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A whack of new beans in


A whack of new beans in

Before we jump into the NINE (9) new beans, I want to let everyone know that the dates are set for the next in depth, full day, Drum Roasting Profile Seminar.  Spots (limited to 10 each) are starting to fill up.


Ask the Alchemist #254


Ask the Alchemist #254

I’m having some roasting trouble and would love to hear your opinion if you get a chance to respond. I’m using a Klarstein air fryer (1400w) to roast 1 kg of beans at a time. 


Ask the Alchemist #243


Ask the Alchemist #243

“My goal is simple,” he once said. “It is complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.” He spent much of his career searching for a way to reconcile Einstein’s theory of relativity with quantum physics and produce a “Theory of Everything.”


Ask the Alchemist #238


Ask the Alchemist #238

I have been going over your Excel spreadsheet formulator, and the formulator depends on using cocoa liqueur, not nibs. Also, I would also like to use Allulose instead of granulated sugar. Is there a way to "tweak" the formulator to:


Ask the Alchemist #185


Ask the Alchemist #185

Level: Novice

Reading time: 8 minutes

I want to make drinking chocolate.  Can you give me a recipe?


I’ve touched on parts of this in the past but now is a good time to bring all the options together.



The long dark tea-time of the soul

It's more like cocoa-tea-time but you get the drift I suspect. May I present Alchemist's series #7 - The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul.

TLDTTOTS is replacing Fire and Brimstone #4.  It is a semi-dark, richly chocolate, brewing cocoa.  Very possibly the best yet (at least I like it the best).  I really enjoy it at 202 F in the Brazen Brewer.

New Direct Trade India is in.  It also makes a killer Brewing cocoa.  Hot or cold.

4 new Venezuelan are on the way.  Fruity Sur del Lago, delicate Cuyagua, silky Canoba, and rich Guanino.

Most likely Belize and Maranon....still finishing the tasting and evaluation.

Testing and Evaluation beans are back.

Finally, I am now offering the Behmor 1600 plus with free shipping (lower 48 USA only and with no beans).

Oh, and some of you may have noticed that Ask the Alchemist went AWOL last week.  That happens from time to time when no questions are in the queue.  So, what do you want to know?

long dark tea time.jpg


1 Comment

Ask the Alchemist #167

Level: Novice

Read time: 5 minutes

When I peruse through your selection of cocoa beans for sale, the stark contrast in colors between the different origins always catches my eye.  It's pretty interesting to look at for me.  But then that's always made me wonder, have you standardized how you take the photo of each bean origin?  As in, do you put the same mass of beans in the same container every time?  Do you then use a tripod at a set distance away from the beans to take your shot?  Is the lighting always consistent?  Blah blah blah. The reason I ask is partly because of the motley colors I see, but also some of the origins simply look more attractive to me than others.  I see some origins that are a beautiful consistent deep brown like the Madagascar.  Then I see some origins that are really gray like the Honduras.  The gray origins make me wonder if there's surface mold on those beans. Then I think if there's surface mold, what are those beans like on the inside?  Other origins look multi-colored in the picture like the Mexican Chiapas.  That makes me wonder if there's uneven fermentation in those beans or are those beans of mixed age or ??? I understand that you personally vet each origin you bring in and vouch for them.  And I know you're not supposed to judge a book by it's cover, but for me some of the pictures may not be doing some of your origins much justice. Can you clue me in?  Is there a similar story among gray-colored origins versus the multi-colored origins, etc?


Let’s put this on the table.  I am a terrible photographer.  So terrible that I should not even be allowed to use that term.   I take pictures.

But to answer your question, I actually do my very best to standardize how I photograph the beans.  They are all in the barrel I pack from, with a fill level near the top.  The lighting is mostly the same, as is the distance.  But I don’t use a tripod.  For years I have known I should set up a white space so there are not shadows (I do know to keep my shadow out of the light source) but as of yet, I have not done it.  Clearly.

