cream ganache for truffle centers, I have in the past followed directions to put the freshly made ganache in the refrigerator to firm up for center rolling. I recently have read where that is bad. It is better for crystal formation to let it set up at cool room temp for a few hours, even overnight. That refrigeration inhibits good formation. Which is it? This also is important to me because I have tried using the newish silcone truffle molds (truffymold ) which say to pipe the freshly made ganache into the molds, put it in fridge for 24 hours, then freezer for 12 hours. It does make it easier (and less deformed) to freeze before popping out. Would it be better to let the ganache set out overnight at cool room temp then put in freezer for the 12 hours to be able to pop out? Is the freezer time going to be bad for the ganache? Scared of the cold!

There are good points in each of these various thoughts and I’ll go through each one and explain my thoughts on them and how each is applicable.

I’ve never heard that it was bad to put truffle filling in the refrigerator. I personally do it all the time and have never had an issue. If anything, because I like my filling to melt in your mouth instantly I prefer a very soft center and the only way to work with it is to either refrigerate so it is hard enough to scoop or pour/pipe it in to molds and then refrigerate it. That said, I will also note that I don’t usually fully refrigerate the ganache as it can make it too hard to work with, and just chilling to 50-60 F works really well for me.

As for refrigeration inhibiting good crystal formation, that makes no sense to me. Namely because to my knowledge there is no crystal formation going on anyway because you have added cream and that inhibits all crystal formation. Basically you have seized your chocolate on purpose, but seized it nonetheless and once that happens, no crystal formation is happening.

I don’t see anything wrong with piping into silicone molds and then chilling. I’m one that tends to follow directions…at least initially, so I would do as the manufacturer suggests. It actually seems to me that it is a bit excessive to refrigerate and then freeze, especially for that length of time, but maybe they have their reasons. Or maybe they don’t. I would try it that way, and compare it to refrigerating a couple hours and freezing a couple hours.

I likewise don’t see any trouble with freezing the ganache from the ganache’s standpoint. But I will point out one thing that might give you an issue. You may need to bring your frozen ganache centers up to something other than freezing for some length of time or you may run into problems.

The two issues I see are water condensing on the centers and the radical difference in temperature making enrobing them in chocolate very challenging. You might get water in your coating chocolate and the coating can get very thick respectively. Off the top of my head I would suggest letting the frozen centers rest in the refrigerator 12-24 hours before enrobing. Or if the shorter chilling time works, just doing that. 2 hours in freezer, 1 hour in refrigerator, enrobe. Basically see what works for you. In any case, don’t fear the cold.

Happy new year everyone.  And keep and eye out for the historic (just because of the number) Ask the Alchemist #100!!

And keep those questions....Really....I'm nearly out.  You can e-mail them direct to question at chocolatealchemy dot com.

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PhD in Chocolate

I very rarely put this kind of thing up.  World news that does not relate directly or really even indirectly to making chocolate at home (at least on the short term), but this is too neat. Cambridge University of Cambridge is looking for a Studentship in Chocolate. The goal?  From what I can read, they was a new or modified state of temper that is higher than Type 5.  Something that can handle high heat, not melt and retain it's temper and appeal.  Nothing like being a nay sayer though.  From this line, " to remain solid and retain qualities sought by consumers when it is stored and sold in warm climates" it feels like a logic puzzle that have two sets of non-overlapping criteria.  Namely, it melts readily in your mouth (<98.6 F) but not in warm temperatures (> 100 F).  I guess as I write that, it is a bias for me to consider over 100 F was 'warm'.  If they define warm as 95 F, then it works if they can get a stable crystal form that melts between 95 F and 98 F.  I can't see how they can do it without additives...but I'm not a PhD either.

I wish them the best of luck.



Ask the Alchemist #79

How stable is chocolate tempered and non tempered? After removing finished chocolate from the melanger , can or should chocolate be tempered first or can it be put in ziplock bags straight from melanger ?

Welcome back for the continuation of our story. Before we continue, here is a photo of some fresh and month old raw nibs. The thing to note is the whitish edges on the older nibs.


