Bean to Bar

So, what is it that we’re trying to do here? Lots of people, when they hear “making chocolate” assume that you are taking blocks of chocolate, melting it, and combining it with other flavors to make truffles, etc. While this activity (“candymaking”) requires a lot of skill, and is probably the most profitable end of the chocolate business, we’re doing something called “bean to bar.” We’d like to be doing something that’s closer to “farm to bar.” The goal is to take raw cacao beans and turn them into chocolate in bar form that somehow reflects a set of flavors and textures that are less about candy and more about more subtle, wine-like flavor composites. Go get a bar of Pralus or Amadei and you’ll know what we’re aiming for.

Chocolate, unlike money, does grow on trees, but in a pretty unrecognizable form. The process from tree to bar goes something like this:

1. Harvest and Ferment: About twice a year, cacao pods (big, melon looking things) are harvested from trees, the seeds and and pulp are scooped out, and left in a pile to ferment for a few days. Two things have to happen in this process, or you don’t get chocolate at the end: the seed needs to germinate for a little while, and the heat from the fermenting pulp needs to kill the germinated seed.
2. Dry: The seeds are extracted from the pile, and dried. Again, this has to happen in a particular way. Moisture is chocolate’s natural enemy, and you have to get rid of of as much of it here as possible.
3. Roast: This is the point now that we get the beans/seeds. The beans are roasted at a gradually decreasing temperature. The idea here is to drive off moisture, kill anything nasty in the husk, and kill harsh tasting compounds in the bean. Different beans need different roasting times and temps.
4. Hull and winnow. Now you need to crush the beans into nibs, and remove the dry husks from the nibs. At the moment, we’re using a combination hand and hair dryer technique.
5. Grind. Now toss the nibs into a powerful juicer to grind the dry nibs. What you get out is pretty surprising: a free flowing liquid, called cocao liquor. This is essentially 100% chocolate, containing cocoa solids and cocoa butter. The particles are pretty big, so it’s grainy, and the cocoa solids and butter are sort of “disorganized.” It’s also a little intense for your average eater.
6. Refine. In a drum with a stone floor and two stone rollers (called a “melangeur”), combine the cocoa liquor with some combination of: sugar (for obvious reasons), cocoa butter (to soften the texture), vanilla (for flavor), lechitin (emulsifier), or dried milk (to make milk chocolate.) Being that we’re crazy purists, we’re only putting two ingredients in: cocoa liquor and sugar. The melangeur will now run for 10 or so hours, reducing the particle size, reducing some of the acids in the cocoa liquor, and also doing some indirect conching.
7. Conch. In that same melangeur, or in a separate device, more gently agitate the chocolate, typically at a slightly elevated temperature. You can do this for up to (or maybe even longer than) 60 hours. This is mating up the cocoa solids and the cocoa butter, and creating that creamy texture you are looking for.
8. Cool and temper. The chocolate you have now, if just randomly cooled, will settle into a random variety of five different crystal types. You need to heat, create a seed crystal, work, and cool the chocolate into a mass with the one type of crystal you actually want, the type IV crystal that melts just a tad under body temperature.

Done!

So, why do we think we can do this better than Hershey’s?

1 – beans, beans, beans. The world of cacao is divided into a few different types. There’s Theobroma bicolor, the wierd uncle that grows in the same zone, and makes kind of a psuedo chocolate. Then there’s the real Theobroma, which comes in a few fuzzy families.

1. There’s Criollo, the prized mother cacao. This is the stuff that drove the Mayans crazy (they used it for money), and creates really good chocolate. It’s rare (about 0.3% of the world’s production), hard to grow (it likes to hang out with other trees), susceptible to disease, and generally a pain. Amadei, and a few “origin” producers use this bean. Amadei makes a “porcelana” bar that uses the even rarer porcelana subtype of Criollo. Many experts assert that there’s almost no real Criollo left, as lots of these trees have crossbred with unsavory neighbors on farms, yielding a less intense, nuanced bean.
2. The mainstay Forestero. This is the guy that makes up 98% of the worlds production. It’s a hardy, easy to grow tree, and is the tree used on the African farms that produce most of the world’s bulk beans. This is the stuff that’s traded on commodity markets, and the only stuff that goes into everyday industrial chocolate. (Industrial chocolate is made with a pretty different process than outlined above. Typically a very very short conch, and a refine process that is done via an ascending roller system.) There are some quality strains of Forestero grown in Ecuador and other locations.
3. The compromise (?) Trinitario. This is a cross of Criollo and Trinitario, with the hopes of getting the best of both worlds. There’s lots of very good Trinitario, and is the bean that Dagoba uses almost exclusively. We’ve used two Triniarios in our previous batches.

2 – process, process, process. If you want to make the exact same chocolate every single time, you want to whack the individual character out of any beans you get. This means hot roasts, perhaps no conch time. If you want to make a chocolate that can command the same respect as the wine industry commands now (and cacao is one of the only agricultural products that has the same variety of flavor compounds and complexity as grapes), you want to make an individual, idiosyncratic product.

That’s all for now….more later.

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