At this point it is pretty much an ingrained rule for me to take photos of the beans as they come in.  Nothing annoys me more than seeing the same repeated image when I am shopping for similar items.  And I do my best never to do that.  I also do my very best to capture the differences in the beans.  Which it seems I am doing as per your comments.  Again, there is little I find more annoying than misrepresentation of what is being sold.  Some many years ago this slightly bit me when I reused an image of a previous crop year and although the image was of what I was selling, the new crop looked a bit different and some people objected to a small degree.  Which I sympathized with.  Which is why I now photograph each new bean.

Which brings me to how representative the beans are.  Your comments actually reinforce my original statement that I am not a photographer.  I think a photographer (a good photographer) does not so much take good photos, but captures what they see AND presents what they see.  This is where I fall down.  You mention the deep brown of Madagascar.  This makes me cringe as to my eye it is a very solid red/brown.  Auburn if that can be applied to non-hair colors.  That is what I see.  That is what I would like display.  Likewise, when people visit, I show them the Honduras as the poster child of even and consistently colored beans without even the hint of mold.  It’s almost crushing to hear some may think they are moldy.  And then we have some beans like Rizek from the Dominica Republic.  They look all over the board in the photo, but in person only show some pretty minor variation.

And I simply must address mold.  I won’t sell moldy beans.  What many people think of as mold is dried mucilage from the fermentation.  Some is just crappy photography.

Recently I had two bags of beans arrive.  One bag of great.  The other was CLEARLY moldy (and not for sale).  Not grey.  Moldy!  Have a look a what mold looks like.


On the other hand, here are two photos of Honduras.  What is on the site (left) and how I personally think they look.  Not moldy at all to me.  The right photo is from my perspective more how they look.

honduras 2015           honduras 2015 - color


Likewise, here is Madagascar.  On the left is what I photographed.  On the right is what (I think) is in my mind’s eye of what Madagascar looks like.

Madagascar - as is             Madagascar - color


And the same goes for consistency.  Sometimes lighting just magnifies subtle differences that when viewed in person are just not as stark.  Let's do the Chiapas you mention.  Left, again, as is, right what I think I see.

Chiapas2              Chiapas2 - color


Is one more honest or representative than the other?  Sure there is more variation than other beans, but when I look in the barrel I don't see the photo on the left.

It’s frustrating.  And has been for years.  I used try and adjust the color balance to what I saw….but I’m a ham fisted ogre there too and I made matters worse.  And does it really matter that you think Madagascar is brown when I think it has a hue of red?  I don’t think it does.  Do you?

So now I shoot for basic consistency.   And accept, for now, that you are right.  Maybe I am not doing some of the beans justice.  I point out time and again one should not judge a book by its cover (I’m glad you point that out too), try to write up really detailed tasting notes and paint a picture of senses, not just visually.

And at the end of the day, it mostly works.  I’d rather be known for being straight shooting and earnest in my presentation of beans than being a photoshop wizard.

What are you thoughts on the matter?

1 Comment


Ask the Alchemist #154

Now that you have a cocoa butter press, have you experimented with different ways of making chocolate (to improve flavor/texture/etc...)?  While I realize that "just because you can, doesn't mean you should".... My mind is now spinning with thoughts of things that could be done during the process... pressing butter out of the liqueur before putting it into a melanger to refine/conche...  Doing something to warm/process the butter to change its flavor before reintroducing it to the cocoa "powder"... different ways to introduce the sugar into the butter and/or powder?   

Well, the first answer is that no, I have not yet experimented with this.  I am actually in the middle of a long series of oven roasting tests.  So far I have 10 different combinations of roasting beans and nibs in a conventional oven.  More on that later.

For those that are missed the 'press' that is being discussed, it is the Nutrichef oil expeller that works on cocoa beans and gives your own cocoa butter.

What can be done?  Well, given we are limited to a Melanger, I think some of our options are limited by the necessity to have a flowing product.  You could press some cocoa butter out, but you still need to maintain 30-35% fat, so even with a 70% dark chocolate, you are already there and can't remove any cocoa butter.

I am glad you mention 'just because you can, doesn't mean should".  We CAN process our chocolate more, but I'm not sure we should.  It's one of the big reasons I constantly make it known that I don't find you can make a good chocolate from cocoa powder.  It was been processed too hard.  But there is also no reason not to try.  This is fresh cocoa butter and powder and is 'processed' more gently than others by nature of the small scale.  I will certainly try making a batch recombined.  For science's sake.

