Balls of Steel, literally!
The bean to bar craft chocolate space is growing fast and with that many well established players are arming themselves with some of the best machinery that's around. Lets face it, if you get all the things right (i.e. bean sourcing, roasting, conching, temper, packaging and distribution) you also want your chocolate to be refined well.
A stone grinder does a good job. In fact we made our chocolate in a stone grinder for the first year, but did not enjoy the fact that the particle distribution was very uneven. Meaning, if you were to take a Hegman gauge and measure the particle size, it would show approx 25 microns, however, there would also be several particles which would be at 60 or even 80 microns! The Hegman gauge wouldn't know.
Our first purchase was a refiner conche. It was a Chinese-make machine with steel blades that would refine the particle size down in less than half the time it took in the stone grinder. However, there were issues with it; regular maintenance, an uneven particle distribution, pain to clean, and the need for us to add sunflower lecithin to make sure we emptied out the entire tank. The conche had a valve at the bottom of the chamber, hence, in order to empty it, we had to rely on gravity. If the chocolate was thick and viscous, a lot of the chocolate would still remain inside the conche, hence the need to add lecithin to kinda “thin” the chocolate down and make it easier to flow.
When we moved to our new factory in Palghar, we wanted to first get rid of adding lecithin in our chocolate. Yes, we are emulsifier & preservative free since 2019. At the same time we also wanted to have a good particle distribution. One of the options was a roll refiner. But with several blogs and a bit of research we found that the particle distribution would still be a little uneven. That left us with the option of the ball mill.
The ball mill, we call it "the mammoth" because of the sheer size and weight of it, was bought from a Turkish company called AkayGam. They have been making ball mills for the last 15 years for the confectionary industry. A ball mill is essentially a reservoir/tank which is water jacketed. The reservoir has inside several thousand toughened steel balls. They are of two sizes. When cocoa paste along with sugar is added in the reservoir, the balls are made to stir with the help of a very powerful motor. Over a matter of 6 hours the thick paste turns into smooth velvety chocolate ready to be conched (in a separate machine). This refining step generates a lot of heat hence the need of a cooling tank which would circulate the water inside the jacket.
This refining option gave us the best result.
- Even particle size of 20 microns approx
- Fast refining times
- Large batches possible. Our capacity is 100 kg
- Fairly easy to clean (add cocoa butter and flush it out)
- Low maintenance
- Long life of steel balls
- Takes up a lot of power
- To clean, you end up wasting a lot of cocoa butter which increase costs