Spencer, Where???

December 2017      

Wow. Where do we start with this one?  There are some big, big changes coming for Areté over the next six months. Some of you know, and some of you may not know, that Leslie is Arete’s one and only fulltime employee. I have a full-time-plus day job, so I’ve been a weekend and occasional evening warrior helping out as much as I could. In about four months, though, after 36 years in the electronics business, I’ll be retiring from the W-2 world and joining Leslie as a full-time craft chocolate maker. Terrifying? Yep – a bit –wonderfully so!
; )

Along with that big move, there’s another big move coming for Areté. Literally – a big move. At the end of April we’ll be moving us and our factory to Spencer, Tennessee.  We found a beautiful 110 year old building (known locally as “The Haston Block Building”) that we’re in the process of renovating and getting ready to be a chocolate factory. We’ll live on the second floor and work on the first floor. We couldn’t be more excited.

 

                                                                                           The Haston Block Building

                                                                                           The Haston Block Building

 

While the outside is beautiful, some of the inside was…well…110 years old. And in need of some serious love.  We tore out the old wood floor and rotted joists on the first floor several months ago, then in early November brought in 200 tons of gravel, and poured concrete about three weeks ago. We still have a LOT to get done with the building between now and the end of April (interior walls, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, drop ceiling, and lighting), and somewhere in there we have to pack up both the our current factory and our house and move it all most of the way across the country. We’ll wind down manufacturing in our Milpitas factory in the beginning of March, and hope to be back up and making chocolate in Spencer by May. We’ll do our best to build up inventory before March so that we can continue to ship through March and into April.

As to the “why” behind all of this, there are three main reasons. First is that most of our family lives east of the Mississippi. The move will put us within comfortable(-ish) driving distance. Second, our current factory doesn’t have heating, air conditioning, or humidity control which poses some serious chocolate making challenges. We’ve learned to work around those challenges by controlling the most sensitive processes and using space heaters, portable/wall air conditioners, and de-humidifiers in some critical areas, but it’s not ideal. In our new building each room will have its own independent temperature control, and the whole building will have humidity control. Ahhhhhhhh…. The third reason is that it’s just a LOT less expensive to live and run a small business in Tennessee than it is in Silicon Valley.  We love the Bay Area and northern California generally, but it would be years (if ever) before we could make a go of it here as full-time chocolate makers.

 

New Origins and Evaluations  

Last time we wrote we were just introducing three new India origins – Anamalai, Jangareddygudem, and Idukki. They’ve been very well received and we’re working hard to keep up with the demand (good problem!). In addition to the three 70% dark chocolate India origins, this month we’ll be introducing India Anamalai 58% Dark Milk.

Madagascar 70% dark is one of our ‘core holdings’. We’ve tried Madagascar as a dark milk several times and just haven’t been happy with the results. At last, though, we think we’ve got a winner – it’s a radically different roast that we use for our Madagascar 70% dark chocolate bars, and it’s wonderful. We’ll be introducing it this month also.

And as mentioned in our October letter, we'll also be introducing our first Columbia bar this month – Colombia Tumaco. Colombian cacao is a wonderful “swords to plowshares” story – after fifty years of conflict between the government and FARC there is now peace and the government is encouraging farmers to switch from growing coca (for cocaine) to growing cacao. It isn’t perfectly smooth sailing for a number of reasons, but overall it is happening and the movement appears durable.

We also mentioned a new Viet Nam origin in our last letter, and our sample of Dak Nong arrived just today (along with two bags of one of our very favorite beans – Viet Nam Ben Tre).  

        

Closing Notes 

We’ll post more pictures and periodic updates on the progress we’re making with the building on our website (www.aretefinechocolate.com) on the blog page. It’s been quite an adventure already, and no doubt there’s more to come…
: )

 

Here’s to a very happy, safe, and delightful holiday season, and best wishes for the new year. Thank you for being part of Areté – and for loving chocolate!

 

Our Warmest Regards,
David and Leslie

Arduinos!!! 

October 2017      

What is an Arduino, you might ask...well, it's a craft chocolate maker's dream toy when it comes to sensing and controlling things electronically (and mechanically). What kind of things? Just about anything you can imagine...really! An Arduino is an open-source, public domain microcontroller that is easy to program, easy to hook sensors and motors and relays and just about anything else up to. And they are really, really inexpensive – like under $10 for some versions. A couple of clicks on Amazon, some time learning to program in "C", a little more time designing and 3D printing some brackets and the like, learning to bend tubing, and voila! We now have a small (and growing) fleet of IR temperature controllers that are letting us control our conche temperatures within about 1-2 degrees F. We also built an Arduino-controlled servo that adjusts our oven temperature for us during the roast cycle (and alerts us just before it's done), and we have another project going that will let us controll our single-bean cracking and winnowing set-up better than ever.  Hear the wheels turning??!! 
; ) 

New Origins and Evaluations    

In our last letter we introduced our new 100% Guatemala Lachau Microlot bar. In this letter we're introducing our new 100% Viet Nam Lam Dong. Lam Dong is a mild origin with dried fuit and nut notes that works quite well as a 100% bar (not all origins do).  

