So, I’ve been tweeting and instagraming using the #craftchocolate tag. A lot of people dont exactly know what craft chocolate is compared to any other kinds of chocolate. So I figured I’d write this down. By no means is this definitive, just a few personal thoughts. In addition, this has been inspired by and with other chocolate makers on forum sites.
The difference between a chocolate maker and a craft chocolate maker is the craft maker has a hand in every step of the chocolate production. As much as is feasible anyway. This means constantly monitoring and adjusting roasting beans, constantly monitoring and adjusting refining/conching times in the melanger.
My chocolate, for example, is roasted to smell, refined to taste, and conched to taste. The reason I do all of this is on the super small scale batches I’m making, any variation will be dramatic in the finished chocolate. As much as I like specifics and geek out on the numbers, this is the only good way to make chocolate. I do note when those smells are achived, both time and temperature. And take a temperature reading of the beans themselves after the roast. There is a target, but that target is moving.
Roasting has many different variables. The beans, origin and terroir, will choose the temps they will work best at. Each bean I get, I start with a “generic” roast and note where the smells change - what temperature and time into the roast. Once roasting is complete, I’ll take one of the warm beans as it’s cooling and crack it and hand peel the husk to get a sense of the taste.
From there, I’ll put the cracked and winnowed nibs into the melanger. At which point a lot of makers will let this go unattended and check back in 12 or more hours. I hover over the melanger. Tasting as the liquid liquor gets smoother and smoother. Once it has the right mouthfeel, I then add the sugar and any other ingredients necessary for the finished chocolate.
Once the new ingredients have that correct mouthfeel, I’ll then remove all tension on the melanger and allow it to conche. While not a perfect conche, it does the job quite adequately. The conching process is largely to aerate and oxidize the cocoa particles (from what I can tell, there’s lots of debate about that). and finalizes the flavor of the finished chocolate. Here, I taste relatively frequently. I’m looking for the right flavor that the bean is wanting to deliver.
Once that flavor is on point, I stop the melanger and begin the tempering process. Typically I’m taking the chocolate out and getting it cooled down to about 90F as quickly as is possible. Then temper, mold, cool, and package up the chocolates.
Many makers try too hard to “hit the numbers”. They’ll roast for a specific time and at a specific temperature. Same with the refining. They’ll pregrind to shave some time in the melanger, but typically end up refining the chocolate for a specific time which varies by maker.
I’ve done this in the beginning. Then as I grew accustomed to my equipment and a particular origin of beans; I noticed that extra humidity during the monsoon season can change the resulting flavor out of the roast; since the roast is partially to drive off moisture and partially to develop the chocolate flavor. When I was roasting for specific temps at specific times I noticed subtle variations that changed the flavor character of the finished chocolate.
This is a lot more effort, but oh is it worth it! There will always be variations in batches. My job as a maker is to help control some of the variables of the making process.