Posted in Kafevend Blog
With our Advent calenders at the ready, many of us will be counting the days down until Christmas, when more chocolate than the daily nibbles we'll have been sustaining ourselves with will hopefully make an appearance beneath the Christmas tree. Today we are going to take a look at how that chocolate is made; an effort that will surely either sate the craving for a time, or make it that much worse!
All types of chocolatey treats begin with the cacao bean, harvested from large, vivid yellow and orange pods. The first stage is to split open the pods and remove the beans along with the sweet, white pulp that surrounds it. The resulting mass is placed in heaps or bins to let the pulp ferment, which eventually liquefies and drains away. This early fermenting stage is vital to develop the flavour of the beans. Next, the beans are dried, traditionally in the sun on large patios or trays. They are then ready for transport, and are packed up and sent away.
Upon arrival at a factory, any debris such as stones or twigs are removed from the beans before they are roasted. As well as drying them out further, the roasting is another important step in further refining the flavours present in the beans. Like coffee, a longer roast will lead to a more bitter and intense taste, whilst a shorter roast preserves the more delicate flavours and aromas. The next stage of the process involves cracking the shells and removing the inner contents known as nibs. This process can occur either before or after the roasting. The nibs are ground to create cocoa mass or paste, which is then melted and liquefied to create chocolate liquor.
Chocolate liquor contains an almost 50:50 ratio of cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Cocoa butter is something you may not have seen, but you may well have used it in soap products as well as enjoyed eating it. Chocolate requires a higher proportion of butter to solids, which results in a lot of left over cocoa solids - good news for those who enjoy hot chocolate!
The next stage in making chocolate requires adding cocoa butter and sugar along with other possible ingredients like milk and vanilla, depending on whether dark, milk or white chocolate (or some other variation) is being made. This mixture is placed in a conching machine, where large rollers agitate and mix it. The time taken can vary, but higher quality chocolate can be conched for several days. This helps to develop the flavour, as well as ensuring the cocoa butter is evenly distributed throughout the mixture which is important for the next step.
The final stage in making chocolate is known as tempering. Here, the chocolate is heated and cooled to exact temperatures in order to create crystals made from the fat in the cocoa butter. Ensuring that the crystals are uniform and of a certain size is important in order to ensure that the resulting chocolate has both a glossy sheen and snaps properly instead of just crumbling in your hands. Of course, a good snap isn't quite so important for the morsels in your Advent calender, unless you're the sort of chocolate fanatic who has an entire chocolate bar behind each (rather large) door!