Posted in Kafevend Blog

As you might remember from the beginning of last week, we began to look at cocoa and examined its history. Today we are continuing the series with a look at how cocoa is grown and how it's turned into our favourite treat.

The cocoa tree grows anywhere from 4 to 8 metres high, with long, slender branches and leaves as big as your hand (if it's a big hand, that is). Cocoa pods begin life as flowers that bloom from the trunk and branches of the tree. As they ripen, they turn from yellow to wonderfully rich oranges, reds and purples. Each pod contains several dozen cocoa seeds coated in a thick, white pulp which can serve as a drink in its own right.

Once ripe, the pods are picked by hand. After being removed from their pods, the beans are placed in heaps in order to ferment. This can go on for a little over a week, but is important in order to develop the beans' flavour. The beans are then spread out to dry before being packed into sacks and moved to factories.

After arriving at the factory, the cocoa beans are roasted for up to two hours at around 120°C. Following this, they are winnowed- the dry outer skin is broken up and removed, leaving behind the cocoa nib which forms the basis for chocolate. These nibs are then typically ground in big drums using large wheels in order to produce cocoa liquor, the purest form of chocolate. With its deep brown hue and silky texture, it certainly looks it. Though you may be drooling around about now, it's still not quite ready!

What happens next will depend upon what sort of chocolate is being made. In order to make the powder we use in our hot cocoa, the liquor is pressed in hydraulic machines. The pressure separates the cocoa solids from the cocoa butter. The solids are compressed into a cake which is pulverised and results in our powder. The leftover butter is important for making other forms of chocolate.

In order to make the bars of chocolate we like to tuck into, varying ratios of cocoa liquor, cocoa butter and sugar are used, as well as a few other ingredients. The three varieties of chocolate you are probably most familiar with are made like this: Dark chocolate is as close to pure cocoa liquor as it gets with just sugar and cocoa butter added to the mix. Milk chocolate adds- you guessed it- milk, and the ratios favour the sugar over the cocoa resulting in a sweet and creamy bar of chcolate. White chocolate does away with cocoa solids altogether and uses just cocoa butter, milk and sugar.

Whatever the mix, it's all blended together before conching. Conching is similar in appearance to grinding the nibs, but is used in this case to smooth out the mixture. Friction is used to produce enough heat to keep it liquid. Conching can go on for up to three days in the case of higher quality chocolate. Finally the chocolate is tempered as it is set. The chocolate has to be heated and cooled to specific temperatures in order to form the right size cocoa butter crystals. This gives chocolate its unique glossy look, its ability to melt in the mouth and even governs the way it snaps.

We hope you've found this all informative and that you'll join us again later this week when we take a look at the different types of cocoa beans we use.

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