Chocolate begins with the cocoa tree, which grows close to the equator, thriving on very high temperatures and humidity. Each tree bears oval fruits or pods, which are about 5-12 inches long. Each pod contains 24-40 seeds, and it’s these seeds that the world knows as cocoa beans.
Hanging from the trunk and the largest branches of very small stems, the colorful ripening pods are harvested throughout the year. After they have been chopped off, they are opened and the seeds are removed. Each seed, or a cocoa been, is about the size of an olive.
When exposing to light, the cream-colored beans immediately turn a purplish color. Ready then for fermentation, they are heaped in piles on the ground and covered with banana leaves. During the 2-9 days of fermentation, the beans begin to take of the color and flavor.
The fermented beans must be carefully dried. They are placed on wooden boards or bamboo mats for up to fourteen days under the hot sun, and are continually turned over. Once dried, the beans are packed into sacks, bundled and checked for quality. They are then shipped and traded on the international market.
Once received by the processor, cocoa beans are mixed for desired characteristics, cleaned and roasted at special temperatures and times for desired aroma. Their shells are separated from the kernels, or nibs, which are finally ground into the cocoa mass. Placed under the extreme high pressure, this mass yields cocoa powder and cocoa butter.
The first steps in actually producing chocolate is mixing and kneading the various raw materials. The materials used depend on the type of chocolate being made. Dark chocolate requires only the cocoa mass, cocoa butter and sugar. Adding milk powder makes milk chocolate. White chocolate is made with cocoa butter, sugar and milk powder.
“Conching” is a careful process of rolling, kneading, heating and aeration. This is a very important step in the process of producing consistent, pure, delicious chocolate. It is here that final aroma and flavor is defined. Lecithin and cocoa butter are added for required fluidity.
The chocolate is now finished and ready for final processing. To be delivered here, it must be put into blocks or drops. This method requires tempering – bringing the chocolate to a certain temperature. During this process, the cocoa butter reaches its most stable form; this gives fine chocolate its “snap”, shiny surface and smoothness.
Of course, “finished” chocolate doesn’t always stay in this form. Around the world, chocolatiers, bakers, chefs and caterers use this highly versatile, delicious food for creating limitless applications, from simple to elaborate.
Nearly everyone loves chocolate, but not everyone knows where it comes from, and how it gets here. Now you know the full story and you will be able to appreciate the world’s finest chocolate even more.