We’re still a bit backlogged but with Maya on our side, that shouldn’t last too long!
We’re still a bit backlogged but with Maya on our side, that shouldn’t last too long!
We opened the factory and retail part of our Valencia St location for the first time today! While we had few hiccups, overall, things when great. Everyone we met was wonderful and we had a great time talking to people about chocolate and showing them our space.
Special thanks to Brian for manning the front of the house and taking great care of everyone!
It’s official, my first batch is complete and making its way into people’s mouths all over the country!
I could not be more excited as it was a long time coming. This road began several months ago when I was in the process of becoming a full-fledged chocolate maker (I had been an apprentice chocolate maker until that point). The last hurdle, after showing that I could complete all the steps of our process correctly and efficiently and passing a “background” chocolate knowledge exam, was to design a batch of my own.
Now I had been making chocolate for several months at this point, but I had followed prescribed processes that had been developed for each of our three origins at the time (Madagascar, Colombia, and Ocumare, Venezuela). So I was given the option of ordering beans from a broker or using some of the beans that were already in storage. I looked around at the beans on the market (and we already had samples many of them), but the pragmatist in me won out and I chose to use some organic Bolivian beans we already had on hand.
I launched into the first round of taste tests, excited at the prospect of my first batch. I sat by the roaster eagerly awaiting the first crack, a common point of reference we use to start taste tests (when the first bean pops away from its husk). The trick is to wait for the first crack (or two) and then push the button on the roaster to start cooling the beans. I pulled up my chair so my face was directly in front of the roaster, straining to hear over our roaster that elusive first crack. I waited and waited and then I heard it, I got so excited I pressed the button starting the cooling cycle and then realized…I hadn’t looked at the time so the whole exercise of finding a reference point was lost. So once I stopped blushing and feeling silly, I quickly prepped another kilo of beans and was at it again. This time, it was a success. To cover my bases I did a roast two minutes longer and another two minutes shorter.
In no time, all three 1 kilo batches were cracked, sorted, winnowed, ground and into the cocoatown (what we now call…mini) melangers. A day later, they were ready to be cooled and tasted. I excitedly brought them out at lunchtime for a group taste test. We all tasted our pieces, prepared to be delighted by our newest taste test and it was AWFUL. Poor Elaine, who was used to taste tests being fairly palatable, had a rather large chunk and I took one look at her face and told her it would be okay if she spit it out. Really, it was terrible.
I kept at it. Trying different roast profiles…a temperature spike at the beginning, a longer slower roast, and my colleagues were great sports and continued to taste the different test batches in all their glory. Nothing was working.
Then, a giant order came in and my immediate production duties shelved batch development. About a month went by and we were running out of Colombian beans, so all of the sudden, getting a new origin online was an urgent matter to avoid a bean crisis. I was not feeling optimistic about the Bolivian beans filling the Colombian void, and then thankfully we had some newly arrived Venezuelan beans from the Rio Caribe region by way of the Franceschi family. I repeated the taste tests process and got excited when I was first cracking the beans and this amazing aroma was released. The first round of taste tests were ALL delicious. It was glorious compared to my previous attempts, and felt like such a luxury to pick the best from the really good.
We all agreed on a roast profile we liked and I got the go ahead to make a thirty kilo batch. The batch tasted great and I was so excited to temper it. But that wasn’t the end of the story, I put the chocolate in our temperamental temperer and it wouldn’t get anywhere close to the correct temperature to come out tempered before seizing (this is when cooled chocolate builds up in the pipes of the machines and simply stops coming out of the nozzle). I tried for about 4 hours and only had 6 streaky bars to show for it. I couldn’t stop thinking, what are we going to do as our supply of Colombian bars quickly dwindled.
I was bailed out by a new motor for the temperer. It arrived just in the nick of time and was strong enough to pump that thick Rio Caribe through the pipes and into the molds at the correct temperature. Thank goodness!
The Rio Caribe is just lovely–full of deep, dark chocolately richness and it just begs to be squished between graham crackers and a roasted marshmallow or smother a perfectly ripe strawberry. It’s been well received at the Noe and Mission community farmers markets as well as around the factory. One of our newest additions to the production crew, Joey, let it slip that this is his favorite origin yet. Not to mention it got the stamp of approval from my Grammy. So I could not be happier to share it will you all and hope you like it just as much as we do!
Cynthia giving me a chocolate high five!
As promised, here’s our wrapping machine in action:
If you’d like to learn more about chocolate making, take a look at Chocolate 101 in our online store.
