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. 


Kindest of Regards,

David and Leslie

Arete Fine Chocolate