About Megan Giller

I am a writer of prose and poetry, and sometimes whimsical vignettes. Characters are what I love best, and I follow quirk, kitsch, longing, love, lifestyle, and, most importantly, food. Some say my affinity for leafy greens is tempered only by my obsession with peanut butter. But mostly you’ll find me writing about the everyday, the extraordinary, and good food for places like Slate, Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure, and more, as well as judging chocolate competitions like the International Chocolate Awards.

I spend my time checking out the best restaurants in New York City and Brooklyn, talking with amazing chocolate makers across the country and internationally, and walking with my dog, Echo, through Prospect Park. Read all of my work on my personal website, follow me on Twitter or contact me at gillerme at gmail dot com!

Why Chocolate Noise

Photo courtesy Flickr user Food Thinkers 

Photo courtesy Flickr user Food Thinkers 

American makers are revolutionizing chocolate. These new-school bean-to-bar chocolates resemble a vintage Cabernet Sauvignon more than a good old Hershey’s (with prices to match!), which means chocolate is transforming from a kid’s sweet into an artisan luxury food.

But we’re still at the beginning. It’s nowhere near the frenzy of craft beer or even specialty coffee, and no one has been documenting it. For the next 12 months, Chocolate Noise will be bringing you one in-depth story per month about an American chocolate maker to tell the collective story of the bean-to-bar movement. My goal is to cut through the noise of hype, reviews, and top 10 lists to capture a moment in time. By the end of the project, I will have showcased the many different sides of craft chocolate, from the bizarre DIY machines to the beautiful packaging to the food science aspect, keeping in mind that at the end of the day, it's about eating something really delicious and having fun.

As Shawn Askinosie, the founder of Askinosie Chocolate, says, “It’s not about the chocolate. It’s about the chocolate.” To read more, click here.

What Is Bean-to-Bar Chocolate?

You've probably never thought about how that chocolate bar got to be, well, a chocolate bar, but it's actually a pretty involved process. Most companies buy chocolate in bulk and melt it down into individual bars. But recently a new kind of artisan maker has started buying cacao beans directly from farmers. They then roast, crack, sort, winnow, grind, conche, temper (see below), and finally wrap the bars, all themselves. Depending on the size of the factory, sometimes they'll use big DIY machines and other times they'll use a kitchen oven and a hair dryer. If done with skill, the result is an impeccable bar that will change the way you think about and taste chocolate.

  • Roast. Chocolate makers use everything from conventional kitchen ovens to refurbished coffee roasters, and the temperature and time aren't standard at all. How do you know when a bean is fully roasted? You smell brownies.
  • Crack. After roasting, each cacao bean needs to be cracked to reveal the cacao nibs inside. The cacao nibs are what will eventually become chocolate.
  • Sort. The cracked cacao beans need to be sorted into nibs and inedible shell. Then the shell will be turned into compost or thrown away. This is done by hand or with a machine with vibrating screens. 
  • Winnow. This process refines the sorting process by getting rid of every part of the shell. If you're really DIY, you'll use a hair dryer to blow away the light shells.
  • Grind. The cacao nibs and sugar are ground into tiny, tiny particles so that the resulting cacao "liquor" is smooth and silky.
  • Conch. Some makers take grinding an extra step and use machines to smooth the chocolate out even more, called "conching."
  • Temper. The final chocolate must be heated and cooled to the correct temperature so that Form V crystals form, which means it will have a nice snap and sheen and won't melt in your hand (sorry, M&Ms). After this process, the chocolate is shelf stable and ready to be eaten!