(click to embiggen) This is my benchmark for fresh vs older in nibs. This is exactly the same nib (Ghana FT) but the one on the right was just cracked and winnowed and the previous one is about 30 days old. Now, if you have been paying attention, you will note that I said 1-2 years for raw nibs and here I am showing a difference at 30 days. True enough….and why you can’t always judge a book by it’s cover (goodness, I love analogy ). Sure, they look different, but the resulting chocolate, to my palette, is indistinguishable. It still takes a 1-2 years before you can taste the difference. On the other hand, roasted nibs don’t seem to change color this way, but I can taste the difference in a month or so. They do change color (after 4-6 months), but usually it is well after they have gone stale.Now let’s jump right into your next question.

I feel like a politician here. What do you mean by ‘stable’? Do you mean how long does it stay fresh? Or how long does it stay in the crystalline or non-crystalline structure it is in? Or do you mean how hard do you have to hit be before it detonates? Well, let’s get the easy one out of the way.

Chocolate, nor any of it’s components have any stressed or strained bonds. No triple bonds. No azo groups. No metal azides. Not even a little Hexanitrohexaazaisowurtzitane. In a word, chocolate, whether tempered or not tempered is 100% stable…in the sense that it won’t detonate or explode under any circumstance I can think of.

Great. We have that bit of fun out of the way. Technically, tempered chocolate is less stable than untempered chocolate. But here we are talking crystal structures, energies of enthalpy and the like. Suffice to say, because as it naturally occurs, tempered is less stable because it has a higher energy of enthalpy, and it converts to untempered spontaneous (if in liquid form without seed) because it is easier, (read lower energy). If I have not lost you there, great. If I have, just smile and nod and let’s move on because I don’t think it is really what you want to know.

By stable, I am going to assume you mean does tempered or untempered go stale faster or slower than the other. The answer to this is I think they are about the same, but I’m not sure, and even if they are not the same, other factors will play a great role. For this discussion, go for what is easiest (untempered) for storage and don’t sweat it. You don’t HAVE to temper it right from the melanger.

That brings us to liquor (i.e. cocoa mass, unrefined, unsweetened cocoa, etc) and chocolate. By far, except for unroasted beans, this is going to be your most stable form. And in the larger the volume the better.

To review, staling is oxidation. Solids don’t oxidize that easily. Think of rust. That is oxidation. The surface of iron rusts but it takes MUCH longer for rust to penetrate into a hunk of iron. There just isn’t anything moving to distribute oxygen. The amount of rust is proportional to the surface area. The exposed area more specifically. If you have a 1 lb block of iron and 1 lb of nails, the nails are going to have hundreds of times more rust because it they have hundreds of times the surface area. So the rule of thumb is whatever has the least surface area (exposed) will stale the slowest. That said, most people mold up chocolate after it is tempered. That means lots of pieces of chocolate (like nails) surface area compared to one bag of untempered chocolate. For the surface area reason the untempered chocolate should go stale slower than the tempered chocolate.

BUT…..wink….there are arguments that controlled aging ( of tempered chocolate is just another name for controlled staling. So maybe you want a little staling at the right time….See how clear this all is?

My recommendation is this. Keep it simple. Let chocolate making fit into your life. Relax and enjoy it. But plan a little.

  • Roast when you know you can let the beans rest a day to cool.
  • Winnow when you know you can make the chocolate within a week or so.
  • When your chocolate is done, bag it up (air tight, i.e. zero exposed surface area) in a ziplock bag until you are ready to temper.
  • When your chocolate is tempered and molded up…call it aging, not going stale.
  • And this is the most important

  • Eat and enjoy your chocolate you made with your own hands and don’t worry so much. It’s only chocolate (wink).



Raffle tickets to Hawaii

How would you like to go to Kauai Hawaii for a week?  There is cocoa there you know.  That is the Grand prize for this raffle. GRAND PRIZE: A Hawaiian vacation.  It includes airfare for two (up to $600/each) and a week long stay in a beachfront Condo on Kauai that sleeps four.  $3200 value.

That is the main draw for me offering these tickets.  But there are other prizes.

2nd Prize:  GoPro Camera ($200 value)

3rd Prize: Gift Certificate to Carmelita Spats Restaurant ($40 value) (Really only useful if you are in Eugene Oregon where this is out of)

Are you wondering yet why I am offering this and/or have the ability to?  Well, it is a for a Benefit Auction for the Eugene Waldorf School where my daughter attends 7th grade.  That simple really.

I will post the winning number  Tuesday March 17.  The drawing is 9:30 pm March 15.  Tickets will be available until then.



