Taste Like Vinegar and Wine….

Cacao beans should be fermented after taking out of the pod. Not the usual wash-and-dry technique. Otherwise, it is not fit for chocolate making. However, cacao growers should not worry to much about it. There is still market for non-fermented beans. It can still be turned to tabliya. It hurts my ear every time I hear that kind of reasoning. It is like a good song that was awfully rendered. There was a time when a merchant was offering me washed-and-dried beans. I replied, I wanted it fermented. He answered no, fermented beans are for export while the non-fermented are for tabliya making. What was wrong with them?

I used to buy the non-fermented. I stopped when I established reliable suppliers of good beans. It is fact, fermentation is requirement for good tasting chocolate. Others often taste boring and most of the time have inherent soil taste. Is that what they call “earthy”? Perhaps, but what I am referring to is strong soil flavor. It is not pleasant.

Like what others do, I can buy separate set of washed-and-dried beans and save couple of pesos per kilogram. Then get rid of the minor problem I will mention later. However, the bigger problem lies with the storage. It is very attractive to weevils. A 50 kilogram sack often never last for two weeks. It becomes unfit for roasting after the said period. Weevils quickly get to unmanageable numbers which the customers are sure to return the product to us. We don’t like that incident to happen. So if we found unusable unfermented batch, it is automatically rejected and profit loss,  with portion of the capital.

Here is the minor problem. It maybe huge as there is very small portion of customer pool brave enough to complain. They said, why our tabliya tasted like wine and vinegar. Yes, if the one buying is accustomed to regular grocery cocoa powder. He is sure has a big question mark in his head right after sipping the first cup. The same is true for baking purposes, as the alkalized and non-alkalized cocoa mass should be used differently.

We are always explaining. We are using good fermented beans and never adding any except some sugar for our 70% bars (and other higher concentration bars). Our 100% bars and pure tabliya are nothing but cacao. We never claim it is minimally processed and hand made though. The processing from bean to bar or to tabliya requires several machinery and lasts for few days. It is never artisinal. By definition, it means “by hand”. Purely by hand is not impossible but highly inefficient.

There are several ways get rid of winey and vinegary taste. First is the choice of unfermented beans. Second. Roast it longer, refine longer and conch longer. Lengthy processing times remove most of the undesirable flavors but also bring the good with it. You’ll probably end up with flat and boring product. Third is alkalization. It is as simple as adding the nibs or mass with alkaline substance to get a neutral pH and getting rid of acid taste. Then, it allows greater extraction of butter and the remaining mass dissolves better in water.

Third. I think it is the most significant. Commercial makers and some micro to small scale processors are adding too much ingredients. To extent, cacao become a very small fraction of a whole. We love the concoction and often rejects the pure thing.

Marvin is the lead chocolate maker of Ben and Lyn Chocolate Inc. Has strong background in food research and development. Occasionally conducts training and lectures. Lecturer of Cocoa Foundation of the Philippines. Do coaching and consultancy services on his free time.

Roasting Woes

Spent many years roasting cacao bean on pan. Years without success on uniformity. I can safely say every roast was unique without any chance of repeat. A pan over lpg flame and constantly stirred by manually with large spoon. At least I can make the flame strength constant. I also experience the woes of wood fire stove. The flame was simply too unpredictable. Constant stirring? No chance. I can make a rhythm for about a minute to five. That’s all. Uncomfortable heat, ringing phone, person questioning and boredom always get in the way. Mechanical stirring is being adapted by few but implementing it never once crossed my mind.

I mustered enough guts and shifted to oven roasting. Bought myself a low cost locally fabricated version. Switched to fermented beans. Then used about one full jute sack, 63 kg estimated, before getting the roast that suited my senses. That’s a lot, I guessed. But nothing compared to amount I used with pan roasting. Three years flew like a breeze and never had any failed roast. Now the question is. Am I an expert cocoa bean roaster?

The answer is yes and no. I am an expert when if comes to the very specific equipment at my possession. I need time and test batches to adjust for every equipment I handle. I did a demo in Marinduque once. The first result was a total failure because of a defective thermostat. It was burnt. Second and consecutive trials were okay.

I did a same demo in a different place. Again, using a different roasting equipment. First trial was success because I monitored it closely. Consecutive trials were successful with minimal supervision.

Then. We fabricated our very own drum roaster. It was a huge gamble because it was our first and I had no experience on drum roasting before. We built it based on theory and observations gathered from other working roasters. It is two-in-one. Adjusting my skill to use the machine and making modifications on roaster to make it more efficient. First run was successful. Second was a bit of failure. Third and consecutive were okay.

Maybe the next step should be modifications.

Marvin is the lead chocolate maker of Ben and Lyn Chocolate Inc. Has strong background in food research and development. Occasionally conducts training and lectures. Lecturer of Cocoa Foundation of the Philippines. Do coaching and consultancy services on his free time.

