Welcome to Part 2 of our series exploring the world of chocolate and how it makes it to your favourite chocolatiers.
Haven't seen Part 1 | Country of Origin yet? Check it out, then loop back to join us.
In Part 2 we’ll dive into the chocolate production process and explore how cacao beans are turned into chocolate.
Sorting and Roasting
Light brown and covered in a fine grey sheen, fermented and dried cacao beans are lightweight and relatively smooth, and will roll easily over each other in your hands, crackling gently like roasted cashews. Although the drying process has removed the vinegary smell of fermentation, these cacao beans don’t smell like chocolate yet. If they’ve been stored in humid conditions, the beans will smell musty from the moulds they’ve developed, meaty if dried over a flame, or smoky, petroleum-like, or sulphury and rubbery if drying was completed mechanically.
Having arrived at the chocolate makers, these beans first need to be sorted. This is generally done by hand, but can involve a series of mechanical sieves that screen out twigs, small stones and other debris.
Next, the beans are roasted – usually in a large revolving drum that heats the beans at high temperatures that vary based on the maker and product being made. This initial roasting process cracks the outer husk of the inner bean, sterilises the beans to kill off any bacteria, fungi, or mould, and sets off chemical reactions that give the beans a rich, dark brown colour and, finally, the quintessential smell and taste of chocolate.
Winnowing and Grinding Cacao to Cocoa
The cacao beans now move to the winnower – a machine which breaks and vacuums the beans to remove their shells, and leaves the inner, meaty portion of the bean as tiny pieces called cacao nibs.
These nibs are made of around 53% fat – or cocoa butter – and now need to be ground up. Because of the high fat content of the nibs, the friction and heat of the grinding process turns them into a thick, brown paste known as cocoa mass, or chocolate liquor, a non-alcoholic liquid which solidifies again once cool. This substance is the basis of all chocolate products.
Milling and Conching
The cocoa mass now needs to be milled in powerful machines which presses the cocoa mass to reduce the particle size of the cocoa mass, which gives good chocolate its characteristic silky mouthfeel, and distributes the cocoa butter evenly throughout the mixture. At this stage, more or less cocoa butter will be used depending on the chocolate being made.
Finally, huge paddles or rollers in a machine called a conche continuously beat the chocolate liquor, extra cocoa butter, and other ingredients like sugar and vanilla. Conching can take hours or days depending on the chocolate, and is a vital process which creates the melt-in-your-mouth characteristic of great chocolate.
Cocoa Mass to Chocolate
Chocolate makers take their unique liquid blend of cocoa mass, cocoa butter and other ingredients and finally set it into products – like chocolate buttons or massive 10-100kg blocks - to be sold to chocolatiers, who then create their own chocolate products.
Skilled craftspeople are important at all stages of chocolate making in order to create the aroma, taste, and smooth mouthfeel of good chocolate. Manufacturing chocolate is a complex process, an art form, and actually a protected method of production in Europe. In Europe, the word ‘chocolate’ can only be used for products that are made the way we’ve described, and contain cocoa butter and cocoa mass. In other parts of the world, Australia included, producers can mix cocoa butter with cocoa powder (a simpler version of authentic chocolate which misses out on key components essential for taste, texture, and quality) and call it chocolate.
In our next post, we’re going to explore how processed cocoa is turned into Treat Dreams chocolate products by our expert chocolatiers. Our favourite part!
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