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How to Roast Cacao at Home

Roasting cacao in your oven or Behmor coffee roaster

In some ways, roasting cacao (the name for the raw product) to produce cocoa (the name for the roasted product) is easier than roasting coffee. Roast timing isn’t as critical as with coffee; roast level differences aren’t as dramatic in the final product. Just don’t over-roast it under the pretense of producing darker cocoa … It doesn’t!

When learning how to roast cacao, it seems better to under-roast than to over-roast. Under-roasting results in a softer bean with more cashew and raw milk qualities. Over-roasting produces a more brittle bean with highly pungent, and acrid flavors. Here is a great article from Chocolate Alchemy that provides temperature benchmark guidance for multiple types of roasting methods.

If you are familiar with coffee roasting, keep these key differences in mind when roasting cacao:

  • You will notice a very strong aroma from the raw cacao beans. This is normal; much of chocolate’s flavor is developed during a lengthy fermentation process. Volatile and vinegary acetic acid from fermentation is driven off during the roast. The roasted cacao will have more of a “classic” chocolate aroma.
  • There will be a small amount of detritus, different sized beans, and potentially even broken ones. These are imperfections that are normal for high-grade cacao. Here is an article about Quality Control & Evaluation in Cacao from Uncommon Cacao, where we sourced the beans for this project.
  • The fermentation process darkens the beans considerably. When roasting cacao, rely on your sense of smell rather than sight. It’s not like coffee, which changes from green, yellow to brown during the roasting.
  • Cacao prefers a “low and slow” approach to roasting (250 to 350 degrees for anywhere from 12 to 30 minutes).
  • “Cracking” will happen intermittently throughout the duration of the roast, as it helps separate the outer husk from the bean. Cracks don’t indicate “doneness” of the roast though.

Your Behmor Coffee Roaster is also a Very Fine Cacao Roaster!

When you search “how to roast cacao”, the consensus online, and what we have found is that the Behmor coffee roaster is great for roasting cacao to produce cocoa.

If the best way to roast is by smell, how do you judge the roast aroma? When the roast is done it has a nice baking chocolate or “brownie edge” aroma being produced from the the roaster. As with coffee roasting, there are many variables that can influence the roast. Always use your best judgement when roasting cacao, and keep a close eye on the roast. If you’re feeling uncertain, keep in mind that we recommend under-roasting as opposed to over-roasting when it comes to cacao.

Here’s what we found as a great starting place for benchmarks in the Behmor roaster:

Uganda Semuliki Forest 1 pound roast
Behmor 1# setting P5 (Auto Mode – lowest heat) – full cycle 23:00 minutes

  • Pops began at 16:00, becoming more consistent around 14:00.
  • At 11:00, there was a strong vinegar smell which subsided by 9:30, and developed into a jammy cooked fruit smell.
  • Sporadic pops through 6:30.
  • Nice baked brownie edge smell emitted from the front of the roaster at 5:30, which developed into a darker chocolate note at 3:30.
  • Less frequent pops from 2:30, and throughout the duration of the roast.

    Flavor Notes : Toasty fruited flavor with some winey notes. Earthy, classic chocolate taste with a long finish. Crumbly when winnowing, with more texture on the palate.

Ecuador CECAO 1 pound roast
Behmor 1# setting P5 (Auto Mode – lowest heat) – full cycle 23:00

  • This was a fairly subdued roast. It got going around 11:30 with some substantial pops about every 10 seconds.
  • At 8:00, the pops became more consistent at five second intervals. There was a nice classic chocolate aroma emitting from the front of the roaster.
  • More roasty aromas at 5:00.
  • Some intermittent big pops started around 3:30 with a nice cocoa smell developing at 2:00.
  • The brownie edge smell started at the cooling cycle.

    Flavor Notes : Very sweet, fruity, coconut, cocoa butter, halvah, sesame candies, long bittering note.
Roasting cacao in the Behmor with a watt meter.

To help things run smoothly when roasting, we put together a starter guide and cheat sheet for the Behmor:
https://library.sweetmarias.com/behmor-quick-start-guide-and-cheat-sheets/

Make sure to clean your Behmor roaster before and after roasting cacao. The aroma can permeate throughout the chamber, carrying through to other roasts.