The Mexico origins that we were hoping to introduce didn't work out – both origins had high defect levels and had to be rejected. Hopefully, we'll see the quality improve next harvest and we'll try again. While the Mexico beans didn't work out, we've found a very nice Venezuelo Ocumare that we're introducing this month – these are some of the nicest quality Venezuela beans we've seen in several years. It's got a nice rich chocolate backbone, just the right amount of astringency and bitterness (a little is nice, a lot is not...), and some of the fruit notes common to a lot of South American beans. We're also introducing a wonderful Ecuador origin called Eco-Cacao and an equally special Trinidad micro-lot called Ramnath Estate. Both have gotten very high marks from our tasters. Our biggest surprise, though, was in finding not one, not two, but three orgins from India. We've never worked with beans from India before, and have been delighted by all three. We'll be releasing Anamalai in November, and Jangareddygudem and Idukki in December. We'll also be introducing our first Columbia bar in November or December, depending on when the beans arrive – this is another new origin that's been very well received by our tasters. 

Just coming on the radar scope for the beginning of the new year is a new origin from Viet Nam, and happily, the return of one of our very favorite beans from Viet Nam – Ben Tre. No Tien Giang for the foreseeable future unfortunately, but we're thrilled to hear that Ben Tre will be back soon. 

Closing Notes   

Just a reminder to start thinking about your holiday orders soon since lead times will start to push out as we get closer to December. Happily (VERY HAPPILY) the hundred-degree days seem to be behind us for the rest of this year, and shipping (not to mention chocolate making) is a lot easier now. 

And last, our gratitude to all of you for your continued support, your feedback, your ideas and suggestions, and your generosity and kindness. 

Our Warmest Regards, 
David and Leslie 

Bean-by-Bean-to-Bar

April 2017

One of the challenges (and one of the most fun parts) of making craft chocolate is finding ways to improve your process – making it more efficient, reducing waste or loss, and making the chocolate better. Finding better ways to do things is especially important since making high quality craft chocolate is such an incredibly manual process – it takes a LOT of time and effort to turn a bag of cocoa beans into finished bars of fine chocolate. Top of the list for being incredibly manual (and slow and, frankly, tedious) is sorting the beans and nibs to make sure that what goes into our bars is as pristine as we can reasonably (and sometimes unreasonably) get them. But in our opinion it's also the most important step in the whole process and one we obsess over. 

To that end (and it wouldn't be an Areté newsletter without some mention of equipment) we've converted completely over to our new process that we mentioned in our last newsletter for inspecting beans (yep, every single one!) one at a time after cracking and winnowing (which a dear friend says makes us a "bean-by-bean-to-bar" chocolate maker). It's a considerably slower way to crack and winnow beans, but that's more than compensated for by the improvement in nib sorting time and quality. We're so pleased with the way it's working for us that we're busy designing a slightly bigger and higher capacity version with a couple of usability improvements. 
 

New Origins and Evaluations    

Wow – we've been really busy on the new bar and origin front this last couple of months. While Leslie isn't a big fan, I love good 100% bars – and we get a lot of requests for them. This month we're releasing a new 100% bar – Guatemala Lachau Microlot. Unlike our Ecuador Costa Esmeraldas 100% bar which is more floral and earthy, this has a mild acidity and fruit notes. What they both have in common is almost a complete lack of bitterness or astringency. We'll also introduce a Haiti Pisa 70% dark, a Peru Ucayali 70% dark, a Bolivia Beniano 70% (these beans are genetically the same as the Bolivia Wild Harvest we used to make, but the trees are now being cultivated and the fermentation and drying  has – thankfully – been centralized), and a Guatemala Monte Grande 70% dark bar. We're also working on our first couple of flavored bars. There's a lot of adjusting that goes on to get the recipe right for a flavored bar, so it's hard to say when they're be 'ready for prime time', but hopefully within the next couple of months. 

We also ran two different India origins, both of which look sufficiently promising that we'll bring in a small amount of each and see how they do, and we took our first look at a couple of origins from Mexico. One tastes great, but the bean quality is poor (a lot of defective beans) -- they're still in the running, though, now that we can 100% inspect bean-by-bean after cracking and winnowing. The other one was quite clean, just not as exciting on the flavor front as the first.  