Continuing Cocoa Husk Tea Experiment

I am opening the door again to cocoa husk tea testing. Before, I immediately turned it down after one test. I simply never liked it and stopped. Fueled by side of chocolate community that was also against the idea. From the time of harvest to pod breaking, fermentation, drying, storage, transport up to point it reaches the hands of chocolate makers. The husk is the most exposed to environmental contamination. After fermentation and before drying, if the process has significant gap. Ochratoxin may be produced by molds. It may also contain heavy metals, especially if the crop was grown near volcanic area. We are talking here of three hurdles; microbes, ochratoxin and heavy metals, most of which reside on husks. They claim, its removal takes away 90 percent of the problem.

While others say no to the idea, some still continue to venture with it. One chocolatier I know was against it before, but, they changed their mind and began serving husk base drinks. They experimented with it, their customers liked it and keep asking for more. What else can they do? Giving what customers want is essential to business. To battle the fear of danger, they are sending every husk batch for safety analysis.

For the start. I used ten grams husk to 150 ml recently boiled water. Steeped it for five minutes and filtered off. Adding sugar could make it better but I want the pure untainted flavor.

Husk is part of bean. I was expecting strong chocolate flavor but the experience was on a completely different level. It has faint brownie flavor with a sharp citrus kick. It has tarty aftertaste. Tartness gets stronger as the beverage gets colder. The citrus fades while the brownie flavor stays the same.

The flavor I described was specific to the cocoa beans on hand. Beans of different variety, location, and cultural practice may taste different.

Husk has other uses other than drinks. The global standard for cocoa mass husk content is about one percent. The lesser the better. However, husk, as I said is part of cacao bean. One may intentionally add more without label declaration. For the purpose of increasing yield in exchange for lower quality. It may be ground together with cocoa cake to produce a lower quality cocoa powder.

cocoa husk on top of hot water

cocoa tea version 2

I tried another, but not husk, cocoa nibs instead. I was curious which taste better given the same set of preparation. Same recently boiled water, same steeping time and same weight.

The resulting tea was light colored. The overall flavor was also light. This might not be the right preparation mode. Bigger nib sizes and low surface area were hindering factors of flavor diffusion. Husks on the other hand are thin and have large surface areas.

This might be a good starting point for those who want healthier beverage but cannot take the strong kick of pure coffee or cacao.

I never filtered off the nibs. I was chewing it once in a while, while enjoying the light tea. This brought  back the memories of a friend who was adding cocoa nibs in his hot coffee.

cocoa nibs tea

Repeated the nibs tea. Same set of ingredients. Instead of steeping, I set it to running boil for about two minutes.  The resulting tea was cloudy brown. Might be due to some powdery nibs suspended in liquid by boiling.  The chocolate aroma was strong while boiling but became light after. The overall flavor was also light.

Marvin is the lead chocolate maker of Ben and Lyn Chocolate Inc. Has strong background in food research and development. Occasionally conducts training and lectures. Lecturer of Cocoa Foundation of the Philippines. Do coaching and consultancy services on his free time.

Cocoa Butter

I am not a fan. A client insisted on making milk chocolate. I have no choice but include it in recipe list. Addition of milk and sugar at certain point needs a balance of extra butter. Maker may extract his own, buy from other source or use a suitable replacement. They insist on a sweeter blend so extra cocoa butter is necessary.

cocoa butter

It has a weird smell not inherent to cocao. The flavor is bland. Not suggestive of cacao either. I haven’t produced cocoa butter yet. I occasionally gather and taste floating cocoa butter on stored cocoa mass. That is how I can compare.

I make chocolates. The one and two ingredients variants. Pure refined cacao bar and 70% plus sugar. I am considering the idea of extracting cocoa butter in-house. Add extra butter to products. Then what about the left over cake. Sell it as cocoa powder? I haven’t convinced myself that it is high quality product worth selling.

Note : In cocoa industry, the leftover of cocoa pressing is called “cake”. It is dry and crumbly. Easier to pulverize than nibs with intact butter.

Cacao has typical acidity of 5 to 6. True and evident for fermented beans. Anyone can tell it easily by eating raw and roasted beans. No need for high precision equipment and technical know how. Even the acidity levels can be estimated thru taste buds and score sheet.

A pH meter can be purchase for relatively cheap cost though. No need to do the guess work if your senses are not keen enough. Or, you are deligating the task to someone else. We have different levels of sensitivity. Standard mode of measurement is still necessary for long term.

Cacao bean, by nature, is not acidic. I have been working on fermented and unfermented for years. I can confidently assure that the latter is by no means acidic. It taste bitter, astringent and unpleasant. Roasting and subsequent processing changes flavor but I cannot say it is toward the better. It is bad before and after. Addition of sugar and milk only mask, not improve.