Another Good Way to Roast Cacao is in Your Oven (or Toaster Oven)

Roasting cacao is more baking than roasting, so it makes sense that ovens work pretty well. The tasting standard used by Cacao of Excellence is tailored toward roasting in an oven. They specify a lab oven that costs a mere $1443 ! Note that the roast temperatures they use are much lower than what we recommend. In particular, convection ovens or toasters — ones with a fan setting — are the best.

I use a Cosori brand “air fryer” toaster oven, which is basically a convection toaster, with good results. I have also used a non-convective Oster toaster, and by consistently shaking the tray of cocoa beans, had nice results too!

If you have a choice of what tray to roast on, the best is a non-solid mesh of some kind. A regular cookie sheet tray is fine too, though. Don’t choose anything super heavy that holds a lot of heat, like a cast iron pan. You want less contact and “conductive heat transfer” between metal and cacao, not more.

Oven roasting Cacao into Cocoa beans

  • I preheat my oven on convection bake setting to 400 f. When I put the cacao in, I drop it to 350 f and roast for an average of 18 minutes. In some roasts, by the end, I reduce it down to 300 f.
  • Hopefully your oven has a convection bake setting – this roasts cacao more evenly.
  • If you are going to roast on a flat baking sheet, it’s best to open the oven and shake the tray of cocoa at 1-2 minute intervals. You want to be prepared with an oven mitt or something else to hold the hot sheet/tray with! Opening the door means heat loss, so try to do it quick and get the door closed.
  • It’s important to consider the batch size and cover the baking tray evenly. I find that filling the entire baking tray evenly with cacao is important, as beans on the edge or in an an uneven layer will tend to burn.
  • Shaking the tray every 2 minutes, and every 1 minute during the peak roast times, from 10 minutes in until the end of roast, is important.
  • If you are not sure of the roast level, err on the side of lighter, not darker. Darker roasts of cacao become very acrid. You will find lighter levels very useful, even if you feel you might have stopped it a bit too early.
Oven roasting cacao to produce cocoa, at home
Oven roasting cacao to produce cocoa, at home

Toaster oven roasting: Same as oven roasting with a few additional comments

  • I have roasted in my Cosori oven using a mesh drum on a rotisserie motor, as well as a mesh tray. Both work well.
  • I found that the regular toaster oven with no convective air setting was pretty good too, provided I shake the tray of cocoa beans at regular 1 minute intervals.
  • In terms of time and temperature, I use about the same settings as noted above for roasting in a full size oven.
Roasting cacao at home in a convection toaster oven on a screen with high air flow fan setting
Roasting cacao at home in a convection toaster oven on a screen with high air flow fan setting

Other Coffee Roasters Aren’t Great for Producing Cocoa!

Do not use small air roasters or popcorn poppers for cacao!

Most home air and drum roasters beside the Behmor tend to roast too hot and fast for cacao. Also, cacao beans have about 10 times the mass of a coffee bean, which makes it difficult to move them around the roasting chamber consistently.

Air roasting cacao, like you would in a FreshRoast or Popper, is a particularly bad idea. And it is dangerous too! The primary deal-breaker is that the cacao will not move around in the roast chamber like coffee. It will burn, and this is a fire hazard. Don’t do it!

In terms of taste quality, roasting cacao in a short intervals produces a fairly acrid flavor in cocoa, and the temperature is far too high for good development of cocoa flavor. Skunky flavors result from this type of roasting. You probably have a oven, so use that instead!

We have not yet tried using the Aillio Bullet for this purpose, although we have enjoyed reading this article from RoastWorld outlining some tips for successful roasting.

What’s Enjoyable About Home Cacao Roasting

Compared to coffee, roasting cacao is a bit more relaxed. The roast is not as “time critical” as coffee, where 30 seconds can decide the differences between light and dark-tasting roast levels. The percentage of cocoa solids is used to determine intensity more than roast levels. In fact, you do not “dark roast” cacao to produce dark chocolate! Most chocolate makers are finding an ideal roast that works for a particular lot of cacao, and then rely on blending that with other origins and other roasts to achieve the flavors they want.