What does come to mind though is a cocoa powder, cream powder chocolate.  At 72% fat in the cream powder, you have the ability to get that chocolate flowing again.  That is now on the list too.

That all said, I think the first place to start is making your own butter, and using it in 5-10% amounts in your existing recipes and seeing if it makes a difference.  I know it can make a radical difference in a milk chocolate where there is 30%.  Time to play people!

Finally, I will mention that the resulting cocoa powder is not as fine as commercial powder.  But it is pretty fine (straight out it is coarse, but a quick run in a whirly blade grinder gets it fine).  And I've been using it in mochas (it mixes nicely with hot water), hot chocolate (ditto with hot water and sugar) and quick mole spicing (I sprinkle it on sauteing chicken and add a little chili sauce).

So, what do you folks want me to test?


1 Comment

Three brand new products

First and foremost, I want to present the NutraChef 'cocoa press' oil expeller.  You can now make your own cocoa butter at home at the press of a button.  I tasted the most amazing milk chocolate made with some fresh pressed Madagascar cocoa.  The caramel notes were amazing and fully due to the single origin butter, as it was totally missing from the 'control' made with the natural cocoa butter we offer. IMG_3699

The next new product is a variation on whole milk powder.  This is Heavy Cream powder.  So, instead of milk chocolate, you can make Cream Chocolate.  At 72% butter fat, you can add it directly to an existing dark chocolate recipe without adding any extra cocoa butter like you would with a milk chocolate.

Finally, a new origin.  A lovely base note cocoa bean from Trinidad and Tobago.  The taste that comes through for me is dried mission fig, date sugar and toasted pecans.

Trinidad and tobago 2016

Might I suggest a Single Origin Trinidad Cream chocolate?

2 lbs Trinidad and Tobago roasted cocoa, winnowed to 24 oz.

5 oz Trinidad and Tobago home pressed cocoa butter (results from a 500 gram batch)

1 lb Heavy cream powder

1 lb sugar

This should be unlike ANY chocolate you have ever tried.



1 Comment


New Products on the way

No Ask the Alchemist today.  The queue is empty. Mind you, I thought I was setting a new record this week for submissions, but somehow things have become confused.  All the messages were general questions to me.  Do you ship here?  Can you ship this out today?  Do you sell tempering machines?  Where can I buy a Champion?   To clarify, is for 'in depth' questions generally about the chocolate making process.  Not like the above.

So, have I really answered everything you want to know out there?

And to give you something to look forward to, three new products should be available tomorrow.

  • Whole cream powder
  • A deep, chocolatey bean from Trinidad
  • An electric oil press so you can make your own cocoa butter.  I've been having quite a bit of fun testing it out.

Stay tuned and get those questions in.




New cocoa beans

We are kicking the new year off with three new beans. First, the brand new one, and maybe my favorite of the bunch (since I just finished writing up the review, it is of course the last chocolate I ate, so of course it is my favorite).

Peru FT/Org Norandino 2015/16 - There is orange marmalade, molasses and dried pear competing for dominance.

Madagascar Sambirano Valley Organic 2016 - We ran out briefly last year.  This is the newest crop.  Still a powerhouse.  This year instead of raspberry, it is virtually exploding with cherry and raisin.....

Uganda Org 2015 - There is an undeniable roundness to the flavor profile this year.  Very base and solid chocolate.  I find an inherent sweetness that contributes to the perception of a full flavor.

And lastly, I want to remind you of one we put up last month.  Honduras Wampusirpi.  We are down to the last bag, so get it before it is gone.

Honduras Wampusirpi 2016 Direct Trade/"organic"    The first aroma I get is of soft leather, like a supple piece of deer skin.  Buttery almost.  With that comes along flavors of bright dried fruits.  This just might be my favorite bean from last year and this lot is imperceptible in it's differences.



Ask the Alchemist #107

Have you found a good sugar grinder that lasts?

Numerous times, when my grinder breaks, I just put the coarse sugar into the melanger. And at first I noticed the chocolate seemed to get smoother, quicker than when I ground the sugar first. I thought it was a fluke. But it just happened again last night—after 10 hours with coarse sugar the stuff was as smooth as it could possibly be.

