Cacao beans come from a tree – theobroma cacao – originally from South America but now grown at locations throughout the tropical world. The beans themselves come in hard-shelled pods that contain 40-50 beans within a mass of gooey white slime.
The first, and most important step after harvesting is fermentation – a process of allowing yeast to convert the naturally occurring sugars within the white slime that surrounds the beans into alcohol and acetic acid and, in the process, producing heat that kills the germ within and releases enzymes. The actual process is complex, but the effect is to remove unwanted flavors and bitterness while developing of other desirable flavors. Fermenting is done at or near the point of harvest.
Following fermentation the beans are dried – typically in the sun – bagged, and sent on their way.
After arrival at Somerville Chocolate the following steps are taken to turn cacao beans into chocolate:
- Cacao beans are examined and sorted in order to remove defective beans and foreign objects.
- Cacao is roasted.
- After cooling, whole cacao beans are cracked into smaller pieces (“nibs”).
- The nibs are winnowed so that the outer husk that surrounds each bean – already detached from the nibs during the cracking process – is removed from the nibs.
- The remaining usable nibs are combined with sugar and ground into a smooth cocoa liquor using a variety of techniques / machinery. In Somerville Chocolate’s case this is accomplished with a modified Indian wet grinder that smashes the nibs inside a rotating drum between the stone base and stone rollers. This process can take several days.
- After removal the cocoa liquor is tempered and molded.
This is an extremely brief description of the process of chocolate making. There is an abundance of information on the internet describing these in greater detail. I intend to add a collection of links shortly.