An essential part of the artisanal bean-to-bar chocolate-making endeavour is roasting the cocoa beans. For the cocoa farmer, the journey begins with the cultivation of cocoa plants, followed by the harvesting of cocoa pods, fermenting and then drying them.
The chocolate-maker then takes over the reins by sourcing these cocoa beans from the farmer and initiating the bean-to-bar process with the crucial stage of roasting the beans.
Why Do We Roast Cocoa Beans?
- The very first step in developing the ultimate flavour of the chocolate is roasting the beans.
- It is a measured process that requires care, because the temperature and time involved determine the extent of roasting.
- The flavour, aroma and colour of the final product are first set during this stage and further developed in the subsequent stages of chocolate-making.
- The natural flavour of raw cocoa is harsh. It can be bitter and astringent. During roasting, various chemical reactions occur in the bean. The acerbic, volatile acids are driven out and the sugars and acids are converted into pleasant flavour compounds.
- Roasting purges the cocoa beans of the by-products of the earlier fermentation process. During fermentation, the beans could develop bacteria, fungi and mold. Roasting cleanses the beans of any such potentially harmful residue which may still be present after drying.
- It also rids the beans of the vinegar smell that they develop as a consequence of fermentation.
- The roasting temperature should be high enough to remove any salmonella or E.coli that may be present.
- The beans are typically dried on the ground and could get infested by bugs and other such contaminants. Roasting can remove these hazards as well.
- Roasting is the first step in reducing the moisture content in the cocoa. Moisture-reduction continues during the later stages like conching. After fermentation and drying the beans still contain around 7.5 percent moisture. The moisture content is steadily reduced during roasting and the stages that follow, to make it easier to grind the beans and achieve the right consistency of the final product.
- When the beans are roasted, the husks loosen and separate from the nibs. It makes it much easier to completely remove the husks during winnowing, which follows later.
How Can We Roast Cocoa Beans?
There are a few variables to consider before and during the roasting process.
The size of the beans
While preparing a batch of beans for roasting, size is an important factor to keep in mind. Beans should be sorted into batches of similar size. This will ensure even roasting from uniform heat transfer throughout the batch.
The moisture content of the beans
The sourced beans can be drier or softer depending on how much moisture they are carrying. Typically they contain 6 to 7 percent water content, which needs to evaporate during roasting, without the beans getting too dry and burnt. A moisture-meter can be used to measure their initial water content so that the temperature and length of roasting can be estimated.
Development of the desired flavour
Apart from the physical properties like size and moisture, the sensory properties of the bean, like flavour, have to be analyzed before roasting. Tasting the raw bean is the ideal way to judge what flavours should be dulled or enhanced and what type of roast will help reach that target. Training and experience are the only way to develop this skill, which is almost an art form.
The temperature to which the beans are roasted
There are no set industry standards to determine the best temperature for a roast style as it heavily depends on the qualities of the bean itself.
The roast typically begins with an initial or charge temperature for a period of time and then the temperature is adjusted for the remaining part of the roast.
There are a few thumb rules that seasoned chocolate-makers have learnt from experience and shared.
For example, if the bean has subtle flavours that need to be enhanced or preserved, the charge temperature should be low. For a stronger caramel taste or greater body, the charge temperature should be high. For beans with a higher moisture content, a higher charge temperature will help evaporate the moisture quickly before the flavours can begin to develop.
It is good practice to measure the temperature of the beans from time time to time using a thermometer, not just the ambient temperature that is regulated by the equipment. This will ensure greater accuracy in judging the progress of the roast.
The length of time for which they are roasted
Temperature and time are adjusted in tandem for different roasts and different desired results.
Fruity and floral delicate flavours are strengthened by roasting at a lower temperature for a shorter period of time as compared to the higher temperature and longer roasting time to achieve a medium roast with stronger flavours and body.
Larger beans need to be slow-roasted at lower temperatures.
Colour and aroma
As the roast progresses, the chocolate-maker monitors the beans to keep track of changes in colour (which is not as perceptible in the case of cocoa as opposed to coffee beans) and aroma.
Tasting the roasting beans, and checking their scent intermittently, will help make an accurate judgement about when the roasting can be stopped. The aroma is initially quite pungent and acidic but as the beans roast, they turn more pleasantly fragrant and develop a typical chocolate scent.
Judging when the ideal flavour and aroma have been reached is a fine art that is honed from experience.
A popping and cracking noise is a reliable indicator that the roast is done and the cocoa beans are now ready for the next stage of cooling. Roasting the beans beyond this point will sharply increase the risk of burning them. Smaller beans crack earlier, which makes it all the more important that the batch has beans of uniform size.
The optimum level of each of these variables make up the roasting profile for each type of roast. Chocolate-makers will typically experiment with each of these factors and record the values at which the desired flavour, aroma and type or level of roast are achieved. They will refer to this profile in the future to obtain the same result.