Closing Notes   

Shipping chocolate in the summer months is always a challenge. Insulated shipping is expensive due to both the cost of the insulated shippers and the additional postage for the larger and heavier packages. Then there is the problem with the packaging itself – there's a lot of waste. We're exploring the feasibility of using 'round-trip' shippers this summer. The idea is to use better (= more expensive) shippers that insulate better and can be used multiple times, and to send a pre-paid return label (probably USPS or UPS) so that the shipper can be returned with a minimum of pain. I'm working on the thermal performance and Leslie is working on the logistics and cost, but in the meantime we'd love to get your thoughts on the idea of returning the shippers – good idea or too much hassle? 

Our Warmest Regards, 
David and Leslie 

The Company of Friends

We don’t normally get out much these days (starting a craft chocolate business will do that to you), especially this time of year, but January blessed us with three memorable reasons to venture out. First up was a trip to San Francisco (together) where we had the opportunity to share the stage and celebration at the Good Food Awards with some of the most kind, committed, talented, and just plain real people we’ve ever had the privilege to be with. Our Gianduia Bar was one of the winners this year in the chocolate category (happy dance!!!). Two days later, bright and early – check that – dark and very early – I took Leslie to the airport to catch a flight for Tennessee to welcome grandbaby number five to planet Earth. Noah made his grand entrance two days later – both mom and baby are healthy and happy. I went back home and got a couple more hours of sorta-sleep after dropping Leslie off, then headed back up to the city for a brunch put on by Dandelion Chocolate. The pies, pastries, bread, and coffee were off-the-charts good. The hospitality was even better. And what a great setting it was to get to re-connect with old friends, make some new ones, and just spend time with some of warmest, most generous, coolest people you could ever hope to know. There’s something about chocolate people…
: )

 (Even) More Work on Custom Equipment and Processes

Right around the beginning of the month we fired up V2.0 of a process that lets us inspect every single bean individually after cracking and winnowing (V1.0 was a manual prototype that we used to prove out the various pieces of the process). We’ve been thinking about this and working on it for a very long time now, and everything’s finally come together. We made a pretty good upgrade about a week ago (let’s call that V2.1), and this week we made another big upgrade to V3.0. The magic in this new set-up for us is that it lets us take our nib sorting to a much higher level and do it faster than we did before.

Why do we nib sort? What are we looking for? Even the cleanest origins have some defective beans that you just can’t catch completely by bean sorting before cracking – not to gross anyone out, but there is the occasional moldy bean, a mothy one here or there, and maybe some under-fermented beans or beans with other random defects that we don’t want in our bars. In the past when we’d crack and winnow a batch of beans and inspect it sometimes we’ find a defective bean (or beans) in it, and we’d have to go on a very time consuming hunt for the rest of the proverbial needles in the haystack -- the other pieces of nib from the same bean(s) that were by then quite thoroughly mixed in with all the rest of the nibs. Beyond being just a really slow and tedious process, there’s also the problem that you just can’t find all of the pieces you’re looking for. Does it really matter? From a regulatory or health perspective, “no”. Our thinking, though, is along these lines: it only takes a couple of bad tasting beans to ruin a whole lot of good tasting beans. It’s really hard to argue that more moldy or mothy or under-fermented beans would make the chocolate better (in any way at all), so less is definitely the right direction to be heading. The essence of “arete” (the word) is the idea of excellence and striving for perfection. Nothing is every truly perfect, but our new process gets our nib sorting that much closer to it.

Earlier this week we also took delivery of a new vibrator with adjustable frequency and amplitude -- the hope here (and expectation) was that by dialing in the right settings we’d be able to get faster and more complete bubble removal when we mold our bars. We’re only a few days into testing it, but so far it’s night and day. We’ve found some good settings and we’re really pleased with the results. The platform is considerably bigger and beefier than the one we were using, and (unlike the old one) has no dead spots – the molds vibrate beautifully no matter where you set them. An added bonus is that it’s actually quieter than one it’s replacing. Our tempering goddess is quite pleased with how nice the backs of the bars are looking.  

Last up on the equipment front is our 3D printed germ separator. 3D printing is great for prototyping things that just a few years ago would have been prohibitively expensive to make (usually by machining). We fired it up about two weeks ago and after a couple of minor modifications and adjustments it’s working just like we hoped it would. Why does anyone need a germ separator, you might ask – to which we’d offer the following: after cracking and winnowing we use a sieve shaker to remove the radicle (or germ depending on who you’re talking to). The radicle is really hard and does nothing good for mouthfeel or flavor, not to mention wear and tear on the melangeurs. We lose five percent of our starting weight when we sieve – about a third of the loss is the radicle that we want to lose, and about two thirds is pieces of good nib that are small enough to go through the same sieve that lets the radicle pass. The germ separator will let us recover most of the good nib (about three percent of the five percent we’ve been losing). It may not sound like much, but it’s a really big deal when so much goes into sorting, roasting, cracking, and winnowing (not to mention that cost of the beans themselves). 

