How did we go from building furniture and wood boats to making chocolate? For as long as we can remember, we have been making things by hand. The time and care required in fitting a mortice or shaping a plank is not unlike the process of hand crafting chocolate from the bean. We have never shied away from a challenge in order to produce a beautifully finished product. It is just part of who we are.
The most hands-on approach we could take was to start with the raw cacao. We are able to source the finest fair-trade cacao and preform all the steps in-house to turn the raw ingredients into delicious chocolate, all in our small factory in Arcata, California. This entire process takes over a month to complete, but allows us to make some of the finest chocolate possible. We only use organic cacao and organic cane sugar in our chocolate. By not cutting corners, or taking shortcuts in our process, we are able to leave out vanilla, additional cocoa butter or other emulsifiers, in hopes of capturing and highlighting the subtle flavor nuances in the cacoa we source from around the world. We hope you will get as much enjoyment eating our chocolate as we do making it.
Adam Dick & Dustin Taylor
Our approach to chocolate making is very hands-on. We are committed to making the best chocolate we know how. Over time, as our knowledge of the process of making chocolate has grown, our process has become more and more complex. Our current methods are a result of study, research, experimentation, trial and error. In the end, our goal is to constantly be improving our chocolate as well as recognizing our shortcomings. So, this is how we do it.
After an initial sorting of the beans, to remove any unwanted debris and poor quality beans, we are ready to roast. This is the first interaction we have with the flavor of the beans. Through the roasting process, a complicated set of chemical reactions not only helps develop the chocolate flavor of the bean, but also expels, or tempers, the bitter notes of the cacao. Each bean is delicately roasted in our restored and modified Royal #5 coffee bean roaster. We take time to develop a unique roast profile for each bean we use, and often blend roast profiles in a single batch to uniquely shape the flavor of the chocolate. Roasting also helps to reduce moisture content of the beans and loosen the husk from the nib.
The next step is to remove the husk from the roasted and cooled cocoa bean. We achieve this by first cracking the beans into small pieces. Using vacuum pressure, we are then able to suck the lighter husk off of the heavier or more dense nib. It is very important that all the husk is removed as excess husk can lead to off flavors in the chocolate. The nib is collected and is now ready for making chocolate and the husk is used for garden mulch.
The nibs and sugar are now ready to begin their transformation into chocolate. First, using a stone melangeur, the nibs are ground. This initial grinding not only begins to reduce the particle size of the nibs but it begins the release of cocoa butter. The ground nibs (called chocolate liquor) are now ready for the sugar to be added. The sugar and liquor are allowed to mix and further grind until they are ready for the next step.
The viscosity and flow properties of chocolate are a function of many interrelated variables, one of which is particle size. The sugar has a very coarse and hard crystalline structure in contrast to the soft and fibrous nib. Using a three-roll mill, we are able to accurately and precisely grind the coarse chocolate mass into a smooth paste. Not only is the particle size reduced, but the newly broken solid particle surfaces are coated with cocoa butter. Our milling stage is critical to giving our chocolate a silky mouth feel, and delicate melt.
After the chocolate has been milled, it is now time to be conched. The milled chocolate contains particles that are of perfect size, but not perfect shape. As the sugar and cocoa solids are violently sheered apart in the roll mill the newly ground sugar particles are coarse and have sharp edges. Not only this, but the flavor of the chocolate will be on the brighter side, still retaining many of the initial bitter notes. Conching, in general terms, is an extended period of agitation, stirring, or aeration under heat, allowing the chocolate flavor to mature and develop. This generally takes between 24 and 72 hours but can be shorter or longer depending on the chocolate. After proper conching, the flavor notes of the chocolate are at their peak and the chocolate takes on a glossy, silky smooth appearance.
Tempering and Molding
By this time, the chocolate has undergone a lot. It is now time for a brief rest. We age our chocolate for 2-4 weeks while the flavor continues to mature. At this point, the flavor changes by subtle degrees rather than drastic changes of the earlier process. After resting, we melt the chocolate, and it is now ready for tempering. Chapters in textbooks are devoted to the elaborate process of tempering. To over-simplify, cocoa butter is polymorphic, meaning it forms distinct crystalline structures at different temperatures. We are trying to isolate a specific crystal structure that gives chocolate its wonderful sheen, snap and melt properties. We use a sophisticated machine to help us do this accurately. Once we have achieved temper, the chocolate is deposited into bar molds and vibrated to eliminate as many bubbles in the chocolate as possible. Finally, the bars are hand foiled and wrapped in packaging that we print almost entirely ourselves.
The process is a lengthy and complicated one. We are constantly studying, learning and trying to improve our method...which no doubt will become even more complex in the future as we strive to make better and better chocolate. We hope our care shows in the finished product.