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Cocoa Beans

Ask the Alchemist #273


Ask the Alchemist #273

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.


Ask the Alchemist #270


Ask the Alchemist #270

Before I get this week’s questions (which are a little non-standard and are actually just me answering an email in more detail - yes, I still try to answer any and everything that comes in) I want to announce a new Brewing cocoa.

It is a new Organic blend roasted a bit deeper than The Big O.

Tequila Moonrise - Organic Chocolate, rich and deep, to warm you up while watching that beautiful moonrise in the chilly night while sipping a neat pour of Elixir of Agave. 

Tequila moonrise.jpg

Level: Novice

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I have a question about roasting brewing chocolate.  I found your article where you talk about roasting to different temperatures, for example Shadow's Silhouette to 333 F.  I don't currently have a Behmor (I will eventually), so I'm roasting in the oven.  If I want a dark roast, do I set my oven on 410 F for example and roast until the bean temperature reads 410 F or do I start at a lower temperature and gradually increase it.  I'm just looking for some roasting guidance here for brewing chocolate.


On a minor pedantic note it is Brewing Cocoa.  Chocolate is cocoa that has been refined with sugar. Brewing cocoa is ground roasted whole cocoa beans (i.e. not just nibs)

 Just like I do for roasting for chocolate, I really don’t recommend roasting in the oven if you can avoid it all costs.  Probably the number one reason I don’t like it is that it is nearly impossible to teach it and teaching is what I’m all about.

 The reasons it is so hard to teach (to the point of impossible) is three fold.

  1.  Ovens have different power (and come in both electric and gas)

  2. Ovens heat unevenly (no matter how much you stir)

  3. Everything changes depending on how much you roast.

I want you to think about any roasting and how you were approaching it.

 If you roast a chicken and want it roasted to 165 F would you put it into a cold oven and heat to 165 F?   Would you pre-heat to 165 F and cook it (it really isn’t roasting now, but slow cooking) to 165 F?  No, you are most likely going to pre-heat to 350-450 F and roast it until it hits the temperature you want.

You are going to do the same exact thing with cocoa.  Pre-heat to a temperature a good bit over your goal end temperature and roast it until you hit that temperature.

Roasting cocoa isn’t magical. It isn’t a special snowflake. It is food and you should think about it like any other food you roast or cook. 

I can’t give you much more than that except to say stir them every 5-10 minutes to try and keep them as even as possible and the higher you set the temperature the faster the roast will progress and overall you want it to progress as fast as possible.

 Oh, and there is one more thing.  And it is a big something.  You might be able to do a roast into the mid 300s but I would absolutely not recommend roasting to 410 F inside a house.  There is a LOT OF SMOKE  at that level.  When I roast to that level in my professional roaster, with a commercial hood, it over loads the capacity of the draw fans and we have smoke spill over into the warehouse.  I don’t even want to think about what that would be like in your oven.

 What is your opinion about the Spectra Mini?

 I don’t care for it.  The higher rpm coupled with the smaller drum can fling chocolate and sets up a situation where you can actually over refine in short order. There is a reason I don’t offer it and I just gave it.

 I know the Gourmia will not roast as many lbs as the Behmor, but that aside how do you feel about the end product and the quality of the roaster itself?

It roasts the same amount as the Behmor.  I like the roast quality quite a bit and like that I can monitor the temperature as is with my IR thermometer.

 Just an observation here.  If I type in "brewing" in the search box on the website, it brings up many articles.  If I go to read one and then go back, the article list is not there.  I have to erase "brewing" and retype it to get the articles to reappear.  I tried this in Internet Explorer and Chrome.  Do you have any suggestions?

I just tried that in IE, Chrome and Firefox and I didn’t get that behavior at all.  My only thought is to ask if you have any script or ad blockers in place. Yeah, I know that isn’t super helpful.

Until next wee, let’s go make some chocolate.



Ask the Alchemist #268


Ask the Alchemist #268

One thing I can’t find an answer about is how I should go about sorting my beans.  I have tried a bunch of different ways and nothing really seems to improve my chocolate every time.  I see so many chocolate makers sorting but just can’t figure it out.  Please help!!


