chocolate making

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Make chocolate, sell chocolate, design new products, meet with partners…we’ve been swamped with work the first three months of this year.

We considered giving it up and leaving back to the US-again. We canned the idea for another year.

Things are still tough, but improving. I’m finally almost convinced this is going to work. The income is good enough to keep us going for now, and there are lots of opportunities on the horizon.

Hope to be back with more news soon. Stay tuned!

While some might enjoy constantly delegating, giving orders, and sitting around watching the work get done for them, it’s not as easy as it sounds. It’s even harder when you’re not able to show the people doing the work for you exactly how you’d like it done. Worse yet when you’re in pain. That’s the position I find myself in right now. So while I’m not 100% able to demonstrate how I’d like everything done in the chocolate shop, I’m taking advantage of this opportunity to teach and reteach with more details what I have taught in the past. Fortunately for me, I enjoy teaching, so I’m trying to grin and bear it while imparting some useful chocolate and culinary knowledge.

I can now better appreciate the frustration, pissy attitudes, and short-tempers of chefs who want things done right, want them done NOW, and want them done to some exacting standard that no one else can define and that can’t be explained in words. They want all these things because their job, their income, and often their business depends on numerous things being done right and regularly to specific, exacting standards. That’s where I stand right now. But I’m trying not to be the short-tempered management nightmare that so many chefs can be. I think it’s a good challenge, one that will help me grow and be a better teacher/chocolatier/instructor.

This broken leg thing has laid bare just how much the business depends on me, and while that’s a nice feeling, it would be even better to know that the business can run, in nearly its entirety, without me around at all. So that’s where I’m headed. I will still have to help prioritize, manage orders, and other administrative stuff, as well as set the pace in the kitchen. But when these 8 weeks or so are up, I expect to have increased my employee’s knowledge of chocolate making to the level that she can carry out 95% of the production without my assistance.

What We Want To Do

We all love chocolate. But wouldn’t it be even better if you knew the story behind who grew the beans that went into your bar? Exactly where they came from, how they were grown, and how they were transported and then transformed into that magical substance we all love? Help us to make direct purchases from our partner farmers/cooperatives in Ecuador. We will pay them a fair price-their price-for top quality heritage Nacional beans, and create the amazing elixir that comes only from Ecuadorian cocoa beans.

Why Ecuador?

Why are we so excited about Ecuador? Most of the world’s chocolate is your average bulk grade mediocre stuff. The cocoa beans are bought and sold in massive amounts with little regard for quality. But 5% of the world’s cocoa beans are considered “fine grade” and Ecuador is the world’s largest producer of these beans.

Unfortunately, even Ecuador’s famous Nacional cacao bean is disappearing with the introduction of new hybrid varieties. With our efforts, we aim to not only make a top-shelf chocolate, but to engage in direct trade with cacao growers, and highlight the threats facing Ecuador’s farmers and Ecuador’s world famous heritage Nacional cacao.

How We’ll Do It

How will we source the cacao beans and make the chocolate? We’ve arranged to purchase Nacional cacao from key regions of Ecuador. Because we live in Ecuador and work in the chocolate business, and through the help of Cristian Melo who has spent years working with cacao producers’ associations, we have identified prime sources of top-quality Nacional cacao beans and will buy directly from farmers´ cooperatives. Jeffrey Stern is our Ecuador Sourcing Manager, and has lived in Ecuador for five years. He lives and breathes chocolate and knows Ecuador’s cacao industry firsthand. Jeff is our man-on-the-ground for the purchase and transport of the beans.

Who will make the chocolate? Dana Brewster and Mark Del Vecchio, ofMillcreek Cacao Roasters in Salt Lake City, will make the chocolate at their artisan facility. When the beans arrive at their facility, they will carefully clean and inspect them, then roast, winnow, grind, conche and refine them to silky perfection, to be molded into beautiful shiny bars for your delight. Bars will be hand-packaged, then sold at Millcreek Cacao’s existing locations, as well as online and through other venues.

