I make an item that uses chocolate to cover it. It has been suggested to me that I make my own chocolate. What is the minimum equipment required to do that and what are ways of making contact and evaluating a partnership with a grower to obtain cocoa beans? Where and how did others begin their journeys into making chocolate and will you share the ups and downs?
In my experience over the past nearly two decades, making your own chocolate from cocoa beans is non-trivial, and one that takes time to master.
Let me step back a bit. It’s important to remember that every small chocolate maker today started out where you are. You should know that it is trivially easy to grind cocoa beans with sugar and cocoa butter in basic equipment and make chocolate. Starting out the most important piece of equipment to learn on is a small grinder costing about US$300. You can roast in your home convection oven, and peel/winnow by hand or with a hair dryer.
However, what you are looking to do is make a chocolate that is suited for enrobing. That chocolate needs to tastes roughly the same from batch to batch and, more importantly, it should have the same workability – temper, viscosity, and rheology (fluidity and flow characteristics) – from batch to batch. That’s a lot harder, especially on small machines. In the short run it will be many times more expensive than buying couverture.
I am not trying to dissuade you from making chocolate, in fact I encourage you to start experimenting. You can get small quantities of beans (and a lot of information) on the Chocolate Alchemy web site, where you may also find sources for small quantities of beans. What I want to do is set your expectations in the right place.
While it is tempting to want to start relationships with growers, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense financially for either you or them until you can start committing to quantities much larger than a bag or two. That said, I do encourage you to schedule a trip to origin to experience the process first-hand.
If you have not been to a festival like The Big Chocolate Show in NY or the NW Chocolate Festival in Seattle, I encourage you to attend one of those to become more familiar with small makers. You might also consider joining the Fine Chocolate Industry Association and look into organizations like the Fine Cocoa and Chocolate Institute.