Follow-up Items  

Still no word on the cocoa powder that we mentioned last month. I sent out a missing powder alert to the representative and hope to hear back soon. We’re leaning toward selling the cocoa powder for baking (cakes, brownies, cookies, etc.). We can grind it fine enough for that with the equipment we have, but if we decided to offer it for drinking cocoa (hot cocoa) we’d need the pin mill to get the particle size small enough.  

Separately, even though there’s no picture of the bar wrapper yet, we did manage to get the Giandiua Bar listed on our web store. 

New Evaluations  

Our third Ocumare test (this batch from another source) turned out really nice – much better than the first two test batches we ran. We’re hoping to place an order for a bag of beans in February.  The new Peru was good when we first molded it up, but got even better after it aged for a few weeks. We’ll send this one out for tasting feedback before deciding to buy any. We have two other new Peru origins that also look promising. We’re molding them up later this week and taste them in February. Our first test batch of the 2016 harvest of our Brazil Fazenda Camboa came out a couple of weeks ago and we like it even better than the 2014 and 2015. The container won’t arrive until around May, so it will still be a couple of months before we can start making bars with it. We haven’t received them yet, but we have our first beans from Columbia coming soon – we’ve heard good things and are looking forward to giving them a try.

Closing Notes 

The most important piece of equipment in a chocolate shop isn’t the tempering machine or the oven or the melangeur or the cool new vibrator. Nope. It’s a really good pair of noise-cancelling headphones piping in your favorite tunes. Sans that, between the vacuums (for the winnowers), the molds on the vibrator, and the drone of a dozen melanguers running in close quarters there’s a good chance you’d be stone cold deaf in about a month. So in addition to pairing your chocolate with wine or beer or coffee, try it like we do – paired with a little AC-DC, Foreigner, Leonard Cohen, Bob Marley, Rusted Root or Mumford and Sons. Cheers!

It's Never as Straight Forward or as Simple as You'd Like it to Be

You may have surmised by our AWOL November newsletter that things were a little on the busy side in the chocolate shop over the last couple of months. It's still busy (which is WONDERFUL!), but this last week has given us a couple of opportunities to come up for air and catch our breath. We hope that you enjoyed your holidays as much as we enjoyed ours (and still are!), and that 2017 treats us all, and the planet we call home, with kindness. 

2017 will see us here at Arete working even harder than before on refining our processes and recipes, designing and building (and in some cases buying) new equipment, finding interesting new origins to work with, and continuing to learn everything we can about chocolate from the soil on the farm to the insulated packaging that will let us (safely, and hopefully economically) ship bars in even the hottest months of the year. We'll keep you updated on our various adventures (and occasional mis-adventures) in our newsletters.

As always, if you'd prefer not receive our monthly newsletter just send us a quick note and we'll take your name off the list. If you know anyone who you think would like to receive our newsletter, let them know to send us an e-mail so we can add them!

Happy 2017!

It's Never as Simple or Straight Forward as You'd Like it to Be  

So we fired up our new (to us) Selmi last month with visions of hundreds of bars per day being painlessly and perfectly molded dancing in our happy little heads. Enter the cosmic smack-down that reminds us that nothing is ever that easy. Our first bars had way too many bubbles (think cratered moonscape) and the backs of the bars (which are normally a source of great pride for our tempering goddess) were streaky and, well, just plain unattractive.  

Part of the challenge is that two ingredient craft chocolate is a completely different creature than what the Selmi was designed to temper. The couveture that’s used by chocolatiers (Selmi’s target audience) is optimized for, among other things, low viscosity to make molding easier.  

With the help of a couple of our Chocolate Obi Wans we finally succeeded in eliminating the streaking. That turned out to be a temperature issue that was leaving the chocolate under-tempered. We still have the bubbles to deal with. We've made some good progress on that (emphasis on 'some'), and in fact, can now run some (there's that word again) of our origins successfully with the Selmi. There are still a few more levers that we can pull to reduce the viscosity to make the bubbles easier to remove. First up is pressing and adding same-origin cocoa butter to more of our recipes (we already do this for a few origins that are naturally low in cocoa butter and just too thick to mold without adding more). An added benefit is that a certain amount of cocoa butter can also improve mouth feel and flavor. Next up is vibration – we're going to get a lot more scientific about our vibration process in the coming months. After that we'll take a serious look at our particle size and distribution – chocolate viscosity goes up as particle size goes down. We control the maximum particle size of our chocolate, but there is a "long tail" of particle sizes below the maximum that we need to do a better job of understanding and optimizing.  

Follow-up Items  

The cocoa powder that we mentioned last month made its way to Germany and has hopefully already been pin-milled into (fine particle) submission. Our cocoa solids are relatively high in fat (about 20-25%), so they may or may not work in a pin mill. We'll let you know how it turns out next month.  

