The journey from cocoa tree to chocolate bar is not complex, but it requires several steps, each of which require careful treatment to get the best from the finished product. The care, skill and attention to detail of everyone involved in making the chocolate in your Cocoa Runners box is what makes it special. It doesn’t just taste good, it does good.
Here we share an overview of the eight steps to chocolate perfection.
Ripe cocoa pods are harvested twice a year. The harvest times vary from region to region, but the process of turning it into chocolate begins immediately. The pods are cut open with machetes and the white pulp containing the cocoa beans is scooped out.
The pods and pulp are placed into large wooden containers, where the pulp is allowed to ferment for five to seven days. This is the first stage in developing the flavour of the chocolate, and part of the reason why a farmer can have a direct impact on the quality of the finished chocolate.
The next step in the process is to dry the beans. This is usually done by spreading them out into a single layer in the sun. Most beans are transferred into sacks and transported around the world after drying, so in order to prevent mold, it’s important that they’re completely dry at this point.
This is done by the chocolate maker rather than the farmer. The process and equipment used to roast the beans vary considerably from chocolate maker to chocolate maker. The exact temperature and roast time are part of the chocolate maker’s (often secret) recipe, and will have been worked out with careful experimentation and lots of tasting!
The roasted cocoa beans have a thin, papery shell around them which needs to be removed, so at this point in the process, the beans are cracked open and the shell is removed in a process called winnowing. The lighter shells are blown away with fans, leaving behind pieces of pure cocoa bean, known as “nibs”.
The cocoa nibs are ground with stone rollers until they become a paste known as cocoa mass or cocoa liquor.
Cocoa butter can be extracted from the cocoa mass with a hydraulic press. This is useful because most chocolate makers often use extra cocoa butter to give their chocolate a smoother, glossier texture. The cocoa butter is the only fat in real chocolate. Traditionally, the cocoa mass is transferred to a separate machine called a conch, where it is further refined. This part of the process has a very big impact on the flavour notes in the finished chocolate, and deciding exactly how long to conch for is part of the chocolate maker’s skill.
Tempering is the controlled process of raising, lowering and raising the temperature of the chocolate to form exactly the right kind of crystals. Tempering can be done by hand, but the process would be enormously time consuming for the large amounts of chocolate that bar manufacturers have to work with, so most use tempering machines that can heat large quantities of chocolate very accurately. The tempering machine will keep the melted chocolate circulating at exactly the right temperature, making the final step easier.
The final step in making a finished chocolate bar is pouring it into a mould. Larger chocolate makers will have machines and conveyors that deposit exactly the right amount of chocolate into each mould, but many smaller manufacturers still do this part by hand.Once cooled, the chocolate is wrapped and ready to go!