Ask the Alchemist #237

1 Comment

Ask the Alchemist #237

Level: Novice

Reading Time: 12 minutes

I just read Dandelion’s new book and chocolate making seems very expensive.  Isn’t there some other way make chocolate without a melanger.  Wouldn’t a high powered vitamix work?  How about the Champion juicer?  Can’t I just run the sugar through there?  It all seems so complicated.  There should be a simpler way.  I can roast coffee in a $10 popcorn air popper.  Can I crack the beans In a corona mill and won’t that make chocolate?

Some of you long time readers might be a little confused with why I would answer these series of question when it seems really old news.  The alternative was “What happens if you dip a cat in chocolate?” and well……

I have seen a large resurgence in these kinds of questions in the last couple months.  New chocolate makers are coming in droves (of which I am thrilled by) and with it people seem to be trying to reinvent the proverbial wheel. 

I in no way want to stifle questions, inquisitiveness and innovation but I also really want people to do a little research and maybe realize that nearly all of these questions have been asked before and answered (mostly with a 'no').

I want people to make chocolate.    Keep that in mind.  So ask yourself this.  If there was a cheaper, simpler way to make chocolate, don’t you think I would be the first to announce it to the world?   Really, I’m not ‘Da Man’ trying to keep secrets hidden.  I've built Chocolate Alchemy on the philosophy that there are no secrets and I want to spread all I know.

I guess this is going to turn into a little review of bean to bar history interspersed with some of the questions.  Let’s take it from the top down, going through each step of the process.

 “You are selling beans from 2015.  Aren’t they too old by now?”

I only sell beans that I’ve personally tested and verified.  I make chocolate regularly and pull beans from our stocks once their flavor profile degrades.  In some cases that is 1 year but many (most really) times it can be 2-3 years. 

“Isn’t Criollo the best?”

They are just the rarest and generally the most mild.  I hold by the stance there is no 'best', just your own personal favorite.

“Can I use an air popper like coffee to roast nibs?”

See the above discussion.  I tried it and for a multitude of reasons it didn’t work.  Mostly it has to do with scale and control.

“Won’t a coffee roaster burn my cocoa?”

No, you can turn it down.  

“Will my chocolate taste like coffee if I use my coffee roaster?”

No, I have done it for years.  Any coffee oils that might cross contaminate the cocoa would be absorbed by the husk which you winnow away.  I’ve never even see that happen and I’ve used the same roaster for years.

“Can I use a home brewing mill to crack my cocoa?”

No, the gap (even adjustable ones) is too small.

“Have you heard of the Crankandstein cocoa mill?  Why don’t you offer it?”

You could say I’ve heard of it.  I invented it and had it built by Crankandstein.  I no longer offer it as I find the Champion juicer does a better job for a similar price.  Plus the Champion is multi-purpose.  You can also make liquor with it.


“Doesn’t the Champion get to hot and destroy all the flavor of the chocolate?  It seems like it would burn it”.

I discovered using the Champion Juicer for chocolate way back in 2004 and built Chocolate Alchemy and got this whole bean to bar movement going with it.  If it had burned the chocolate or made it inferior I simply can’t imagine we would be where we are today.    Yes, the chocolate gets warm, and even hot, but stays WAY cooler than when you roast.    No, it does not harm the chocolate.

“Can I use the Champion 4000?”

I’ve not personally used one, but hear it works ok, but not as good as the 2000 I offer.  And while I am talking about the Champion, there is a Commercial version but I have not found any difference in performance or longevity compared to the Household model, so I offer the less expensive household model.

“Do I have to use a melanger?  It is so expensive.  Can I use……”

I cut that off because of all the variations.  You can insert Vitamix, blender, grain mill, and any other of standard household appliance and I will answer that I tried out every one of them over the years and would have told you if they worked.  As it is, I specifically outline a bunch HERE that do not work.  Again, I WANT  you to make chocolate.  If I could lower the financial bar, what possible reason would I have for not doing that?  The answer is none.

I’m going to take this opportunity and say I appreciate that this is not an inexpensive hobby.  But when I started down this chocolate making at home road in 2004, before there was a bean to bar movement, it was not even possible to make chocolate at home.  Aside from no knowledge base, all the equipment was industrial.  There were no melangers.  The cheapest winnower was $2000 and did a huge 2 oz a minute.  There were no roasters.  A basic set up would have cost you $100,000 or more.  Now a good setup is $1000.  That is two orders of magnitude.  Please keep that in mind is all I’m saying.