Fermented on the other hand, taste good in its raw form. It improves dramatically during processing. It can stand on its own without the addition of any. Small percentage of sugar usually suffice to those who cannot appreciate.

They say Criollo possesses great flavor. No need fermentation to unleashed its potential. However, it is low producer and susceptible to pests and diseases. Unattractive to farmers. Hybrid varities are resistant and high yielding. Their flavor profiles are not great as tradeoffs. Fermentation helps combat this weakness. It improves flavor but contributes acidity as well.

Another problem but there are always solutions. Roasting, refining and conching tame acidity but I guessed not enough. The products we are selling are still sour even after long hours of processing times. We learnt to live by it and many customers followed. Others who cannot, opt for unfermented produce and highly processed products with lots of ingredients. Too many that cacao itself became a small portion of the whole. That is not chocolate .. imo.

There exist a basic chemistry for neutralizing acidity. Addition of enough alkaline compound turns the pH level to 7. As for cacao, they use potassium carbonate for the so called dutch processing. It has pH 11. Highly corrosive substance. It is safe? Maybe not!

If you are getting butter from external source. The chances of it coming from dutch processing is very high. The manufacturer wants the by-product to be accepted by majority. They can sell it with ease. Alkalization also maximize cocoa butter yield. With a very expensive product, every drop counts. They are extracting every ounce they can press. Cocoa butter has high demand because of pharmaceutical and beauty industry. Perhaps your favorite lipstick has cocoa butter as base.

Here is the scenario. Large chocolate companies extract butter from cacao beans. Sell the butter to other companies or make their own beauty products line. For the left-over, the cocoa cake. They are pulverized and sent to baking industry. Some are clever enough to add butter replacement, sugar, milk and other additives. Sold it as if it is the real chocolate in the end.

There are another bad things. With pH above 7, phytonutrients mostly breaks down in high temperature environment. Chocolate is healthy, but too much processing void this claim. Sugar is poison and milk is found binding cacao phytonutrients.

Marvin is the lead chocolate maker of Ben and Lyn Chocolate Inc. Has strong background in food research and development. Occasionally conducts training and lectures. Lecturer of Cocoa Foundation of the Philippines. Do coaching and consultancy services on his free time.

Toblerone and Spaces, A Lack of Chocolate.

Oh, a bar of Toblerone! It has been quite a while since I got a bite of the bitterly sweet treat. Never mind. It was not mine for the taking. Perhaps a gift from someone to someone he adored. Ever since I started making my own chocolate bar, I took my eyes off from brands not as bitter and pure as mine.

It turned out the bar was for all. It traveled from one hand to another until I got a piece. Thanks to generous sponsor. I was not expecting it so I considered myself lucky. There where so many people in the gathering. The chance of it reaching my hand was very low. It was like a lottery.

It could be a came back gift (pasalubong). When a relative or friend went abroad or out-of-town, it became a tradition to bring back something. It maybe food or thing. Usually, the first.  How I wished they brought uncommon thing. Something that we cannot get from nearby grocery store. This brand is so popular and widespread. Anyone can buy it whenever and almost wherever they like.

The shape was different from before. The chocolate brand Toblerone is known for its signature shape. Series of pyramid (some as many as toblerone letters) connected to each other. The connection point or canal serve as breaking point. Snap a piece, eat and save the rest for other or later.

That time  was different. The canal was somewhat extended. It seemed a great flood just occurred and ate away the ridges base. The bar had extended breaking point and smaller ridges. I only got a piece, but it was enough to draw conclusion.

a piece of shrank toblerone

I read news regarding this matter from internet sometime ago. Most consumers said, raising the price would be better than making the shape awful. Rather, make it smaller than increasing empty spaces.

As for me. It was awkward looking. A huge quality drop. Price increase is the way to go. However, if they are inclined toward lower market bracket, the decision would be a tough. When the cost of production increased, the manufacturer may increase the selling price, add a filler ingredient, replace the current with cheaper alternative, or, decrease the weight which would also result in size shrink.  However, the company, chose to decreased the weight without noticeable change in packaging size.  Someone might called it cheating when it was actually not. If the weight was not properly declared, then that is cheating.

They maintained the taste quality. I assumed.

According to speculations, the sudden increase of spaces was due to worldwide deficit in cacao production. A rather straightforward thinking of cacao farmers, cocoa traders and advocate. Price increase, due to low supply and high demand, could be easily justified. Government authorities and NGO’s  are using data like this for convincing stakeholders to venture into cacao farming. Replacing some to completely eradicating their current poorly performing crops.  Only to find out in the end that they cannot profit much either.  Project ends and the support ends. New project is created and the cycle continues.


Marvin is the lead chocolate maker of Ben and Lyn Chocolate Inc. Has strong background in food research and development. Occasionally conducts training and lectures. Lecturer of Cocoa Foundation of the Philippines. Do coaching and consultancy services on his free time.