Although chocolate is a very common treat, with Australians eating on average 4.9kg of chocolate per person annually, the journey of how this chocolate came to be in our mouths is more involved than you may imagine.
Tree to Bean The chocolate journey starts with the Theobroma tree. These trees need an average temperature of 18-25C, high humidy and high rainfall to grow. This tropical environment is generally found between 20 degrees north and 20 degrees south of the Equator, however optimal growing conditions are within 10 degrees of the equator.
Harvesting - The tree produces fruit, known as pods, which are hard and melon shaped, and 15-20 cm long. These are cut from the trees by the farmers. Each tree will grow 20-40 pods per year, and there will be two harvesting seasons per year.
Fermentation - The cocoa pods are cut open, generally with a machete or wooden club, and the beans and pulp inside removed. There are 20-40 beans inside each pod, and these are the size of an almond. If eaten at this point, they have more of a lime flavour, with no chocolate flavour or aroma. The beans and pulp are left in the sun to dry initially, this turns the pulp to liquid which then dissipates, leaving the beans pulp-free. The beans are then fermented either in wooden boxes or on the ground covered in banana leaves. Fermentation can take up to 8 days.
Drying and Storage - After the fermentation process, there is a high moisture content in the cocoa beans. These need to be dried out before shipping, to reduce the risk of mould. The beans are dried in the sun, or in sheds if rainfall is expected. The beans are dried for days to reduce the moisture content from about 60% to 7.5%. The dried cocoa beans are then sorted and bagged, and are ready for shipping.
Bean to Bar Once the cocoa beans arrive at the chocolate maker's factory, the careful bean selection and artistry of flavours kicks in.
Testing and cleaning - The cocoa beans are thoroughly sampled and tested to ensure that only high quality beans are used in the chocolate production. This includes testing for size, defects and flavour and aroma. Once the beans pass this test, they are thoroughly cleaned to remove any foreign matter.
Roasting - Cocoa beans are roasted before being used. Depending on the flavour that the chocolate maker wants to create and the heat generated by the roaster, this can be for 15-35 mins, and from 105-130 C.
Cracking and Winnowing - The part of the cocoa bean which is used in the manufacturing process are the bean kernels inside the shell, which are known as cocoa nibs. The shell separates from the cocoa bean during the roasting process, and then the beans are cracked by passing through serrated cones. The shells are then winnowed from the cocoa nib (blown away with a fan).
Grinding - The nibs are then ground to liquify the cocoa butter, and produce a chocolate liquor or liquid. The nibs are ground from a particle size of about half a centimetre, to less than 30 microns. Traditionally this is done by a malengeur-broyuer or grinder mill, where wheels rotate and turn crushing the nibs. The chocolate liquor will be of a mud consistency at this point.
Additional ingredients - Depending on the flavour desired by the chocolate maker, sugar, lecithin, milk (or cream powder or milk crumb) and vanilla or other spices, are added at this point
Refining - To further reduce the particle size down to a level that feels smooth in the mouth, the chocolate liquor then goes through a refining process. This is done by a roll or ball refiner. After the refining process, the chocolate liquor will be of a sawdust consistency.
Conching - This process develops the chocolate liquor and disperses the cocoa butter evenly. The conch machine uses rollers or paddles to continuously knead the chocolate liquor. The conching time depends on the chocolate maker, and can be done for a matter of hours or days.
Tempering - The final step in the chocolate making process is tempering. Tempering involves heating and cooling the chocolate slowly before setting, to ensure that it is glossy and sets and melts properly. The chocolate is now ready for use!