The Holidays

Hi Everyone.  Just a few quick notes. First off, if you are still looking for that last minute gift item, I have Gift Certificates available.

Next,  and hold on to your socks (stockings?), I have a line of Cacao Fruit.  As in fresh Cacao pods.


I am looking at bringing some in.  Noting that they are perishable, I am thinking on taking pre-orders and only bringing in what I need (plus maybe a few extra).

Do you want a Cacao pod?  Let me know.  Just a quick note to alchemist at chocolatealchemy dot com or comment here if you are interested.  Most likely they would be around $15 plus shipping (probably $12.95 USPS flat rate box), but that is only an estimate at this point.  And they can only ship within the USA.  And multiple could go into one box if you desire. Given they are perishable, I sadly can't offer any guarantee except that they will leave here in good order and well padded and packed. If I get enough response I will make them available for purchase.  Delivery would be around a month I suspect.

And a minor other detail.  Right now it looks like many of the Archives and other pages are not linking correct and giving a 404 error. I'm aware and working on it.  Both the Retail and Wholesale stores are just fine.

Finally,  the holiday schedule (yeah, a little late I know):

December 24, 25, 26 - Closed and no shipping and few e-mails returned. December 27 - open as needed to ship and answer e-mails December 31 - January 2 Closed and no shipping and few e-mails returned.

January 3 - open as needed to ship and answer e-mails

Both stores will remain active and you can put in orders, but the normal turnaround will be as above.

Have a great holiday everyone.



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Ask the Alchemist #58

Hi, I am using chocolate chips for tempering, since it is kind of thick for coating I wonder if I can add cocoa butter to help liquify it?

I’m not 100% sure what you mean, but I think I get the basic idea. It sounds like you are using chocolate chips to coat something with and the melted, in temper chocolate is a bit thick.

If that is the case, yes, you can add cocoa butter to reduce the viscosity some so the coating is not quite so thick. I would start with 5% of the weight and see what that gives you. And feel free to keep adding until you get to 15%. If you make it there, and it is still too thick, something else may be going on. At that point (or instead) you can try adding a some (0.5-1%) lecithin. And I personally like that even better. Sometimes thickness comes from a touch of water that has found its way into the chocolate and even adding cocoa butter does not seem to help that much. Instead adding something that binds the water helps much more.

Over the weekend I helped a local 8 the grade class make over 50 lbs of truffles for a fund raiser. About 1/3 of them were dipped in tempered chocolate and the dark chocolate was as you described. A bit thick and made the coating too heave without a bit of work. We have been having a stretch of rather cold weather (for here), with snow on the ground for a week (2 days is a lot here) and temperatures in the low teens. I suspect all that snow and humidity found it’s way into the chocolate and I need to do something about it. I melted up about 2 oz of cocoa butter, added 1T of lecithin, stirred until melted/dissolved and added it to the 10 lbs of chocolate. That took care of it. The water was bound up after a few minutes and the viscosity dropped nicely. But that would not have happened with just that small amount of extra cocoa butter.

The other thing I would suggest is checking the label on your chocolate chips. I did some research and although most of the chips were just cocoa, sugar, cocoa butter and lecithin, there were a few that had other oils in them. And a few that had tons of things in them ( Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Chocolate, Milk, Nonfat Milk, 1% of Artificial Flavors, and Natural Flavors, Soy Lecithin, Yellow 5 Lake, Yellow 6 Lake, Red 40 Lake, Blue 2 Lake, Salt, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, and Soybean Oil. ) which I would not be surprised would make it basically impossible for you to temper and dip in with a thin, even coating.

So, check you ingredients. If those are good to go (no oils, no dyes, no water based anything), add some cocoa butter and lecithin and see if that helps.

And for those that are curious, here is the truffle recipe. It’s still not too late for holiday gifts.

Truffles 4 dozen 1 oz truffles

3 lb Chocolate (2 lbs for filling, 1 lb for dipping) (27 oz Ecuador nibs roasted, 6 oz cocoa butter, 15 oz sugar, 1.5 t lecithin, 1 vanilla bean scraped into melted cocoa butter)

1 pint heavy cream

Cocoa powder (I like Dagoba personally)


Heat 1 pint (1 lb) cream to 160 F. Melt 2 lbs chocolate to 150 F. Combine gentle. I prefer to stir the chocolate into the cream and fold it together until there are no streaks. Allow to cool and set up, usually overnight. You may find a small layer of cocoa butter on the top…or not. Just stir it in or scrap it off. It is usually a result of over mixing but does not hurt anything.

