Unheated Building Blues

We’re really glad that we planned for a slow ramp it seems like every week we’re learning something new that we wished we already knew. Lately it’s been a blessing in disguise called the Making Chocolate in the winter in an Unheated Building Blues. Our chocolate has been getting better over most of this year and we were starting to feel like were actually starting to get this chocolate making thing down. Enter the first winter in our new building sans heat. All of a sudden we started to notice some distinct (and that’s key-distinct) off-flavors in all of our builds Madagascar, Peru, Ecuador, Ghana, you name it. Long story made short, we figured out that we weren’t getting hot enough during our refining and conching process to drive off all of the nasties. Good record keeping, retained samples of older batches, and some quick A-B testing helped us narrow the problem down pretty quickly.

The reason we say it’s a blessing in disguise is that we weren’t 100% happy with the consistency of our results all along and we had been attributing most of it to roast optimization (or lack thereof). We would build batch after batch trying to dial it in with the roast profile, not knowing that there was another important uncontrolled variable messing us up. Going back and tasting retains from older batches, though, and filtering out the ones that had varying degrees of this under-conching flavor let us better (re-)assess our roast profiles and finally figure out where we really wanted to be. The other thing that was pretty exciting about this speed bump is that we learned how important and potent temperature control during refining and conching is. We were able to take batches of finished chocolate that had the aforementioned off flavors and rehabilitate them quite nicely by conching again at a higher temperature.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

We sold a little more in October than in September (our first sale month), and a little more in November than in October - a trend wed like to keep going. So far it’s all been Cioccolata Calda mix (Italian hot chocolate) and bar chocolate for cremena (think Frappuccino) for a local start-up coffee shop that we helped with the recipe. In December were hoping to add a couple of our single origin bars, as well as our gianduia spread and gianduiotti. The gating item on the bars is still the molds were hoping to see them this week or next and on the gianduia spread its labels for the jars (also expected this week or next).

Lots of engineering projects were working on that well share more on in the coming months integrating our grinding and winnowing set-ups (including motorizing our grinder), installing and evaluating a new 65 kg grinder, remote temperature monitoring and control for our melangeurs, building a chest freezer cooling tunnel, and hopefully building a couple of small temperature-controlled rooms for different process steps. Time is in short supply and funding is finite, so it may take us a while to get through the full list, but as we do well make sure to share the results and what we’ve learned along the way.

Happy Holidays!
David and Leslie