As Todd mentioned earlier, we recently got a wrapping machine. We’ve been really happy with the paper and foil we use and we weren’t willing to compromise on them just to make wrapping easier. Finding a machine that would work in theory was challenging enough; actually getting it to work has been just as challenging. Fortunately, we were introduced to Jim Greenberg of Union Confectionery Machinery and I spent a bunch of time out there with Pablo and Osvaldo to get the machine set up for us. A week or two ago, the machine arrived and I couldn’t have been more excited:
Even after scrambling to find a forklift and forklift operator (Thanks, Juan!) and breaking the crate down, we were left with this:
It’s tough to tell from the picture, but the hallway to our space in the Dogpatch is huge but that doesn’t stop the machine from taking up almost the entire thing. Now that we could see the machine in all its glory, we realized that we had a small problem… the machine is 67 inches wide at its smallest point (with the safety covers off) and our door is only 47 inches wide. After a little bit of scrambling and enlisting the help our friend Snooky and his pal, we realized that we could make the machine small enough by removing one shaft from the machine. Luckily for us, the piece we needed to remove was easy to mark so we didn’t ruin any of the calibration:
Once the machine had the left piece removed and the “super pallet” had been cut to size, it was the moment of truth:
Fortunately, our measurements weren’t off and it just squeaked through the door. Everyone was pretty happy, including Snooky:
After moving a few tables, the machine was maneuvered into its new home:
The machine looks great in pictures but it’s even more fun to see it actually work so I’ll post a video soon.
It’s been busy around here at the chocolate factory! We’ve been a bit behind on posting updates to the blog, so here’s a quick catch up on everything that’s happened in the last few weeks.
First, we got a giant order for a conference. This is what 2,000 bars of chocolate (and a tiny box of extras) looks like stacked next to Cynthia.
It took us about 2 years of experimenting to make our first 10,000 bars, so it was a pretty big accomplishment for us to make 2,000 bars in about 10 days of long nights and weekends. This also forced us to streamline our process and now we are solidly making 1,000 bars a week. Even at this rate, though, we are still behind on our backlog but have some more ideas on how to scale up.
Next, we have two new machines in our chocolate-making line-up. First, a much larger Selmi tempering machine:
Unfortunately, because our chocolate has no added cocoa butter or emulsifiers, the machine does not work well with our chocolate and continually seizes up. Right now we are using it as a chocolate melter, but we’ve ordered an oversized motor which should be here in a few weeks. We’re hoping this will fix our tempering woes — right now this is the longest and hardest part of our process and we are looking forward to fixing it.
We also got a wrapping machine. I won’t say much here as this deserves a blog post (or series of blog posts) of it’s own. We had a lot of drama since it would not fit through our door. Here’s a photo of it all wrapped up while we figured out how to get it into the space:
Also, our container of beans from Madagascar arrived. These were the beans from Bertil’s farm that Cam and Alice visited last fall. The full container was 198 bags — half of which we shared with our friends Charley and Nicole. Most of the beans are in cold storage, but we have a small bean mountain in our space as we work through our bags:
And finally, our space on Valencia is starting to look more like a chocolate factory:
PS — you can find some new locations on our locations page: http://www.dandelionchocolate.com/locations/
Ken from Media59.com posted a quick video of Cam explaining Cacao at the SF Chocolate salon. Take a look:
Our container is finally in the country! It’s on board the MSC Francesca, which is currently in LA, so it has one more short journey before it arrives in Oakland. We just heard from our customs agent that the beans have been cleared by the FDA, but they still need to be inspected by customs because we’re a new importer (gotta make sure we didn’t slip any guns in with our beans). Assuming smooth sailing (har har), we could have access to the beans in just a week or two.
Sometimes blog posts just write themselves. This one was super easy. I walked in to the factory today and found a disk of beautiful pictures taken by Laurie Frankel. Enjoy and have a great weekend!
Don’t forget, we’ll be teaching Chocolate 101 next Thursday night in our space. There are 15 spots and we’d love to see you there. Tickets are available in our store.
Despite Cam’s best efforts to keep us tempering and wrapping, we took a short break today to celebrate his and Chiann’s birthdays and gather inspiration for our packaging.
As we scale up, we need more paper and different patterns to wrap our bars. This gives us an awesome opportunity to design our own prints that really reflect us. We started the process today by gathering images and patterns on our wall. We talked about the things each of us likes and we’ll come back in a week to really get things moving. We have to work quickly to produce our paper before monsoon season hits our printer in India. For now, the wall above our hand-washing sink has never looked better!