FROM COCOA BEAN TO CHOCOLATE
Cocoa is the product of the fruit of the cocoa tree (lat. Theobroma cacao), which requires a hot, wet climate, a mean shade temperature of 27°C, and well-distributed rainfall. This is why it can only be grown in regions within 20º latitude of the Equator.
Although the cocoa tree is indigenous to Latin America, Africa today accounts for 70% of the world’s cocoa bean production. Cocoa farming is mostly manual, requiring significant expertise and most cocoa in Africa is grown on small family farms of 2-5 hectares. Next to the Ivory Coast and Ghana, other major cocoa producing countries are Nigeria, Cameroon, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Ecuador, Brazil and Colombia.
The cocoa is a very unusual looking tree, with yellow, green and red coloured fleshy fruit pods, about 25 cm long, hanging directly from its trunk and branches. The cocoa beans are embedded within a sticky, white, sweet tasting pulp. At harvest, the cocoa bean has to have reached the proper level of ripeness as under-ripe or over- ripe pods will have a negative impact on the bean’s cocoa flavour.
Raw cocoa beans are bitter and quite inedible. Two processes are required to turn the raw bean into the raw material for chocolate: fermentation and drying. Once the beans have been removed from the pods they are stacked, covered and left to the fermentation for 3-9 days. The process generates high temperatures of about 50ºC activating enzymes in the beans to form compounds that produce the chocolate flavour when the beans are roasted. The fermentation process must have been concluded properly. Cocoa taste does not fully develop with less fermentation and undesirable “off tastes” develop with too much fermentation .
After fermentation the beans are spread out on mats and usually left to dry in the sun for several days to keep them from spoiling. During drying, beans lose nearly all their moisture and more than half their weight. Finally, when the beans are dried, they are packed in 60-80 kg jute sacks for shipping.
Cocoa liquor is the liquid cocoa mass obtained after the roasting and grinding of the cocoa bean. (Despite its name, cocoa liquor contains no alcohol whatsoever. It is also sometimes called “cocoa mass”.) The chocolate- making process starts with cocoa liquor that got from cocoa bean, which is then mixed according to the client’s specific recipe and application with other ingredients. In principle, cocoa liquor is mixed with cocoa butter, sugar, milk powder (for milk chocolate), cocoa powder and emulsifiers. For white chocolate only cocoa butter, sugar and milk are used. The production process is as follows:
All dry ingredients, i.e. sugar, milk powder, cocoa powder and other flavour ingredients are mixed and thoroughly combined with the liquid ingredients, according to the recipe’s specifications.
The mixture first goes through the pre-refining machine where it is ground smooth.
The mixture then travels through 5-roller cylinders, which press the mixture until it turns from a doughlike consistency to a dry powder.
Conching is a critical process that develops the chocolate’s flavour and remove the off taste , which are coming from the ingredients through a kneading process that can last from a few hours to several days, depending on the recipe and application and is performed inside high-tech conches. The product goes through three separate conching stages for maximum quality. After conching is completed, the liquid chocolate mass is stored in stainless steel tanks heated to approx. 45°C for final processing or delivery.
After conching is completed, the liquid chocolate is either sent to storage tanks for delivery in liquid form or is passed on to the tempering and moulding process lines to produce couverture chocolate or chocolate inclusions and decorations.
Tempering is a carefully controlled process whereby the chocolate is subjected to a heating, cooling and reheating process. This reduces the size of the cocoa butter crystals and gives the chocolate a uniform sheen and crisp bite.
The chocolate is now ready for moulding/enrobing according to the client’s applications.