“I’ve read that melangers make inferior chocolate and that you need a mill and conche to make good chocolate.”

The WHOLE bean to bar movement was built on the stunning results of stone melangers.  I think that evidence right there speaks for itself as an answer to that question.

“Why don’t you invent a small $100 melanger?  I’m sure you would get a lot more people into chocolate making.”

I bet Apple would sell a lot more Iphone X if they were $50 too.  I would have done it if I thought it was possible but there is a lower limit to material and building costs.   And really it comes down to scale in this case.  Although there are 1000s of melangers out there, I would bet there are millions of iphone Xs already out there.  If I made 100,000 small melangers I could probably do it for under $100 each but there is that small issue of the $10,000,000 needed to do that.  As big as the bean to bar movement gets, I don’t see it ever being worthwhile to make 100,000 melangers at one go. 

“I’ve heard you can’t use a tempering machine with bean to bar chocolate, that it is too thick.  How do you temper?”

I am baffled where that opinion came from.  You can.  Certain extra light roasts that retain moisture might be a bit thicker, and some makers don’t like using cocoa butter (which makes for a more fluid chocolate), which I don’t understand, but you absolutely can use a tempering machine.  That said, they are expensive and I don’t see a reason not to hand temper or to use Silk which is nearly fool proof.

That is a selection of questions that have come in the last couple months.   I said at the beginning I wanted to give you a basic history of bean to bar.  Dandelion’s book showed the successes very well, but what they didn’t describe (nor was it their place to) was the multitude of failures I went through.  It would be impossible for me to tell you everything I tried but know that if it was a common household item, I tried it and if you don’t see it as an option, it is because it failed.  And when I say failed I mean were too expensive, too DIY, too cumbersome, too hard to work with or literally just failed.  

What are some of those things that didn’t work ?

  • Ice cream maker (conche)
  • Rock tumbler (refiner/conche)
  • Air popper (roasting)
  • Ball bearings in mixer (ball mill refiner – expensive)
  • Rolling pin (cracker)
  • Mortar and pestle (well, becaue)
  • Hand peeling (too hard)
  • Corona type mill (poor results)
  • Champion Juicer (refining sugar – fail)
  • Champion Juicer (winnowing  - hard on machine and tasted bad)
  • Vita-Mix (burned the chocolate)
  • Other Juicers (ride up and fail)
  • Home convection ovens (under powered)
  • Meat Grinders (crackers and refiner)
  • Food processors (refiner)
  • Grain mills (cracker and refiner)
  • Coffee grinders (refiner)
  • Indian Wet Grinder (burned out, but we modified them to the Melanger you now know)

And that is just a sampling.  Various other Rube Goldberg type contraptions were tried and there were many variations of those above.  All that and more brought us to this place at this time where the web is full of free information on how you can get into chocolate making for the barest fraction of what it would have cost 20 years ago. 

By all means keep trying though….but maybe not the same things others have tried and proved doesn’t work. There is that semi-urban myth that the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.  Try not to be crazy.

 Just like they say there are no new ideas for story lines anymore, I am pretty confident there are no longer any obvious solutions for making chocolate simpler and significantly less expensive than there currently is.

Regardless, keep experimenting, making and asking questions.


1 Comment

Ask the Alchemist #211.5


Ask the Alchemist #211.5

ew questions have been a little light lately.  I want to share a correspondence I had due to Ask the Alchemist #211.  Because I have something planned Ask the Alchemist #212 (is it obvious to everyone what the subject will be?) I’m going to call this one 211.5.


Ask the Alchemist #211


Ask the Alchemist #211

We've noticed that different beans seems to have different amounts of intrinsic oil. The Peruvian Maranon seems to have quite a bit of oil and produces a chocolate that flows very easily but it tricky to temper correctly. Is there a way to know in advance the amount of oil in a bean so we can adjust the amount of cocoa butter we add?


This and that


This and that

Today is just a small laundry list of announcements, some of which I would like your opinions on. There is no Ask the Alchemist because my queue is empty.