In this second instalment of #BehindTheBar, we will be exploring:
The importance of sorting our beans effectively and the impact it can have on the rest of the process.
The different methods of roasting cocoa beans.
Why roasting plays such an integral role in making craft chocolate and how it can make a difference to the overall flavour.
As we discussed in our first blog post about sourcing, (if you missed it you can catch up here!) we work with beans from smallholder farms in some amazing locations. These farmers are so passionate about the cacao they grow, producing beans that have incredibly complex flavour notes that we aim to showcase within our Bullion range.
Why do we hand-sort our cocoa beans?
We receive the beans once they have been fermented and dried. Due to the way they are dried, they will come into contact with the tropical surroundings. More often than not, this results in foreign objects and debris being found among them which is not what we want in our chocolate.
The beans arrive at our chocolate factory in 75kg hessian sacks which can take hours to manually sort through. We tip our cocoa beans out of the sack onto a sorting table and one by one, our chocolate makers sift through every bean to ensure each one is of the best quality. They're also removing any stones, twigs and other foreign objects that might be among the beans. It is important to us that only the best quality beans go into the finished bar.
Depending on the origin, there are various aspects that influence the length of time it takes to sort. In our experience, the Ecuadorian beans are larger in size and tend to have less defected beans. Because of this, it is a slightly quicker process to sort these beans than it is to sort one of our other origins, such as the Haitian bean. The Haitian beans are typically smaller in size and take more time to sort through.
It is very important to sort through beans upon arrival, if we didn’t, we would risk having twigs, stones and other debris entering our machinery. This would break our machines. So, rest assured that you'll not be having rocks in your chocolate, as it would not be able to pass through our process.
Above we can see the difference between bad and good beans. The flawed beans on the left include double beans, damaged beans, and smaller, sometimes over fermented beans. These imperfections can impact the flavour. Therefore, to ensure each of our bars maintain the signature taste, we only include the best beans which are shown on the right.
In the sorting process, we have to ensure that beans have been properly fermented. Overly fermented beans can be too hard and resemble a dried-up raisin. Additionally, double beans have not fermented properly as they have become stuck together during the fermentation process. Because of this, the flavour will not be evenly distributed and therefore will be removed. Other beans that are removed include beans which are sprouting. As beans start to sprout, their stem can develop a flavour, we do not want that to influence the finishing flavour of the bar, so we remove it.
If the defected beans were to go ahead in the process, it would influence the overall taste of the finished bar. Beans that haven’t properly fermented, broken beans or dry beans would affect the flavour notes and thus the quality. That is why it is imperative for us to only include the best beans, in order to achieve the desired flavour notes.
As you can imagine, this is not a quick process. But we’re determined to ensure each bar is made with the best possible beans. The defected beans are disposed of and we box up the good beans ready for the next stage of the process.
Ready to roast...
Each craft chocolate maker has their own approach to roasting. This stage in the process really allows us to get creative and put our own signature stamp on our products.
In the early stages of the business, Max (our founder) approached Duffy, the first bean to bar chocolate maker in the UK. Upon asking for tips, Max was invited to his factory where Duffy was incredibly generous with his knowledge. From this and previous experience, Max made the decision to transition to a convection oven, which is what is used in our factory today.
The equipment used to roast cocoa beans varies, while we use a convection oven, some chocolate makers roast in an adapted coffee bean roaster. When farmers roast beans at origin (to test the nib’s flavour) a pan above a flame can be used. Alternatively, beans can be roasted in a traditional oven (which is actually how Max, first started!)
When roasting, the temperature and time can greatly affect the overall taste of the bar. It is essential that all our beans are roasted above 100 degrees, this makes sure that any potential contaminants are eliminated, rendering the bean safe to eat.
Achieving The Maillard Reaction
The Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction, sometimes called the ‘browning reaction’. It produces hundreds of compounds and gives the cocoa beans their distinct flavour which can then be later appreciated in our bars. Not only does the Maillard reaction influence flavour, but it impacts the colour, smell and texture of the end product. Therefore, it is so important to understand and recognise this process when making chocolate from bean to bar. We think it is safe to say - on roasting day, our fellow neighbours know we’re in the building! The aroma of freshly, roasted cacao drifts through Cutlery Works.
If you were to stop roasting the cocoa beans prior to the Maillard reaction, it would result in vegetal and astringent notes. Alternatively, if you over roast, the overriding flavour of the chocolate would be bitter. To achieve our signature and unique flavours, our chocolate makers pay close attention to the Maillard reaction. It is imperative for this reaction to occur as it has a great influence over the taste of the end product. As a craft chocolate maker, it is up to each individual to decide what flavours they want to showcase in their chocolate bars.
Our chocolate makers at Bullion certainly have a savvy palate. They are able to predict a bar's flavour notes by taking a bean out of the oven and trying the nib before cleansing their palate with water. This allows them to evaluate whether the Maillard reaction has taken place or whether the roasting temperature or time needs altering.
In order to gauge when the Maillard reaction will take place, our beans undergo ‘roast tests’ which involves our chocolate makers trying beans every minute to identify the differences in flavour profiles. This allows each of our bars to expertly showcase the beans flavour. Conducting these roast tests are a necessary step at Bullion and are especially important to do when we import beans from a new origin.
Here at Bullion, we champion the inconsistencies. We love that each year the taste of each harvest varies, and the origins can taste completely different depending on how they have been grown. However, we are consistently committed to pulling as much flavour from the beans in our roasting process. To do this we have a specific roasting time and technique in place.
As we mentioned in the sourcing blog post, a bean's terroir and growing conditions have a huge impact on the finishing taste of the bar. As no two bar flavours are the exact same, our chocolate makers ensure they achieve the same flavour notes by closely monitoring the entire process.
One thing that fascinates and excites us at Bullion, is the uniqueness of the craft chocolate scene as a whole. We love to try other craft chocolate maker’s products and are interested in how two different makers can be presented with the same beans and due to unique roasting processes, can result in two completely different flavoured bars.
If you haven’t yet experienced the flavours that we achieve, try our mini collection or our three bar bundle to get a taste of our signature origins. We recommend gathering friends or family members together and sampling a taste of each bar. Take a sip of water between each bar to cleanse your palate and discuss the unique flavours.
Once the beans have been roasted, they’re placed onto a metal table (as shown below) to cool ahead of the next stage.
The next step in our process is breaking and winnowing. This is also the subject of the next blog post in the #BehindTheBar series. To get a first look into the process, sign up to our mailing list via the footer on our website.
We want to know your thoughts…
- Have you ever tried roasting your own cocoa beans?
- What origins / company’s chocolate do you recommend for us to try?
- Have you got a favourite Bullion bar? What flavour notes are your favourite?