We’ve all just returned from a much needed post-holiday-rush break and are happy to be back in the factory. Looks like while we were away, one of our bars made it all the way to Antarctica! Here’s a photo Kristy Leissle (the doc of choc) sent us on our her recent trip down south. I love the penguins in the background!
Just a reminder, we won’t be at this week’s Noe Valley Farmer’s Market due to some machine issues.
After spending most of the day looking at the trees, pods, and harvesting, we spent the last part of the afternoon looking at the bean drying process. After the beans have been fermented (we were too late to see that part this day, but we’ll cover it in another post), they have to be dried. Bean genetics, fermentation, and the environment where the beans are grown play a large part in determining the flavor. Drying can’t be ignored, though, as it also has a big impact on the final flavor. Here are some beans drying on the concrete on their first day post-fermentation:
To make sure the beans are spread out evenly and don’t clump up, the workers draw coarse rakes over the beans:
As Bertil explained, the first part of drying is to stop fermentation of the beans. Since fermentation generally takes place between 47 C and 52 C, you can either cool the beans down (e.g. by washing them) or heat them up (e.g. by putting them on hot concrete). Concrete works well because it’s hot (but not too hot) and it’s less likely to stick to the still wet beans. Usually, after a day or maybe two of limited drying on concrete, the beans are moved to the mobile wooden drying beds:
The other part of drying is, not surprisingly, letting moisture, both water and acetic acid, out of the bean. How much acid you let out has a big impact on the flavor, with some makers preferring a more acidic taste and others preferring a more mellow flavor. You can control how much acid stays in the bean by varying how long the beans are left in the sun. Counterintuitively, the longer the beans are left in the sun, especially early on, the more acid stays in the bean. This happens because the outer shell of the bean dries first which then prevents any more acid from escaping. By getting the beans out of the sun sooner, the outer shell stays wet and the insides can keep drying. The great thing about visiting the farm and working with the farmer directly is that we can provide input on the drying process in order to get the flavor we want!
Once the beans have been out in the sun long enough for the desired flavor, they’re gathered up and moved inside, where they’ll rest (and continue to dry) until they’re moved back outside the next day:
It depends on the weather, but drying often takes about a total of seven days.
Since all of the other pictures in this post are mostly brown, here’s a picture of the delicious mango (from the tree outside Ivan’s house) I had for breakfast:
Now that we’d seen the capital, it was time to go to the farm and see the cacao. To get there, we flew from Tana to Nosy Be (nosy means island and be means big in Malagasy) and then took a cab from the airport to the port in Hell-ville. From there, we took a small boat to Ankify back on the mainland, where Ivan, the farm manager, picked us up in his truck.
During the cab ride from airport (and after the driver fixed a flat tire), we saw the guy below crossing the road. He was nice enough to hold this pose while we gave him the full paparazzi treatment.
As cool as chameleons are, it was the cacao that had started the whole trip:
As we were looking at all the pods, Bertil pulled out two that made it really easy to distinguish between unripe beans and ripe ones:
The top beans are firm and tightly packed, indicating they’re not ripe yet. The bottom ones, in contrast, are softer and looser so you know they’re ripe. We spent more than half the day traveling all over the farm and looking at different parts of the cacao growing and harvesting process. We spent the other part of the day looking at what happens after the fresh beans are collected, but I’ll leave that for another post.
If you want to see more pictures of the trip, check out our Facebook page.
After grabbing a few hours of sleep, we got up to see Antananarivo. I don’t know what I was expecting when I got here, but it was surprising. Maybe I thought there’d be a parade of lemurs (there wasn’t) but reality has a way of being more complicated, and interesting, than fantasy. The first thing I noticed was how bad the air is (even worse than the air the last time I was in Beijing). After getting passed that, the main city is an interesting combination of rice paddies and more developed areas. Even in the “developed” areas, though, it’s obvious that the standard of living is very low.
