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Alchemist's Musings


Ask the Alchemist #152

I have an Italian espresso maker with individual control of brew temp and pressure and I would like to start making "mocha" shots, 50/50 coffee/cocao. Any suggestions on a particular bean, grind, proportion, or technique to get started.

I am an totally coffee geek.  I have my own lever espresso machine.  I just finished a lovely 1.5 oz burnished  auburn 80% crema shot, silky, thick and lingering.  And oh how I've wanted that same experience with chocolate. You can imagine it, can't you?  Heady chocolate, heavy in the mouth, coating and lingering for what seems like hours.  You want it.  I can tell.  Me too!!


Alas, it is not to be. That's the hard truth.

It is not for lack of trying. I've have tried.  For years.  So this is going to be a story of failure.  But that's ok.  We learn things.  And maybe.  Just maybe.  Someone will have inspiration and stand on the shoulders of my research and succeed where I (and others) have failed.

Let's get out of the way what I have tried.

100% Cocoa from raw to virtually burned (ok - burned!)

90% Cocoa/10% coffee down to 10% cocoa/90% coffee in 10% increments

100% Cocoa nibs

Cocoa nibs with varying percentages of cocoa husk mixed back in up to 85% husk.

I tried all of these with various grinds from very fine to very very coarse.  I mixed fine with coarse and coarse with fine.

The results.  Well, they sucked.  No two ways about it.  I simply can't tell you all the results.  There are just too many. But I can give you the run of how it went.

First and foremost, cocoa does not want to pull.  You know that oil and water not mixing thing?  That pesky seizing thing chocolate does in the presence of water?  Well, add pressure (yep, varied that to from 2 bar to 15 bar) and hot water and it just makes matters worse.

That is the very first hurdle you have to get past.  In coffee you deal with a stalled shot by making the grind less fine, using less coffee and/or tamping less hard. None of these worked for cocoa.  In coffee espresso things are more or less linear.  There is a broad(ish) window.  10% less coffee, 10% coarser grind, 10% softer tamp (sometimes) give you SOME result differences without the shot turning into a gusher.  Meaning you don't go from a stalled shot with an infinite pull time to one that pulls in 5 seconds.  It goes from stalled, to maybe 50 seconds (for 2 oz).  10% more gets you to 30 seconds.  3% more gets you 24 seconds and a good shot.

No so in cocoa.  It isn't linear.  It's like a cliff.  And it's a steep on.  You go from stall, (10% change), to stall (10% change), to gusher.    Smaller step?  5%?  It's damn near binary.  Either it stalls or gushes.  There is no middle ground.

All those other combinations were my way of trying to find some middle ground.  And to some degree I did.  The addition of either husk or coffee (basically reducing the oil content) allowed me to get something that pulled in something resembling a decent time, (15-45 seconds).  I was thrilled.

Unfortunately the taste was terrible.  Another cliff.  Either the shots were watery and insipid or so bitter and vile that there was no acquiring a taste for them.  They were just bad.  Oh, and of course I tasted those initial gushers - watery and insipid, for the record.

And that was it over and over.  Find a combination, dial it is so it was something you could actually pull, and time and again, the result was one extreme or the other.

I tried sifting the ground cocoa to get a very narrow "perfect" range of grind.  And I actually made moderate progress here.  I could get ok shots, that tasted not terrible.  It's honestly the closest I ever got.  Unfortunately the results were near to impossible to reproduce due to steep cliffs on both sides.  One cliff was dose (how much).  The other was tamp pressure.  0.5 gram difference in dose could be the difference in stall and gush.  And same with tamping pressure.  It had to be 'just so'.  A 2 lb difference would drop you off the cliff.   Basically, it gave me results I could not share as they were just too fussy.  Even knowing the variables I could not pull 3 good shots in a row.  Oh, and the taste of the good shots?  Meh!

On a similar note.  To give credit where credit is due, I was sent once some specially ground "100% cocoa beans" for espresso.  It actually allowed me to pull shots with minor dial in.  Sadly the results were the same as I had before.  Nothing I actually wanted to drink.  Kind of bitter in a bad way.  Some cocoa aroma, but watery and no really chocolate flavor.  Certainly not the droid I was looking for.

