Process of Cocoa Beans to Chocolate

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Process of Cocoa Beans to Chocolate
(CC2.5SABY/André Karwath aka Aka/, public domain/, CC3.0SABY/SuperManu/, CC2.0BY/Tracy Hunter/

Chocolate begins life as a bean from the cacao tree. Pickers use a cacao hook to remove the pods from the tree. A single pod holds only 20 to 40 individual cocoa beans, which workers scrape out by hand into piles. These piles of beans move into slatted containers known as "sweating boxes." These ferment the cocoa beans until juices drip down through the box. The fermented beans then dry, are washed and sacked for shipping.

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Roasting and Creating the Liquor

Buyers of the dried, raw cacao beans must roast them before use. To maintain the unique aromatic properties of the cacao, roasting occurs for under an hour at 121 to 176 degrees C. Once roasted and cooled, the beans move into a machine known as a "cracker and fanner," which opens the beans and blows the shells away from the inner cocoa nibs.

Grinding the nibs into a fine brown paste creates chocolate liquor. Composed of 30 per cent cocoa solids and 55 per cent cocoa butter, this creates the basis for all forms of chocolate.

Process of Cocoa Beans to Chocolate
Roasted cocoa beans are ground to form chocolate liquor.

From Liquor to Candy

Depending upon the desired end result, the chocolate liquor undergoes different processes. Most manufacturers separate the cocoa solids from the liquid cocoa butter. Cocoa solids pressed from the chocolate liquor become mixed in with additional cocoa butter, flavourings and sugars during a slow process of kneading, rolling and heating. This process is known as conching. Once mixed with additional flavouring ingredients, the chocolate cools and reheats during a final tempering. Tempering the chocolate improves its texture and appearance. The chocolate is poured into moulds and solidifies as it cools.

Depending upon the manufacturer, chocolate might not be "real chocolate." To make an easier melting product, some companies combine cocoa solids with vegetable, soybean or palm kernel oil. Called "compound chocolates," "compound coatings" or "summer coatings," these do not require tempering when melted, but they lack the full, rich chocolate taste of "real chocolate." Real chocolate only uses cocoa butter as the added fat.

Process of Cocoa Beans to Chocolate
A small chocolate tempering machine.

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