Rice is a huge part of the Malagasy diet, so big, that Madagascar has the highest per capita rice consumption in the world. It’s not just rice, though, as there are little corner shops and markets all over the place:
After getting a feel for the city, we visited the Cinagra chocolate factory. Cinagra does all of the chocolate manufacturing for Madécasse, as well as having product lines for Europe and the local Madagascar market. Shahin Cassam Chenai, the man behind Cinagra, gave us a great tour and it was nice talking chocolate making with him.
We ran into a bunch of traffic on the way back through the city, but it worked out as we could walk along the road and through some more markets while we waited for the car to catch up with us. It was a long and very interesting day but, by the end, I was ready to get out of the city and onto the farm… Fortunately, that was exactly the plan for tomorrow.
If you want to see more pictures of the trip, check out our Facebook page.
Alice and I were in Madagascar last week, checking out the farm that supplies the beans for our Madagascar bar. We had very limited access to internet so we’re doing the posts now that we’re back. Hope you enjoy!
The first part of the whole adventure was just getting to Madagascar. It turns out that Madagascar is almost the antipode for San Francisco, meaning that it’s almost exactly halfway around the world from us. Originally, Alice and I had planned on taking the same flights over but after a missed alarm and an airport shuttle no-show, I’d be setting out first and Alice would be joining a day or two later. My route to get there was San Francisco (SFO) -> Atlanta (ATL) -> Paris (CDG) -> Antananarivo (TNR):
The total distance, according to Google Maps, is just under 12,000 miles. I left SFO on Saturday at 7:40am (PST) and arrived in Tana (the French colonial shorthand for Antananarivo) on Monday at 3am (GMT + 3), which means those 12,000 miles turned into about 36 hours straight of plane travel. The only good thing about flying for that long is that by the time we got to Madagascar, my body was so confused that I didn’t have much trouble adjusting to the new timezone. I met up with Bertil Akesson, the son of owner of the farm and the one who handles bean sales, in Paris for the flight to TNR:
I also met Olvier Coppeneur as he would be joining us on the trip:
After landing, we had to pass through immigration, which took almost an hour:
We picked up our luggage (fortunately no bags were lost) and exchanged some money. The currency in Madagascar is the Ariary and $1 is worth about 2000 Ariary, which means when you exchange a few hundred dollars, you get this:
I felt pretty flush with cash until I realized a bottle of water cost 3000 Ariary :( Pockets stuffed with bills, we grabbed one of the ubiquitous taxis and headed to the hotel. The main roads from the airport were fine, but as we got closer to where we’d be staying, the “road” turned into an almost impassable series for bumps, ruts, and rocks. Our taxi driver navigated it expertly, though, and we made it. I should point out, by the way, that hotel can conjure images of plush beds and fresh towels but that’s not exactly what our accommodations were like. The room was clean and had electricity and there was a shared shower (in the laundry room) and a shared bathroom (the sink broke shortly after arrival, though). When we asked about internet, we got a quizzical look from the owner of the establishment… and no, there was no room service :) We were all exhausted and so we went straight to bed so we’d be ready to see Tana in the morning.
We’re thrilled to hear that we were chosen as a finalist for the 2012 Good Food Awards. Nine bean-to-bar companies were chosen out of countless submissions and we are happy to be considered in such good company. Here’s the full list of chocolate finalists:
- Amano Artisan Chocolate, Guayas Utah
- Bittersweet, Rich Milk California
- Dandelion Chocolate, 70% Costa Rica California
- Escazu Artisan Chocolate, 60% Goat’s Milk & 65% Costa Rica North Carolina
- Fresco Chocolate, 214 Madagascar 74% & 217 Chuao 70% Washington
- Lillie Belle Farms, Perfect Illusion 65 Oregon
- Patric Chocolate, LLC, PBJ OMG & Signature 70% Blend Missouri
- Rogue Chocolatier, Inc., Hispaniola & Sambirano Massachusetts
- Theo Chocolate, Theo and Jane Goodall 70% Dark Chocolate Washington
In other news, Cam and Alice are deep in the jungles of Madagascar visiting Bertil at the cacao farm. I wouldn’t say there’s a lot of internet out there, but I did manage to get a quick update from Cam that he made it there in one piece. Updates to follow.
