Friday, April 13, 2012

Making Chocolate From Bean-to-Bar at Home

Did you ever think that you could make a chocolate bar in your own home kitchen?  I am not talking about melting some chocolate chips and pouring them into a mold to make a chocolate bar.  I mean making chocolate from the cocoa bean by roasting the beans in your own oven, grinding them in your coffee grinder, then blending the ground beans with sugar, vanilla and cocoa butter in your blender or food processor, melting and tempering it on your stove and THEN pouring it into chocolate bar molds.  All in your very own kitchen in one afternoon?

Well, that is just what I and a good friend (and fellow blogger: Life on Manitoulin) did last week in my kitchen.  And we have Madre Chocolate, a chocolate bean-to-bar artisan manufacturer from Hawaii to thank for it. 

You see, a few weeks ago I decided to buy myself a lovely birthday present: Madre’s Hawaiian chocolate. I was curious about Hawaiian cocoa beans and chocolate, and Madre was the first Hawaiian bean-to-bar chocolate maker that I have heard of.  So I thought that my birthday was a great excuse to try some of their chocolate bars and spend the extra money on the shipping cost from Hawaii.
Madre also sold a bean-to-bar chocolate making kit on their website  For me, this was an exciting product.  If you have read this blog before, you might know that I am on a mission to become a true chocolate connoisseur someday.  But I have set such high standards for what I think a true chocolate connoisseur should be that the task is a bit overwhelming.  One of the things I believe that I need to learn is how to make chocolate from the bean.  And I don’t mean that I should just take a couple of factory tours to learn how to make chocolate from bean-to-bar.  I mean really make chocolate from the bean by grinding it myself and turning it into real and tasty chocolate.  Madre’s Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Making Kit was offering me a chance to do just that....well, at least a chance to take a first and amateurish stab at making chocolate in my own kitchen.

The kit had the following:
  • Cacao beans
  • Cacao nibs
  • A dark chocolate bar
  • A recipe
These were the items you needed to make a basic chocolate bar. The kit was not all that expensive, so there are a few items that were not included that you might want or need to enhance the chocolate bar that you are planning to make, including:
  • Cocoa butter
  • Sugar (we used Camino organic & Fair Trade cane sugar)
  • A vanilla bean
  • Lecithin (soy or other)
  • Herbs like chili, mint leaves, thyme, or whatever you might want to flavour your chocolate with.

I have to admit, I was not really all that prepared for the project when my friend arrived at my house.  I have limited time these days, so I had just glanced at the ingredients list and made sure that I had the ingredients on hand and out on the counter (I had a vanilla bean and cocoa butter, and decided not to flavour the chocolate with anything else).  I did read that I needed a coffee grinder, so I took that out too, but I missed the mention of needing a “food processor”. Duh, why didn’t I realize that? How else would I mix the ingredients?  I could have asked my friend to bring hers, but since I hadn’t, I pulled out my trusty old blender.  Perhaps a food processor would have worked better, but we had to make do with what we had.
The other equipment that we needed included: a double boiler, spatula, chocolate molds, a thermometer and a hair dryer (I know, what?!?). Luckily, I had all those things on hand.
So the instructions told us to start by roasting the beans. This was the second thing that I was not really prepared for. For some reason I assumed the beans were pre-roasted. But I am glad that we had to roast them because it was fun to learn about roasting cocoa beans. What I learned was: when cocoa beans are roasted, they smell like freshly baked sweet brownies, even though they still taste like bitter cocoa beans.
Roasting took about 20 minutes in the oven on a cookie sheet. Although we were not sure that the beans were fully roasted, we were being extra careful not to over-roast them (if we had, Madre had also supplied pre-roasted cocoa nibs in the kit so that we could use those in case of a roasting mishap – good thinking Madre! My next project is to make some chocolate from the nibs provided).

