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!