Friday, October 18, 2013

Home-Made Hot Chocolate

Having learned about cocoa processing through my research on Nestlé's powdered beverage Nesquik (can be read about here), I was determined to purchase raw cocoa. However, it proved harder than I thought. A new kid on the block in the Okanagan, I was unsure of the local assortment of health food retailers. Dutch cocoa (processed with alkali) was in high supply everywhere I looked, but it was not until I was referred to Nature's Fare that I found what I was looking for: raw cacao nibs.

Thrilled with a desired, although expensive, purchase, I headed straight home, picturing a smooth grinding process complete with a cup of rich hot chocolate for an afternoon dessert. Recently, I became accustomed to this divine beverage, as it effectively curbed my appetite for sweets and pastries and served as a great alternative to coffee, whenever I craved a second cup.

Having reached home and fed Marcus, I opened the package and the intense aroma of dark chocolate hit me almost immediately. Divine indeed, I thought to myself, and poured the nibs into a dry Vitamix container. Armed with a tamper, I started the machine, but within seconds of high-powered grinding, it was obvious that my cocoa powder was quickly becoming cocoa butter. The natural oils in the beans served their purpose and turned the nibs into a dense greasy mass that was now stuck to the bottom of the container and had to be extracted with a knife.

My dream of a fine home-made chocolate drink was now hijacked by its rather stubborn main ingredient. The decision was made to let the clumps dry out until they could be re-ground and finally turned into powder. 

The next day, I was finally able to complete the process and turn all cacao nibs into powder. Between grinding and waiting for the oily clumps to air out, I turned to Google, only to discover fellow bloggers' accounts of unsuccessful at-home handling of cacao beans and the so-called experts' do not try this at home warnings. 

In fact, one of such specialists- a process engineer from Cadbury- laid out an eight-step process for treating raw cacao beans. Below is the full email, as provided in Sweet Maria's blog post.

From: Simon.Blake
Subject: Roasting cocoa beans

Tom, I am a process engineer working for Cadbury at their bean-processing site in the UK. I was trawling the net looking for info on a project I'm working on, and your site came up.

You seem to have tried to roast your own cocoa beans. Full marks for effort! However, unlike coffee, cocoa beans don't lend themselves to home processing.

In order get anything remotely pleasant from cocoa beans at home you'd need to:

(a) thoroughly clean the beans - after removing stones etc. we blast them with superheated steam. Not a practical proposition for the home user, and there is a quantifiable risk of infection from consuming a cocoa product which has not been properly "debacterised" so it really isn't advisable to try processing cocoa beans at home

(b) dry and roast the whole bean - possible in a home oven I suppose, but not recommended as the shell is flammable. Particularly inadvisable in a gas oven. Industrial roasters are protected with deluge systems in case of fire - is your oven?

(c) separate the shell - i.e. "winnow" the beans. Smash them up with a hammer and throw them in the air in a breeze. The light shell will blow away, the heavier nib will fall back in your tray. Like separating wheat from chaff.

(d) grind the nib. This will make it liquefy - you have made "cocoa liquor". This is going to make a *real* mess of your grinder. It's unlikely any grinder you have at home can get the liquor as fine as the ones used in industry.

(e) alkalise it to adjust the flavour and colour. Extremely tricky to get right at home, so don't even try this.

(f) separate the cocoa butter from the cocoa solids. You'll need some sort of filter press. Industrial presses reach enormous pressures - I can't think of anything you could put in your kitchen which could do this.

(g) give/sell the cocoa butter to someone who makes chocolate - you won't be able to use it for anything.

(h) grind the press cake into a fine powder. Add to hot milk and add sugar to taste. As you can see, getting a pleasant drink out of a cocoa bean is a LOT more involved than getting one out of a coffee bean!

For further info, come to the UK and visit Cadbury World in Bournville, Birmingham!

Also see Cadbury's website, or check the one below:

Regards... SB   

Making it sound like a rocket science- of course, he must have studied for years to be able to engineer similar production processes- hardly scared me. In fact, I did not even roast my beans* and stuck to minimal processing via mechanical grinding. Alkalizing was also unnecessary, as the taste of my beverage later proved. All I DID do was grind my organic cacao nibs. 

I carried on... Slightly coarser than a store-bought type, the cocoa powder was fine enough to attempt making a highly awaited hot chocolate beverage. Using the local one per cent milk from 'D' Dutchmen Dairy, I added freshly ground nutmeg and cinnamon, a few drops of vanilla extract and brandy, buckwheat honey and... of course... raw cocoa. Constantly stirring on low, I was surprised at how well my cocoa incorporated into the mixture. There was no sign of dry clumps that so often form with the store variety of cocoa.

Once completely mixed and properly cooked, I took the pot off the stove and strained the liquid to get rid of larger particles. Still anticipating a bitter or somehow inadequate taste, I took a sip. The same fragrant note of chocolate hit my nose before my taste buds came to life. Rich and creamy, despite the usage of one per cent milk, this nightly drink turned out the way I anticipated- an ideal partner for a sleepless blogger. 

The moral of the story was as obvious as it was simple. Do not be afraid to learn about the origin of food. For any one of us is fully capable of growing our own food, processing many raw ingredients in the comfort of our own home and preparing delectable and nutritious meals. 

*It is unclear from the package, whether the cocoa beans were roasted prior to being crushed and packaged. The ingredients list reads, organic cacao nibs

1 comment:

  1. A note from the author: lists this brand of cacao nibs as a raw food. Therefore, my assumption is that the beans have not been roasted. The particular brand I used can be found here: The particular brand that I used can be found here: