Before this year I had never seen a cocoa pod and was really fascinated with the whole process to get cocoa from the tree and turn it into chocolate. At the Grenada Chocolate Company, which was started in 1999, I learned about each step.
Ripe cocoa pods are harvested twice a year. The harvest times vary from region to region, but the process of turning it into chocolate begins immediately. The pods are cut open with machetes and the white pulp containing the cocoa beans is scooped out. A side note, you can crack the pods open and suck on the white pulp around the seeds. It is good, but slimy.
The pods and pulp are placed into large wooden containers, where the pulp can ferment for up to a week. This is the first stage in developing the flavor of the chocolate, and part of the reason why a farmer can have a direct impact on the quality of the finished chocolate.
The next step is to dry the beans. This is usually done by spreading them out into a single layer in the sun. Most beans are transferred into sacks and transported around the world after drying, so to prevent mold, it’s important that they’re completely dry at this point.
The process and equipment used to roast the beans vary considerably from chocolate maker to chocolate maker. The exact temperature and roast time are part of the chocolate maker’s recipe.
Cracking and Winnowing
The roasted cocoa beans have a thin, papery shell around them which needs to be removed, so the beans are cracked open and the shell is removed in a process called winnowing. The lighter shells are blown away with fans, leaving behind pieces of pure cocoa bean, known as “nibs”.
The cocoa nibs are ground with stone rollers until they become a paste known as cocoa liquor. Cocoa butter can be extracted from the cocoa mass with a hydraulic press. This is useful because most chocolate makers often use extra cocoa butter to give their chocolate a smoother, glossier texture. The cocoa butter is the only fat in real chocolate. The amount of cocoa butter determines if it is bitter dark chocolate (little) all the way to sweet milk chocolate (lots).
Tempering is the controlled process of raising, lowering and raising the temperature of the chocolate to form exactly the right kind of crystals. It is a this stage any flavors, nuts, or fruit would be added.
The final step in making a finished chocolate bar is pouring it into a mold. Once cooled, the chocolate is wrapped and ready to go! This is my favorite part in the process. 😊