beginner's mind: from a to bean

beginners bean

a. you decide you want to make chocolate or desire to understand how it comes to be. 

here is your starter equipment list:

cacao beans

cocoa butter


home oven or barrel roaster (behmor 1600 is my preference; chocolate alchemy sells these)

crack and winnow set-up: champion juicer to crack the nibs and sylph winnower to winnow (see link below).

stainless bowl or bucket to catch the nibs

a broom if you are using a blowdryer nib set-up

melangeur/grinder: premiere wonder grinder or santha wet grinder. erin at indi chocolate sells grinders, and parts. john at chocolate alchemy also sells grinders. 

spatulas for scraping.

storage pans

molds for bars etc

b. beans are sexier and more fun than the equipment part, and also, that lovely aroma thing they have going, even before roasting. so to the beans it might be. but in a world of many beans, which to try first? this applies to selecting craft chocolate too, mind you, and here comes the 70's soundtrack. it's an earth wind fire thing. do you prefer earthy flavors (nicaragua, ecuador, brazil, columbia) aromatic, which translates to fruity (madagascar, belize, tanzania, trinidad, jamaica), or firey-bright (peru, venezuala). yes, a wee simplified, but a starting point. choose a bean that suits your taste (style) and begin.

c. roasting is likely the most important, fun, and easy to screw up part. over-roasted not just burns the beans (or if you bought raw nibs, tips them), it can send the acidic flavors inherent in cacao off the charts. that said, a direct quote from john at Chocolate Alchemy: "It is hard to over-roast." most folks err on under-roasting from a fear of over-roasting, and this sends the acidic flavors off the charts. the way to learn is to do it. and stand there every second and smell, listen, and wonder.i recommend what i call a Three Way Split: take beans, divide into 3 equal batches (since the behmor handles 2.5pounds, go with that for each batch, so 7.5 pounds in all). roast 1 batch "light," one batch "medium," and try to roast one batch "dark." by dark I mean let them roast after pops, a minute or two or three. then proceed to make chocolate in 3 different batches and taste. 

back to roasting. i use a behmor barrel roaster and set it at p2 + 2 minutes (this gives a bit of flexibility to adjust as the roast progresses). behmors have a roasting profile (up and down and length) pre-set, but they do not think for us. a home oven works, best if it's a convection so there is air flow; make sure to stir! here is a handy guide re oven roasting times. in the behmor or even the big roaster (a converted vintage coffee roaster at chocolate alchemy, it handles 50# at a time) i listen for pops and adjust more time or less from there and depending on what bean i'm using and how it smells. smell is your friend. the aroma changes from good to bad to fabulous. two last words: pay attention. 

d. winnowing day is 24 hours later. do not rush the winnow. even after 8 hours beans hold an amazing amount of heat and instead of winnowing you'll crush the beans and end up with a higher % of husk. i can't tell you how to winnow with a champion juicer (to crack the beans) and a blowdryer (to blow the husks all over kingdom come and your living room) but there are videos out there. my preference is for a sylph, which is a true gift to small batch chocolate makers everywhere, and the first creation (and only) of it's kind. at some point if you decide to make chocolate often enough you'll answer the siren call of the sylph.

e. chocolate is the goal, but now you must decide on the equation, i.e. calculation, i.e, recipe, none of which you will easily source online or in a cookbook. a basic starting point (yes, that again and not for the last) is 70%. but, you say, maybe i love 75%! or i want to be the dark lord of craft chocolate so 90%! or % is scary because all that math. never mind all that. at 70% you will craft a workable, ie eatable enjoyable chocolate. too dark and it will be hard to know what went wrong if in fact it tastes horrible (and it might. think diesal fuel, or leftover campfire marshmallow cinder cone after 18 hours). too light and it gets into a different sugar-filled flavor-masking tricky zone. so trust me, in the beginning just start at 70%. 

weigh your nibs in ounces. N stands for (wait for it) nibs.

