I am starting out making chocolate from the 'bean to the bar', but it has become clear that I need to invest in a grinder/melanger to get the chocolate particle size to around 15microns to achieve great flavour and texture. However choosing one is proving difficult, I think I have basically narrowed it down to either a spectra or a cocoatown, they seem to do the same things but are very different in price. In desperate need of help to choose!! I should also note I am in the UK.
There are many ways to make chocolate from the bean. The route that most small startups take is using a so-called wet grinder as a "universal" - a grinder/refiner/conche. The reason for going this way is simple - it's very inexpensive to get started.
The wet grinder uses two grinding stones against a stone base. Pressure is exerted on the grinding stones which takes the very large particles of cocoa and sugar and refines them to the desired size while at the same time doing flavor and texture development.
Now, there's no need to fixate on 15 microns - it's not just the particle size, it's the particle size distribution, which looks a lot like a bell curve. No matter what you do in a wet mill you are going to get a distribution of particle sizes - some will be larger than the center/peak and some will be smaller. The location of the peak and the shape of the curve are related and important. It's also important not to have too many particles that are too small as this can make the chocolate gummy and pasty.
Now that that's out of the way.
The real engineering differences between the small tabletop Santhas and CocoaTowns are not all that great. They have small motors (too small), tend to have lousy drive belts, and plastic parts that wear down quickly. The main difference is in the way pressure is applied. The Santha has a knob you turn (adjustable) and the CocoaTown has a spring-loaded lid. There are lots of posts here on TheChocolateLife about the replacement belts and bushings for the small machines.
One of the main price differences you'll see between the CocoaTown and the Santhas has to do with size. The CocoaTown comes in one large size (a 65 liter working bowl). The Santha has more sizes; the 20 and 40 liter machines are the most common. The size difference accounts for most of the price difference.
Well - not really. When you buy a Santha Spectra 40 it comes with an electronic speed controller. When you buy a CocoaTown ECGC65L it does not.
So which is better? It's hard to say. If you are just starting out, you're probably best off with one or three of the small tabletop machines to learn the process so to speak. Once you're comfortable that you know what to do and that you have a business, it's really all about how much production you need. If you are doing 200kg a month that's one answer. If you're doing 200kg a week it's a different answer. If you're at 200kg/week or more you also want to start thinking about bringing other machinery into the mix - a pre-grinder for the nibs and sugar and a dedicated conche so you're using the wet mills only as grinder/refiners -- or, you've moved on to an entirely new suite of equipment.
Thanks so much Clay for this. As with James, I've had the same dilemma and this information helps a lot. I am a silent member of this wonderful site and has been greedy of all the informations all the members has been generous of. I guess, it won't matter which machine to choose from as long as it does the work and gives you the result you need. Kudos to you Clay and all the members. Cheers!
I've got a Spectra 40, but don't think it grinds nearly as well as my benchtop Spectra 11. One thing I've wondered is about whether I need to 'scale' the time in the bigger grinder given the fact I'm doing bigger loads and, if so, how to scale. For example, does 3 kilos for 10 hours in the Spectra 11 equal 9 kilos for 10 hours in the bigger machine, or 9 kilos for somewhere nearer 30 hours?
The Premier Wonder gets the thumbs up from various people including Chocolate Alchemy ... I'm pondering getting one. http://www.thechocolatelife.com/forum/topics/melanger-necessary?xg_...
I'm in the same position as you I'm afraid. No idea! Based on what I've read here on TCL and the user's thread on the chocolate forum at proboards it seems like a winner. Price is right too! Seems to me overheating is not a big deal. Just rig a fan to blow on the motor.
I've run many test batches in a couple of unmodified Premiers for multiple days with no heat issues. I also haven't heard of anyone having any problems with them overheating.
I have the Premier Wonder Grinder which is the non-tilting 1.5 L version.
I have the same machine and have left it running for 50 hours straight without any fans/modifications. No problems what-so-ever. My machine would have done over 800 hours now without needing new belts or any new parts.
Hello. We love our Premier Grinders. We do four single origin chocolates in very small batches, so these small machines work very well for us. We also like being able to back off the stones so the chocolate stops grinding but keeps conching. After several hundred hours, the belt got a bit loose so the chocolate was conching but not grinding/refining the particle size down enough. We opened the top, loosened the nuts that hold the motor in place, adjusted the motor so the belt was tight, and tightened the bolts. Problem solved.
We also want to add our thanks to those on this forum who have contributed so much information and advice. We would not be making bean-to-bar chocolate without you.