Then came the shelling, which was the HARD PART. That is where the hair dryer came in.  Apparently you can toss the beans into the wind in order to get the shells to loosen so you can crack them off, or you can blow cool air on them with your hair dryer.  I warn you: even a bowl with high sides still will not prevent the mess of shells that want to fly everywhere, so just be prepared to sweep up. Admittedly, it was a bit funny when I first turned on the hair dryer and there was a sudden shower of bean shells that we had already tried to crack.  Again, “duh” I should have figured that one out before I turned on the hair dryer!
The only down side of the instruction sheet was that the recipe was for one chocolate bar. Therefore, we had to do some math in order to make chocolate with all of the beans that were provided in the kit. I think my friend and I both just wanted to be told exactly how much sugar, vanilla, cocoa butter, etc was needed to make chocolate from the amount of beans that were provided.  But I understand why Madre had a recipe with quantities that did not match the amount provided.  For one, it teaches us how much of each ingredient is needed as a percent (%) of the entire chocolate bar, so we will know in the future should we make chocolate again.  Also, if we messed up while roasting the beans and burnt some, then we could simply follow the recipe using less beans. 
But since we wanted to make enough chocolate so we could both take some home at the end of the day, a little math was required in order to use up all the beans.  So I pulled out my scale and weighed the beans once they were roasted and cracked, then we measured up all the other ingredients to match that number of beans (which, bye the way, was about 4 ounces of beans). 
Once roasted and shelled, the beans could be ground in the coffee grinder in batches.  My friend took care of that part and stopped the grinder when the beans started to get a bit pasty from the heat of the grinder (a grinder that does not warm up would be better for chocolate making!). We also used the coffee grinder to grind the sugar and the vanilla bean. Once ground, the sugar, vanilla and cocoa beans were put in the blender along with a little less than 1 ounce of additional cocoa butter and a touch of lecithin. In the blender, a miracle happened!  The mixture quickly melted into a liquid!  Although the instructions said to blend for 20 minutes to 1 hour, we only had 20 minutes, so that is all we did.
Once blended (or amateurishly 'conched'), we then followed Madre’s instructions to temper the chocolate.  I have my own method of tempering that I am used to, but thought I should follow Madre’s method and use the pre-packaged chocolate bar provided to stabilize the cocoa solids during tempering.  We also ate some of that pre-packaged Hawaiian chocolate – it couldn’t be helped!  Then we poured it into a few different chocolate molds, let it cool and VOILA!  We had made beautiful chocolate!  The sea shell mold that I loaned to my Life on Manitoulin pal to take home with her was quite appropriate, since we were making some tropical chocolate from Hawaiian cocoa beans.

So, you might be wondering: How does our chocolate compare to commercially manufactured chocolate? Well, the texture is very different than the chocolate that we all know.
This is OUR finished product! 
Looks great, right?
And it was made from
bean-to-bar in MY kitchen!
Instead of turning out like Madre’s beautifully smooth-textured chocolate bars, our chocolate was more like TAZA Stone Ground Chocolate, an American small-batch chocolate producer who believes in minimally processing their chocolate. I happened to have a TAZA 87% Stone Ground Chocolate bar (single Origin: Bolivia) on hand that we compared it to ours.  TAZA’s bar was slightly more bitter and acidic and the cocoa bean flavour was different (the Hawaiian chocolate had a distinct tropical fruit flavour), but the sand-like texture was very similar.

The reason for the grittiness: Lack of equipment! Although TAZA intends for their chocolate to be gritty, we just did not have the right equipment to finely grind the cocoa beans, and my blender couldn’t grind it up any further. This also meant that the flavour still had a bitter cocoa nib taste to our chocolate (similar to TAZA’s also), a flavour which is usually processed out of chocolate made with professional chocolate-making equipment. But regardless, it was still chocolate and we enjoyed it none-the-less!
If you are curious about Madre’s awesome Hawaiian chocolate, I have recently written about the chocolate bars that I bought from them:
If you are curious about making chocolate at home, you can buy Madre’s kit online at  This is a GREAT gift idea for that chocolate lover in your life.  And here is a good article on turning your home kitchen into a miniature chocolate making factory:, which also recommends some good home equipment to get started. Check it out:
Don't forget to check out the fantastic blog (and her blog post about making chocolate with me) by my friend and chocolate-making partner here: Life on Manitoulin.
If you are interested in TAZA's Stone Ground Chocolate made with Bolivian cocoa, which I tasted this week, here are the package details:

87% Dark Stone Ground Chocolate (Organic), 3 oz (85g)
TAZA chocolate
Ingredients: organic Bolivian cacao beans, organic cane sugar, organic vanilla bean. May contain nuts.

