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Entered By: Mark
Entry Date: 2014-03-14 21:09:58
Subject: Chocolate, Part Deux

OK, so I don't remember writing a part one of chocolate. When I say part two, I mean we've made another step towards challenging Hershey and Nestle for total market domination. I can smell their fear from here.

Need to back up a little bit as this is probably the first anybody has heard of Hope Farm making chocolate. About a year ago our new neighbor introduced himself to us. He's more of a weekend neighbor, and not every weekend. Anyway, he has some secondhand stores up north and I think that's where he makes his money. He also has a farm near Copan. On the farm he grows coffee in the higher ground and cocoa in the lower ground.

To be honest, that was the first I'd heard anybody say they grew cocoa. I chatted with him a few more times and discovered along the way that he grows cocoa, as do his weekday neighbors, and they export most all of it to European customers. You know, where they make the really good chocolate.

So the more I thought about it, the more I read about it, the more I thought, this is right up our alley. I may be the worst farmer on the planet, but we know how to cook stuff. Turning cocoa into chocolate is not farming, so it's worth a shot.

So how does one go about turning cocoa into chocolate? Welllll, if you want a small scale, turnkey solution, you're looking at $110K startup. Makes you realize why there isn't a chocolate maker on every corner. Seriously, the machinery involved would boggle your mind. You need a roaster, a bean chopper, a winnower, a grinder, a hydraulic cocoa butter press, a temperer and host of assorted supplies.

The grinding itself can and should take a 1-3 days. You're practically grinding cocoa into a mass of protons and electrons, with neutrons for flavoring. Seriously, the goal is to get the cocoa and sugar ground down to about 10 microns (a millionith of a meter, or a thousandth of a millimeter).

There are web sites out there dedicated to the amateur or "craft" chocolate maker.

So what do you do if you don't have $110K to start up? Well, there are some more labor intensive machines you can create and utilize. Today we hacked a design for a winnower, the aparatus that removes the papery husk from the bean. You only want the cocoa, no husk.  The smallest scale winnower I was quoted cost $13,600 and it's pretty low capacity relative to the industry. The model we built cost about $20 in PVC pipe, PVC fittings, glue, screws, some labor from the farm, and a shop vac we already had. Total savings, cha-ching, $13580.  The cocoa cleaned up better than it ever has before, for us. There are some more adjustments to make before finalizing it, but it works much better than our prior method of pouring the beans in front of a fan.

So right now all that clean cocoa is being ground into individual protons in our "wet grinder". A wet grinder can be bought for just under $200, but it's pretty small scale. The wet grinder is two coarse stones shaped into wheels, set on top of a coarse stone bottom. The bowl spins around the wheels, causing them to turn and crush the material inside it. It will only make 1.5L of chocolate...about 3 lbs. So at this point, with this limitation, we are stuck in the R&D phase. My hope is to get good enough so that I can get some angel investors by sharing a few samples with the right people. 

There is a rumored Honduran man who enjoys creating new and unique machines. I hope to travel the rivers, mountains, canyons and plains to seek his expertise one day, when I've had enough R&D. I plan to contract him to make a much larger grinder.

While we still have a long way to go before reaching factory status, we've already made some things more efficient, and better tasting, than when we started.

We're already scheming and plotting on some unique marketing ideas. These, I will not share.

So why are we doing this? As always, our hope is to generate some industry to keep parents employed, families together and financial resources for local missionaries. I would also like a way for some of the children here to earn a living AFTER they finish school. And part of me just loves new challenges.

Chocolate is good, God is better, best of both worlds.

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