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Jan 9, 2012

Temper Tantrums

As many of you know, we had a bit of a rough December. First we moved (yay!) but then our tempering machine broke, Alice’s apartment caught on fire, and Cam had to leave for a family medical emergency. All of this of course happened during the holiday chocolate rush, leaving us with many late nights at the chocolate factory. I’m happy to report that Alice found a new place to live, Cam’s family is all ok, and our temperer is fixed — so we are back to making chocolate!

Since everyone’s been asking about the problems with the machine, here’s the quick synopsis:

The fat in chocolate, cocoa butter, is polymorphic — meaning that it can set in a few different forms based on the way the crystals in the chocolate are arranged. Only one of those forms is the one we want because the chocolate will have a nice shine, snap when broken, and won’t turn whitish and gritty while on the shelf. Tempering is the process of heating, cooling, and agitating the chocolate in a very specific way to get this proper crystal structure. You can do this with a marble slab and thermometer, but luckily we have a machine that greatly speeds up the process:

Before the move, we had noticed a slight noise coming from the temperer while the pump motor was on, but it didn’t seem to affect our ability to get good bars. After the move, the motor noise was so loud you could hear the temperer down the hall, and sadly, the temperer would often seize up and we’d wait a few hours to get the chocolate melted and flowing again before starting over. This meant that we might be able to temper a few bars at at time, but then inevitably the machine would seize and then we would try again a few hours later.

We called the US distributor, Tomric, and Sean was incredibly responsive and sent us a new motor within a few days. We promptly took apart the machine and went to install the new motor. Unfortunately, we discovered that the replacement motor was for three phase power whereas our machine is configured for single phase. We called again and found out that the correct motor needed to be shipped from Italy.

Amazingly, a few days later, a new motor and gearbox arrived at our door, straight from Italy:

I can’t express how happy we were to see this new motor. I was ready with a new blog post; I had already thought up a good title (“Hallelujah! Christmas came early”). Again, we took apart the machine, put in the motor, and this time we were able to wire it up:

And… the noise was fixed, it tempered better, but sadly — it was not enough: the machine still seized up and left us without chocolate. At this point, we decided we needed to fulfill our orders, with machine or not. We spent the next few weeks working super early mornings, crazy late nights, and a few all-nighters to eek out just enough to fulfill what we could. Cam got so good at predicting when the machine would seize that we nicknamed him the “temperer whisperer.”

Post-holidays, we took a step back and tried to debug the machine. Given what we knew about the motors, it felt like the machine was fine but there must be something wrong with our power. We called our favorite electrician, Arnold, who brought along his brilliant son, Anthony, to look at our machine. After a few hours of measuring voltages component-by-component, they confirmed our suspicion.

The issue was that the machine has an operating range of 220-240v and our outlet was only supplying 204v. Worse, under load, the volts dropped down to around 200v. As our chocolate has no emulsifiers and is thicker than most, we needed the full power, closer to 240v, which is what we had at our previous location. So the machine was getting a full 40v less than ideal. We thought that maybe it was a faulty wire, but it turns out our space itself had bad power. Luckily Arnold installed a small step-up transformer and now we are back in business! Many thanks to everyone, especially our wholesale customers, for their patience and support.



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