To be fair, there was one other option.  When mixing with coffee, somewhere around 70-80% coffee I could get a pretty good time window, the shots were not watery nor vile....but they also had no real cocoa flavor.  They were just mediocre (to bad) coffee espresso shots.

That's about it.  For those of you who know Venn diagrams, this was kind of it.

cocoa espresso venn

There just don't appear to be any overlapping sets of "Cocoa Percent" and "tastes good".

I'm off to pull another naked espresso shot (the portafilter folks, the portafilter! - google it)

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Ask the Alchemist #145

I tried different roast profiles ranging from 250-325F 4-28 minutes. I am trying not waste many beans by putting only a cup full of beans in at a time. I realize that the roast wouldn't be representative of a full oven, but my goal was to try to find a good dwell temperature and time. Once I found my dwell time and temp I would increase total roast time to account for the increased ramp time of a loaded oven. Do you think this approach is acceptable or should I always experiment with what will be my typical roasting weight?

Roasting. Some of you will love this. Some of you will hate it. Some will eat it up and suddenly everything will make sense. Some will fall into despair that you will never get it and you are doomed to wander the wasteland of uncontrolled roasting. I really hope the former outweigh the later.

I understand your reasoning about roasting just a cup. Unfortunately, the reality is that to effectively use that technique you will probably end up using more beans in the long run as you scale up. The reason is this. You learn best from an experiment by changing one variable at a time. Otherwise the permutations get too great and you can't tell really what effect your changes had. You are changing two (or possible three things) as you progress up in weight. Weight, time and temperature/profile. It's possible to glean information from this but it actually takes more runs and more cocoa unless you get lucky. I know you said your plan was to increase roast time. Experience tells me that won’t work. Fundamentally because by changing the time, you are changing the roast profile which means you are in the apples and oranges situation. They are not comparable. More on profiles in a little bit.

The main problem is that by roasting only a cup of beans, the data you get isn't transferable to a larger load expect to say you will know you will need some combination of more time and heat. But you already know that, right? In essence you used a cup of beans and have no more useful information that you did before. If your 1 cup of beans took 8 minutes at 325 F you have nowhere to go with that information if you try and roast 2 cups. It's not linear. It won't take 16 minutes @ 325 F, nor will it take 8 minutes at 650 F. It will be somewhere in the middle....which you already knew most likely.

On the other hand, if you roast 1 lb for 16 minutes @ 300 F, and determine they are under roasted, you have somewhere to go. You should either increase the roast temperature (my first choice) OR time. If 1 lb is still under roasted at 16 @ 350 F, then for your next roast you increase the temperature to 350 F for 16 minutes. If that is still under roasted, you can start to increase time as you don’t want the oven much hotter, generally speaking. In short, yes, it will take a few runs, but you will get useful data from the methodical approach.

So to directly answer your question, I think you should test roast the weight what you will be roasting in your standard batches. Here is what I hope is a good analogy.

You will never master baking a 2 lb loaf of artisan bread by baking 2 oz bread rolls. Rolls need a cooler temperature or you will burn them. And they need a shorter time. 350-400 for 10-12 minutes will do the trick. A 2 lb loaf could well take 60 minutes at 350 F. To compensate for that large mass, you can put it in at 500 F for 15 minutes. It won't burn since there is so much there that has to heat up and soak in. But you can't keep it there or is will burn. After 15 minutes, you turn it down to 425-450 for another 15-20 minutes and it continues to cook without burning the outside. Sounding a little familiar?

In short, you have to learn your over for a given batch size of beans. You have to actually load the oven enough so it's doing some work. And you have to find the sweet spot, batch size wise, for your oven. All ovens have a setting for 350 F. But they all don't apply the heat at the same rate. Some might take 5 minutes to get an empty oven up to temperature, and another might take 15 minutes because it is lower wattage or has less BTU/hr (electric vs gas). That right there is the crux why I don't and simply can't give people exact temperature 'profiles' to roast in an oven. We have zero knowledge that your oven matches my oven and without that, a temperature is useless.

