Chocolat, Schokolade, Chocolade, Chocolate, delicious in any language! So incredibly popular that asking “do you know chocolate?” seems a little bit nonsensical. Such a popular treat has surely made it all the way to your palate. The truth is that there is an abundance of chocolate out there. But with this never ending industrial revolution, do we even know what we are putting in our mouths?
As readily available as chocolate seems, it is actually a very exclusive food. You can’t just grow it on your backyard; it has to be within approximately 20 degrees to the north or south the equator in subtropical areas under very strict conditions. It is so exclusive, that historically, it was a royal delicacy. That’s right your majesty! We are incredibly lucky to be able to enjoy such treat.
So, why does it seem to be so abundant?
The answer is in the composition of the chocolate. If you pay close attention to some of the labels of chocolate found at the local supermarkets, the main ingredient is not cocoa. What happens is that in order to make chocolate cheaper, lots of things are added to the actual cocoa mass such as milk, artificial flavors, colorings, or loads of corn syrup or sugar. The end result is always a pretty good looking and tasty product. Is it real chocolate though? Probably not anymore. REAL chocolate is different though. It has character and it has complexity…it is completely naked…it is honest.
Chocolate, like wine, is impacted by numerous factors. Each process along the way will determine what the chocolate will taste like. First we have the regions (That is why we call it single origin chocolate). Then we have the variety of the cacao fruit. The main varieties are Criollo, Trinitario, and Forastero. Criollo is the “finest” of the three, with mild flavors and an elegant notes. Forastero is the most widely produced and the least expensive and it is called “bulk” chocolate. Trinitario is a mix of Criollo and Forastero.
Additionally, each region has a unique set of characteristics (such as soil and temperatures), which affects the personality of the cacao bean. Finally, the way the beans are fermented, shipped across countries, and then roasted and ground all contribute to the distinctive flavor of each origin. These flavors could go from coffee to fruity to flowery to spicy. So many possibilities! Even the color and texture of the chocolate varies per origin. Basically, each chocolate bar has body and soul and no two chocolate bars are equal.
The bean to bar process entails making the chocolate straight from the cocoa bean as opposed to purchasing the chocolate as already processed cocoa powder or cocoa mass. The purpose is to cherish that cocoa bean from beginning to end with such love that all the best natural flavors come to life. It is an intricate process as cocoa beans are so susceptible to external conditions, but so worth the effort!
The process begins with the cocoa beans of course, which come in big sacks like on the picture below. These cocoa beans are first sorted by hand to remove the bad ones and/or any debris such as rocks and burlap.
Then, the cocoa beans are roasted. The roasting profile depends on the origin. Each origin has its own personality. For example, some beans are more susceptible to heat than others. Over or under-roasting will affect the flavors of the beans greatly, so a balance must be found where the roasting technique enhances the final flavors and aromas of the chocolate.
After roasting, the shell of the cocoa bean must be removed, leaving only the inside meaty part called “Nib”. This process is called “Winnowing”.
The nibs, which smell amazing by the way, are then added to the grinder. Stone grinders are the best ones to grind cocoa nibs into chocolate. Every cocoa bean has a natural content of cocoa butter, which melts when temperatures go above 93 degrees. This cocoa butter helps the nibs turn into a paste and then into chocolate after they have been properly crushed by the stone in the stone grinder. Subsequently, the sugar is added depending of the desired cocoa percentage.
The finished chocolate will need to go through a tempering process where we try to establish the most stable cocoa butter crystals in order to make the chocolate shiny, smooth and have a good snap. This is achieved by increasing and decreasing the temperature of the chocolate to specific thresholds. The tempered chocolate is then poured into the molds, refrigerated and packaged.