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.
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