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!
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.
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.
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.
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.