We did manage to get our Viet Nam Lam Dong (which is definitely on the short list for added cocoa butter) and our Esmeraldas 100% (our first 100% bar) listed on the web store, and we also have our Piedmont Hazelnut Gianduia Spread available on the store now. We were thrilled a couple of weeks ago when our back-ordered Piedmont hazelnuts came in almost a month early. We were even happier when we found out that our Gianduia Bar is a finalist in this years Good Food Awards(!). As soon as we get caught up from the holiday rush we'll put the Giandiua bar on our web store. 

New Evaluations  

A new Costa Rica bean we were looking at was OK, but not great. Our first Ocumare test was also good, but not great. The second build which just came out of the melanguer today seems quite a bit better. We'll know more in a week or two after we get it molded up. The Chuao has some potential, so we made another batch with a slightly darker roast – ditto on knowing more after mold it up. The third Venezuela sample we looked at had so many defective beans that we didn't even bother roasting it. We ran a new Peru and a new India last week that we still need to temper. We have our first test batch of the 2016 harvest of our Brazil Fazenda Camboa ready to go into the melanguer this coming week.   

Speaking of new evaluations -- if you're interested in helping us evaluate new origins, let us know. We'll send you samples of some of the new bars we're working on from time to time (we'll cover shipping). What we ask in return is that your fill out the evaluation card that we'll include and send it back to us in the self-addressed and stamped envelope that will come along with it. 

Follow-up on October Newsletter

In our October newsletter we shared that Leonard Cohen would be releasing his latest album, You Want it Darker, on his 82nd birthday on October 21st. I pre-ordered it and got my copy right on the 21st, and have listened to it more times that I'll admit to. It is, simply, beautiful. If it is dark at all, it's not the dark of depression or foreboding, but more like the dark of a warm room lit only by the glow of the fading embers in a fireplace. The album is a reflection, a meditation, an acceptance, and a reconciliation. It is 'arete'. On November 7th the world got just that much darker when our modern-day prophet and poet laureate passed away in his sleep. Godspeed Leonard Cohen.  

Closing Notes

As I'm writing this there are only two hours left in 2016 – time once again to say goodbye to the year that was, and hello to the year to come. There were highs and lows in 2016, to be sure, but happily the highs seemed to outnumber and outshine the lows. Let us hope that 2017 brings us all more highs than lows, that we continue to learn new things (especially chocolatey things!), and peace, kindness, and goodness find at least a few more new toeholds. Ring the bells that still will ring. 

Discovering Things that Everybody Else was Apparently Already in on

September was a month of building (equipment!) for the future at Areté. We got some new (used) equipment that we now need to learn how to use and get into production(more on that in the October Newsletter, below), we tested prototypes of some equipment that we're designing and building ourselves, we looked at some other used equipment that would be like winning the lotto if the current owner will part with (any of) it, and we fired up our 3D printer for the first time ever to make some custom parts for other equipment that we're either designing or modifying. We heard a long time ago that if you're going to make craft chocolate you'll probably end up making a lot of your own equipment -- how true that has proven to be.  : )

As always, if you'd prefer not receive our monthly newsletter just sent us a quick note and we'll take your name off the list. If you know anyone who you think would like to receive our newsletter, let them know to send us an e-mail so we can add them!

Discovering Things That Everybody Else Was Apparently Already In On

 Feeding whole beans into the cracker, feeding cracked beans into the winnower, or feeding winnowed nibs into the melangeurs are steps that we’ve wanted to find a better way to do for a long time. What we wanted was a better and more reliable way to control the feed rate than we could get with our homegrown solutions (some of which were as simple and time consuming as feeding by hand).   

A few months back we started looking in earnest for a better way. Somewhere during all of those Google searches and YouTube videos we stumbled across one of those amazing (to us) little things that everybody else was apparently already in on (that we weren’t) -- vibratory feeders. Vibratory feeders are ingenious pieces of engineering design. The magic is in the vibration -- it isn’t random – it’s ‘directed’ so that on the up-stroke it throws whatever you’re feeding up and toward the exit end. On the down/return-stoke whatever you’re feeding is (microscopically) up in the air and keeps moving toward the exit until it lands again on the trough just in time to do it all again. Repeat hundreds of time per second and you get the amazing effect of making everything on the feeder ‘flow’ toward the exit end. One of the nicest things about vibratory feeders is they have controllers that let you adjust the intensity of the vibration, which in turn controls the feed rate very smoothly and precisely.  