So here is my hypothesis: when you grind sugar first you get a powder that is probably somewhere between 60 and 100 microns, but many more individual pieces than you started with. And these may or may not get caught under the wheel, and may not even get crushed unless they hit it just right. On the other hand, with coarse sugar you have far fewer individual particles that are larger, and when one of them goes under the wheel it pulverizes. Producing a finer grain size than if it had been put through a spice grinder.

So many levels to this question. Where to start? From the top down is good.

Yes, I have a grinder I like. It is the Panasonic Grinder.

But. Just like the description says, I don’t recommend it for grinding your sugar IF your goal is to reduce refining times. But I love it for Brewing cocoa and making my own Masala and curry pasts. In short, I have noticed the same thing you have and have stopped actively recommending people pre-grind any of their ingredients (whole coffee might be the exception). Your hypothesis is as good as any. But I will add in that I think the sugar, being actually rather hard, is acting as a kind of abrasive and is both self-milling down and helping to refine the cocoa particles in the chocolate. And the larger the better.

The other observation I have made is in regard to melanger speed. My experience has shown that if you put in finer, pre-ground sugar and cocoa it actually makes the mixture thicker and consequently slows down the melanger and thus your refining time. Somehow letting it grind down the larger particles keeps things moving along nicely. So, whether any of those theories are actually correct or it is some combination of all three, the result is that I no longer recommend pre-grinding any of your ingredients. Yes I used to, but I’ve tried to edit those out and if you come across them, please feel free to point them out and I will change them. We don’t want contradictions.



Ask the Alchemist #96

How can you recommend lecithin? It is toxic from being a refinery waste and full of chemicals.

Well, when you put it like that, it sounds like pretty awful stuff. Unfortunately it’s also written (maybe not on purpose) to sound very much worse than it is and inflammatory to boot.

Let’s get the first part out of the way. I can recommend it because I don’t see any supporting data backing up that it is toxic nor ‘full of chemicals’. Basically I disagree with the assertion.

Now let’s get into the whys. This quote seems to sum up what you are talking about:

“Soybean lecithin comes from sludge left after crude soy oil goes through a ‘degumming’ process. It is a waste product containing solvents and pesticides and has a consistency ranging from a gummy fluid to a plastic solid. Before being bleached to a more appealing light yellow, the color of lecithin ranges from a dirty tan to reddish brown. The hexane extraction process commonly used in soybean oil manufacture today yields less lecithin than the older ethanol-benzol process, but produces a more marketable lecithin with better color, reduced odor and less bitter flavor.”

First off, let’s cut through the hot button words. “Sludge”. It makes one think of nasty stuff at the bottom of a pond, outhouse or sewage treatment plant, doesn’t it. I’d say that is the intent. To make you think it is ‘contaminated’. How about we consult Webster?

Sludge “a muddy or slushy mass, deposit, or sediment”. Personally, I don’t find that nearly as hot button. It just means it’s a mixture of solids and water. And to that I say, so? Or think of it this way. Gravy. That luscious, yummy, flavor packed concoction that is made from the ‘sludge’ of roasting or frying meat. It’s all in the spin.

Next. the assertion it comes from the ‘waste’ of a process. Well…yeah. The whole point initially was that you are cleaning up something. Therefore, sort of by definition, you have what you want (product), and what you are trying to get rid of (waste). But that is arbitrary. It’s like the definition of a weed. It’s just a plant you don’t want in your garden. But again (and I’m pulling from others I’ve talked to about this) the take on the word "waste" is that it is tantamount to "body waste" or fecal matter.

But it’s no more that form of "waste" than using onion skins to dye Easter eggs. This is bad how? Sounds frugal to me.

Now the "gummy fluid…and solid plastic". Err? So? It’s a gummy solid because it contains a bunch of emulsifiers!!! And saying it’s of the consistency of a plastic solid doesn’t make it a plastic solid. It just means there is less water in it. After that we have ”bleaching” and the implication that it’s done only for the appealing color. What’s missed is the chemistry behind an alkaline wash as a clean up step. It’s just a way to separate impurities (waste) from the new product (the lecithin) we want.