I'm going to keep repeating this different ways. Let's say you need to go 1 mile in your car. 1 mile is well roasted beans. How am I to tell you (without an odometer) how long to push on the gas pedal to the floor when you only have a speedometer? I should make the note that we can't talk about partly pushing it down. We have to push it to the floor as that is how ovens work. They apply full power until they hit temperature, then turn off until the oven cools some amount below temperature. In short, I think you can see I can't give you that information.

My car might make it to 60 mph in 5 seconds. If that is the case I need somewhere around 55 seconds to go 1 mile. But if your takes 25 seconds, you clearly are going to take well over a minute total to get there. And without that exact data, and pulling out some algebra equations, I can't tell you how long it will take.

But let us assume we have that data for both cars. What can we predict if we hook up a 1 ton full trailer to the cars (i.e. roasting more beans). I think you can see that the answer is nothing at all. Maybe my car is light and can accelerate well under a light load but has no extra capacity so takes 60 seconds to get to speed under load. Yours on the other hand is huge and that is why it took so long to get to speed the first time. Yours, because it has plenty of extra capacity hardly notices the extra load and takes only an additional 5 seconds and you are up to speed in 30 seconds. Clearly yours will make the mile in just about the same time, whereas mine will take 50% longer.

At the end, what I am trying to get across is that AMBIENT oven temperature (i.e. the dial setting) is a terrible gauge to describe roasting profiles....but it is all we have!! By preference I would like to say this to describe a roasting profile.

For 6 lbs of beans, apply 2000 watts of power for 12 minutes. Then apply 1200 watts of power for 3 minutes. Finally, apply 1000 watts of power until the beans either smell done or the beans are at 265 F. Why? Because it is scalable! If you have 2 lbs of beans, then you need to apply 1000 watts for 12 minutes, 600 watts for 3 minutes and 500 watts until you hit 265 F. Half the beans, half the power. Because THAT is a roasting profile. Energy input in a given time. Not temperature settings.

And just so I don't skip the detail, that is for a well insulated system, neglecting heat loss. The reality (based off a given roaster's insulation - see, more variables again) is that I may need only 900 watts for the 2 lbs of beans in the first leg of the profile, or I might need 1100 watts. And how do you know which it is? NOW temperature comes into play. Because we are getting to how I roast day to day. For the above profile, for me, this is what is actually going on.

Apply enough energy so my surface bean temperature goes from room temperature to 210 F in 12 minutes. For MY ROASTER this is 2000 watts.

Turn down the energy input so the bean temperature goes to 245 F in 3 minutes. For my roaster this is 1200 watts.

Turn down the energy again so I reach final target temperature of 265 F (which I have predetermined by SMELL and TASTE of previous roasts) in 3 minutes.

That now is an honest to goodness roasting profile that anyone can take and apply to their own roasting situation and with any amount of beans. Assuming they have a way to control the power (energy input) of the roaster AND know the bean temperatures at different stages along the way. Without all three of those items, my profile is useless to you. Which is why I don’t offer them up as a matter of rote. It is also why I give the very generic ‘profiles’ I do give.

From my Roasting page:

In general, if you try oven roasting, you will start hot (350-400) for a short amount of time and slowly lower it to you target temperature (300-320 F). The more you are roasting, the higher your initial temperature can and has to be.

Remember, you want to roast the cocoa beans, not bake them. This is how this looks: Whole cocoa beans 375-400 5 minutes 350 5 minutes 325 5 minutes 300 until done. Look for the aroma of baking brownies and/or pops. Both are good indicators you are there.

I’ve tried the best I could to give something usable based on what I know and what the limitations are to oven roasting.

So, there. What does that get you? Hopefully a peak into my thought processes about roasting, profiles, what they are and what they are not. Hopefully there is a nugget or two in there on what you need to develop your own profiles, or at least an understanding the limitations of your tools (your oven). And why I’m not being obstinate about sharing my profiles. To rift off of A Few Good Men, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”

I’m not withholding the truth because you can’t handle it. Or maybe I am. I’m withholding it because in most of the cases out there, it’s useless information because you don’t have the background and equipment to use it.

This is my first concerted effort to get you the background so you can handle the truth.



Last minute details

No Ask the Alchemist this week as the queue is empty. And we are packing like crazy for getting your packages out for the holidays.  As a reminder, yesterday was the last day for Ground deliveries to easily make it for Christmas.  But we are accepting orders through Sunday night for Monday shipping. Dominican Republic Rizek is back in stock.

