The Chocolate Life

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My nearly new Ultra Grind + (wet grinder) like the Santha , is just about worn out after 8 months of abuse. When I started this hobby "from the bean" I really didn't know about keeping the cocoa mass warm, pre-ginding sugar in a food processor, adding a little extra cocoa butter to make the conching process easier on the machine. My bad.

Worst of all, I let friends talk me into making milk chocolate and just dumped the dry milk in the chocolate all at once.

Now I need to buy a new machine and like the Ultra Grind + pretty well. Does anyone have any other suggestions on preference of machines like this? Is there anything just a little bigger or more powerful? Any machine with extra options that might make it last longer? without getting over $1000 in cost?

I'm using 110 volt. I do batch sizes of 5 to ten lbs of beans. I'd like to use more organic, and unrefined cane sugar but I know that may be harder on the machine than refined white table sugar.
I've got to buy an new machine pretty quick as I'm in the middle of a batch.



Tags: conching?, equipment, machines, table, top

Views: 9791

Replies to This Discussion

The belt might not even need replacing, just tightening. The first time I opened up the Ultra, the belt was very loose and the motor's pulley would spin when any resistance was applied to the bowl pulley.

Clay: Since I was in the middle of a batch I only photographed the open machine but not the finished mounts. As soon as this batch is done I'll open the machine up again to take pics of the innards and of the roller mods. Even though the repair worked quite well, the Ultra's motor mounts are ridiculously flimsy, so I'm having a proper metal mounting bracket made to replace those cheapo post-type plastic mounts.
PS. I did have to replace the white paddle, started cracking. I ordered the replacement from But I don't see the drive belt listed on their replacement parts web site. Is that some standard rubber type belt, maybe I could get at the auto parts store or a vacuum parts dealer?
There are only a couple of parts of a wet mill like this that are hard to make: the grinding stones themselves, the stone base of the bowl (with the drive shaft), the side of the bowl and attaching the side to the bottom.

So it really shouldn't be all that difficult to build something slightly larger for not that much money. What is really needed is some place to fabricate the mill stones. Any ideas on that?

On the other hand, I have a design for a ball mill that works from liquor (not nibs) and made with spare parts that can be purchased on eBay, plus a small motor. The bowl of the ball mill is made from a used Hobart mixing bowl that you weld a drive shaft to - and you can get used 40 qt bowls for well under $100. You do need a magnet to attract any stray ball bearing shavings out of the finished chocolate but otherwise it works surprisingly well. It's an adaptation of something Richardson Research came up with. I saw a small one in a class at CIA Hyde Park back in 2003 or so and one built using a Hobard bowl in Ecuador in 2005. I have pictures and a video somewhere if there's interest in pursuing this.

One nice bonus of this approach is that you can configure another bowl using the same drive mechanism as a bean roaster.
I had my Spectra 10 motor refurbished and replaced the belt on mine when I noticed a similar slowing of the spinning bowl. Works like a dream now. Belt was just matched at a local bearing shop. You could also look at washing machine belts - I did but couldn't find an easy match. It is good to know a bit more about the Ultra's insides and its issues as I was favouring the Ultra for my next grinder because of the top down clamping. As for increasing the capacity. I know Brad modified his Spectra 10 by discarding everything except the motor, mounting and the granite rollers. He welded together a top down clamp for his granite rollers and tossed the stone drum and used a heavy steel based pot. The pot just from my eyeballing it looked slightly bigger than the Spectra bowl so I would estimate it could hold perhaps 1-2 more kg than the spectra 10 bringing it up to 4-5 kg from 3 kg max in the Spectra 10.
It would be a very small market, don't you think, Clay? How many home/small scale chocolate roasters are there in North America? But then, there may be some other similar market where the milling machine would be useable. I have a feeling that your ball mill, if priced near the same as a counter top wet grinder, would be competitive. Sounds like it would be purpose made for chocolate instead of "adapted" from another use the way wet grinders are.

I'd like to see photos or vids of the concept.

I am searching for the short video that is attached to this preview photo.

You can only see the pulley from the drive unit (the pulley is attached to a shaft welded to the bottom of the mixer bowl). The frame can be easily made using a variety of materials and as you can see the "bearings" are simple casters and you don't even need to remove the handles from the bowl. You can attach fins or vanes to the inside to improve tumbling performance (this bowl has them, you can barely see one in the 1:00 position - and it's okay to use dented and dimpled bowls).

The heat source is a small gas burner set below the unit. The blue hose is the propane supply.

Grind nibs into liquor and fill the unit with stainless steel ball bearings and you have a primitive but effective ball mill. You can add heat via the burner (bad idea) or you could use a heat gun or light bulb and fan. Blowing warm air into the bowl would speed things up. When done, pour the finished chocolate through a magnetized grid made from fine-mesh steel.

You can pick up a 60qt used Hobart bowl for under $100 on eBay. I think you could make a 50lb (liquor capacity) machine with used and spare parts for about $500.

Right now there's a 30qt bowl on eBay for $59 so you could probably build a 30lb (liquor capacity) machine for about $300. Is that price-competitive enough?

BTW. This unit was in use in the Tulicorp factory in Guayaquil, Ecuador. They were using it as their small "test batch" roaster.
The ball mill is intriguing. Is the bowl steel or aluminium? Do you know details like timeframe for refining, optimal number of steel balls required for certain amount of chocolate? Do you think the friction would maintain molten chocolate alone once it got up to temp?
I am not sure about the answers to any of these questions as I have never made one. I do know that Terry Richardson of Richardson Research makes lab-size versions and I have seen one in use in a class by Peter Greweling at the CIA in Hyde Park, NY.

Friction may be enough, but you'd probably want to blow warm air into this to increase the evaporation of undesirable volatile aromatics. I will try to get in touch with Peter to see if there are any guidelines he can share.

Capacity is dependent not only on the volume of the bowl but the angle that bowl is tilted up from horizontal. The steeper the pitch the greater the capacity.

Timeframe is overnight -12 hours - at least. Keep in mind that the particle size distribution of a ball mill like this is likely to be broad around the peak and have some peaks in both tails.
Terry Richardson had the ball mill in the class I took at Davis and I attached some pix but I don't recall the number of balls. I recall and the picture attests to an attached hair dryer for heat. We ran it in class for at least 24 hours.
Has anyone used this concept to roast coffee? I use an alluminum cage mounted on a rotiserie and attached to the propane-fired barbe, which works great for 1 kg batches of cacao beans. It also roasts 0.6 kg batches of coffee although at at a higher temperature.
Must they be steel balls? How many do you think would be needed? A dozen? Hundreds? Could ceramic balls work?

Don't want to complicate things but just wondering.
I think it may be technically possible - but it's not workable from a food safety perspective.

If a ceramic ball bearing chips you won't be able to retrieve the shard (likely very sharp) from the liquid chocolate because it's not magnetic and the density difference between the ceramic material and the chocolate is likely not great enough to make it reliably sink to the bottom or float to the top so it can be removed. Any mesh screen small enough to trap a chip is likely too small to let the chocolate flow through easily unless it's very, very, very fluid.

With bearings made from a material that is attracted by magnets you can reliably remove any sharp bits that break off.


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