Dan has always been a tinkerer.  Fortunately, his chosen craft has provided an outlet for that creative impulse.  Dan and his wife, Jael, started French Broad Chocolates in 2007, outfitting their home kitchen to produce confections and pastries for tailgate markets.  Chocolate is a temperamental medium, and from the outset presented challenges to control temperature and humidity in equipment, storage, display, and shipping box.   This year, a tremendous set of new challenges arises, as the Rattigans build a bean-to-bar chocolate factory in downtown Asheville.  There, Dan and his crew will import whole cocoa beans, which they’ll sort, roast, crack, winnow, grind, refine, temper, mold, package, and dispatch to an ever-wider audience.

Such operations usually suggest much larger scale, with millions of dollars in equipment.  French Broad Chocolates’ factory will, to the contrary, be a band of misfit inventions mixed with a few standard chocolate making appliances. As the process steps were scrutinized, the roasting step was the first to grab Dan’s attention, and audacity.

The goal: to precisely roast cocoa beans using no power other than the concentrated rays of the sun.

The idea: solar radiation reaches the earth in rays that are basically parallel.  Parallel lines reflecting on a parabola intersect to a focal point.  On a parabolic trough, the focal point becomes a focal line. If a roasting drum is set to tumble with its axis on the focal line of the parabolic trough, and the trough is lined with a reflective material, solar radiation will be concentrated on the roasting drum, acting as the drum roaster’s heating element.

This is the first cocoa bean roaster of its kind.  Dan adapted the design from a crude peanut roaster made for use in developing countries by an appropriate technology non-profit. Dan’s design has added a photovoltaic-powered gearmotor for turning the drum, a thermostatically-controlled cooling fan to remove excessive heat, and a solar water heater for use when the oven is not in operation.

The roaster will sit atop the new French Broad Chocolates Factory & Tasting Room, at 21 Buxton Avenue in downtown Asheville.  For more information, email or call 828-252-4181.