Check out our Video Overview of Cacao Roasting and Livestream Replay on Cacao too…


We defer to the Specialists:

Chocolate Alchemy is the best source for cocoa roasting information IMO, as well as excellent raw cacao and supplies, if you continue in this journey. We developed our own protocols here, but when I checked them against Alchemist John, there are some differences in timing and tools (for example I think his tip to use a high-sided glass dish for oven roasting makes a lot of sense). -T

39 Responses

    1. You know – thats one roaster we didn’t really try with cacao. The Hottop can work but it can roast much less cacao than the behmor. I imagine the same is true with the Gene caffe but I do think it might do a good job, since you can roast very slow and at low heat in Gene . I will try it and revert…

    2. I am also interested in trying this with my Gene Café roaster. The biggest question for me is: will roasting cacao in the same drum I’ve been using and want to continue to use for roasting coffee in any way compromise it for use in roasting coffee? Aftertaste? Smell of cacao in my next coffee roast? I’d be open to purchasing a second roasting drum just for cacao if you think that’s best.

    3. I still havent had a chance to test the Gene Cafe for cacao but I believe it will work very well. Its definitely capable to have long roasts at lower temperatures that cacao likes. I don’t think you need to be concerned about cacao tainting anything. It does have a strong aroma, but doesnt seem to leave any more residue than coffee roasting, and I cant see it having any effect on the machine. The unknown is exactly how much to load into a Gene cafe. I think you want to use much more cacao, 50% more – even 2x what you use of coffee. This will help to make roast time longer – aiming for 15+ minutes.

    4. Has anyone had a chance to try cacao on Gene Cafe yet? I am planning to do a batch soon. I will report back.

      Thompson, am I reading your note correctly that you recommend roasting 3/4 LB batches (50% more than the standard 1/2 LB)?

    5. We have not tried yet. I think it could work well, but needs a very slow roast. John from Chocolate Alchemy thinks lower air flow is better for cacao too. I hope to try cacao in Gene Cafe and Bullet next week

    1. Not specifically. You just want low temperature compared to coffee for roasts of 18-20 minutes. We have a toaster oven / air fryer video uploading soon too.

  1. When you say in the article that you used the P5 setting on the Behmor, does that mean the P5 program setting or the P5 / max heat manual override setting ?

    1. Great question, we mean P5 in manual mode, which is the lowest heat setting. Big difference, and I will edit that today so that it’s clear!

      Thank you for pointing that out, Stacy.

      -Dan

    1. This does work, and I thought it was especially nice for darker roast coffees. For more delicate, bright or lighter roasts, it seemed to make the cup worse I found. Cocoa in those cases muddles up the clarity of the coffee flavors. IMO

    1. There are 3 articles in this set – look for the related articles on preparing cocoa after roasting

  2. For those local, sometimes Berkeley Bowl carries cacao fruit. In 2020 I played at the whole process: fermenting raw cacao beans all the way through roasted and ground cocoa.

    1. That is amazing! I had no idea … I am there pretty regularly. If you ever see it again please let us know!

  3. Great article, thanks so much! I am going to try roasting cacao beans for my wife, she is a Crio Bru drinker and I would like to replicate that. Do you think your method would work for that?

    1. I don’t know that product, but if its simply ground cocoa / nibs, then yes I think you can replicate it. Depending on the roast level, I think you could do a lot better than replicate it: From my experience with making cocoa brew, the freshness of the roast really brings out some amazing aromatics and flavor

  4. I followed the behmor directions for the Ecuador cacao. At 1:00 left it started to smoke a lot and then maybe some flames in the roaster?! I hit cool immediately and when it looked like things “settled” opened the door slightly for further cooling. The result tastes burnt 🙁
    I think this batch is a loss.

    1. Hi Spunqui, I’m so sorry to hear that! We tried roasting fast and slow, and didn’t have any issues with material on the back burners. Can you confirm that you roasted on P5 in auto mode, and not manual mode? Just want to cross out some variables that could potentially lead to that result.

      -Dan

    1. Hey Tate, good question! I can’t see any reason why not, but I’m going to ask someone else hear there thoughts and get back to you. There are roasters you can’t roast in, like small air roasters that just won’t move the cacao. But most drum roasters should work, you just need to use very low heat. In addition to the Behmor, we’ve roasted it on our small drum Probat sample roaster.

