It’s a Tuesday morning in Melbourne’s inner north and the cacao bean roasting machine at Monsieur Truffe has come alive, sending a gentle hum through the dining hall. Head chocolatier Jade Bentley is standing at the door of the hollowed out brick building, which encompasses cafe East Elevation and a working chocolate making facility.
Underneath the pitched roof inside, Monsieur Truffe is split in two distinct parts. On one side, there’s the large cafe – with pot plants, share tables and red steel fixtures – and on the other, there’s a collection of large European chocolate making machines: roasters, coolers, moulders and extraction vacuums, all restored and painted in bright red.
Aside from having a retail and wholesale chocolate business, Monsieur Truffe adds life to the north end of Lygon Street in Brunswick East, serving quality roasted coffee and delicious long breakfasts. But when sitting down for a meal, it’s the gentle hum of the chocolate machines – the sound of cacao beans roasting and swirling chocolate – that captures the imagination. Like a school excursion to the local soft drink factory, the seats inside Monsieur Truffe act like a viewing platform and you can press your face up against the glass and stare in wonderment at Bentley and her chocolatiers roasting another batch of Madagascan cacao beans.
At the start of our tour, Bentley shows me the bean-roasting machine, which is largest machine in the building. “The beans go into the roaster first,” she says, opening the door and peering inside. “It’s a machine from Germany in the 1930s. It’s built fantastically well, specifically for roasting cacao beans.”
Inside the roaster, the beans go through a precise and sustained heating process and once the heating is completed, the beans fall to the bottom of the roaster and go through an intense cooling process. “In the base, we have an extraction fan which takes the heat out of the beans as quickly as possible,” Bentley continues. “If they continue to roast, the flavour will change and you don’t really want that.”
In some cases, Bentley orders chocolate in from offsite, melts it down and reconditions it before packaging it as her own. More recently, however, she’s been concentrating on her first bean-to-bar range: a collection of chocolates that are roasted, cooled and conched on site, using beans from Madagascar and Brazil.
Moving from the roasting machine, Bentley explains the second and most important process in making chocolate. The sorting process, as she describes it, separates the cooked cacao beans from their shells, using a vacuum and a fan to divide the light and heavy particles.
“After that, we grind them using this machine over here,” says Bentley, walking over to the conching machine, which takes the raw cacao beans and grinds them into their eventual smooth texture. “This one’s been going for about 24 hours, and I’ll keep it in there for another 24 hours. It’s the motion of the machine that smoothes it out, and the fact that it is exposed to air, which refines down the particle size and removes that acidity that you don’t want. The idea is to find the balance between evaporating the flavour and getting rid of the acid taste.”
Growing up, Bentley was a self-confessed chocoholic, realising at the tender age of 20 that she was destined to forge a career in the industry. She had been travelling through Europe and discovered once she got home that most of the mementos she kept from the trip were chocolate-related. Even her map, she quips, was dotted with small towns in France and Germany that were famous for making chocolate.
Once the conching process is over and the beans have been mixed with sugar, Bentley puts the chocolate into moulds and it sets for a period, then she adds the Monsieur Truffe branding and places it on the shelf.
“At the moment, we are working with the Madagascar beans. We’ve set up three collections and as far as we know, no one else in the world has set up this way,” says Bentley at the chocolate stand in the cafe. “There’s dark roast, medium roast and light roast, much like coffee…the light one, to use a coffee term, is very green. It tastes quite furmenty and raw.
“The second range we have is as a percentage. We’ve just played around with how much sugar we’ve got. We’ve got 60 per cent, 70 per cent and 80 per cent, which changes the flavour and changes the sweetness and the balance.
“The last one…is the most interesting, because I don’t think many people know about the term conching,” she says, handing over some samples “What we’ve done is a 24-hour, a 48-hour and a 72-hour cycle. So you’ve got the textural flavour first, graduating to an incredible, smooth chocolate that doesn’t really have that flavour you started with.”