Over the past year or so we've found a great number of British chocolate makers start up. Even a my friend Dom from Chocablog has started making chocolate and Hazel Lee, who I met at a chocolate show has. Having been around chocolate factories from the likes of Thorntons (who turn ready-made chocolate into chocolates), Pierre Marcolini's and Hotel Chocolat's production plants I was under the stupid impression that you have to sink millions of Pounds into equipment to make chocolate. Even with the likes of Duffy I thought you really needed some decent gear. Books about making chocolate always over-played the investment needed this side of the production process. They would talk about the detailed and specific roasting protocols and scary points about particle sizes and that put me off thinking any more about the topic.
It was this steady stream of small chocolate makers who were not too shy in informing me as to how rudimentary their equipment and how basic their processes were that started me thinking that the spare space in my garage could be converted into a personal chocolate factory.
I'm useless at planning stuff like this. Most of what I do is seemingly on a whim. Feeling that something is a bad idea is usually a reason I do it - not least setting up this online chocolate shop (people said don't do it, it's a license to lose money and your sanity - they're half wrong). So now I have 20kg of dried cocoa beans - 10kg from Robson's Plantation in Trinidad and 10kg from the Chocolaterie Robert plantations in Madagascar and I will try and turn them into chocolate - for personal consumption with the help of a Premier Wet Grinder.
There are a number of ways I, and you, could make chocolate - all with differing degrees of effort needed as a result. The 'easiest' way would be to buy cocoa nibs. Here the cocoa beans are already roasted, cracked (breaking off the husk - which we don't want) and winnowed (separating the husk from the bean fully).
You can also by ready roasted cocoa beans but complete the tedious task of cracking and winnowing yourself. A reason why you wouldn't use ready-roasted beans is that you would like to have a play around with the length of time and temperature the bean is roasted so you can change the flavour profile of chocolate to your own particular requirements. An example of a heavily roasted bean being used in chocolate would be Pralus (for a while) which, for me at least, created a very nutty, almost burned flavour profile to much of their chocolate.
The third way, and this is the way I'm going to try it is to by dried cocoa beans. Here I will have to work out how I'd like to roast the beans and do all the cracking and winnowing myself. This is the hardest way as I'll probably waste about the entire 10kg sack deciding what the roast settings will be. I've seen industrial roasters such as the Amano one and slightly less industrial ones in the Marcolini factory to the very basic roaster that Katie used. I will also have try and find a way to blow off the shells from the bean during the winnowing stage whilst not making an absolute mess in the garage.
There are two stages I hadn’t thought about during when I bought the beans and the grinder and that's the fact that I need to learn how to temper chocolate so the consistency, texture and appearance of the chocolate is suitable and that I should really find a way to get all the bubbles removed from the setting bars. I could buy a vibration plate to do this. This is starting to get expensive. I'll start off with learning one stage at a time and see how I get on.
I doubt I'll be able to give out samples due to health and safety laws. But also because I doubt I'll make anything people would actually want to try.
December's task will be to learn about roasting protocols and how to bodge together a winnower.
I'll keep you all updated of how I get on.