The journey from cocoa tree to chocolate bar is not complex, but it requires several steps, each of which require careful treatment to get the best from the finished product.
The process begins with harvesting. Ripe cocoa pods are harvested twice a year.
The pods are cut open with machetes and the white pulp containing the cocoa beans is scooped out.
The pods and pulp are placed into large wooden containers, where the pulp is allowed to ferment for five to seven days. During the process, the beans are turned to help them ferment more evenly. This is the first stage in developing the flavor of the chocolate.
After fermentation, the next step in the process is to dry the beans. This is usually done by spreading them out into a single layer in the sun.
The beans are then carefully roasted.
Cracking & Winnowing
The roasted cocoa beans have a thin, papery shell around them which needs to be removed, so at this point in the process, the beans are cracked open and the shell is removed in a process called winnowing. The lighter shells are blown away with fans, leaving behind pieces of pure cocoa bean, known as “nibs”.
Grinding & Conching
The cocoa nibs are ground with stone rollers until they become a paste known as cocoa mass or cocoa liquor. This pure, unrefined form of chocolate contains both cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Cocoa butter gives the chocolate a smoother, glossier texture. Some confectionery manufacturers replace this extra cocoa butter with cheaper vegetable fats, and this is something you should look out for on the ingredients and try to avoid. The only fat in real chocolate is cocoa butter.
Traditionally, the cocoa mass is transferred to a separate machine called a conch, where it is further refined.
During this process that sugar, milk powder (for milk chocolate) and other flavourings are added to the chocolate. The conching process can take anything from a few hours to a few days and affects the chemical structure of the chocolate, as well as the particle size. This part of the process has a very big impact on the flavour notes in the finished chocolate.
Great chocolate should have a shiny finish and a good “snap” – that clean clicking sound when you break a piece off. These are created by tempering, the controlled process of raising, lowering and raising the temperature of the chocolate to form exactly the right kind of crystals. If you were to let the untempered chocolate cool naturally, the chocolate would be soft and crumbly and would not melt evenly on the tongue