Scoop out 1 oz amount and roll into balls. This is a very soft filling and you WILL get melted chocolate all over your hands. Allow to harden.

Make a cocoa powder/sugar coating. Mix 1/4 cup cocoa powder to 4 cup sugar and powder in a blender.

Melt your remaining chocolate. Pour some onto a warm plate or parchment paper. Roll your truffles in the chocolate, coating thinly and immediately toss/roll in your cocoa powder mixture. Allow to set up.

And let your inspiration be your guide as far as coatings. Cinnamon, coconut, cocoa nibs slightly ground/crushed (I adore these, but some people find them too far outside their comfort level). And of course you can dip them in tempered chocolate with no extra coating.

Oh, and one of my all-time favorites is substituting eggnog for the cream, and using a nutmeg/cinnamon/sugar coating.

Happy holidays all!!!

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Ask the Alchemist #51

I have not yet tried making chocolate. I've just been trying to research it as much as possible before I begin the process. I originally was going to grind cocoa nibs and try to make my own chocolate that way. But as I've continued to research there is just so much work involved in that simple process! So now I am considering purchasing cocoa liquor/mass from another manufacturer and using the santha to create my own finished product. Any general thoughts or recommendations? I know of E. Guittard, Callabaut, any other suggestions for manufacturers that I can buy the liquor from?

Well, to my mind, and of course I’m biased, you lose 90% of what makes homemade chocolate so great. The freshness and the ability to choose just the profile of flavors you want based on origin and roasting. The best analogy to me would be buying a cake mix, adding your own eggs (and maybe a couple spices) and calling it homemade. I guess it kind of is….but it’s not. The cake mix has most of the flavor development all built in.

And to remind you of a few things that might help you decide to go nib to bar.

If taken slowly, the Melanger will grind nibs. i.e. no Champion needed

If you buy nibs, you won’t need a Cocoa mill

If you buy nibs, you can roast them in your oven

The short of it is if you are going to invest in a Melanger, there is really no great reason not to just make your own totally from scratch.

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Ask the Alchemist #49

Will you be at the NW Chocolate Festival

No.  I dislocated my knee last weekend and that just won't be possible.

My chocolate bloomed.  Is it ruined?  Can I temper it again?

No, it is not ruined.  You can temper it as many times as you like.  It is like asking if once your ice melts, if you can freeze it again.

Is your cocoa butter food safe?


Is your lecithin food safe?


Can I eat your raw cocoa beans as is?

Well, I can't stop you, but I don't recommend it.  I've always thought the need something like this:

"Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish, eggs or cocoa beans may increase your risk of foodborne illness, especially if you have a medical condition.   Do so at your own risk."



Ask the Alchemist #47

You say the efficiency on your winnowers re 75-82%. As others say 99-100%, I’m sure I am not understanding something because can’t believe you would sell something that doesn’t work that well. Can you explain what is going on.

Lovely question. The crux of the issue is that one number does not do justice to the answer of efficiency of winnowing. When you winnow cocoa there are actually a few factors that come into play that make one number impossible. It’s because three things can happen when you winnow.

1 - You can have husk in your nibs

2 - You can have nib in your husk

3 - You can have both.

So, in the ONE CASE where there is no nib in your husk, and no husk in your nib, you can claim 100% efficiency. But there is no winnower out there to my knowledge that can do that. So anything that bases off that system is inherently not telling the whole story, and should be suspect. Let me lay out a couple cases.

You winnow and have 1 % of your starting weight of nibs in your husk.

Is this 99% recovery because you lost 1%? Not really.

You winnow and have 1% husk in you nibs.

Is this 99% recovery because it could not remove 1% husk?

You winnow and have 1% husk in your nib AND 1% nib in your husk?

Is this 98% recovery? Certainly not as that is absurd.

The first two MIGHT be 99% but are totally misleading because they are describing two different outcomes but are using the same number and language.

