Engineers, mystery, and the craft of good chocolate.
I am trained as an engineer, but there is a part of me that seeks out the crafted article.
That thing that is not meant to be perfect; an item or process of experience made with a bit of guesswork and a vehicle for experimentation where, if you guess wrong or you slightly miscalculate, no one is likely to be injured or die. Hardcore mechanical engineering does not allow for such margins. Lawyers are too common, too numerous.
But chocolate (high quality chocolate) and its evolution into a large variety of consumer products is one of those crafted items I love. And yet it owes much of its success to the engineers that unlocked its secrets. Since the mid-nineteenth century those engineers applied the equations of chemistry, mechanics and physics to create very controlled processes and the machines were (and still are) at the heart of those processes. They allow product consistency on a massive scale, if that is one’s goal.
The wild card in all of this, I would argue, is the cacao bean itself. Engineers and scientists have always been the great evicerators of the many mysteries of the universe that have entrapped mankind. Not so long ago, God or “The gods” or simple forces of nature held all the answers to our questions. Meanwhile, the cacao bean, while it has been analyzed and categorized, still allows us to enjoy the surprises of its secret, often subtle flavors that are impacted by country of origin, weather and the interactions of the fermenting pulp of the pod as it decomposes and leaves the beans behind.
Once delivered to the kitchen, the dried but unroasted bean arrives with its capacity to deliver surprises intact. My wife and I fancy ourselves explorers of the “la saveur de la terre” that cacao beans represent. We roast, we conch, we blend. And while a salable product needs to deliver consistency, we think there are other people like us who also like to be surprised by unusual flavors. Hopefully, that experience will be the signature of our chocolate creations. Here’s to preserving a little mystery in this highly engineered world.