      Best,
      Dan

    2. Hi again Tate, here’s a good link from Chocolate Alchemy that provides some temperature benchmark guidance that I think you’ll find useful. I also found this thread on the Roast World site about roasting cacao in the Bullet. I highly recommend reading it, as it seems the location of the bean temp thermometer can cause an issue with cacao getting stuck between it and the drum. There are ways around that which are outlined in the thread.

      I need to mention that roasting anything other than coffee in the Bullet voids your warranty per the manual. I don’t think it’s bad for the machine or anything, but they are only warranty against issues that are caused by its intended use of roasting coffee. Please keep this in mind!

      Hope this is helpful!

      Best,
      Dan

  5. Hello all, I enjoyed roasting cacao for the first time this morning (the one from Ecuador). I used my Gene Café with a simple plan that I cobbled together from reading the article and comments above. Based on volume, 3/4 lb seemed like a decent amount.

    My setup vents to the outside, so while I could smell the roast, aroma wasn’t a strong indicator of progress. I just aimed to try something reasonable with respect to temperatures and times.

    Indoor/Outdoor ambient temps were 68 and 40 deg F.
    I preheated roaster to 300 deg.
    I turned up the temp to 350 deg when I added the beans (time 0:00).
    Roaster’s exhaust temp reached 348 deg at time 4:00 which is when I heard some cracking.
    I turned down to 300 deg at 7:30 and used that temp for the rest of the roast.
    Roaster’s exhaust temp stayed aligned with the 300 deg setting.
    Since all seemed fine at the 15:00 mark, I kept going.
    At the 20:00 mark, I stopped the roaster and followed what I do for coffee (dump beans on a screen placed on a fan blowing down, return the empty chamber to the roaster and start the cooling cycle for the sake of the roaster).

    Results:
    Weight of the beans dropped to 93.7% after roasting.
    Husks with cracks are easy to remove without breaking the bean.
    Several of the whole beans were easy to crumble when removing uncracked husks, though.
    Under-roasted? Definitely not. Bean is not soft like a cashew.
    Over-roasted? Hmm, not sure. Flavor and texture are nice for me. Texture is like an almond that was roasted a bit too far — more dry and tender than brittle, I’d say.
    Successful? I think so. I’ll find a use for all of these beans.

    Next time I think I shorten the roast time to learn if I lost any desired complexity/brightness this first time.

    Hope this is interesting for others,

    Andrew

    P.S. I’ve had my Gene Cafe for a bit over ten years and have roasted 530 pounds of coffee. I really enjoy the espresso I extract. I still consider myself new at this. Maybe I’m humble or maybe I’m a slow learner.

    1. This is great info – I was going to roast some batches this next week so sharing your experience is really helpful … gives a clearer picture and better starting point. Judging by your description of the results I think you nailed the roast level! The way cocoa crumbles isn’t correlated to dark roast – and judging by the flavor you describe sounds like a really good level you hit with this.

    2. Nice write-up. I wish I had read this comment before I did my first Gene Cafe cacao roast a couple of days ago. Anyway, for what it’s worth, here is what I did and the results. I think it came out OK, probably slightly overdone, although I will admit that I didn’t really know what to expect and have nothing to benchmark it against.

      For reference my default process for a ½ lb (227g) coffee City roast is:
      Preheat
      Set temp to 420 for 7 minutes
      Increase to 471 until 10:30 (482 for high altitude beans)
      Reduce to 455 until end (usually about 11:30-12:00)
      Hard stop and cool beans on separate cooler
      Weight loss is typically 11%-12%

      I roasted 250g, which by volume was about 50% more than my usual ½ lb coffee roast. Steps were:
      Preheat
      Set initial temperature to 400
      When temp hit 400, reduced to 350 (about 3 minutes)
      Hard stop at 16:30 and put beans on cooler
      Weight loss about 7%

      Observations:
      The smell was amazing throughout the roast
      I did not observe any smoke during the roast
      Cracks were difficult to hear – the rotating beans dominated the sound spectrum

      Results:
      The beans are pretty good eaten on their own, peeled. Pleasant flavor and nice crunch.
      Beans that had no husk were definitely overdone, I got that acrid taste you mentioned
      Brewed tea as described in your other article was good, with milk it was delicious

      Overall I think I overshot this by a little bit. Next time I will increase the amount of beans and not do an initial blast to 400 (really not even sure why I did that here).

