Misadventures of Home Cocoa Bean Roasting

Roasted cocoa beans on the left, unroasted on the right. Notice the few coffee beans in the extreme foreground ...cocoa beans are big! There are tons of rocks, sticks, burlap, etc. mixed in with the beans.

Living in Chicago I was entranced by the intese aroma of a local chocolate manufacturer, Blommers. They are not your typical chocolate confectionary business ...they roast the cocoa beans and sell their chocolate to folks who make the sweet stuff. They also seem to produce their own line of chocolates which they sell from a storefront right there at the factory.

Since I started roasting coffee at home again, I kept thinking about the feasibility of roasting your own cocoa beans, either to produce some sort of refined chocolate or to add to coffee. I relaized that the relationship between roasting coffee beans and cocoa beans is basically non-existent. Cocoa has an outer husk which would make it flammable in a coffee roasting device, and I knew that it goes through several roast/refinement stages, although I was (and still am) unclear exactly what they are.

While visiting Chicago, I went to the back of the factory which was along an old bike route I used to take. It was there I had seen them unloading cocoa beans by the rail car tracks. They shoveled them from the cars into a chute in the loading dock. With a plastic bag, I peered inside the rail car parked there, but not a cocoa bean was in sight. Then I shifted a plywood cover over the hole in the sidewalk and it the motherlode. The chute must have been backed up all the way, and I quickly filled my sack. (By the way, it was a Sunday, so I couldn't ask anyone in the store for permission, and I did get a tenuous "thumbs up" from a disinterested employee on a smoke break.)

Looks pretty, tastes pretty awful!

I roasted about 10 oz of beans just as I would oven roast coffee, for about 15 minutes. They popped loudly, but there was no indication they would ignite. After cooling, I hulled them, ground some and tried to make a chocolate-coffee beveridge by simply mixing them in with the coffee grind. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't good. If anything, it had a very nutty flavor, but didn't smell or taste like cocoa at all.

Later I attempted to recook the ground cocoa beans in a pan with oil. I read on a web page that you could make a coffee drink this way, by creating a mash of oil and ground cocoa, and forming it into cakes. The results were awful. When I tried to make a beverage from it, the big course chunks of cocoa floated in the cup like pieces of driftwood, and the flavor still wasn't anything like cocoa or chocolate.

If you like chocolate in your coffee every so often, this image represets my two favorite options:


My Sad Sack tale of cocoa bean roasting elecited this response of a professional who explains why it might NOT be a good idea to roast cocoa at home. Well, he makes some good points but I think the industry is scared of this thing catching on ... or at least it makes you wonder....

From: Simon.Blake

Subject: Roasting cocoa beans

To: tom@sweetmarias.com

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:

http://www.chocolate-alliance.com/production.htm

Regards... SB


The latest news ...

Guess what - one of our home roasting folks was inspired to create a roast-your-own-cocoa web site which sells cocoa beans and offers great information! Yes, you can roast cocoa at home ...Visit John at Chocolate Alchemy; http://www.chocolatealchemy.com

Tom 6/19/04