OK, so what else did we (David in this case) discover last month that everyone else (in the world?) was already in on? Leonard Cohen. Poet, author, singer, and as Liel Leibovitz writes in his book A Broken Hallelujah , a modern version of the type of person we used to call a phophet – (and I paraphrase) not because they could foresee the future, but because they could better understand the present by seeing one more layer of meaning to life. While Leslie isn’t a big fan (yet!), I can’t get enough of his music. He’s only been performing since the 1960s, so it’s understandable how I might have missed him, right? One of the greatest things for this newly minted fan is that he’s still at it – and getting better with every passing year. If you can believe it, he’s releasing a new album (with all new material) called You Want it Darker on his birthday  on October 21st – his 82nd!!! The title song was released as a single in September and (I think) is one of his best ever. By the way, if you haven't heard of Leonard Cohen, you've almost certainly heard (many times by many different artists) one of the songs he wrote – Hallelujah. 

Other News

We’re always looking for ways to improve our processes – from both a quality and an efficiency viewpoint.  In July we got really, really lucky and a (gently) used Selmi Plus found us (with a little help from a friend – thank you S!). Last month, finances finally in order on that front, we rented a big truck with a lift gate and picked it up, along with a few other goodies we’ve been looking for. It’s in beautiful shape and should be a huge help with our tempering and molding throughput, with the added benefit of giving us more control over the quality and  consistency of the temper. We powered it up last week and hope to start running test batches within a week or two.  

On a separate front, this month we’re sending some of our pressed cocoa solids (which are pretty coarse) out to evaluate a pin mill that, if successful, will let us mill our cocoa solids down fine enough to make cocoa powder for (single origin!) hot chocolate and the like.   

Evaluations   

First some follow up.  We finished the second (higher) roast of the India – Jangareddygudem and have a pretty good idea of how we’ll run it now if we buy more. We’re letting it age a bit longer before we give it to our tasters for feedback, but so far we’re pretty pleased with it.  

We made test batches of the two new Guatemala micro-lots that we got last month. So far so good on both of them, but we're going to do a couple of higher roasts on them, as well. In a couple of weeks we’ll send them out for feedback. We’ve been really impressed with the beans coming out of Guatemala.  

New for evaluation this month is a bevy of origins from Venezuela – six in all – and one new Costa Rica. We may not get to all of them this month since things are already starting to get busy because of the upcoming holidays, but we did manage to make our first test batches with the Chuao (the real thing – traceable Chuao) and Ocumare. 

New Offerings  

They didn’t make it to the web store in September, but we promise that we’ll add our Areté Gianduia Bar and our house specialty Areté Gianduia Spread (also made with Piedmont hazelnuts) to our web store in October. Ditto with the 73% Viet Nam Lam Dong (our second Viet Nam origin). 

Our third Viet Nam bar – 73% Viet Nam Ben Tre – is held up waiting on cocoa butter. Hopefully we’ll get that pressed in the next couple of weeks and will have bars made by the end of October. 

Closing Notes  

Something fun, but completely unrelated to chocolate, to offer up this month – and it fits with this month’s ‘discovery’ theme and great music – and is yet another thing that everyone else was apparently in on that we weren’t. Have you ever seen the film “Searching for Sugarman”? It’s an Oscar winning documentary by Swedish film maker Malik Bendjelloul – a true story that is more incredible than anything they could have made up.  Check it out on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Searching-Sugar-Man-Craig-Bartholomew-Strydom/dp/B008JFUTT0/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1475904079&sr=1-1&keywords=searching+for+sugarman+dvd

Zen and the Art of Expeller Press Maintenance

Wow, time's fun when you're having flying! That's a saying I picked up in my hang gliding days of old...and I still like it! ; )

It's hard to believe that August is over -- SUMMER is (almost) over -- and we're already into September. August was a busy month for us -- partly on the chocolate making front, but also on the personal side.

On the personal side we took nine days out to do our annual tour of the Great American Midwest to visit family. Every year about this time we head back for a couple of stops in Tennessee (Nashville and Knoxville), a drive up to Indianapolis, followed by a leg to Gaylor, MI, then a return to our spawning grounds in southeastern Michigan not too far from Ann Arbor (Go Blue!!!) before flying home. This year's trip was one of the best ones we've ever taken.

On the chocolate side of things you can get a read (literally) on what we've been up to in our September Newsletter that follows. 

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Zen and the Art of Expeller Press Maintenance

This last month I learned how to un-jam a jammed expeller press.  We have a beautifully engineered and manufactured expeller press that we've been running since about March to make same-origin cocoa butter for our dark chocolate bars. Every origin presses a little differently (some more so than others) and it takes a while to really understand the process (we're getting closer). Much like flying an airplane, if you let the machine 'get in front of you' bad things can happen -- in this case the cocoa solids stop coming out of the nozzle and they get compressed inside the press head to the point that the press screw jams. The pressure builds up high enough that you can't even unscrew the various parts of the head assembly to clean it out.  

In years past that's where some degree of panic (and perhaps a side order of frustration) would have kicked in, but there comes a point in life where you realize that as long as your limbs are still attached and nobody’s bleeding, you'll probably get through it. My inner-philosopher quietly took the controls from me, pulled out our mobile phone and sent off a quick Sunday afternoon “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday” e-mail to the distributor that we bought our press from (which was answered within minutes – thank you Alan!!!).

A couple of days later we were the proud owners of a special tool for unjamming jammed expeller presses (the best hundred dollars I think we've ever spent). A couple of good whacks on the unjamming tool with a three-pound hammer (per the instructions) and the proverbial wheels began to turn.  And now we're experts in unjamming a jammed expeller press, the cocoa butter is once again flowing (as are the cocoa solids). Systolic and diastolic readings both remained at safe levels throughout and not a single word unsuitable for mixed company was heard.

New Origin Evaluations 

India - Jangareddygudem: We’ve been hearing about beans from India for about the last six months, and Chocolate Alchemy is the first we know of to offer them. These beans come from the eastern side of south-central India. We're not really sure what to expect having never worked with any beans at all from India. The fermentation looked good, the unroasted beans taste good, and there was nothing scary in the first small test batch when we took it out of the melangeur. We'll know more in a few weeks after it's aged a bit, tempered and molded. In the meantime we’re running a second test batch at a higher roast temperature to see which direction to lean if we decide to move forward with the origin.

Two new Guatemala micro-lots: one of the advantages of being a small volume maker like we are is that you can work with batches of beans that are too small to be of interest to a lot of the bigger chocolate makers. We just received our samples of these two micro-lots and will get our first look at them by the end of September. We really like the last Guatemala microlot that we evaluated (Lachua), and we're hoping that one or both of these micro-lots will be special, too. 

New Offerings

In the next week or so we’ll add our Areté Gianduia Bar (made with Piedmont, Italy hazelnuts – if you’re going to make a true, traditional gianduia, there’s no other choice) and our house specialty Areté Gianduia Spread (also made with Piedmont hazelnuts) to our web store. Fair warning, the Gianduia Spread is dangerously addictive.

The following week we’ll add our second Viet Nam dark chocolate bar – 73% Viet Nam Lam Dong. This one is very different from Tien Giang if you’re familiar with that bar. It has been described as being well balanced with a deep cocoa base, and a sweet combination of dried fruits, light spices and citrus, and roasted almonds.

By the end of September we’ll add our third Viet Nam bar – 73% Viet Nam Ben Tre. Our Ben Tre was recently described as being very aromatic with layers of warm spices, roated pine nuts, and refreshing notes of lemon grass and lemon, on a deep cocoa base (thanks, Vera!).

 

Closing Notes

On our website home page is the following definition of Arete:
The word Arete comes to us from ancient Greece, and in its simplest definition means excellence. But it is much more than that. Arete also embodies the ideals of virtue, of continuous learning and improvement, of realizing your fullest potential, and of celebrating the journey rather than the destination. It is about aspiring to unattainable perfection, striving for excellence, and honoring humility.

For a deeper explanation of what Arete means, one of our very favorite pieces is a devotional called “The Pursuit of Arete” given by Dr. David T. Porter in February of 2007. It’s well worth the read. 
https://devotional.byuh.edu/node/171

 

Kindest of Regards,

David and Leslie

Arete Fine Chocolate

...And Six Months On... ; )

Wow, six months? Really? Somebody needs to start writing a little more often… 

OK, some catch-up. The new melangeur – V3.0 – arrived shortly after the holidays. It took us a while to get it wired up (we’re pretty comfortable making chocolate, but not so much doing our own electrical work). Then there turned out to be some unexpected issues that we had to work through with the manufacturer –  which we did – and in March we finally made our first (BIG) test batch of chocolate. It was “OK”, but it wasn’t “our chocolate” like what we make in our little Premiers. Making chocolate in the big machine (affectionately known as “The BEAST”) turned out to be quite a bit different than making it in the smaller machines. It took us several more test batches to figure things out (lots of nice 70% baking chocolate produced in the process), and along the way we learned a lot about what makes our chocolate “our chocolate”, big machine or small. It’s not always a lot of fun when you’re in the thick of something trying to figure it out (especially when the batches are big and take pretty much a week beginning-to-end to run), but it is fun once reach land again after being lost at sea for a spell.

We also got our cocoa butter press up and running, and learned how to use it. We couldn’t be happier with it – it’s a work of German engineering art that is just pure pleasure to work with. Now we can press same-origin cocoa butter for any of our dark chocolate bars that that are too low in fat (and consequently too thick) to mold well without additional cocoa butter. Beans that grow closer to the equator tend to be lower in fat, and beans that grow farther from the equator tend to be higher in fat, so needless to say, we’ve been pressing a lot of Ecuador cocoa butter!

