One of a small number of true bean-to-bar chocolate makers, we make all of our chocolate from scratch—right from raw cacao beans.
The steps below roughly detail the process that we use to make chocolate. We don't use any chemicals to modify the flavor of of our chocolate, nor is anything Dutched (alkalized). We are purists at heart, working carefully and methodically to develop the complex and delicious flavors of every bean.
All chocolate starts with beans from the Theobroma cacao tree, which grows in dense rain forests within about 20 degrees of the equator. There are at least three undisputed cultivars of cacao, but as many as a dozen legitimate varieties—all of which have unique flavor profiles and chocolate-making potential. "Theobroma" is Greek for "food of the gods," which seems like a rather appropriate name for a chocolate tree!
Unlike most trees, cacao trees set fruit on their trunks and large branches. The seed pods of the cacao tree look somewhat like Nerf footballs. Inside the pods are about 20 to 60 beans, embedded in a sweet and sticky substance called mucilage.
When ripe, the pods are cut open to release the beans and mucilage. The beans are placed in boxes, or sometimes in piles or bags, where the sugars from the mucilage feed fermentation. Fermentation is necessary to develop many of the pre-cursor compounds that make chocolate taste like chocolate, and is arguably the most important step in making chocolate. Different regions and plantations have specialized fermentation methods that result in very distinctive flavors of finished chocolate. After fermentation is complete, generally within four to five days, the beans are dried, bagged, and shipped.
Beans are roasted at 250 to 350 degrees for 20-40 minutes, magically transforming the complex mix of pre-cursor compounds that were developed during fermentation into as many as 600 different flavor compounds—including those that we think of as chocolate, but also delicious nuances of nuts, fruits, flowers, etc.
Cracking and Winnowing
Cooled beans are cracked into small pieces called nibs, which are then separated from the husks. Nibs taste like chocolate, but aren't sweet or smooth.
During the first-stage grind, nibs are ground into chocolate liquor, a viscous mass about the same consistency as peanut butter. The primary purpose of this phase is to prepare it for the melanger.
When making a single-origin dark chocolate, only chocolate liquor and sugar are added to the melanger, which is a large stainless-steel drum with a granite stone bottom and large granite wheels. Milk can also be added when making milk chocolate, as well as other flavorings such as coffee or chili peppers. Over the course of 60 to 90 hours, the particles of cacao and sugar are ground down to 20-30 microns, some highly-volatile acids are blown off, and the chocolate is aerated and oxygenated. The result is almost finished chocolate, ready for tempering.
The final step is to temper the chocolate, which is a controlled melting and cooling process that develops the structure of the chocolate, giving it the correct gloss, snap, melting point, and mouth-feel. Tempering occurs as the bars are poured into the molds.
Theobroma cacao tree.
Cacao pods of various types.
Cacao pod, with beans and mucilage.
Fermented raw cacao beans ready for roasting.
Bags of cacao beans awaiting roasting.
A batch of chocolate turning in the melanger.
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