In each of the regions we select beans from, the bar packaging will include the story of our growers. Not only will you hear about the growers through the bars and taste their story, but we plan to document every step of the process in writing, via blog, and video, to develop a direct trade model others can implement!

How will your donations help make the project happen? We’ve already laid out all the groundwork. We have the logistics and equipment in place. You contributions will help us to pay a fair price to the growers and transport the beans to the US, and make the chocolate and send it out to our supporters!

Rewards

Our rewards include limited edition chocolate bars made from Ecuador´s rare cacao, ever-lasting dried cacao pods, and other chocolate goodies made with the project´s chocolate.  At the top levels, we will invite you to Salt Lake City to see our production facilities, and Ecuador to learn about cocoa and chocolate on the ground!

More Info

You can read about some of the issues we’re trying to address atwww.jeffreygstern.com/blog and www.destination-ecuador.net. As well, we highly recommend reading http://digitalcommons.fiu.edu/etd/331/ to learn about some of the issues facing Ecuadorian cacao growers we’d like to address with this project.

Making chocolates every day does´t mean just making chocolates. Making chocolate in Quito, Ecuador is even more challenging than making chocolates in North America or Europe. Unlike in the United States, there are not a lot of third parties to whom you can outsource tasks and many chocolate making ingredients usually purchased pre-made are not available here. So my responsibilities are even greater than they might be in the US. Running a chocolate business includes a plethora of skills-especially if it’s a small operation like we are. My job description includes management, purchasing, packaging, production, marketing, advertising, social media marketing, mathematics, prioritizing, delegating, and critical thinking among other things.

Overall management includes a great number of tasks. On a daily basis I have to make sure we have adequate materials in stock, including perishables such as milk, cream and butter. So managing our ingredients means not only identifying suppliers, but buying the right amount from each one at the right time so as not to disturb our cash flow and make sure that funds going out are less than and not equal to or greater than what we have coming in over any given period. With perishables, it’s more complicated because we have to be sure we have enough in stock to cover any upcoming planned demand and enough to cover extra demand that’s unexpected, but not so much that it might go to waste. Managing production means I have to make sure there’s enough chocolate on the shelf at any given time to fulfill an order within two or three days and be able to fulfill random walk-in customers, but not so much that it’s aging on the shelf and spoiling. Management also means delegating lower-level, easy tasks to my employee, freeing up my time for more important and complicated ones like social marketing.

We’ve also done export, and still do occasionally. Exporting chocolate from Ecuador of course had an initial learning curve which wasn’t too bad but a little overwhelming initially, but once we had done it once or twice it was easy. However, initially we had to have packaging designd, quoted, then printed. This included getting nutrition info and nutrition labels printed meeting FDA specs. We had to calculate to make sure that our packaging would fit neatly into the cardboard carton boxes we also had to have ordered, and that those boxes would again fit neatly into the shipping boxes. We had to learn about commercial invoices, bills of lading, volumetric measurements for shipping, and customs.

I use math on a daily basis. Scaling recipes is the most common use, but I also try to keep some basic metrics on output per hour when using the enrober-and these can vary depending on the number of people helping me. Since we frequently develop new recipes or make new items, I regularly cost out recipes/formulas, looking at the cost of ingredient, how much goes into each piece, and the final cost per piece, whether it’s chocolate, cookies, cakes, pastry or what have you. It’s all a numbers game.

I have to prioritize perpetually. And I have to prioritize for my employee. Make sure that she starts what takes longest first, so that she can busy herself with other smaller, less important, less time-consuming tasks while the longer tasks are in progress. I do the same for myself. Get the caramel cooking, while that’s going, make the brownies and get them in the oven. Once they are in the oven, keep stirring the caramels, while I measure out the ingredients for a batch of ganache. All the while checking the equipment to see when the chocolate will be in temper. So that as soon as the ganache is done I can dip the centers while the caramel cools. So that once I’m done dipping the centers, the caramel is ready to cut. By that time the brownies are done and cooling. Now we can dip the caramel centers. You get the idea. There are a lot of balls to juggle in any kitchen and the only way to make the best use of your time is to know how to prioritize.