now divide: N/.65 = T. 

take that amount and multiply: T x .05 = cocoa butter

T x . 30 = sugar.

it adds up to 100%.

f. gather your ingredients. i use organic cane sugar and high quality organic cocoa butter which, granted, costs more than the cacao beans, but take solace in the fact that you don't need much and after your first attempts at using your grinder you can ditch the cb if you so choose. the cb helps get the nibs grinding smoothly, and as far as chocolate goes, it assists the mouth-feel aspect, ie, it delivers the chocolate flavor to our tongue quicker. i opt for lecithin free. 

g. measure and warm everything in a low oven: nibs, sugar, cb, in separate containers.

h. have a hairdryer (blowdryer) at the ready. this is to speed-heat the grinder just in case or if it begins to bog down. 

i. melangeurs/grinders: i use a premiere wonder grinder. it has been a trusty work mule. santha makes very good equipment as well. in the olden days there seemed to be the myth that nibs needed pre-grinding first; even the alchemist conceded this is no longer true--the pw and santha both grind the nibs into "liquor" and no pre-grinding is required. to begin pre-warm the grinder (hello blowdryer) and add the cb. turn on, and add ¼ cup at a time of the nibs. be patient. that said, if the grinder bogs down give it a scrape and aim some heat (blowdryer! again) at it to melt things a bit. start the grinding. remember to make sure the tension knob is in place and tightened. scrape down the sides every now and then, and don't forget the center shaft. yes, it's fine to get all excited about how good it smells and the cool sound. this is chocolate after all, it's supposed to make us feel like shrieking with glee. once all the nibs are in add the sugar (it aids in grinding).

j. keep it going. taste. keep grinding until it is as smooth as you like and it tastes good. this is up to you. my first batch went 78 hours. maybe i was just scared to stop. some batches now only take 12. it depends on the bean and when you are happy. this is the maker part.

k. pour from the melangeur into a stainless steel pan (plastic can and will impart a flavor). let cool before covering. yes it is okay and really you should, whittle off a bit to taste. resting, though, is an important stage. the flavors come together and fully come into their own. you'll be surprised after a week how it's changed, and even more so after a month. did i mention take notes? roasting times, etc etc. 

l. tempering. yes, a must. for one, un-tempered good chocolate loses the g-spot of what we have come to enjoy and expect: snap and shine, but also, the consistent, even texture. untempered can stratify into grand canyon-esque layers that have a funky texture and a dry, brittleness that tastes stale. also, tempered chocolate melts at a higher temperature, which makes hauling it around easier, i.e, it won't melt so fast in the back pocket of the carharrts.

>chop chocolate into bits and place in a stainless steel bowl. melt chocolate slowly over warm, simmering water (not boiling) to 110. No need to go higher, as a clean slate (you're killing all the cb crystals) is the goal. 

>lower to 78-80, while stirring. when it starts to thicken you're there (thickening means it's in temper). if you let it get very lumpy it is harder to raise back up (tempered choc requires a higher temp to melt) and this means harder to pour into molds. 

>return to heat 15 seconds at a time. raise the chocolate to 88-90. now it's in temper and all the pesky type IV crystals are killed off. pour into molds and let cool. if you are tempering a large batch maintain (hold) at 88-90 by having a larger bowl of water at 88-90 at the ready. do not let water enter the chocolate! it will seize and you will be very sad.

the other option is to use cb seed: melt the choc bits/chunks to 110. lower to 92.2, exactly. add shaving of cb seed at .01% of weight, and voila, tempered, and at a wonderfully higher temp that is user-friendly for molding, enrobing etc etc. yes, cb seed is a miracle. it is what i use.

you've now reached the bar. which is just the beginning, because from here there are many directions to go, and sometimes that means around in circles or back where you started. which of course, is the place place to b: beginner's mind, the starting part for all good things, no matter how much you (think) you know.