A Variety of Equipment Can Be Used for Roasting on a Smaller Scale.
A standard oven can roast up to two pounds of beans. They need to be spread out in an even layer for uniform roasting, so this where volume comes into play. Regulating the temperature for darker or gentler roasts is easy with an oven. A commercial oven can roast larger quantities and allows for predetermined temperatures and times to be programmed in for different roast profiles, further streamlining the production process.
Drums come in a wide range of sizes and can be rotated on a gas grill or an open flame using a motor. They enable a more even roast compared to other roasting tools.
Based on the similarities and differences between cocoa and coffee beans, a coffee roaster can be adapted for roasting cocoa beans and is in fact the preferred equipment of choice for small-scale artisanal chocolate-makers. As they are programmed for coffee which is roasted at far higher temperatures, some adjustments have to be made for cocoa but the basic procedure remains the same.
Pan and stove
This is the simplest but technically least efficient and challenging way to roast. A thermometer can be used to measure the temperature of the beans but regulating the temperature has to be done manually and using good judgement.
Can You Roast Cocoa Beans in a Coffee Roaster?
Cocoa and coffee beans share many similarities and so the answer is yes. The Behmor 1600 is the preferred model of choice for roasting cocoa on a smaller scale.
It can accommodate up to 2.5 pounds of cocoa beans. As cocoa beans are less dense due to a higher fat content, double the amount of cocoa beans can be roasted in one batch in a coffee roaster.
It uses a drum roasting technology but is designed like an oven for greater ease of use and safety.
It has five customizable roast profiles. It also has a manual mode that can override the program mode.
It marries the best features of an oven and a drum, providing a uniform heat distribution through rotation, and at the same time, enabling accurate temperature regulation.
It is not an automated roaster and requires constant monitoring of the roast. But constant observation is imperative to the roasting process and so it suits the purpose of roasting cocoa beans.
The chaff tray and drum are removable, making cleanup easy.
The drum has a tight mesh to prevent smaller beans or nibs from escaping.
A lighted interior makes it possible to monitor the roasting beans for colour change and cracking.
What to do with Roasted Cocoa Beans – Some Alternative Uses
Apart from the primary use of roasted cocoa beans, which is chocolate in the form of a bar or bites, roasted cocoa can be used for other types of commercial consumption.
Brewed cocoa is a roasted cocoa beans drink. It is made from cocoa beans that are fermented, roasted and ground. It is brewed just like coffee. Unlike a chocolate drink, or hot chocolate as we commonly know it, brewed cocoa is free of fat, sugar and calories. It is cocoa that can be consumed in its purest form.
The health benefits of cocoa include flavanoids or antioxidants that promote immunity, cardiovascular health, cognitive health and blood sugar control. Cocoa contains chemicals that can elevate your mood.
Brewed cocoa provides all these benefits without the added harm of sugar and fat.
Roasted cocoa beans nibs are commercially available. They tend to have a bitter and strong flavour that could be an acquired taste for many. However they can be consumed in much more palatable ways.
They can be added to smoothies, or sprinkled on salad and cereals.
They can be baked into breads and muffins or mixed in with nuts and dried fruits to make a trail mix or energy bars.
They can be used to crust meats and can be used in sauces like barbecue and mole.
They provide the nutritional benefits of cocoa like antioxidants, protein and fiber, without added sugar or fat.
Cocoa tea is made from the husks or chaff of the cocoa bean. After the roasting process, the nibs and husks are separated by winnowing. The nibs go on to be ground to make a chocolate liqueur and chocolate products while the husks can be used to make a tea by simply adding hot water an allowing to steep.
How Can We Source Cocoa Beans?
A vital concern for artisanal chocolate-makers is – where to buy cocoa beans to make chocolate.
Artisanal chocolate-makers typically deal directly with the cocoa farmers. This allows them to ensure that they are sourcing the best quality raw material for their bean-to-bar journey at a price that is fair to both parties.
Wherever possible, by visiting the farms and gaining a strong knowledge about the beans being cultivated there, chocolate-makers can make more informed decisions about their sourcing needs.
A large number of enthusiasts have entered the realm of cocoa cultivation on a smaller scale, in farms that have the optimal climate and soil conditions for cocoa plants. They employ best practices to grow and harvest good cocoa to meet the artisanal chocolate-making demand and most ship their product worldwide.
So craft chocolate makers now have the option of sourcing their beans from a large number of small to mid-sized farms in tropical countries such as Thailand.
Bean-to-bar chocolate-making is a captivating craft that has drawn in entrepreneurs and hobbyists from all walks of life. Many of them have perfected the art and science of this enthralling process through passion and experience. Ours is one such journey that we would love to share with you.
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Why Do We Roast Cocoa Beans