The first step we take after receiving the bags of dried cacao from the farms is to verify the quality of the beans. We ensure that the beans have been fermented and dried properly by performing a random cut test of at least 50 beans from each of the bags. The second step, sorting, ensures that the lot is free from pod placenta or any flat or broken beans that may have slipped through the first hand sorting stage at the depot or cracked during transportation.
Every cacao bean is different. When we receive a bag of beans from a new farm we start by roasting small test batches. This is done to determine how long and at what temperature provides the best roast profile for that particular bean. There are many reasons for roasting. One of the reasons is to develop flavor. Another reason is to sanitize the bean.
In this stage we do exactly as the name says; we crack the bean. Arms inside our FBM cracking machine crack the shell and break beans into nibs. The nibs and shell are separated through a series of fans and ducting blowing the lighter shell to one compartment while the heavier nibs go on to the pre-grinding stage.
The pre-grinding step is the first time where it looks like we are making chocolate. The machine has a hopper that we fill with roasted nibs. The nibs run through the grinding head where very coarse chocolate liquor comes out the bottom. Think of chunky peanut butter at the end of this stage!
The liquor is soft and reduces the workload of our FBM Rumbo that handles the refining and conching, the next step of the chocolate making process.
The chocolate liquor, formerly cocoa nibs, consists of two ingredients naturally. It contains cocoa butter and cocoa solids that are also known as cocoa powder. The cocoa butter press is a 25-ton press that cocoa liquor is poured into. When the force from the press is applied to the liquor the fat known as cocoa butter is pressed out. What remains at the end of cycle is a bucket or two of cocoa butter and a hard, brown, large hockey puck looking product known as the “cake”. This cake can then be run through the Pre-Grinder to break it up and turn it back into cocoa powder.
The mélanger is sometimes referred to as a chocolate refiner. At this stage we take the chocolate liquor from the pre-grinder and refine it further. Sugar, extra cocoa butter and desired flavors are added at this stage. The particles of sugar and cacao are broken down as the heavy granite wheels grind the chocolate against the granite floor of the mélanger bowl. The chocolate becomes chocolate in the mélanger!
In the Melnger the liquor will turn into fine paste within 24 hours. If it remains in the Melanger after this stage the chocolate then enters the conching process. At our factory we use an FBM Rumbo for large batch and small premier grinders to do smaller or test batches.
To continue the conching process we use our Kleego (conch). The objective of the conching is to remove any volatile aromatics. Through heating and stirring, the chocolate maker can remove or leave flavors in the chocolate. In this stage we also want to ensure that every molecule is covered in fat and the stirring arms that rotate in opposing directions assure that this is achieved. Once the desired flavor and consistency is achieved this stage is completed. This can take hours or a few short minutes depending on the desired flavor profile.
The purpose of this step is to separate and rebuild the sugar crystal. This is done by warming and cooling the chocolate. This sounds counter intuitive but chocolate has five crystal structures that can form. We are looking for only one, the beta #5 crystal. Through a cycle of heating and cooling then rewarming we will build this crystal structure in the chocolate. When done correctly the chocolate will have a pleasant mouth feel, it will have the desired snap when we break a piece off and it will contract as it cools making it easy to remove from the mould. Once tempering is done the chocolate is ready to mould.
Tempered chocolate is poured into our polycarbonate molds. When making solid chocolate bars we place the mold on the vibrating table to remove any air bubbles from the chocolate. Then we place the bar molds into the cooler to set. Once the chocolate is formed and separated from the mold, usually after 20 to 25 minutes, the chocolate is then ready for packaging.
If we are making bonbons we put chocolate into the mold then place the mold on the vibrating table to remove the air bubbles. Next we pour the chocolate out of the molds leaving a thin layer of chocolate in the mold cavities. Once the chocolate is set in the mold cavities we pipe in chocolate ganache or the desired fillings then close the mold with more chocolate before placing it back in the cooler. When the chocolate is fully set we pop the bonbons out of their molds and then move on to packaging.