The first step in chocolate-making process is sourcing high quality beans. The growing conditions and processing of the beans at the cacao farm have a huge impact on the final flavor of the chocolate. In particular, how and for how long the just-harvested beans are fermented plays a major role in flavor development. But other things such as rainfall, temperature and soil composition, as well as how the beans are dried affect their flavor as well.
Roasting the cacao beans is one of the major ways in which chocolate makers determine the flavor and quality of their chocolate. Our goal in roasting, as with every step of the process, is to bring out the best flavors of the bean. Beans that are roasted too lightly can be bitter with under-developed flavors. With over-roasting the more delicate flavors can disappear or the chocolate can taste burnt.
After the beans are roasted and cooled, they need to be cracked. Cracking involves running the beans through a mill that cracks the beans into small pieces and separates the “nibs” (small pieces of cracked cacao bean) from the husk (or skin) of the beans. The cracked beans fall into a series of buckets that are lined with a series of different sized screens to sort the nib and shell fragments by size to prepare them for winnowing.
Winnowing is the process of removing the husks, leaving only nibs behind. Since husks are lighter than nibs, winnowing generally involves blowing air through the husk/nib mixture, blowing the husks away.
A grinder is used to grind the beans into a smooth texture and consistency. The other ingredients including cocoa butter and sugar are added during this refining process.
Conching is one of the most misunderstood steps in the chocolate making process. On a molecular level, there is quite a bit going on during the conching process. One of the main things that occurs is that all of the solid particles (cacao and sugar) are rounded and encapsulated in cocoa butter. This contributes to the smoothness of the final chocolate. Another thing that occurs during conching is a general smoothing and evening of the flavor profile. This is due to the evaporation of some of the more volatile chemicals (i.e. acetic acid). Conversely, some of the more subtle desirable flavors can also be lost if chocolate is over-conched.
The last step before the chocolate is molded into bars is tempering. Tempering involves manipulating the temperature of the liquid chocolate to affect the growth of the correct matrix of cocoa butter crystals. A properly tempered chocolate bar will have a glossy shine and a good snap. A poorly tempered bar (one that has an irregularly shaped or non uniform crystalline structure) will be soft, of poor luster, and will melt too easily as you hold it.
Finally, chocolate is dispersed from the tempering machine into a professional-grade polycarbonate chocolate mold. The liquid chocolate solidifies in the mold in a cool environment to allow for the crystallization to occur and to harden. Once set, the chocolate bar easily pop out of the mold.