Meet Dan. Our Head roaster. He’s been at Single O for almost a decade now. He’s a certified Q-grader, has once been a COE judge and now is delving into a brave new world of bean-to-bar chocolate.
My latest fascination and fixation has been chocolate. I want to source the best quality cacao, be transparent/traceable from the prices we pay, to the process of production, to the flavour we highlight. So I started Silver Street Chocolate with my partner, Alice Tieu, to showcase the diligent work the farmers do in our chocolate.
I will start with my overarching sentiment, which I have shared with whomever will listen when discussing Bean-to-bar chocolate is that it feels like speciality coffee 10-15 years ago...at least from where I was stood roasting in a beanie and fingerless gloves in Brighton, Uk. Young, vibrant, undefined, free from the shackles of the status quo, and adolescent finding its own way in a world who doesn’t yet fully understand it, in a time where we have not yet articulated who we are. I don’t know who Silver Street we will be, or what the industry will look like, but I can tell you this....I’m excited for it. All our future connections, inevitable packaging disasters, every logistical nightmare, every lesson learned and then relearned. The unknown is incredibly exciting and I believe the world of bean-to-bar has so much to offer.
So what is Bean – to – bar (as of 2023)
Bean-to-bar chocolate is small-scale, craft chocolate makers controlling every step of the process from sourcing cacao beans, to roasting the chocolate bar, without the additional of stabilisers or additives. A quick way to tell if it is bean to bar chocolate is to look at the ingredients. Generally, there are only two (cacao and sugar) or three(cacao, cocoa butter, and sugar) ingredients in bean-to-bar chocolate. But for flavoured bars with inclusions e.g. nuts or fruit, there will be a few extra.
Through our journey so far, I thought I would be perfectly positioned to discuss the similarities and difference I have encountered between Speciality Coffee and Bean to Bar chocolate to date.
The network of Bean-to-bar makers, importers, growers and contacts to source microlot quality cacao is incredible small. We are one 37 current Bean-to-bar companies operating in Australia, according to our friends at Bean-bar-you compared to The eighth edition of BeanScene’s roasters directory celebrates more than 850 Australian and New Zealand coffee roasters. We have found it incredibly open and generous with so far and exicited for all the makers we are yet to meet and yet to exist. I do feel incredibly excited for the future of young inspired chocolate makers on this lovely island. We as a nation have a connection to high quality produce, products and have become ever incredibly discerning. In my experience within the Speciality coffee world we have a passion for care, connection and quality and I cant see why this shouldn’t apply to the chocolate we consume, whether it be as a bar, a hot chocolate in our local café or as part of a pastry created by the incredible network of bakers in Australia.
Where it all starts
Both coffee and cacao grow within the same tropical belt. Countries from Africa to Central and South America, Oceania and Southeast Asia. Cacao however is usually grown at lower altitudes (below 300m), whereas higher altitude (800m-2200m) are usually preferred for speciality coffee. Coffee and cacao are both grow in Australia, labour costs make this a difficult proposition for coffee and numerous papers have outlined the potential for a ever growing market within Australia. So far we are not able to get our hands on any, but we hold out hope.
Both industry’s sit as an opposition to the way things have been done for years, turning our backs on large scale, homogenised, highly sweetened, faceless commodity products transformed at a humongous scale with the cheapest ingredients. We aim to foster long term relationships, educate ourselves, the consumer and growers, to connect people to source, to pay more and lead more fulfilling lives. Much in the way specialty coffee has been doing for many years, with Q-grading program, public cuppings, latte art competitions, transparency reports, speciality transaction guides, numerous books, magazine, lectures and seminar on all aspects from agronomy, to roasting to brewing. Key mention to books by Scott Rao, and Ryan Brown.
In the chocolate industry, there are just a handful of companies that produce over 60% of the world's confections. They are nicknamed 'the Big Five', Hershey's, Mars, Kraft, Nestle, and Ferrero. These companies are able to turn a lower quality cacao bean into a base standard chocolate flavour, reducing acidity, nuance and complexity to produce a classic highly sweetened chocolate. Much like commodity coffee roasters buying cheap commodity grade coffees and roasting them very dark to remove off notes and taste generic coffee flavour.
We operate on a small scale and aim to highlight and showcase the nuances of every harvest. Much like speciality coffee there is a fondness/ within bean-to-bar for the lighter roaster cacao showcasing the inherent quality and nuance of the cacao. Along with darker roasting and extended conching to disguise off flavours, company’s add sweeteners, additives and stabilizers, soy lecithin (usually) is added by large companies to make it shinier and easer to temper, and reduces melting once set.
Speciality coffee is defined as any coffee that scores above 80 points on a 100 point scale. Whereas with cacao The Ministry of Foreign Affairs states, Speciality cocoa is recognised as such if it includes aspects of good traceability, good genetics, unique origins (terroir), good harvest and post-harvest techniques, higher quality and certification. I feel there is a need here to have this more readily defined
The most common cupping protocol within the specialty coffee market is the SCA cupping protocol. Through this protocol, you assess the balance, uniformity, cleanliness, sweetness, body, acidity, fragrance/aroma, and flavor of a coffee sample, as well as if the coffee has any taint or fault issues, meaning it is not uniform or fully clean. The final score, the sum up of all points on the numeric scale, gives you an idea of the quality.