Really, you need multiple numbers. Any my preference is to note that depending on the bean, the weight of the husk is anywhere from 18-25% of the weight of the bean. And why I usually say that the recovery is 75-82 % (100 – 18 = 82 got it? Good) AND there is usually less than 0.5% husk in the nib and vise versa. Three pieces of data because there are three things going on.

Furthermore, you will notice I say usually. Any winnower can only work as well as what is fed into it. Irregular, raw, or cocoa beans with a lot of flats simply will not winnow as well as clean, even, roasted cocoa beans.

So there you go. I hope that clears up why I can’t give an exact number and why if you see one, you might want to be suspicious.

And I’ll leave you with a quote I found today that sums this up nicely.

Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise. -- Bertrand Russell

Finally, after 4 years, Fair Trade from Koapa Kokoo is back.  It's on the way.  Look for it, and a bunch of new crop Venezuela in the next week or two.


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Semi-Closed 8/21/13 - 8/25/13

As I mentioned earlier in the summer, we are going to be closed today through the weekend.  At the time of leaving all orders will be fulfilled and as before, I will leave the shopping carts in the stores on. I will have very limited e-mail access, so if you don't hear back, that is why.

As a small back story, and for simply sharing - children grow up.  My daughter Logan is growing into a young woman and  has been quite the entrepreneur this summer, saving up for a trip to Portland for a weekend of 'girl time' with some friends.  Spa, shopping, swimming, good food and the like.  And she earned it.  A summer of work, and helping me with orders (two different things).  Below was from yesterday as we pushed through the last of the orders (so we could leave today) and a shipment that had to be put away.   And yes, it's a real bag of cocoa.  That's my girl!


Also, look for some new crop Venezuelan (with two new sub-origins) and finally some Organic/RFA Ecuador soon after I'm back.

See you on the other side.

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Ask the Alchemist #26

What factors affect refining time for chocolate, and what are some different ways to tell if it is done? Are there ways to speed it up or extend it if needed?All good, common questions that have pretty straightforward, albeit, somewhat less than perfectly helpful answers most people want. Forewarned….. I guess the first thing that needs to be done is to define that we (or at least I) are talking about refining in a Melanger containing 1-9 lbs of chocolate. I will say at the outset that the choice of the Melanger has little effect on refining time. Maybe a little, but probably the least to the point they can all be considered equal for this discussion. After that, these all affect refining time:

  • Amount refined
  • The recipe
  • Moisture
  • Your tastes

The first is pretty straightforward. The more chocolate, the longer the time. I can generally have a small 1 lb batch of 80% chocolate refined in 12 hours, and it’s very close in 8 hours….but sometimes it’s 14-16 hours.Putting in the second items, if I have two recipes that differ only in the amount of cocoa butter, the one with more cocoa butter will tend to refine faster. Why – it’s really related to the viscosity (or how thick) of the chocolate. The less viscous, the more force can be applied to the refining process. That relates to item 3 – the moisture. The more moisture, the thicker and more viscous the batch will be and the addition of lecithin to bind some of that moisture can reduce your refining time. How much? It could be as little of a difference of 1-2 hours or it could be 10-12-20 hours….depending on how much you are refining….and what your recipe is (see how helpful this isn’t?) Back to the recipe; If you have more things to refine in your batch, it WILL take more time. 70% dark will take longer than 80% dark. 50% milk will take longer than 50% ‘dark’ (it’s not very dark at that point) because milk powder takes longer than sugar. 20% milk with 30% sugar vs 15% milk with 35% sugar…hell if I know. Too close to call without trying it. Seeing a pattern yet?

As for when – well, that is easy…..wait for it….when it seems right to you. Are YOU happy with it? Does it seem gritty still? Let it keep going. Seriously. Sure, you could work out some fancy ass, expensive way to get a particle size distribution plot (no, it’s not just one number), but in the long run, it’s how it feels in your mouth.

Can you speed it up? You can pre-grind your cocoa nibs (only if you are adding them direct), and/or sugar, but I’ve only found this to affect the total time by 1-2 hours – not usually worth the effort in my opinion.