Remember That New Melangeur?

Remember way back when – last March it was – when we mentioned getting our new melangeur up and going? It's a long story, but version 3.0 is going to ship this coming week and should arrive just in time for the holidays (we hope). Version 1.0 received an upgraded bowl and wheel assembly a few months back, but between the time we got those parts and when we were going to fire it up, the manufacturer asked us to hold tight – they found some other shortcomings with version 1.0 and wanted to replace it with a new machine that addressed those issues. Enter version 2.0. We were originally expecting version 2.0 to arrive in early November, but that soon turned into later November which then became early December which...turned into version 3.0 shipping next week. In a former life I used to sell equipment in the electronics industry, so I know how these things go, especially when the serial number of the piece of equipment in question is in the low single digits. It's one of the hazards of being an early adopter. At any rate, we're thrilled to finally be taking delivery of a machine that will help us in a big way with our capacity.

 On a separate, but related note, we just received an automatic press (still in it's un-opened shipping crate) that will let us make our own cocoa butter in house. We've been making our own cocoa butter all along for some of our bars, but it's been a 100% manual effort (big emphasis on both manual and effort here) and capacity has been dismally small. If the new machine comes even close to delivering on its promise there will be two very, very happy oompa loompas in the back of the shop. Stay tuned, we'll keep you updated on our progress... 

Next up on the equipment wish list is a shiny, sparkly, new impact bean cracker. It's just a twinkle in our eyes right now, but there's a rumor going around that someone we know is going to help us find one. 
; ) 
One of our most labor intensive and slowest steps is nib sorting after winnowing to remove husk – mainly husk that the winnower can't separate because there is still some nib stuck to it (which makes it too heavy to go up with the clean husk). We're hoping that the impact cracker will do a better job of separating the husk from the nib than our current grain-mill type bean cracker and will also produce fewer fines and small nib pieces. We've got some really solid data on how our current system performs, and we'll be comparing that to how the impact cracker performs before getting too far down that road. At this point we are 'hopeful'. 

On What The Chocolate Garage Means to Areté

Leslie and I have been frequenting The Chocolate Garage for the better part of its five years in business. Our first trip to The Garage was the result of a search for bars from different craft chocolate makers. We were just starting out on our chocolatemaking journey, and one of the first things we knew we needed to do was to educate our palates – to learn to taste (you can’t make good chocolate if you don’t know what good chocolate tastes like). Up until that point, chocolate for us was pretty much what you get at the grocery store and from the Easter Bunny, with the odd trip to Ghiradelli or to a Godiva store being our only foray into what we saw as ‘finechocolate’.

We plugged the address into Google Maps, set off for Palo Alto, and about an hour later arrived at…where the heck are we? Is this the right address? Where do we park? Are you sure this is the right place? After carefully reading the signs on the poles in the parking lot next door to make sure we were within the permissible time range for parking there without being towed, we dismounted from or trusty steed (my Prius) and followed the yellow brick road (O.K., the grey cement sidewalk) around the building, under the vines, through the (open!) door and into…a magical, enchanted little world unto itself.

We were completely taken by the great selection of really, really good craft chocolate. On your first visit that’s the first thing that hits you. But if you go back a second time, and then a third you start to see that The Chocolate Garage is also a place to learn – deeply – about not only craft chocolate, but the entire chocolateecosystem from the soil and the farmer to the makers to the finished bar in your hand – as well as the bars that aren’t in your hand, and why that’s the case (and should be). If you go back a few more times you may start to sense something even more important, more profound about what The Chocolate Garage is: it’s the quintessence of what Roy Oldenburg calls a “Great Good Place” in his book of the same name. It’s a welcoming, inviting place where you can check the cares of the world at the door, let your hair and your guard down, get to know the regulars (perhaps even become one!) and the irregulars, talk chocolate (and pretty much anything else that comes to mind), and become part of something far bigger than any one of us alone.

Sunita asked us recently why, being chocolate makers, we signed up for TheChocolate Garage membership. The answer for us is pretty simple – The ChocolateGarage represents the heart and soul of a very special community that includes everyone from the farmers to all of us who enjoy (or will enjoy!) Happy Chocolate. Every member of this geographically vast and extended community has to benefit from their participation in order to ensure the future of fine flavor cacao and high quality craft chocolate. The Chocolate Garage plays a central role in bringing all of us together to that end. We want to see The Chocolate Garage remains a viable concern and can carry on that great work – which alone, for us, would justify the cost of our membership. Even if we were to put that aside we’d still gladly pay the cost of membership just to know that The Chocolate Garage will continue to be there for us when we need that Happy Chocolate fix and for the joy of bumping into some friendly and familiar faces…