I have no experience with a CocoaTown roaster. However I CAN tell you that a convection oven does a FABULOUS job, and serves a dual purpose allowing you to make baked goods as well.
Remember: cooking ANYTHING is simply about heat and airflow. A convection oven offers both.
Thanks for your reply. I've read a couple of reviews favoring roasters over convection ovens, and was considering buying a roaster to optimize the flavor of the beans. However, as I already have use of a convection oven, I'm going to try that before making a (possibly unnecessary) purchase.
What size roaster are you looking for? I've been researching electric roaster options in the 10-15lb range that should appeal to people looking to use actual roasters, not convection ovens. The ones I am looking into have been designed for coffee but have been used for roasting cocoa beans for many years so the design is proven.
IMO, a roaster that tumbles beans should be able to do a superior job of evenly distributing heat consistently from batch to batch. It requires more time and attention (in my experience) to get consistently even roasts across multiple batches in a convection oven, even when using perforated pans. (Obviously Brad has a different opinion. YMMV.) While a commercial convection oven may be less expensive (and I would be happy to sell you one of the best and most cost effective 5-pan ovens from ABS at a ChocolateLife member discount if that's the route you decide to go) it's not just the initial price, it's total cost of ownership, including labor.
On the plus side, the roasters I am looking into have digital controls that precisely control temperature and offer a digital logging option so you can record the actual temperature curve during each roast. This should help you understand how time and temp affect flavor.
And when not being used for roasting cocoa, a roaster can be used to roast coffee beans. I can get you pricing on an oven right away and will have pricing on the roasters within the next day or so.
PS. What makes the ABS ovens so good? Extremely fast recovery time. They get back to temp very fast after the doors have been opened and pans put into the oven. This is one key aspect of getting consistent results that people overlook when opting for less expensive - or used - convection ovens.
After the choice of bean, the next critical part of the flavor development process in chocolate is roasting. If you're starting a chocolate business, while I can see how it makes sense to save money building a DIY winnower, it makes absolutely no sense to me to shortchange yourself on such a crucial tool in developing flavor.
Thanks for that, Clay. I would be interested in those price quotes, when you have them available. I'm on a limited budget, but agree that it's worth it to spend the money for a quality end-product.
Honestly.... Spending money on a single use cooking implement to do 10-20lbs of beans is a waste. I can't stress more that, cooking anything is about heat and airflow. A good used electric 4 tray convection oven will set you back only $1,000 and lets you do SO many more things with it.
Here's an example: http://cgi.ebay.com/Blodget-combi-electric-oven-/250852876906?pt=BI...
We roast about 40lbs of beans at a time in ours, on perforated sheet pans, so there's absolutely no need to stir them, and Choklat's sales this year will be almost $1 Million (our third year of operation). My staff put the beans in the oven, set the timer, and then go about doing other things until the buzzer goes. It's really that simple.
To have sales like that in our third year, simply on local word of mouth, I guess we're doing something right...
In my humble opinion, people get WAAAAY too caught up in gadgets and useless features.
"Digitally Logging the Temperature curve"???? For 10lbs of beans??? Really???? Come on Clay! Art Pollard makes some of the best chocolate in the world, and does so with a cast iron ball roaster that I swear came from the Middle ages. Do Amedei's roasters do this? No. Does "Mr. Chocolate" Jacques Torres digitally log his temperature curves? No. He doesn't either. Nor does anyone else I know.
A pragmatic word of advice for someone on a limited budget such as you've indicated Holly: A good convection oven is a fabulous, versatile, and invaluable tool which does everything you need to get your chocolate business off the ground. Then when you have money to burn and want to buy gadgets, THEN buy them.
...but then again, that's just my advice.
I just don't know what it is about you that feels the need to belittle other people. I am NOT appreciative of the humor you displayed in the Chocolate Alchemy forum when I asked you to share a picture or sketch of your winnower.
I debated a long time about how, or even if, to respond to you again on this post. In a couple of days it would just age off the bottom of the discussions and that would probably be that. I am also unhappy that you choose to be so dismissive of me in this forum; you just don't get where I am coming from. What I do have to say in response to your reply:
What works for you works for you; what is useless-seeming to you may be invaluable to others. The reasons your approach works for you are your temperament, your skill set, and your market. I gather, from reading your posts here and elsewhere, that you own a number of small ACMC temperers and that you've had to take every one of them apart and rebuild them at least once since you bought them. Some people don't have either the skill or the inclination to do this. They'd rather spend a bit more up front to get a machine they know won't need repairing right way.
I want to open up the discussion to learn more about what their intentions are so that whatever recommendations get made fit Holly's needs. I certainly don't feel I have enough information to advise Holly about the direction that is best for her based on one question.
There are many different ways to start out and scale up, not just Brad's way. Without knowing a lot more about the the person's proclivities and plans I would be loathe to suggest that there is a single way to build and grow a business.