As for the hexane extraction producing a better product (less color, odor and better tasting) with a lower yield, how is this bad? Seems you want (at least I do) quality over quantity. Don’t you?

Finally, I’m going to circle back to the "waste product containing solvents and pesticides”. This does NOT say the lecithin contains solvents and pesticides. It says the "muddy mixture we are starting with, that we want to clean up” contains solvents and pesticides…that we are going to remove in our hexane extraction and alkaline clean up procedure.

But what about hexane and pesticides in the lecithin that aren’t removed? I am so glad you asked! It took me a bit of research, and frankly the numbers are all over the board, and the calculation are a bit heavy to get into here without totally losing you, but this is what I found.

Standard lecithin can contain 100-500 ppm of hexane and pesticides (the later being 3-5 orders of magnitude smaller)…..BUT you don’t eat lecithin!! You add it in very small amounts to chocolate. And the amount you end up eating is TINY!!! I could toss a number out to you , but it would have so many zeros in it as to be basically incomprehensible. So I took another common activity where you are exposed to hexane. Driving in a car. Day in, day out you are exposed to hexane fumes from driving around. Ready for this? Based on lung capacity, monitored hexane levels in a variety of locations and standard breathing patterns, on average you take 3 times more hexane in EVERY MINUTE of driving than eating 2 oz of chocolate with 1% lecithin in it. And for "full disclosure", the spread of data is wide. It goes from 15 times more hexane per minute to 10 minutes driving equaling 2 oz chocolate. So even at worst case, I don’t see what there is to be up in arms about.

Here is an article that has a good discussion on chemical exposure in a similar vein.

If anything, I find it laudable that someone found a way to take the waste product of one procedure and turn it into the starting material of another process, thereby increasing the overall use of the original product. Sounds down right ecologically responsible and frugal to me.

With all of that though, and with no implication, I don’t believe every bit of it. I have also researched and brought in a new 100% organic lecithin. You’ll note it’s quite a bit more expensive, as there are quite the technological obstacles to overcome in its production, but in this case you still have quality.




Equipment updates

Sylph winnower - We have been having an issue finding certain parts, but have a small production run started. They should be available at the beginning of December. Behmor 1600+ - These are now in stock but going very fast. Premier Grinder - I am no longer offering these units.  But it has nothing at all to do with their suitability for chocolate making.  They continue to work just fine.  And I am also offering parts and warranty support for them.   Feel free to contact me if you are not sure where to find one.  Or check the forum.



Ask the Alchemist #70

I’m so glad you have the Premier Grinder now. But I now don’t know which one to pick. Which is your favorite?

One day in, and I’ve already had this question multiple times. Fair enough.


It’s kind of like asking which of your children you love more. Or for those of you without children, which parent. Or brother. Or sister. You get the idea. You might get along with one more than the other. You might go to one over the other in certain situations. But one rarely is a ‘favorite’.

It’s the same thing here. Really, it’s your call. But here are my thoughts on them laid out.

I like the price ($195) of the Premier vs the Spectra 11 ($479)

I like the 9 lb capacity of the Spectra 11 vs the Premier at about 6 lbs.

I don’t like that the Spectra 11 seems to have a tendency to go through belts faster than I like.

I don’t like that the cone on the Premier’s bowl strip its threads after some time (mine was over a year of heavy use) (they are looking at addressing this – and keep in mind this is an unmodified Grinder, not officially a modified Melanger).

I like that they both have Warranties.

I like that they both can grind nibs, although I’ll admit because of the Spectra’s belt appetite, the Premier does do a more efficient job.

I like the foot print of the Premier.

I like the larger grinding area (larger wheels) of the Spectra.

That’s about it. And counting up, it’s basically a wash. It comes down to preferences, budget and need.



Cocoa pods

Just a reminder that this is the last day for ordering Cocoa pods.  Then it will be another month or so.  No fooling :) And as I keep forgetting to mention, I've had really good luck drying the whole pods.  I accidentally let a couple in my refrigerator, wrapped in the paper they come in, and a couple months later they had dehydrated very nicely, with rattling beans inside (as one lump, not individual beans).  They turn a rather nice chocolate brown.