Can you extend it? Now this is an oddly good question. Why you may ask would you want to extend it? Because Melangers do TWO things. They refine and they conch. Two DIFFERENT things happen initially, at the same time, when using a Melanger. Refining is particle size reduction. Conching is much more chemical in nature (oxidation among other things) that occurs by the stirring of melted (refined) chocolate. Basically this means you refine for the first 0-24 hours until it cannot get any smoother. But Conching is happening somewhere around the 2 hour mark until you stop – maybe 10-12-20 hours after it is smooth. It could well be you want the refining time to match that conching time a little closer (because you like the flavor – this is NOT something I’ve played with, but have heard about it). How would you do that? Loosen the tension on the Melanger (only possible with the Spectra’s and Premier wet grinder).

What does that all mean? It means what I’ve always said. Refining will take anywhere from 8-48 hours with the average falling somewhere in the 18 hour mark, depending on your recipe, how much you are refining and how smooth you want it. Why can’t I tell you any better? Well, because the interrelated, multi-variable function is just too damn complex, and we don’t really even know what that equation looks like.

What might it look like? Couldn’t I just give it?

OK here.


Happy? Have fun. Solve away.

OK, so that is NOT the equation for refining chocolate. That is the Time-dependent Schrödinger equation or single non-relativistic particle – i.e. position of the electron in SIMPLEST system we have – that of the hydrogen atom. But it would look similar and it just gets more complex from there. It is WAY easier and more productive (and FUN) to just know it’s about 18 hours for an average batch of average chocolate and that you should taste it until you are happy.

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New beans and the new exciting news - and one week closure

First off, although not terribly exciting, I need to announce Chocolate Alchemy will be closed from  June 15 - June 23.  I will be heading out to China on a technical consulting trip and will mostly be not available.  I may or may not be able to answer e-mails, but under no circumstances can any orders ship during that window. But, if you want to stock up before then,  there are two new beans in, both Retail and Wholesale, and of course, roasted and raw. "La Red" from the Dominican Republic - Raw and Roasted .  It has a solid, soft chocolate flavor, with tamarind and soft (as opposed to sharp) citrus (mostly lemon), with the occasional hint of banana.  The roasted nib aroma particularly has a tamarind note.  There is also other 'thick' flavors like caramel, toffee and caramelized sugar.

Venezuelan Sur del Lago -  Raw and  Roasted.  It is a complex, well-rounded cocoa that can make a luscious chocolate bursting with flavor accented by subtle hints of red berry fruit, dry cashew, toffee, caramel, a touch of pepper and most important, chocolate.

And with that note of  a return of a great Venezuelan cocoa, I'll move right on into more exciting Venezuelan news. A couple years ago Chocolate Alchemy carried a few varieties of Venezuelan  Cocoa that you may remember.  Mantuano, Patanemo, Rio Caribe and that wonderful cedary Porcelano.  Well, those came from a company that is now going by Tisano.  The owner of this company is Patrick Pineda.  Fantastic gentleman.  He and other will be on a panel, The Myths, History and Future of Venezuelan Cacao, at the FCIA (Fine Chocolate Industry Association) 2012 Summer Event.

How and why this is relative is that Chocolate Alchemy is currently working to be the distributor of the cocoa Tisano is about to bring in.  Very exciting.  Patrick really says it best, so here is the latest I have direct from him:

"We are working to buy from Four Co-Ops buying direct from the farms :
1) Tricheras - Former Hacienda broken up and the land is now owned by the farmers. They have a great drying patio and fermentiation rooms. Solid Trinatario.
2) Mantuano - Former Indian Villiage turned Hacienda for Coffee and Cacao now owned by the local farmers. They are about to finish building a centralized depot / collections center with drying patios.
3) Patanemo - Former Slave villiage - the slaves ran away from the surrounding haciendas and hid in the mountains and started a little town called 'Pas Tenemos' - We have Peace, which over time turned to Patanemo. A great Criollo pale white beans with specks of pink. We work with the co-op here doing centralized collections, fermentation and drying.
4) Cumboto - Also a former slave founded villiage tucked away deep in the canyons of the Henri Pettier National Park. The Farmers @ Cumboto were the guys that were running the Ocumare Co-Op before it got taken over by the government. It is a small villiage just outside of Ocumare - they have the same genetic varietals and consistency of the Ocumare you have grown to know and love.
5) AMAZONAS - This is a rich forastero full of flavour and considered to be a wild grown cacao from what many believe the birthplace of cacao. Amazonas is grown by an indigenous community two days canoe trip from the nearest road. We have to travel two days against the current in order to reach the town and purchase the cacao.
Tisano is working hands on with these farming regions and co-ops to promote new heirloom varietals of single origin cacao and support the farming communities by paying above fair trade prices and directly purchasing from the co-ops. 