You're right about the ACMC tempering machines. I own 6, and 6 is ALL I'll ever own. They suck and are all currently in storage. Choklat now uses the Pavoni Mini-Tempers, which are markedly more expensive, but also have semi-automatic tempering cycles, which are awesome, and assist staff with limited tempering skills. There have been some challenges with the motors in those, but I think the challenges are all ironed out now.
In light of opening discussion, maybe it would have been prudent to ask more questions BEFORE recommending equipment. You can see clearly by her post, that you were persuasive enough to get her to take the next step and ask for a quote.
Having said that, are you going to ask more questions and gather more information before making a recommendation (like you claim), or be a hypocrite and just quietly provide her a price quote behind the scenes?
By the way..... in all our exchanges, and all the posts you have provided here and elsewhere, I don't recall ever seeing anything relating to you actually "making" chocolate, and/or how much chocolate you make AND/OR whether it's saleable commercially. Maybe you can share that with all of us too.
Quid Pro Quo Clay.
I'd love to get more information on these roasters. I'm currently using a convection oven, but have found that I get a fair amount of variance on in different parts of the oven. I've spoken with another small maker who recently switched to a drum roaster from a convection oven for this same reason.
I'm actually very interested in the digital controls and logging. One of my retail outlets is a small batch coffee shop who has modified their roaster to include several temperature probes that are hooked up to a laptop that graphs them real-time during the roast. He uses this to fine-tune throughout the roast.
Is this absolutely necessary? I guess that's up to the individual makers to determine for themselves. Sure, some/most makers aren't using this sort of technology, but that doesn't mean it is useless. For some, this level of detail and control may be exactly what they're looking for.
I've been thinking of building my own drum roaster using a large stock pot. It's basically like the image Clay has posted in this forum a few times with a few modifications. I'd wager that the roasters in question will be out of my price range, so I'll probably build it at some point.
Your experience with convection ovens is similar to mine. I would counsel someone purchasing a convection oven for roasting cocoa not to expect a perfectly even roast. I have yet to find one (even new) that delivers perfectly even temperature distribution front to back, left to right, top to bottom. One way to test this is to cook thin layers of yellow sheet cake in sheet pans. If they don't come out evenly cooked and browned, then you have to "resort" to some method of turning the pans.
The small roasters I am talking about are not inexpensive. An 8lb machine costs about $2000 and a 20lb machine costs about $8000 (including the roast profile hardware) and this price includes a cool-down pan.
I see the smaller machine as an alternative to a Behmor or any roaster based on a Ronco oven (CocoaTown is offering some of those). The Behmor will handle only up to 1lb at a time, has 5 roast profiles, and you need to run at least 3-4 batches to fill up a small CocoaTown or Santha grinder. For about 5x the price you get 8x the roast capacity, significantly lowered operating costs, significantly increased throughput, and with the digital profiling, more control and more consistency over roasts.
The drum roaster I posted the video of from Ecuador is an interesting alternative to a ball roaster. It can be made with either gas (propane or LNG) or electric burners and, if you can find a used 30, 40, or 60-quart bowl from a Hobart or other mixer, it could be made astonishingly inexpensively. I would add some vanes or fins to the bowl and some way to contain and increase airflow within the bowl in order to improve efficiency.
Sorry - I forgot the URL for the site selling the roasters.
If you do end up wanting one, I can offer a ChocolateLife member discount.
We're not in competition with each other - yet it often seems like you think you're competing not only with me (here on TheChocolateLife and in other fora where we interact), but with anyone and everyone who has an opinion that differs from one of yours.
As I said earlier in this thread, what works for you works for you. Your way is not the only way, it's a way; your way is not necessarily the best way for everyone, it's the way that works for you. There are many options - and which one is right for a particular situation depends on many factors, including the market the business is located in and the temperament, priorities, and goals of the owner(s).
I choose not make chocolate for commercial sale for a number of reasons, both professional and personal, none of which I feel compelled to share with you because it's none of your business.
I also don't rate and review chocolate professionally anymore, which is one reason I have never commented on your chocolate here on TheChocolateLife.
And, yes, I have actually tasted several of them thanks to another ChocolateLife member and shared the bars and my opinions of them with others whose judgment in such matters I respect.
We've had this discussion in private but now it's time I made it public.
Your calling me a hypocrite is uncalled for and is an example of an entitlement you cannot lay claim to.
TheChocolateLife is my place of business. It's a bit like the public retail space of your business. If a customer came in to your shop and was being loud and rude to the other customers - and to you, the business owner - it would be within your right to ask them to behave respectfully because such behavior makes the other customers uncomfortable and intimidates them.
I am asking you to behave respectfully in my place of business. And not just to me, but to everyone.
Thanks for the great posts and information on roasters. I know this post is from 2011 -- curious if you still have the roasters available (both the ABS oven and the dedicate roasters), and if it would be possible to get a quotation. Thanks in advance.