How Is Chocolate Made?

This page is a very brief overview of the chocolate making process, highlighting the main points. 

Step 1: Harvest the Pods

Cacao pods are harvested off the trees by hand. Once all of the mature pods have been removed from the trees they are cracked open and the seeds, as well as the white pulp they are surrounded in, are then put into boxes or large piles and are then allowed to ferment. 

Step 2: Fermentation

Fermentation occurs when the pulp surrounding the seeds is converted to alcohol by the natural yeasts and sugars present. During this process, the beans are gently moved around the incorporate oxygen which then turns the alcohol into lactic and acetic acid. The resulting liquid is drained off for the first couple of days and can even be consumed, as it is a naturally very sweet juice. The heat caused during the fermentation process is roughly 105 - 120F and kills any germination in the beans. While this is all occurring, the beans are becoming plump from moisture in the environment and their flavor is slowly transforming from a bitter bean to the flavor we now associate with chocolate. 

Step 3: Drying

Until now, the beans have been referred to as cacao beans; from this point forward they are now cocoa beans as they are no longer the raw product from the tree but have been altered by fermentation. The beans are very high in moisture when they come out of the fermentation process, which poses a problem. In order to be shipped or stored, the moisture needs to be removed, meaning the beans need to be dried. Drying process can vary depending on the location of the plantation. The beans can be laid out on the ground and allowed to dry from the heat of the sun, or they might be laid out on metal frames and slowly dried over burning wood. Each drying process can impart different flavors on the beans themselves. The ideal moisture percent is between 6 - 7%. Once the beans have been properly dried, they are bagged and stored; ready to be shipped off. 

Step 4: Sorting

Once the beans arrive they are sorted through to remove any foreign objects such as twigs or rocks. Beans that have dried together in clumps or that have been broken open during transport must also be removed to ensure the quality of the final chocolate. Most locations (such as ours) do this step by hand. Large manufacturers however have high-tech machines that can do thousands of pounds in a few hours. 

Step 5: Roasting

Every chocolate producer will tell you something different when it comes to roasting their beans. A majority prefer to roast the whole bean, but a few process the beans raw and then roast the nibs. (We'll explain what those are in a minute) When talking about roasting whole beans there are as many different ways to do so as there are flavors of chocolate. Our preferred way is to roast at a low temperature for roughly 20 minutes while using steam to help loosen the hull of the bean away from the nibs in order to make the next step easier. It is during this roasting process that the aroma and flavor we all associate with chocolate comes to life. 

Step 6: Cracking and Winnowing

After the beans have been properly roasted, the outer husk is much looser and can be easily removed. The beans are "cracked" to break the whole bean into many smaller pieces and loosen the husk from the nibs. Once that has been done, the husk pieces need to be sorted out from the nibs so chocolate can be made. Up until recent years, there were no machines to do this task for small operations, leaving little choice but to do so by hand. Now, there are a few options such as utilizing a Champion Juicer that has been modified. Still not an ideal solution but much more efficient than doing this task by hand. To "winnow" the beans is the process of separating out the husk from the nibs. If pieces of the husk are left behind and are ground into the chocolate, the final product will have a notable astringent and bitter taste to it. 

Step 7: Grinding

Once all of the husk has been separated out, what remains are usable nibs. These nibs need to be ground into a paste before being put into the Melanger. If the nibs are not ground beforehand, it can cause undue stress on the machine and will reduce the expected lifetime of use the Melanger will be effective for. By grinding the nibs, the naturally occurring cocoa butter that is present gets heated up by the friction and becomes fluid. While this is happening, the hard nibs are being broken into smaller and smaller pieces. 

Step 8: Conching and Refining

Often times, these two steps are combined together; especially if the nibs have already been ground beforehand. Conching is a more modern process that is used in chocolate making. The result of which provides us with the characteristic taste, smell and mouthfeel of chocolate as we know it. This is when all of the additional cocoa butter, sugar and any other additives such as milk powder or freeze dried fruit is added. Refining however, is the process following conching where it further reduces the particle size of the chocolate. The tongue cannot detect grittiness below 30 microns, so the ideal range you are looking for is roughly 20 - 25 microns. By doing this, it creates a smooth and creamy texture when consumed.

Step 9: Tempering and Moulding 

Tempering chocolate is what gives it the shiny surface and characteristic snap we are all familiar with. Tempering can be a confusing process for those unfamiliar so here is a simplified explanation of what's going on. 
- The first step necessary is to melt the chocolate over a water bath to a minimum temperature of 105F. By doing so, this destroys any previous crystal formations within the chocolate and acts as a fresh starting point to begin the process from.
* From here is where you have the freedom of choosing which method to use to temper. Here at Smile Chocolates, we prefer the seeding method when possible due to its cleanliness and effectiveness*
- Once all of the chocolate is melted, remove the bowl from the water bath and begin stirring. The goal here is to cool the chocolate down to around 98F. Once it reaches this temperature you can add your "seed" or previously tempered chocolate. 
- After adding the seed continue to stir, making sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl often. Keep stirring until the chocolate reaches 90F.
- When the chocolate is at 90F, stop stirring and do a test. To do so, simply stick a spatula or a butter knife into the chocolate, tap off excess and set on a counter. Wait up to 5 minutes to see if the chocolate becomes hard on the utensil. If it does, then you can pour the chocolate into the mold of your choice. If the chocolate is not hard after 5 minutes, then you need to keep stirring the chocolate in the bowl for a few more minutes and try again
*Agitation promotes crystallization*
- Allow the chocolate to sit for an hour or so in a cool area and then you should be able to pop it out and enjoy it!