We are also actively involved with development project to ensure quality and output of these regions continues to increase while always following organic and sustainable farming practices.
Our big initiative for 2012 is the creation of low cost drying beds that ensure beans do not go moldy and output can increase per farm to make the farmers earn more income per hour spent on the harvest."
If all goes right, many if not all (and maybe more) these will be in and available by the end of July.  I am actively taking orders if you know or think you want large quantities.  Please contact me directly for more information, pricing, etc.



New Bean alert

Two new cocoa beans are recently in and available.  Both are available raw and roasted, and one of them I have decided to offer as a Brewing Cocoa. Bolivia - Organic 2011 - A couple months ago I had a beautiful, tiny wild Criollo from Bolivia.  It sold out very fast.  The is a different bean.  It's more traditional in pretty much all aspects.  It's traditionally grown, is of average size (95-100 g/100 beans)

Raw & Roasted

Ghana - 2011 It has hints of light biscuit, a little vanilla and of course the rather characteristic and “classic” earthy chocolate aroma.

Raw, Roasted & Brewing Cocoa

And of course, all of these are available in Wholesale if that is your need (excepting the brewing cocoa that is).

Finally, I will be heading out of town on Thursday for SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) annual convention.  Consequently on shipping on those days, and likewise I won't be answering e-mails.  I'll be back and shipping on Monday.

And I will point out that I am going (aside from the fact that I love coffee as much as chocolate) that I have been working as a technical adviser/consultant/developer on a new product that Behmor Inc is bring out - The Brazen Brewer  -  and it looks very promising that it will work very nicely for brewing Cocoa!.  Check it out.  The Brazen Brewer.  And if you will be at the show, don't forget to vote for the People's Choice awards (yes, I am shamelessly promoting this) - Text ECON2 to 86677 to vote for Behmor Inc.

Enjoy and see you next week.



Website Migration

The site will be migrating today to a new server.  There may (or may not) be some small periods of down time. Also, I've been updating some of the Alchemist Notebook pages - they are not linked in, but you can view them directly here:


Cracking and Winnowing (with history of the Aether, plans, and more)


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Does size really matter?

David and Goliath? Me and Mini-Me?

Bigger is better?

The tiny powerhouse?

Frankenstein vs....damn can't think of a small monster.

Well, I really wanted a good one-liner there, but inspiration eludes me.  So I'm just jump into what I want to talk about.  Cocoa bean sizes.  As is the definition of 'average', most cocoa beans you will find and buy are of average size.  This generally means they are 90-110 beans/100 grams - industry convention and standard.  What I have for you today are two great examples of the two far ends of the bell curve.

size1.JPG compare.JPG

What you have here is a tiny wild harvested Bolivian Organic Criollo at a bean count of 160 beans/100 g and a huge Guatemalan Trinatario at 50-55 beans/100 grams.  Below is 100 grams of each:


What does this mean?  Well, many things…and not much.  Huh?  Let me explain.

Neither will be inherently better or worse first off.  The small one isn’t inferior, nor is it packed with flavor because it is small.  Likewise, the large one isn’t large and tasteless, but neither is it better because of it’s size.  Both are simply notable.

In this case, the Guatemalan has a nice rustic flavor, kind of nutty and carries a unique bitterness, but also some great savory notes.  The wild Bolivian…well, in a word, just makes me happy.  It’s pretty mild, being Criollo, but has great flavors.  Toffee, very soft fruits, butter and blueberries.  And it melds all together seamlessly…and makes me smile.  Plus it’s so damn cute.

OK, from a practical standpoint, you may find the Guatemalan’s may not feed as well in the Crankandstein, whereas the Bolivia will feed great, but both will crack just fine in the Champion.  After that, you will find they both basically winnow the same.  You might expect that because the Bolivian is so small, there ratio of husk to nib would be high, giving you less nib than normal…but thankfully that is not the case since it is a Criollo and one with a particularly light thin husk.  Both turn out to give right around 80% nib.

Finally, I should make a note that both of these are of a limited nature.  When they are gone, they may well be gone for good.

I really hope you try them, enjoy them and that they make you happy.

And as a reminder, Refurbished Behmor 1600s are now readily available.

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