Finally, I had REALLY hoped to be able to tie something into Worldbuilders foundation and their current donation run.  They are raising money for Heifer International.  Really positive, concrete support. They say it best:

"We empower families to turn hunger and poverty into hope and prosperity – but our approach is more than just giving them a handout. Heifer links communities and helps brings sustainable agriculture and commerce to areas with a long history of poverty. Our animals provide partners with both food and reliable income, as agricultural products such as milk, eggs and honey can be traded or sold at market. "

I personally donated. Two goats get new homes and help a people and community.  If you can help this season, please do.  You will have to follow the up coming link to get the reference, but Bilbo it up!

bilboitupsm.jpg Happy Holidays all.



Ask the Alchemist #140

Before we get to this week's question, a number of people have told me about this article.  I'll just let it speak for itself, except to say I'm gratified to be mentioned.

HELP! You have totally inspired me to make truffles for gifts this year. But I’ve tried four times and they keep failing. I get this hard crust of something all over the top and they are all grainy. What am I doing wrong? HELP!

Note – this too a little emailing back and forth to find out where the issue was since it was not obvious in the question.

I actually had this happen this year also during a particularly large batch. In my case, and coincidentally this case, the causes were exactly the same.

In the past I too have struggled with some of my batches separating. That is what that hard crust is. The cream/chocolate emulsion has ‘broken’ and the cocoa butter has risen to the top and solidified. If you are desperate you can just remove the cocoa butter and move forward, but as noted, the texture may be a bit off. Grainy is a good description. In some cases, if you heat the ganache back up until it is about 100 F, you can stir the cocoa butter back in, sometime with the addition of a little cream at 100 F, and the emulsion will re-form and the texture will smooth out. If it is a really bad break, the best you can hope for is it simply not separating again.

But how do you keep it from happening? I have previously mentioned lecithin in your chocolate. In this case it acts as an emulsifier and can assist in keeping your ganache from breaking. But I can attest to the fact that it can still break. Stirring gently will also help. I have heard too if you add a small amount of alcohol then that will keep it from breaking….but I must be very special as I have done that and still broken the emulsion. So what to do? Those are all fine and good, but have the feel to me of urban (kitchen?) myth and susperstition.

Well, I think and hope I have a 100% full proof method now, and know what the culprit in all these cases has been.


There are basically two ways to make a ganache.

1) Heat your cream and pour it over chopped or grated chocolate

2) Heat your cream and melt your chocolate and mix them together.

In either case, if you get your mixture over some moving target temperature your ganche WILL break. The crux of the matter is that that temperature changes depending on a bunch of other factors (lecithin, technique, fat content, batch size).

So I took an afternoon and made WAY too many test batches of truffle filling. Here is the short of it related to the final temperature, making the ganache with one of the two methods above. >105 F 100% success

110 – 120 F 80% success

125-135 F 60% success

140 – 155 F 20% success rate

Pretty obvious huh? If you are not carefully tracking temperature it can seem downright random. But there IS a solid pattern. Given that, here are my two recommended ‘fool proof’ methods.

1) Heat your cream to 100 F. Melt your chocolate to 100 F. Stir together until smooth. Let set up.

That’s my favorite method. So very easy and straight forward.

The next way has you doing less heating but I found is more prone to user error. In theory it should react the same every time, but the reality is that depending on your ambient temperature, the fat content (and bloom state) of your chocolate and your exact recipe proportions, your final temperature can vary. It is directly related to the chemistry and the amount of heat it actually takes to melt different crystal structures of cocoa butter.

With that caveat out of the way, here you go. It is predicated on my ratio of 60% chocolate, 40% cream, by weight.

2) Heat your cream to 145 F

Finely chop or grate your chocolate.

Pour the cream over the chocolate and let it set 10 minutes covered.

Stir until smooth.

About 50% of the time I had unmelted chocolate. Sometimes the termperature was pushing 110 F. When there were chunks left, I heated the mixture further by putting it on top of a pot of boiling water. It worked well enough but it is more fussy in my opinion. But it works if it suits you.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes.



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!!!

----- Submit your Questions to the Alchemist: question(youknowtoremovethisright?) -----

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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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