“Fine chocolate, painstakingly produced from natural ingredients, is every bit as sophisticated as a great wine or single malt whiskey. Each variety has its own distinct character, aroma, and flavor. Just as in coffee, varying the origin, type and blend of cocoa bean opens an endless range of subtlety to the palate.”
Chloe Doutre-Roussel, Author
Forastero – most common, most robust and highest yielding bean – least aromatic of all the beans. Used for mass produced chocolate such as Hershey’s, Cadbury, etc. 85% of all beans used for chocolate production are Forastero beans.
Trinitario – hybrid of the Forastero and Criollo variety of cacao. Robust, aromatic and good yield makes this bean highly prized for fine chocolate.
Criollo – very fragile tree, very small yield but the best flavored of all the beans. Prized for making the best chocolate.
*Nacional - a nearly extinct tree that grew only in Ecuador. Some companies still call it Nacional but they are really a variety of the Forastero tree.
Bean to bar in five minutes
Pods are harvested from cocoa trees (Theobroma cacao). They only grow in tropical latitudes. Theobroma means “Food of the Gods”.
Harvest - When the pods are ripe they are cut from the tree and cut open to gather the beans. The beans are covered in a protective coating called mucilage, which is sweet and edible, and is actually more favored than the beans (in some countries).
Fermentation -The next step is the fermentation process. This is a very important step in producing high quality beans. Typically the process should last from 5 -7 days to enhance the flavor of the beans. (Criollo beans can be shorter 3-4 days) Many cooperatives will cut corners to get the beans to market faster, but compromising on quality.
Drying – Beans are dried to less than 6% - 8% moisture content. This prevents them from going moldy when shipped. The best drying method is slow drying in the sun on racks. Most beans are air dried by large vents blowing hot air on them, which is less preferable, and less costly. Many mass producers spray chemicals on the beans to prevent insect damage.
Roasting – Roasting is used to bring out the flavor, aroma and coloring in a bean.
Shelling - A winnowing machine is used to remove the shells from the beans to leave what are known as the cocoa nibs- peeled beans transformed into chunks and pieces.
Cocoa liquor; cocoa butter, and cocoa presscake – The nibs are milled to create cocoa liquor (peeled and ground beans). It becomes like a paste that has the consistency of peanut butter and this is the stage where it starts to resemble and smell like chocolate.
The cocoa liquor is next pressed to extract the cocoa butter, leaving a solid matter called cocoa presscake.
Cocoa butter – Looks like a yellow-white soap substance. It is the cocoa butter added to fine chocolate that gives it a smooth texture. This is where good chocolate is separated from bad chocolate. Most large manufacturers use other cheaper vegetable solids to replace cocoa butter, producing a cheaper and inferior product.
The next step is adding sugar, milk (powdered), vanilla and emulsifiers (usually lecithin). This is also a step where the good is separated from the bad. Mass producers usually add artificial vanilla (aka vanillin), which is not as good as the real thing.
Conching – The paste is transferred to a conche, a machine which kneads and smoothes the chocolate mixture for up to three days at a temperature of 60 to 75 degrees Celsius (140F-167F). The speed, duration and the temperature of the conching affect the flavor; it also improves the texture, and allows any acidity to evaporate.
Basically the longer the conching process the better the chocolate; the shorter the process, the lower quality the chocolate becomes.
Tempering – After the conching process is finished the chocolate is then tempered by bringing it to 40 degrees Celsius (116F), then cooling to 86F, then again raising it to a working temperature of 89F to allow stable crystallization of the cocoa butter. This process produces a chocolate that is shiny and smooth, with a homogenous and silky texture.
This step is important because if the tempering process is not done properly, the result is a grainy, chocolate with no shine and possibly a grey white film known as ‘bloom’.
Molding – After tempering, the liquid chocolate is poured into molds and cooled and ready for the final step: eating the food of the gods.
Using the five senses
Listen to it.
Good quality chocolate should always look shiny
Good chocolate should always feel smooth and silky.
Good chocolate should have a nice clean snapping noise when breaking it.
Taste is 80% smell. Smelling the chocolate first enhances the taste.
Rubbing chocolate ever so slightly releases oils that enhance the flavor when tasting.
Finally when tasting chocolate, only a small piece is required. Put it on your tongue and bite for a few seconds to break into smaller pieces. Then stop and allow it to melt so that all the flavors are released. Make sure that the chocolate is spread all around your mouth, this way you’ll taste the flavors most intensely.
The differences between fine chocolate and ordinary chocolate include:
The flavor lingers in your mouth for several minutes or longer, sometimes up to 45 mins.
Fine dark chocolate has to contain a minimum of 43% cocoa solids (in the USA
35% is the standard)
Fine milk chocolate has to contain a minimum of 25% cocoa solids (10% in the USA). It is enriched with milk powder and usually has more sugar than dark chocolate.
The only ingredients one should find in a piece of fine chocolate are as follows:
Cocoa (from cocoa beans), sometimes listed as cocoa liquor
Sugar (Cane only)
If you see lactose, whey powder, cocoa powder, malt extract, butterfat, palm oil, any vegetable oil, vanillin, artificial flavoring, and emulsifiers other than soy lecithin, you may want to choose another chocolate.
Types of Chocolate
Dark chocolate: contains a minimum of 43% cocoa solids (in the USA
35% is the standard)
Milk chocolate: contains a minimum of 25% cocoa solids (10% in the USA). It is enriched with milk powder and usually has more sugar than dark chocolate.
White chocolate: made with cocoa butter, milk powder, vanilla and sugar and does not contain cocoa mass. Remember that white chocolate is confectionery, not chocolate.
Ganache: a soft chocolate filling made with pure chocolate and cream (and many other ingredients when flavored, or there’s a need to extend the shelf life).
Pralines: (pronounced ‘pra-leen-nay’) the filling of these looks like the texture of peanut butter and is made from a mixture of caramel ground together with roasted almonds and/or hazelnuts. Cocoa butter, dark chocolate or milk chocolate may be added to the filling to influence the texture.
Pralines: (pronounced pra-leens) is the Belgian word to describe all filled chocolates.
Marzipan: a filling made of roasted almonds with sugar (not caramel). Sometimes hazelnuts are used instead of almonds.
Couverture: most chocolatiers buy chocolate in bulk, called couverture, rather than grinding their own beans. It can take the form of ready-to-melt chocolate, in big blocks of 1-25 kgs. or chocolate that has been pre-melted and tempered and delivered as liquid.
Chocolate Maker - someone who produces chocolate directly from the cacao bean.
Chocolatier: a term used to describe someon who melts bulk chocolate to make filled chocolates and other chocolate products.
Single estate/Single origin: a ‘single estate’ or ‘single origin’ bar indicates that the cocoa beans used to produce it are from a specific region of a country (like ‘Bordeaux’ on a wine label) or a single country.
Plantation bar: a bar made exclusively from beans selected from a plantation of a few acres or possibly more, usually renowned for their beans. Very similar to Domaine used for wines. Aromas can vary from one vintage to another and editions are limited.
Ballotin: a gift box for chocolate
Primary regions where cacao is grown:
North America –Hawaii, Mexico
South America - Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil.
Central America - Mexico and most Central American countries.
Caribbean -Trinidad &Tobago, Jamaica, Grenada, Dominican Republic, and Cuba.
Africa - Ghana, Ivory Coast, Sao Tome, Nigeria, Tanzania and Madagascar.
Note: African cocoa producing countries account for 80% of cocoa production worldwide.
Asia - Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Sri Lanka are primary producers in this region