Looking for Madagascar Vanilla Beans for your home chocolate-making project?

They are available through Chef Central.


  1. I LOVE this post (and you!). I had so much fun making chocolate with you. Thanks so much for including me in such a great experience. I am addicted and want to do it again! I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the Madre Chocolate too.

    Any time you feel like doing this again, I'm game! :-)

  2. P.S. Let's get together soon so I can return your seashell mold(among other items!). Oh, and your photos are fabulous! :-)

  3. OMG this is AWESOME! I admire your quest to become more knowledgable about chocolate and it is something I so wish I had time to do. I have a daily 3h commute so I spend most weekends sleeping but it would be great to be able to try my hand atr making chocolate from bean to bar!

  4. Thanks so much for this post! I've always wanted to do my own bean to bar experimentation, but thought the price for bean grinders was too steep. It never occurred to me to use my coffee grinder! Now I'm gonna give it a try!

    1. Definitely try it - it is so fun and SO eye opening!

  5. Have made a few attempts at making chocolate and get a little further with each attempt. Here in the Philippines we have lots of cocao beans and so it is as natural as making peanut butter. Have not any problems with roasting or winnowing, but it's after that that I usually come up a brick wall. Finally yesterday I used raw sugar and things went great. Found a couple of things out that I'd like to pass on: 1. We go to a local mercado to get our beans ground and discovered that they will not grind the beans if you mix in with the sugar; and, 2. Don't even grind the (ground) beans in the sugar...I boiled them together with butter and vanilla and finally hit the mark.

  6. thanks for the post, very useful :) I just wanted to ask, I previously made some homemade chocolates but for some reason, when I was tempering it (and during the conching process) the chocolate just wouldn't melt. I added 50g sugar in 75g cacao beans to make my 60% chocolate and did not blend the sugar and vanilla before adding it to the chocolate. I simply ground down the cacao first, until it was liquid. Then I threw it in a wet grinder and let it conch for 2 hours, then added the sugar and vanilla. After that, the chocolate just didn't stay liquid... When I was tempering, I just kept adding cocoa butter for it to melt. Do you always need to add cocoa butter in order for the choclate to stay liquid? Or did I do something wrong? stuck!!

    1. Hi! I think the problem is either the cocoa butter or the adding of the sugar and vanilla in thw wrong order may be the problem. I find it very hard to melt cocoa butter on its own and I found it helpful to warm it up in the microwave before throwing it into the ground cocoa beans. Also, when tempering, you may need to add soldi, already tempered chocolate. Which is a pain when you are making your own. Just try to find some similar to what you are making.
      Also, I think the sugar and vanilla may have siezed the mixture. The vanilla needs to be the bean and not the wet extract. And even then, the bean sometimes looks a little wet too, so I think that is why it needs to be ground with the beans upfront.
      Also,you do need to reheat the chocolate mixture in order to get it back to a liquid. Ensure no water drops get into the mix from washing your hands or other water. I hope this helps!

  7. WOW I love this post...Very helpful!!

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  13. Making chocolate from bean-to-bar is a fun and rewarding process that anyone can do at home with the right tools and ingredients. The first step is to roast the cocoa beans. This can be done in a simple home oven. Once the beans are roasted, they need to be cooled and then crushed into nibs. The next step is to grind the nibs into a paste called chocolate liquor. This paste can be used to make chocolate bars or other chocolate confections. With a little practice, anyone can make delicious homemade chocolate from scratch!

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