Explore a Oaxaca Chocolate Shop Where DIY Tech Sets a High Bar

“You could use a food processor now, but this,” he says, gesturing toward his Arenas-brand mill, “has more culture and history.”

From here, the chocolate goes into a refiner. In it, two smooth granite wheels spin around a post, slowly crushing and liquefying the paste against its granite floor and combining it with the sweeteners he uses, like evaporated cocoa nectar, or palm tree flower nectar. (“It’s like an endless metate,” he muses.) The refiner is made for chocolate, but it’s from an Indian company, the direct descendant of a “wet grinder” used to make food like dosas, idlis, and masalas. This tool is a key to fancy chocolate creation. It gets the rough bits out, grinding away for hours until the crystals in the chocolate are ground down to the level where they can be measured in microns.

Next, it’s on to the cheap slow cooker. Michelena Gallardo uses it for tempering, a heating process that stabilizes the chocolate and keeps it from developing the white blotches of bloom that some cheaper bars can develop.

“When you let it cool after the refining process, the crystals are still all over the place,” he says. His tempering happens in a custom insert above his slow cooker, which for his purposes is essentially a waterless double boiler. Chocolatiers can also “seed” the new batch with some older chocolate that’s already been tempered.

“It’s like you inoculate it,” he says.

Finished bars of Mamá Pacha chocolate emerge from their molds.

Photograph: Citlali Fabián

Finally, before it all goes into the fridge to set, the warm, liquid chocolate is poured into molds. At this point, the vibrator appears. I mean the vibrating table, which helps shake any air bubbles out of the chocolate. The “table” is a piece of wood, about the size of a thick album cover, with a door stopper at each corner, the tops of those attached to another board. Under that top board, is the tiny vibrating motor.

“What’s the motor from again?” I asked.

“It’s a low-quality massage chair spare part that I got on Amazon,” he replied. “I needed a vibrating source.”

I arched my brow, then asked how he came up with that hack.

“In Mexico, we’re creative. You’ll see lots of machines that were adapted like this. It’s like the taxi drivers here who bend the gearshift stick,” he said. My mouth may have opened unconsciously at that point, as I hadn’t mentioned my taxi gearshift wonderings to the chocolate guy.

“They bend it so they can fit a third person in the front seat.”

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