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The Amazing Process of Cocoa to Chocolate

Cocoa To Chocolate

The process of making chocolate from cocoa.

Cocoa beans are the seeds of the fruit of the cocoa tree. They are dried, fermented and cleaned before being processed into cocoa mass. During this process, the shells are removed, gelatinous material is removed and the cocoa butter is separated. This leaves a woven mass of cocoa fibers ready to be processed into cocoa liquor (or as we call it “chocolate liquor”). First, the cocoa beans are harvested from the pod of the cacao tree. They are then sorted by size, smoothness and color. The goal is to remove any damaged beans, sticks, stones or other foreign objects. The sorted beans are then fermented for one to three days. After fermentation, the beans are dried. During the drying process, the beans are heated to temperatures between 86°F and 91°F (30°C and 33°C) for 12 to 24 hours. This heating process develops and increases the bean’s flavor. 

After being dried, the beans are ground into fine powder. The finer the particles, the less chocolate will melt in your mouth when you eat it. There is an endless list of methods to process your beans into powder, but two of the most common include the use of a bean mill, and a press. A bean mill is an automated, permanently-attached food processor (that uses mechanical, but impermanent, grinding wheels). This technique pulverizes the cocoa butter into fine particles that, when combined with other ingredients, create fine powdered chocolate. Meanwhile, the press is a mobile device that places the powdered chocolate into small holes punched through solid blocks of chocolate. The finished product resembles peanut butter in texture, and is often lighter in flavor than chocolate made by manual grinding or kneading.

Anything other than the “virgin” process is known as a bleu chocolatier and/or bleu carambert (cherry chocolate). The most popular of these is the triple perfumer’s chocolate, which is dark, fresh, fruity and intensely flavored. There are other varieties of this chocolate, including a French truffle version (with notes of cinnamon and star anise) which is not as strong or complex, but is a bit stronger than the classics. We are basically carrying on from the previous paragraph, except that by now, we have added the whey (the chocolate liquor) which is removed until there is only pure chocolate. Once this has occurred, the concentrated chocolate solution is heated in a kettle until it reaches a hard ball consistency (150°F). Finally, it is strained and poured into molds to chill overnight to set the chocolate.

Cocoa timeline at a glance.

As it turns out, they succeeded in making chocolate that was not only palatable, but easier for adults to eat. In 1896, the first cocoa powder was produced by blending the three steps of the fermented coffee manufacturing process together with the beans.
Before further pursuit, it would be necessary to grow the cocoa tree. 

A few compatible partners joined forces to bring cocoa to the market. Investors found cacao beans practically worthless if they didn’t know how to produce the chocolate they degraded. The only way to know what type of chocolate beans one had was to crack them and check with a sharp knife. Investors purchased cacao palms from countries like Ghana and Jamaica. These palms were significantly cheaper than cacao trees from places like Brazil. These early investors in the cocoa space would set up cocoa estates and split the profits among themselves.

The single serving chocolate bars we know today didn’t become the standard instantly. This first version of “chocolate bars” must have tasted something far from what we consider luxurious. It was thick, bitter and chalky. It took a long time for the right mix to be assembled. This would become important later on.

In the first half of the 20th century, difficulties arose in getting cocoa from the east to the west. Cocoa cordiformis seeds traveled only a few hundred miles across the Atlantic before they landed on land from which there was no harvestable cocoa. Then, as recently as the early 1900s, most cocoa beans came from the central hill country of Ghana where it was the hot, dry summers that permitted harvesting the beans. In 1830, Trinidad and Tobago was the third highest producer of cocoa in the world after Venezuela and Ecuador. This was before Ghana began its large-scale cultivation of cacao. The local industry continued to prosper between 1870 and 1920.

Rolling into the 21st century we see so many varieties of chocolate businesses starting up, especially prominent in the ice cream industry.  Take a look at one of our previous post which discusses what’s next for the industry. 


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