As a small, bean-to-bar chocolate maker, we’re part of a very small industry. Since the beginning, that means we’ve had to build a lot of the machines that we couldn’t find, as well as engineer creative ways of meeting our small batch needs. When Todd and Cam moved from a small garage into a small factory in the Dogpatch, and when we later expanded into our current factory on Valencia Street, a good deal of that machinery came with us. Our PVC-and-vacuum winnower, the vibrating wooden sorter, our bean cracker, and more. As the months roll by, we’ve slowly upgraded when we’ve found better ways of doing things or when the machines were past their prime. Still, if you’ve been through the factory in the last year, you’ll likely have seen some relics chugging away, paying their dues.
Last week, we bid adieu to our oldest piece of still-working equipment: the Crankenstein. Crankenstein was our devoted bean cracker, a set of three rollers that we installed in a table under a hopper. This is where we cracked beans after roasting and before winnowing. Generally, it did well, but it was slow enough to bottleneck our whole process, and we must have spent weeks of our lives standing over it, scraping jammed beans out of the rollers with the end of a ladle. We needed something better.
Last year, Mike Orlando, owner of Twenty-Four Blackbirds out of Santa Barbara and creator of some amazing chocolate, showed us a different approach to breaking beans. Working with Mike’s device as the inspiration, our Magic Man of Machines—Snooky Robins—has been putting together a very different kind of cracker. It’s tall, it’s shiny, and it’s called the Bean Dervish.
The machine works much in the same way as a walnut cracker from the 1880s. It works by flinging beans against the sides of a big steel drum, breaking them on impact. The Crankenstein relied on friction to pull beans in between a fixed sized slot, this had numerous problems including reduced speed through wear on the roller, small beans not breaking, and large beans getting stuck. As the Dervish doesn’t rely on friction or a fixed sized slot to break, it works incredibly well and breaks beans (of any size) consistently.
The point of a cracker is to break the beans into sizable chunks that make it easier to winnow the husk from the nib. Due to its force and speed, the Dervish also breaks nibs away from the husk more effectively, which means our yields are improving too.
Oh, and compared to the Crankenstein, the Bean Dervish moves at the speed of light.
Come by during production hours to see it in action! If you think this sounds like a good way to break your beans, Mike is working on building these sort of Breakers and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.