From cocoa bean to chocolate

What happens to the cocoa bean when it arrives at the chocolate processing plant?

Samples are taken from every delivery of cocoa and these are analyzed to check their composition and particular characteristics.

Cocoa beans from different sources are mixed according to the recipes. The blend of cocoa beans from the different regions will always determine the characteristic flavour of each chocolate.

At the chocolate processing plant the cocoa beans are first cleaned of any stones, dirt and soil and quickly dried under heaters. This makes it easier to crush the beans and to remove the shell around them. Only the pieces of kernel or "nibs" remain.

The cocoa nibs are then roasted for a few hours to temperatures of 210-290 F. This heat really brings out the flavours and aromas and darkens the beans. At this stage we have something that is edible and really chocolaty, but also very bitter.

The nibs are put into grinders and ground to produce cocoa liquor.

The cocoa liquor is now ready for use as an ingredient of chocolate.

To make chocolate for chocolate bars some of the cocoa liquor needs to be processed further into cocoa powder and cocoa butter.

Cocoa butter and cocoa powder can only be separated by pressing the liquid cocoa liquor through a very fine sieve. In fact, it is poured into cylindrical tubes and compressed under high pressure. The cocoa butter that is fine enough to pass through a microscopically fine sieve is collected separately while the cocoa solids remain pressed together in the cylinder and resembles a flattened cake.

At the end of the pressing procedure, this cake is removed and ground down further into a very fine cocoa powder.

So now we have 3 very separate components, Cocoa liquor, cocoa butter and cocoa powder.

Cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, sugar, powdered milk and vanilla are the raw materials with which we make all of the different types of chocolate:

Dark chocolate is made with cocoa liquor, cocoa butter and sugar.

For milk chocolate, milk powder is added.

And for white chocolate cocoa butter sugar and milk powder are used (no cocoa liquor, which explains the ivory colour of white chocolate.)

The ingredients are first weighed very precisely for the particular type of chocolate that is about to be produced. These ingredients are mixed together and then blended into homogeneous chocolate dough.

Cocoa liquor by itself is bitter and not very smooth and creamy. To sweeten it up and improve the texture, the manufacturer will add things like sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla, and milk.

You could eat this now, and it would taste pretty good, but it wouldn't have the texture you associate with a chocolate bar. The cacao and the sugar are still pretty grainy at this point, so the manufacturer runs the mixture through a series of steel rollers to refine the texture.

To further refine the texture, and to really bring out the flavour, the mixture is then "conched" That is, it's mixed and mashed and aerated. At this point we will probably add some more cocoa butter to give the chocolate its silky smooth texture. ‘Conching’ can last a few hours for cheaper chocolates, and up to six days for the expensive stuff!

(Conches are large tanks with a powerful stirring apparatus inside that slowly kneads the mixture. Due to the friction caused by the stirring, heat develops. This heat melts the powder into a homogeneous paste.)

At the end of the conching process, cocoa butter and soya lecithin are added to make the chocolate liquid. Soya lecithin ensures the stabilization of the liquidity and the emulsification of the chocolate.

A part of the liquid chocolate is processed further into blocks.

To do so, the liquid chocolate must first be tempered so it can eventually harden. Tempering ensures the formation of the right cocoa butter crystals so that the chocolate will harden into shiny, hard and solid shapes. Only when it has been tempered, the chocolate can be poured into moulds or deposited as drops and finally cooled.

During cooling the chocolate becomes hard and shiny so that it comes out of the moulds in perfect shape and can be packed.

Date: 15/03/2011