Cacao beans are the most important ingredient in finished fine chocolates. Without a high quality bean, the process is for naught. Staring with the bean and working through all the steps to transform it from seed to chocolate requires precision. Failure along the way means the difference between mediocre confections and perfection. During the start of the process, beans are treated somewhat like coffee. They’re harvested, fermented and then roasted. For excellent chocolates, this part of the making process is vital, but the making of chocolate doesn’t truly get interesting until the roasting is complete.
After roasting, the making process continues with grinding. The beans of the cacao must be basically shelled and then ground before they can be used in most recipes. During the grinding stage, the beans give off a liquid. Called cacao liquor, this liquid can be turned into three different products – all valuable to makers of fine chocolate. The cacao can also be processed into cacao butter or cacao powder, but this is generally done with lower quality beans. It can also be turned into chocolate.
To actually make chocolate from the chocolate liquor, fine crafters add sugar. The mixture is ground again, generally, to get rid of any “grainy” taste. It’s then “conched.” This means the chocolate in its liquid form is mixed at a temperature of about 180 degrees Fahrenheit. It is during conching that chocolate begins to gain its smooth, finished taste. Fine end product chocolates can be conched for an hour to a full day or more, depending on the maker’s individual preference.
With conching done, the finished chocolate can be further processed into milk chocolate, dark chocolate, ganache and other products. From bean to conching, each step in the making process is important, any wavering can harm the quality of the finished chocolate. Conching itself is vital and often sets one chocolate maker’s work apart from another’s. From bean to chocolate base, the art of making chocolate is more complex than many likely suspect.