The cocoa bean, which is the main ingredient of chocolate, is the seed from the fruit-like pod of the cocoa tree, also known as Theobroma Cacao.
The cocoa tree is a tall, thin evergreen, and a native species of the rainforests of Central America. It grows in the tropics, in a band that stretches approximately twenty degrees north and south of the equator. It grows above 250 feet above sea level and requires high temperatures, high levels of humidity and a rich soil.
Nowadays cocoa trees are cultivated mostly in West Africa. About 20% come from Central and South America, and the rest come from Malaysia and Indonesia.
The two main varieties of cocoa trees are the ‘Criollo’ which produces the best quality cocoa, and the ‘Forastero’ which is more robust, but produces cocoa of a lower quality than the Criollo. A hybrid of Criollo, the ‘Trinitario’ is now grown in the carribean.
In favourable conditions, the trunks and branches of these magnificent trees are adorned with white or pink flowers the
whole year round and it is from a percentage of these flowers that the fruit pods or cocoa beans grow.
A cocoa pod measures between fifteen and thirty centimetres long and about ten centimetres in diameter. Each pod contains around thirty to forty cocoa beans. The pods turn deep red or yellow as they ripen and are then cut from the trees with machetes. The pods are carefully split open to reveal the creamy coloured beans which, once exposed to light, darken to a deep brownish purple colour.
The beans are removed and left to ferment in large heaps, covered with banana leaves. During the fermentation process,which can take up to eight or nine days, the surrounding pulp turns into acetic acid and evaporates, leaving behind pale brown beans which, by now, have developed much of the characteristic aroma and flavour of chocolate. The beans are then dried under canopies for around fourteen days, after which they are weighed, graded and put into sacks ready to be shipped to different countries to be turned into cocoa powder or chocolate.
From Bean to Bar
The manufacturing process begins with the roasting of the beans. Time and temperature are the most important elements of roasting as they will determine the colour and flavour of the chocolate. Once roasted, the beans are then ‘winnowed’ to remove the outer shells, leaving behind the centres or ‘nibs’. The nibs are ground through a series of rollers, where the pressure and heat cause the cocoa butter to melt and separate from the cocoa liquor. The cocoa liquor is then mixed with ground sugar, vanilla and an amount of cocoa butter. It is now ready for ‘conching’, a process developed by Rudolfe Lindt in 1880.
During this process, the chocolate paste is fed into giant shell-like machines and gently ground between granite rollers. Additional cocoa butter can be added at this stage to achieve a smoother texture. Conching reduces the particle size of the chocolate paste, thus ridding it of any remaining grittiness. It also reduces bitterness by aerating the chocolate. And the result is the velvety smooth texture that makes chocolate so luxurious and sensual to eat.
The final step is to ‘temper’ the chocolate. This is a gentle warming and then cooling process to break down and then re-align the crystalline structure of the cocoa butter. The result leaves the chocolate with a delicious ‘rounded’ flavour and shiny appearance. It is now ready to be either moulded into blocks or transported, in liquid form, to specialist chocolatiers.
From the harvesting to the blending, conching and preparation, chocolate manufacturing is a delicate and often tricky process. The quality, flavour and texture of the chocolate can depend on a variety of factors from the beginning cultivation process right up to the recipes used in the final product.
We, at Amelie, pride ourselves on sourcing our chocolates from some of the finest chocolatiers in Europe who, in turn, set themselves exacting standards of excellence. By settling for nothing less than the best quality, we are able to bring to you a range of superb continental chocolates, truffles and gourmet confections.