How to make chocolate? Tree to bar: A step-by-step guide to making chocolate
The journey of a cacao bean is fascinating, from being encased in plump pods hanging from tall Theobroma cacao trees to packing their intense flavours in a luscious, silken smooth bar of chocolate.
During this journey, the bean goes through various processes, which have remained the same over the ages, only refined with the use of artisanal techniques, machines and methods.
Here’s a handy guide that tells you all about how a cacao bean gets transformed into chocolate.
Harvesting: It all begins with the cultivation of the cacao tree. Grown mainly in the tropics, the trees bear fruit in the form of pods, which contain cacao seeds or beans. Once ripe, the pods are harvested by hand, collected in baskets and sliced open, usually with a machete, to reveal the beans coated in a white pulp. Extremely bitter at this stage, the raw beans are carefully scooped from the pods.
Fermenting: Once collected, the beans are heaped in wooden boxes, covered with banana leaves and placed under the sun. The heat, yeast, bacteria and the acids from the pulp – all help the beans turn brown in shade, lose some of its astringency and develop a natural, complex pre-cursor to the chocolate flavour. Depending on the temperatures and bean species, the fermentation process can last anywhere from four to seven days.
Drying: Once fermented, the beans are laid out to dry in trays or mats to prevent mold growth. Smaller plantations usually follow the process of sun-drying while some also use wood fire. They are dried for days, until the moisture percentage reaches six to seven percent. They're then shipped to the chocolate makers.
Sorting: Once the cacao beans arrive at the small-batch factory, they are hand-sorted mindfully and with precision. The chocolate maker and his/her team remove cracked or broken beans. The beans are then graded for quality.
Roasting: Like with coffee, roasting is one of the most crucial steps in chocolate-making too. The beans are generally dry roasted, that is, without any addition of oil or fat. This helps develop their natural, classic cocoa flavour nuances and a robust aroma. To retain their inherent nutritional value and bring out their complex chocolatey flavours, the beans are slow roasted in small batches at precisely calculated low temperatures.
Winnowing: Once roasted, the beans are cracked open by being passed through serrated cones. The thin, outer husks are separated to unveil pure cocoa pieces called cacao nibs. The shells are either used to brew tea or in compost.
Grinding: The origin of the silken smooth texture of chocolate develops at this stage. The makers generally use stone or metal melangeurs to grind the nibs into a smooth cacao paste called chocolate liquor. In this process, the liquor is pressed to extract cocoa butter. Stone grinders are preferred since they don't add any additional flavour to the nibs, keeping their inherent taste intact. The butter, along with organic cane sugar, is then added to the melangeur to produce a smooth chocolate mass.
Refining and conching: Heat, motion and time are essential to refining chocolate and that happens through conching. It's a process of agitating and aerating liquid chocolate using paddles and rollers for hours at a stretch. The intense process pulverises the mass to its finest quality, encasing every tiny particle with luscious cocoa butter and softening the cacao's flavour. The result: reduced acidity, a depth of flavour and a sensational mouthfeel.
Tempering and moulding: Tempering involves heating, reheating and cooling chocolate so that it gets a uniform gleaming, glossy appearance and a crisp 'snap' that's music to the ears. When still warm, the liquid chocolate is poured into moulds and set. Each bar is replete with the flavour of cacao, each bar ready to be savoured.
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