Before we get into how we sort our beans, let’s quickly clarify why sorting is necessary.
We sort beans to maximize flavor, which is our number one goal. A portion of the cocoa beans that come to us aren't perfect, and beans that are "visually impaired," have a high chance of being detrimental to flavor, so we discard them. We sort out beans that are flat, punctured, too small, too large, moldy, and poorly-fermented.
Traditionally, beans are sorted by hand. And while we also started out making our chocolate this way, we figured we could find a better solution. After countless hours of designing, prototyping and testing, we were able to build a few systems to pick out bad beans automatically.
Before we get into the advantages of nib roasting, let’s quickly clarify why roasting cocoa is necessary.
The main reason we roast cocoa is for flavor development. (Did we already mention we care a lot about flavor?). During roasting, a large portion of the astringent and bitter acids—called volatile acids—are removed.
In addition to removing volatiles, roasting stimulates a Maillard Reaction, also known as a non-enzymic browning. Don’t worry if you don’t know what that means. In short, it’s a chemical reaction between amino acids and sugars that gives many of our favorite foods their distinctive taste and color, like seared steak, caramelized onions, coffee, and loads of baked goods.
Roasting is a vital step for producing the incredible flavors we love in chocolate.
So far we’ve found quite a few but for now we’ll focus on the two most important for flavor development: a moist roast environment and better removal of volitile flavors. First, let's talk whole bean roasting.
Cocoa beans vary dramatically in size depending on their country of origin, the season their cocoa pod was picked, the climate of the farm, and many other factors. These variations make it difficult for us to evenly roast an entire batch of whole beans.
When roasting conditions are set for an average size bean, we end up with over-roasted small beans and under-roasted large beans, and both have a major impact on flavor. Under-roasting produces beans with little to no flavor (and high amounts of the astringency we mentioned earlier) and over-roasting results in additional burnt flavor1.
According to material scientist W. Mohr: "Even when roasting temperatures are optimally regulated, a certain amount of over-roasting always occurs in the outer layers, while the bean centre remains insufficiently roasted. This means that maximum aroma development cannot be achieved if beans are roasted whole"2.
The solution is to break open the beans, discard the shells, and roast just the nibs—which allows us to roast an entire batch evenly. There’s a few reasons why nib roasting has worked better for us.
The first is moisture content. We perform a two-phase roast. In the first phase, we carefully dry the nibs at a low temperature until the moisture content inside them has been reduced. In the second phase, we rapidly heat the nibs to the exact roasting temperature we want, and then keep them there until we’ve reached our target roast profile—which we determine using dozens of test roasts.
During the first roasting phase, two important things happen. By roasting just the nibs, moisture content from the inside of the nibs migrates to the surface and slowly evaporates into the roaster. This natural migration of moisture creates a humid roasting atmosphere which allows for an "equalization of disparate degrees of moisture"2. In other words, nibs of different sizes equalize at the same moisture content, allowing us to roast all of the nibs evenly.
In whole-bean roasting, the shells surrounding each bean make it difficult for such evaporation to occur. As a result, a case hardening occurs—the shell forms an insulation layer which seals in moisture and prohibits heat-exchange—leading to the over- and under-roasting we mentioned earlier.
If you remember from the previous section, we mentioned that one of the main reasons we roast cocoa is to remove volatile acids. In both whole-bean and nib roasting, volatile acids are removed through the evaporation of moisture from within the nibs.
We also described earlier that in whole bean roasting, a case hardening effect will trap moisture in the center of a bean. With nib roasting, a moist environment allows the nib moisture to freely evaporate right up to the end of the roasting process, which provides for maximum removal of volatile acids, and ultimately leads to better flavor.
These are just a few of the reasons we like nib roasting, and why it has worked so well in our production process.
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We built our own equipment to identify and discard low-quality beans. Before every batch, we remove beans that are flat, punctured, moldy, too large, too small, and poorly-fermented.
Removing beans of lesser quality greatly improves the final flavor of our chocolate. If you’re curious to learn how we do it, check out our process below.
The best ingredients make the best chocolate. We start with the best cacao we can find. We source from countries all around the world, like Madagascar, Uganda, Trinidad, Ecuador, and Nicaragua to name a few.
Transparent—and often direct—trade. We purchase all of our ingredients through a transparent supply chain. It's important to us that the cacao, sugar, and dairy farmers we work with are adequately paid. When we don't buy directly from a farm, we work with importers who share the same values.
Sorting systems we built in-house. Imperfect beans are picked out first. Unripe and poorly-fermented beans are discarded second. We start with beans of the highest quality and only the best of the best make it into the final product.
+ Our chocolate is unique
Beans vary dramatically in size and moisture content. Roasting with whole beans generally means over-roasting some and under-roasting others. Instead, we remove the shells first and roast only the nibs, which gives us better consistency and flavor development from roast to roast and batch to batch.
+ Why we love nib roasting
Stone-ground to the ideal micron size. Above a certain grind size, chocolate tastes gritty. Below a certain grind size, it tastes gummy. We target the ideal micron range for a smooth mouthfeel.
Conched at the proper temperature. Raw cocoa is full of overpowering astringency. We apply heat during the conching process to bake off excess volatile aroma—leaving only the natural flavor of the cocoa.
Chocolate has six crystal structures. The proper sequence of heating, cooling, and heating again sets each bar in the perfect, melt-in-your-mouth, crystal structure.
Biodegradable, compostable, or recyclable. We’re tired of seeing trash floating in the ocean, so we’ve made it a mission to reduce waste wherever we can. From our tape, labels, and boxes to our shipping insulation and bar wrapper, our packaging is compostable, biodegradable, or recyclable.
Our mission >