In contrast I have not been able to resource a detailed scoring system for cacao, and resultantly development one of my own based on the SCA scoring system. Without a knowledge and ability to accurately access the cacao, the ability to discern win on the farm side will be hard to quantify and then reward. With this is will be harder to further reward producers for the additional hard work done.
Since Bean-to-bar refers to all steps it may be helpful to list these alongside coffee. All stages to the process are crucial and effect the end product. Diligence and care needs to be taken to ensure the quality of the finished product.
Sourcing, Roasting, Cracking & Winnowing (removal of husk), Grinding & Conching, Tempering, Removal of air bubbles, Moulding.
Sourcing, Roasting, Grinding, Brewing.
I will admit that producing consistently high quality coffee is incredibly difficult with the amount of player acting in the chain, it genuinely is a small miracle we are able showcase coffee as we do, but I believe Bean-to-bar chocolate to be even more difficult, (Grinding & Conching along take 24 hours +). It is more fragile and subject to external climatic factors much more readily, undergoing all the same roasting protocols but, humidity/water and chocolate are really not friends and lead to many difficulties in the process.
Coffee brewing is an art and science itself, with resting /degassing of upmost importance. Currently it seems that the science on aging in chocolate is varied and anecdotal whether it is roasted cacao, nibs, untempered chocolate or indeed tempered chocolate. We have been performing a lot of tests with resting roasted cacao beans, and roasted nibs. I feel where I am trying to increase sweetness, and balance, namely in our Domican Republic Oko Caribe / Cooking + drinking chocolate I will extend resting to up 5 days before grinding + conching.
Processing at the Country of Origin
Each cacao pod contains 30 to 40 seeds, where as a coffee cherry contains 1-2, once these are picking, usually by hand they are processed.
Coffee has a number of process methods Fully Washed – Fruit Removed, Natural – Fruit left intact, Pulped natural / honey process (white, yellow, red, black) – Varying percentage of fruit left intact, Anerobic (Anoxic) – coffee stored in oxygen free vessels.
Cacao processing however is currently less varied, and usually involves a machete to open the cacao pod. Each cacao pod contains 20 to 60 elongated seeds encased in a fleshy pulp. Cacao pods ranges from 10 to 35cm in length, depending on the variety, and are shaped like a squeezed American football. They being regularly box fermented (varying sizes), using boxes with holes in the bottom raised from the floor, heap fermented (similar to Sumatra Giling Basah), it can take anywhere from 5 to 8 days and can reach temperatures of 45C and 50C,
and then dried on raised beds/ tarpaulins / patios similar to coffee. In addition temperature monitoring and sugar analysis is often performed.
These processing methods may vary from facility to facility depending on but not limited to where you are in the world, availability of water, location of facility (altitude, access, micro- climate), quality and amount of processing and drying facilities, weather, knowledge of consumer preference (and access to this market)
Organic certification and certification in general has long been shunned away with specialty coffee, for good and bad reason within our little Speciality Coffee bubble. However craft chocolate has adopted organic practises and certification is much more commonly seen. We at Silver Street buy both, we look at the quality of the cacao and partner with producers that inspire us but also understand the difficulties of certification within areas where a majority of produce is produced by small holders.
I have been roasting coffee for a long time now on a range of drum roasters. Approaching cacao has been incredibly informative and relies on principles well established within Speciality coffee. The approach is different but the principles are the same. With coffee we are usually trying to roast coffee as quick as a machine/coffee will allow us (this is not always the case), however with cacao a slower more gentle approach is adopted.
If roasting cacao on a coffee roaster, adjustments are recommended to be made to drum speed (RPM) and to burner output. The face plate (from face) of the drum roaster one drawback and reason for an uncontrollable levels of conduction, and as such there are cacao specific roasters with corrugated drums and ball roasters designed more adequately for cacao roasting. As a point for contrast the Exit temperatures (the temperature we release product from the roaster after achieving the desired duration and temperature) might range from 120 C for light roasts to 135 C with a 3-6% moisture loss with cacao, where with coffee it can be anywhere from 201 to 219C with a 14-20% moisture loss. (values are subject to each machines and roast degree)
So where do I end this rambling. I will finish by acknowledging the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of this land and pay my respects to the Elders both past, present, future and emerging. I am in the privileged position in which I am able to roast and devore both coffee and chocolate on a daily basis, and for this I am incredibly lucky. I hope to be able to share more stories, more experience and connect you to origin on a regular basis.
My hope is that you take note of the chocolate you are consuming, what origin it is, who made it, where was is made, what is in it. And as you do with your favourite cafes, discover who’s roasting and refining the chocolate in your hot chocolates, cookies, cakes and pain au chocolat.