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. : )
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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