You may have noticed that we haven’t posted in a while. We’ve been busier and busier making chocolate. It’s a great problem to have. There are orders pouring in, and we’re working hard to keep up! You can catch us each week at the Mission Community Market, and this weekend we’ll be at the New Taste Marketplace from 12-5 PM at 500 De Haro Street. For each, we’ll have single origin bars from Costa Rica, Madagascar, and Venezuela.
We’ll also have posts up in a few days with new updates. Todd traveled to the FCIA event in D.C. and we have a few new machines and process improvements to share. Look out for more soon.
About a year ago, Elaine sent me a calendar invite titled “Take your bike to Paris.” She had heard about a bike route from London to Paris and preemptively scheduled our trip a year in advance. Figuring that schedules would change and motivations would wane, I didn’t think it was likely to happen and then got very busy making chocolate. Fast forward to a few weeks ago, Elaine reminded me that I better start training as our trip was coming up — and I couldn’t say no as she had scheduled this a year in advance!
As I started prepping for the trip, we discovered that we had been accepted into two markets on the same day and would have a lot of chocolate to make while I was away. Since I was going away and leaving Cam and Alice with a lot of work, I made them a deal: that I would do a lot of “research” by checking out all the various chocolate establishments I found along the way in London and Paris. They seem to think I got the better end of the deal.
Here are a couple of photo highlights from the trip. It was a lot of fun, but I’m glad to be back to chocolate-making.
In London, we only had a day to adjust to the time change, rent our bikes, adjust our equipment, and then check out two chocolate spots: Harrods Chocolate Bar and Artisan du Chocolat. The flight of single origin hot chocolate at Harrods was tasty and Artisan has the most inspired menu items in their small cafe. I especially loved their caramelized nibs and their Grandiflorum drink. The next day, we pedaled over the London Bridge and started heading the long trek south to the Eiffel Tower.
It started pouring as soon as we left which gave us a convenient excuse to stop for a hot chocolate break at Fanny’s Farm. After deciding the rain wasn’t going to stop, we continued towards the coast in the downpour. The next day we took the ferry to Dieppe and continued biking through wheat fields, over poppy patches, and through small villages until we finally reached Paris:
In Paris, we spent a few days making up for all the calories burned over the 210-mile trek. There are so many great chocolate places in Paris that they deserve their own blog post, so I will just point out the highlight here:
Un Dimanche à Paris is a new chocolate themed tea salon / restaurant / bar / shop by the Cluizel family. We went to the tea salon and tried their drinking chocolate plus four small dessert selections. Everything was delicious and it was a perfect way to end the trip.
The trip was fantastic! I met a bunch of great people, including a few other chocolate makers. We know a lot about our own process but it was interesting to hear how other people approach some of the same challenges. We compared notes on machinery, roasting profiles, bean sourcing, permits, packaging, problems, etc.
Julio was an amazing guide to all things historical and natural, including this guy:
It was also great to pepper Steve with questions constantly about all kinds of topics (e.g. growing cacao, fermentation, drying, roasting, refining, bean genetics, monilia). Steve was extraordinarily generous, putting up with everything we threw at him without complaint.
I learned a bunch on the trip, particularly about how to select the best beans and what happens before they show up at our door. One of my favorite things we covered was the cut test using a device call a magra:
By cutting 50 beans all at once, we can inspect for ripeness, fermentation level, average size, and contamination and get a sense of the average quality of the beans in the bag being tested. We can then use that data to compare beans from a number of different growers and identify the best beans.
We also visited a number of different places cacao is grown in Costa Rica, including a large, well-run plantation (Finmac), a native Bribri settlement, and a “permaculture” facility. It was very interesting comparing the different techniques and results used by each group. Here’s the head of workers at Finmac showing a split open, ripe cacao pod:
It didn’t take long for people on the trip to figure out I’m a dog lover, as I’d stop to photograph many of the strays that seem to litter Costa Rica. They were often very thin and showed the scars of a tough life, but they were, for the most part, people friendly:
If you want to see more photos from my trip, I’ve posted the rest of them on Flickr.