Being at least mildly mechanically handy helps when working with machines. Not all chocolate shops are going to have a chocolate enrober or other mechanical equipment-but if you do, it helps to have some mechanical ability. You have to put things together, take them apart, some more, some less, depending on your equipment. You might have to fiddle with some nuts, bolts and wires on an enrober or a guitar cutter, to replace a broken string.

I also have to produce a number of ingredients not available here, mainly fondant, gianduja, and nut praline. And before I forget, I also make the chocolates and write this blog!

When  I was in culinary school back in 2000, and we spent barely a few hours learning how to temper chocolate, I really had no idea what it was all about. This was my first introduction to chocolate and despite our instructor’s explanation, I left school with little to no understanding of how to work with chocolate. It was a total mystery. We used a bain marie to melt the chocolate and an ice bath to cool it. There was a brief explanation of the temperature curve and the need to cool and then rewarm it, but no explanation of the science behind it. I left the class feeling baffled and sure that I was missing a whole lot.

Nonetheless, chocolate had grabbed my attention and a few years out of school, the chance came up to work part-time in a chocolate shop. The only way you can really develop the intuition and ability needed to temper chocolate quickly and easily is by working with it day in and day out on a constant basis. That’s how I got to know it. But there wasn’t much room for experimentation at the chocolate shop, so I got myself a small warming unit and began to play around at home. I also got myself a couple of molds and started making filled chocolates at home. Sometimes there would be problems with the chocolate where I worked, and I often knew the cause of the problem, but couldn’t implement the solution because the owner or the store manager had their own ideas and wouldn’t risk allowing me to implement a different procedure. So in addition to seeing problems with tempering where I worked, I had a chance to fool around at home and figure out exactly what was going on.

I also got myself a cheap airbrush on eBay, and began to play around with coloring molds. Numerous books and hundreds of hours later, I had taught myself just about as much as one possibly can about the science of chocolate. Airbrushing, decorative pieces, butter vs. cream ganaches, percentages-I learned all these two and developed a decent command of the various techniques and methods for making different kinds of chocolates. I made chocolates one year and delivered them to several clients of the personal chef business I was running at the time, and my start as a chocolatier had begun.

It wasn’t until I got to Ecuador and learned more about Ecuadorian chocolate, Nacional and Arriba, CCN-51 and the little bit of Trinitario and Criollo beans the grow here, that I delved into learning about chocolate making from bean to bar, the cacao trade, and other aspects of the cacao and chocolate industry. I’ve visited most of Ecuador’s mainly chocolate production facilities, been to several farms and brokers’/traders’ patios, and toured the country learning about beans, fermentation, and Ecuadorian cacao and the chocolate industry in general.

As my business has grown here, we invested in a small enrobing unit. That alone was a whole new universe of learning-it’s a simple machine, but takes skill and practice to operate. Since I painstakingly agonize over ever piece that rolls of the belt, it took me several thousand pieces before I was able to consistently and constantly achieve the results I am looking for.

Learning about every aspect of chocolate-from the farm to the bar and beyond-has been one of my most rewarding pursuits, and my knowledge is something I enjoy sharing with anyone who’s willing to listen. I always look forward to meeting people who share my interest, so please, stop by the workshop next time you are in Quito!

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Welcome to Destination Ecuador!

Welcome to Destination Ecuador! My family and I have been living in Ecuador for the last four and a half years. We’ve dealt with the worst kinds of red-tape, searched out or ended up making hard-to-find ingredients ourselves, imported equipment for making chocolate confections, learned the import-export business...Continue >>

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