The Chocolate Maker Process
Bean Selection & Sorting
This is where the chocolate maker gets involved. In order to find the best cocoa beans, it is necessary to search, visit and then test the beans from different cocoa farms. Artisan chocolate makers deal directly with the farmers. This is so they can have an influence on how the beans are treated and so that they can give a fair price to the farmers. It is pretty well known that there is far too much exploitation in the chocolate industry. It is important to gain a good relationship between the chocolate makers and the farmers. Read More
Once the right farms have been found and a shipment of beans have been received, they then have to be sorted. It has been known to discover some rocks, dirt and insects in a batch of cocoa beans; these will obviously need to be discarded. Then the beans that are either cracked, stuck together, flat or mouldy should be removed. They may have not fermented or dried correctly and could over roast, carry bacteria and negatively affect the flavour of the chocolate. The beans should then be sorted and roasted by size so that they can roast more evenly.
Roasting the cocoa beans
There are many ways to roast cocoa beans and there is no right or wrong way, it is totally dependent on the preferences, taste and recipe of the chocolate maker. They can determine the tools used, the temperature and the length of time of the roast. All the variables contribute to the final flavour of the chocolate. During a roast, the chemical composition of the beans change and the final chocolate flavour is formed. It is up to the maker to experiment and taste different roasts until they find a formula they are happy with. Read More
Cocoa beans can be roasted in a standard oven, a coffee roaster, a pan on a stove, or a rotating drum over heat. The beans should be rotated to try and ensure they get evenly roasted. If roasted in a normal oven, the beans should be placed on a sheet pan or wire rack so that the air can circulate for a consistent roast. When it comes to how long to roast and at what temperature, this is up to the maker and whether they prefer a light or a dark roast. Also, different beans have different roasts and so it is necessary to roast a few test batches and to taste the beans at different times. Indigenous communities roast until the beans start popping, therefore this can also be an indicator that they are about ready.
There are many techniques to consider when thinking about roasting times and temperatures. Some makers start at a high temperature and end low, whereas others start at a low temperature and end high. The temperatures ideally should remain between 110-150 degrees Celsius and the times should be between 15-60 minutes. The beans should be roasted until a flavour develops that you are happy with. Once the beans have finished their roasting, they should be spread out and allowed to cool for a few hours before removing the husks.
Read the more in depth article How to Roast Cocoa Beans
Cracking & Winnowing
The roasted beans need to have their husks or outer shells removed before they can be ground into chocolate. Winnowing is the process of using air flow to separate the lighter husks from the heavier nibs. For this to happen, the beans need to be cracked first, to separate the nibs from their shell. This is not as easy as it sounds and can be quite time consuming, especially for smaller chocolate makers. Large manufacturers use machines that crack and winnow the beans without much effort. These machines are quite expensive and so small makers have had to be quite inventive and as a result have found many ingenious solutions, some far cheaper than others. Read More
The beans need to be cracked so that the outer shell (husk) can be separated from the nibs. It is important not to crush the beans too much, otherwise, the nibs will be smashed into pieces that are too small and will be separated with the husks. The nibs need to be heavier than the husks in order for the air flow, from the winnowing process, to separate them. The simplest way is to just peel the beans by hand, as the women do in Mexico when they are preparing for a festival. This, however, is very time consuming and gets very tiresome on the fingers. Most home chocolate makers place the beans in a towel or zip-lock bag and crush them with a hard object like a rolling pin. There are certain small machines that have been proved effective like the Champion Juicer for example.
Like cracking, there are a few ways to separate the husks from the nibs, some more effective than others. The most cost-effective way is the bowl and the hairdryer method. The crushed beans are put in a bowl and using a hair dryer, the husks are blown away, leaving just the nibs. It doesn’t take long to get the hang of it and you soon figure out how far away to hold the hairdryer. It is important to try and not blow away too many of the nibs with the husks, however, some small ones will always escape. There will always be a small percentage of husks that you miss and end up in the grinder. Don’t worry about this as the standard in the chocolate industry is 1.5% husks and you will be much lower than this. You can always pick out a few you miss by hand.
Most bean to bar chocolate makers end up making their own small DIY winnowing machines. These work by using some form of sucking motion to separate the lighter husks from the heavier nibs. It is usually done using plastic tubes and a vacuum cleaner, which sucks the husks through tubes and into a separate container to the nibs. There are many variations of winnowing machines and you can create your own fairly cheaply at home.
Once the beans are roasted, cracked and winnowed, the nibs are ready to be ground into chocolate. What ingredients to prepare depends on what kind of chocolate you are going to make. You have to decide if you want to make a dark, milk or white chocolate and then what percentage of cocoa you want the chocolate to be. The percentage on chocolate bars refers to the amount of cocoa beans and cocoa butter in the chocolate compared to the other ingredients. Bean to bar chocolate makers try to stick to just the core ingredients of chocolate, depending on what chocolate they are making. Read More
Dark chocolate – cocoa nibs, cocoa butter, sugar and lecithin (optional).
Milk chocolate – cocoa nibs, cocoa butter, sugar, milk powder and lecithin (optional).
White chocolate – cocoa butter, sugar, milk powder, vanilla and lecithin (optional).
