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Small-scale (under 100kg) chocolate making equipment

Many of the new generation of craft chocolate makers start out using a 5-liter stone grinder sourced from India. They're great when you're in a startup mode, but issues start arising when you want to scale production - without having to get investors or mortgage your house.

One alternative is to buy larger versions of the 5-liter grinders. Ones adapted for the continuous duty cycles of chocolate making are available in sizes from 30-65 liters that cost under $5000 each.

One challenge, however, is appropriate scaling. For example, using a roaster modeled on a toaster oven with a rotisserie basket might be capable of roasting 5lbs of beans at a time. If a batch of chocolate takes 48 hours in the grinder then it's possible to roast enough batches (and then crack and winnow enough nibs) to start a new batch every 48 hours.

It's questionable if you can have a successful business at that scale. So you get a couple of grinders - because you can't afford $25K for a 50kg universal - and now the question is what equipment for roasting, cracking and winnowing because now you need 30kg of nibs every 8 hours. You can't do that if you're winnowing with a hair dryer (though you might be able to do it with a Crankandstein bean cracker and something more elegant than an electric drill as a motor).

My personal feeling has long been that it will be necessary to get the cost of equipment (bean cleaner, roaster, cracker, winnower, nib grinder, refiner/conche - not including tempering/depositing/molding/wrapping) down to about $1000/kg/batch/24hrs in order to really jumpstart the growth of the small batch craft chocolate "industry" here in the US. Furthermore, I think that at that price point it will be necessary to produce at least 1 ton per month of finished chocolate in order to be able to break even.

SO - what are the challenges you are having with finding equipment ... and what approaches have you discovered that work well for you? For example, one of the things the industry really needs is a small-scale butter press than can get down to 22-24% residual fat in the press cake cost-effectively.

This question also extends to tempering, depositing/molding, cooling/crystallizing, and wrapping.

What are your challenges in sourcing equipment? What wins have you made in discovering/engineering solutions to these challenges?

Thanks in advance for sharing.

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Well, as a total beginner, it seems that one of the hardest steps to streamline in a cost efficient way is winnowing. I know that John at Chocolate Alchemy is designing a small scale winnower, and Brooklyn Cacao has one now as well, but outside of that there seems to be nothing unless it is homemade.

I have made a few different versions of winnowers, each a little better than the last, but none are perfect, but then again, altogether they cost less than $100 to build. Brooklyn Cacao's looks awesome, especially with the built in cracker, but the price tag is a bit prohibitive to people just starting (correct me if I'm wrong, but I heard it was $30k).

If someone made a winnower that was in the $5000 or less category, i'd be in the market for one, but otherwise, my cheapo version although a bit tedious, will do just fine.
As someone who is looking to get into chocolate making soon, I'd love to see any pictures or plans for your various homemade winnowers, if you were willing to share.
there are plans online if you search for home made winnower. there are pictures of some homemade ones on this site as well.

good luck!
There is a lot of information (and photos) on this page:

Here is a photo of the winnower we made, based on the designs on that page.

We modified it so there is a shopvac on the exhaust. This is good for both clean up and it vastly improves the quality of the winnowing. We still have to presort the input, but have made a machine to do that for us.
Thanks! That's a great link.
I see you have a valve to regulate the feed on the winnower, do you find that you can set the flow rate and leave it or does it block easily? Nice additions to the original design! I thought that an auger of some type would be a good way to feed into a winnower from a hopper but haven't made one. I still just add it in by hand as my throughput is only a few kg at a time.
I think a good cheap way to roast the beans is using convection ovens that bakers use. I know Brad uses these in his set up and can roast about 15kg at a time in an oven. These ovens are cheap, especially second hand, compared to coffee roasters which will cost tens of thousands of dollars to roast the equivalent. Also using bakers ovens means that if you want to increase capacity of the operation it is cheap and easy to expand - just buy another oven.
We added the valve for a couple of reasons, the main one being that we'd get a lot of blowback with small pieces of husk blowing around everywhere. Also, it seems to winnow better with the input blocked off. Now we just fill up the hopper, put on the cap, and open the valve.

The biggest husk does tend to get stuck going down, so we have to shake the hopper a bit. The medium and smaller sized pieces go down without any help. So it's not perfect, but it works pretty well for our needs. If you end up adding an auger or other improvements we'd love to see photos of them.

I made an experimental Winnower in a hurry last week to put on my second batch of chocolate.

It cost me about $40 dollars. Made out of some large clear flexi tubing and a three way pluming divider.

So you have straight vertical tube and you drop the nibs into the tube via a side tube. The nibs attempt to drop down the tube while the husks are vacuumed upwards. you have a catch bucket to stop the husks entering the Vacuum cleaner.

Now working on a more permanent winnower (not held together with duck tape)


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