  6. I bought the package deal with Ecuador cacao and other than the pungent smell from the raw cacao it so far had turned out great. I used the convection oven toaster oven option and worked great with a mesh drum.. My only question is since this is limited run, do you have any more inventory left and if not where is a good place to get good quality origin cacao options? Also is the white stuff on 70 percent of the raw cacao mold? My wife says no and it’s normal (she is Asian and lived in a cacao farm in the Philippines) but I thought I would ask (not that I don’t trust my wife, it’s just quality is lacking in that area and they may overlook things like that as normal)? Thanks in advance for your help!

    Chris

    1. Hey Chris, that’s great to hear! We’re unfortunately out of the Ecuador, and have about 100# left of the Uganda. If you haven’t tried that one yet, it’s very nice, and an interesting comparison to the Uganda. We’re also planning to carry a small amount of a Colombia cacao, but it might not happen until January.

      The lighter coloring is not mold, but just discoloration that occurs during the fermentation process. I think some of what you’re seeing may be dried fruit mucilage that’s stuck to the pod. They wash most of the pulp away using a fermentation step, much like coffee. But it’s difficult to remove everything.

      Chocolate Alchemy are a fantastic source for purchasing different types of cacao, and offer a wealth of information on their website.

      Glad you’re enjoying the cacao!

  7. Can you roast cacao beans in the hand crank popcorn popper if not filled to full?
    Also how to grind them , break up a little & use in coffee grinder cleaned out?

    1. We haven’t tried roasting on a stovetop. I haven’t heard of it being done. So not sure.

      We have a lot of tips on grinding. It’s on the 3rd page along with how to prepare a beverage.

  8. Just received some Uganda and Colombia cacao. I kind of like the raw, pungent smell, at least in small doses.

    Question: If I use a convection oven with a mesh tray, is it still necessary to do the shaking thing as you’ve recommended when using a flat baking sheet, or should the air circulation be sufficient enough that keeping the oven door closed for consistent temperature is the better thing?

    1. I found that it wasn’t really needed if you have convection and a tray that air flows through. Some people use a standard oven and a glass “lasagne” type rectangular dish, and I think for thay you definitely need to move the cacao around. But in my set up, which is just like yours it seems, I thought the results were pretty even.

  9. I have a 1kg drum coffee roaster, can I roast cocoa in it just at a lower temperature? I am able to control air flow, drum speed and lp gas for the temp.

    1. I roasted some in our Probat sample roaster but it was hard to roast it slow enough. But I thought the results were ok. The main thing to keep in mind is that you’re really baking Coco more than roasting it. If you can extend that roast time to 15 to 18 minutes though without overdevelopment the cocoa, you’re probably going to get some pretty good results. I would start with a 400° Drum temperature and then lower it to 300 or less after a few minutes. That might be a good starting point at least…

  10. My husband and I are just starting our journey with brewing cocoa. Its been a month and we are both in love with everything about it. Which leads to my 4 questions.
    #1. Seeing how it’s just he and I drinking the cocoa, is it worth getting the Behmor 1600 AB for quality, or getting the air fryer and keepingthe price down?
    #2. Which air fryer? I have looked at about 500 of them, ok, maybe not that many, but seriously.. the brand you suggested has a good amount and it’s confusing ???? Help..
    #3. Where do I get the beans from and how do I know what beans to buy?
    Uggg.. I have more Q’s but I’m very much trying to keep this short … lol!!

    1. I like the “toaster oven” style air fryers. Using one that has an option to add a drum to roast the cocoa in , that’s ideal. The Behmor is I think the ideal cocoa roaster and they can often be found used. Just make sure it isn’t one that has had too much dark roasting in it or a chaff fire! Behmors come up in classified sites locally… etc. The older 1600 models are fine too. The basket type air fryers are ok too … but with the one I bought, I cant believe the terrible smells it emits. I ended up not feeling good about drinking cocoa I roasted in it, and cannot believe people trust food they prepare in it. I did 3-4 dry runs to get the smell out, and still theres a strong plastic smell when roasting cocoa – ugh.

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