There are of course thousands of other ingredients you can add to chocolate and this is where you can experiment and get inventive. Traditionally you will see chocolate bars containing things such as nuts, dried fruits and different herbs and spices. Almost any ingredient can be used but they need to be dry as water causes the chocolate to seize up, clog and become unworkable.
The cocoa nibs should be pre-ground in a food processor or juicer before being added to the grinder. The nibs can be put straight into the grinder but pre-grinding them will prolong the life of the grinder by protecting the stones. The nibs should be ground down into a chocolate liquor and then added to the wet stone grinder. Most food processors and coffee grinders will struggle to do this job but they will at least crush the nibs enough to protect your grinder somewhat. The most effective machine is the Champion Juicer, as it can be used for not only cracking the beans but also for pre-grinding, by liquefying the nibs after a few passes through. The least effective way is the mortar & pestle as it is hard work and takes a lot of time. After pre-grinding, it is time to add the cocoa liquor into your Melanger, the stone or metal grinder that refines and conches the chocolate.
Refining & Conching
Refining and conching are two different processes but can be performed at the same time in a melanger (wet stone grinder). Refining is the process of reducing the particle size of cocoa solids and sugar crystals whereas conching is the heating and mixing of chocolate to develop the taste, smell and texture. Big chocolate manufacturers would usually achieve these two processes in different machines, however, smaller makers tend to fulfil both in a single melanger. There are a few low volume melangers on the market that are perfect for small-scale or home chocolate makers. I would personally recommend the Premier wet stone grinder. I use it and have found it to be a very durable and effective machine that comes at a very reasonable price. Read More
The ingredient mixture needs to be refined in a grinder to the smallest possible particle size and to emulsify the cocoa solids. Slowly add the different ingredients ensuring that the machine doesn’t get clogged up and the stones can keep grinding. The chocolate can stay in the grinder for as long as the maker decides, but between 24-48 hours is recommended. The longer the mixture is refined and conched, the smoother and creamier the chocolate will be, but the more the flavours will escape. However, the conching process is necessary to release some of the sharp and acidic flavours that are built up during the fermentation stage. There is a very strong flavour and aroma at the beginning which will soften the longer it is in the grinder.
The top of the grinder should be left off for the first few hours of grinding. This is to avoid any moisture building up on the lid and dropping into the chocolate and to also release some of the acids. The maker should use his taste and experience to decide when to stop the melanger. When the chocolate tastes good, it should be stored in a labelled container in a fridge or cool room, ready to be tempered and used. Some makers like to store their chocolate for a month or more before they use it as they believe it develops the colour and flavour of the chocolate.
Tempering is probably the most exciting yet most difficult part of the chocolate making process. It involves the heating and cooling of chocolate to stabilise the fat molecules and form the right kind of crystal structure. There are 6 crystal structures the cocoa fat can form into, with Beta 5 crystal (Type V) structure, being the type that we desire for our chocolate. When chocolate is properly tempered, it will result in a glossy, firm chocolate that will have a clean “snap” when broken. It should be stable enough to only melt near body temperature, so to melt in the mouth and not in the hands. Chocolate will become untempered if it exceeds 31 degrees Celsius. Untempered chocolate can result in a dull blotchy finish, becomes soft and crumbly, and won’t melt on the mouth evenly. It can also ‘bloom’, which is when the cocoa butter rises to the surface, causing grey streaks or spots. Read More
There are several ways to temper chocolate and at different temperatures depending if it is dark, milk or white chocolate. The chocolate first needs to be heated, then cooled down whilst being stirred to bring it into temper and then warmed up slightly to its working temperature to be moulded. The chocolate can be put in a glass or metal bowl and heated in a double boiler, microwave or tempering machine. It can then be cooled on a marble or granite slab, in an ice bath or under a fan or air conditioner. To warm the chocolate back up into a working temperature, a simple hair dryer can be used as long as you are careful not to heat it too much and bring it out of temper.
Dark Chocolate – melt to 120F/49C, cool to 84F/29C and then warm to 89-90F/32C
Milk Chocolate – melt to 116F/47C, cool to 81F/27C and then warm to 86-87F/30C
White Chocolate – melt to 114F/45C, cool to 79F/26C and then warm to 82-83F/28C
Moulding & Packaging
Once the chocolate has been tempered, it is ready to be poured into a mould. Moulds are usually made of plastic or silicone and come in an untold amount of shapes and sizes. The moulds should be warmed up slightly in either an oven, for a few seconds, or using a hair dryer, to allow more time to distribute the chocolate before it sets. Be careful not to overheat the moulds enough to take the chocolate out of temper. The chocolate can be either poured, spooned or piped into the mould and then agitated using vibration to remove any air bubbles. Read More
The moulds can simply be lightly bounced on a tabletop or tapped on the sides with a spatula. The chocolate can then be put in the refrigerator or a cold room for 30-60 minutes to set. Then tap the moulds slightly to release the results of all your hard work, a delicious, glossy chocolate bar.
The chocolate can be packaged in many ways and there are so many creative chocolate makers making all sorts of packaging. The chocolate can be placed in a clear plastic wrapper and tied with a ribbon or a string. Most chocolate makers, however, cover the bar in coloured foil before wrapping it in a paper label or encasing it in a box.