From Cocoa Bean to Chocolate: all the steps
American people consume 2.8 billion pounds of chocolate each year, or over 11 pounds per person, which is inferior to the Swiss and Europeans. Dark, milk, white chocolate, associated or not with fruits, nuts, caramel, nougatine, liqueur, and some other delicious ingredients, Chocolate is also used in croissants, cakes, pastries, cereals, hot chocolate: in short, our nutrition is full of the “food of the gods- Theobroma Cacao”. But who really knows how chocolate is made? What is the manufacturing process? What are the different steps? Michel Cluizel’s team tries to cover most of your questions in this article.
1. From the cocoa tree to the manufacture:
“Chocolate” comes from a fruit, the cocoa pod, which grows on the trunk and branches of its tree called the Theobroma cocoa. When the pods turn to orange (or some other colors depending on the variety) the planters know that they are ripe and they can harvest them and put them into baskets or boxes. This is difficult step as only expert farmers can determine when the pod is ripe. If the planters are mistaken, the cocoa will not have the time to develop all of its flavors and aromas. The pods do not ripen at the same time, even if they are on the same tree. Using a machete (long knife), they carefully cut-off the pods from the tree (damaging the tree might be permanent.) Then, they open the pods, always by hand, to avoid damaging what is inside: the cocoa beans. This is why despite the development of some machines to harvest more easily, the traditional method is always preferred. Finally, Cocoa beans are removed from their pods with their white pulp (called ‘mucilage’) for the next step: fermentation. The quality of the beans is controlled at every step, and a great amount of pulp can be a good indicator of the future quality of the chocolate.
A worker of the Riachuelo Plantation (Brasil) using a machete to harvest cocoa beans.
B. Fermentation and Drying:
After harvesting, cocoa beans are placed in fermentation boxes. Fermentation is when sugars and starches are broken down into acids or alcohol It allows cocoa beans to develop all of its delicate flavors, and its acidity. The fermentation process can last up to seven days, depending on multiple factors such as climate, buyer’s request, desired “taste”, and so on. Beans are placed in a warm and moist environment, often wooden boxes covered with burlap bags or banana leaves. They are periodically stirred to assure an equal fermentation. During this process, they will lose naturally their pulp and almost 33% of their weight. Finally, the cocoa beans are for the most part sun-dried for about 1-2 weeks to prevent mold growth and rot, which makes their color change from white to brown. Also, their humidity level drops from 60% to 7%. Manufacture Cluizel prefers a more traditional method, drying on plank trays versus the quicker method of using gas burners. This is also a difficult step because sometimes, as in South America, the climate is not favorable, with frequent torrential showers. The use of covered greenhouses helps the drying process.
At the ‘Vila Gracinda’ Estate, in Sao Tomé (Africa), cocoa beans are placed in wooden containers and covered with banana leaves during fermentation.
Drying of cocoa beans in greenhouses, in Cluizel’s partner plantation ‘El Jardin’, Colombia.
II. From the manufacture to your mouth:
A. Roasting and Winnowing:
Once at the manufacture, cocoa beans are roasted at the temperature of about 250-325 F for about 15 to 35 minutes. The roasting has some benefits: it finishes developing the cacao’s aromas. It also helps separate the inner bean and the outer husk, and it sterilizes the beans from bacteria and potential molds. Many roasting options exist: air roasting, oven roasting, or drum roasts for example. Once roasted, beans are directly cooled down for about one hour.
Next, winnowing allows the separation between the shell and the inner of the bean, now called cocoa nibs. The winnowing machine first cracks the roasted cocoa beans into pieces and the pieces are either sent cascading down a series of screens by means of vigorous vibration or removed with a type of vacuum.
During the next step, the cocoa nibs are grinded into a paste called chocolate liquor or cocoa mass, not because it is alcoholic, but just because it is in a “liquid” form. That “liquid” form is due to the heat generated by the grinding process, paired with the high amount of fat-cocoa butter- in the cocoa nibs. The amount of cocoa mass will impact the final taste of the chocolate. The machine used by chocolate makers is called a Mixer/Melangeur. Then this mix will go through a pre-refiner and then final refiner to obtain a smooth mix. A great chocolate shouldn’t be grainy.
The last step is the addition to the mix cocoa mass and sugar of cocoa butter and eventually milk, vanilla. Some add soy lecithin (Manufacture Cluizel does not use soy lecithin) The conche is a “bowl” containing rotating granite rollers and a granite slab, which are motorized. The friction caused by the rotating stones generates heat, which evaporates and removes the bad acids.
The smooth chocolate is then tempered (crystallization curve) and then poured into a mold to cool and harden in the form of whatever the chocolate maker desires. And that’s it!
Now, your favorite chocolate is ready to be packaged, distributed, and eaten, for your greatest pleasure!