From Cacao To Cocoa – How Chocolate Is Made

Are you a chocolate-lover? Well, if you ever read Charlie & The Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (as we have, over and over again), you’re bound to develop a love for the wonderful world of chocolates, sweets, and snacks. The dazzling display of colours and flavours in a candy shop is probably the happiest place for a kid to be at any time. And as we’re all still kids at heart, we’re absolutely thrilled to bring you the B.I.G. Snack & Confectionery Fair 2019, happening from 4th – 28th July.

Chocolates feature prominently in our displays, and for good reason – who doesn’t love chocolate? (If you said yes, we recommend keeping that information under wraps) We would love to have a chocolate fountain that mixes in milk & sugar in a creamy, frothy waterfall just like our friend Willy Wonka, but unfortunately we didn’t have the budget. However, the actual process of making a chocolate bar is quite interesting in itself. Let’s unwrap the it together:


Cacao is grown in many parts of the world, so the chocolate that ends up in your hands could have been harvested anywhere from Vietnam to Ghana. The cacao plantations are usually small plots of land run by local farmers who harvest the cacao pods, which look similar to a soursop. Just like grapes for wine, the region and soil in which the cacao beans are grown affect its flavour. Ripe cacao pods rattle slightly when shaken, and the skin doesn’t peel easily. These are then broken open to get cacao beans.


Cacao beans go through a dry fermentation process for around 5 – 8 days. Fermenting the beans is a crucial step for developing flavour and aroma, hence it requires great care and occasional ‘helping’ along by turning the beans for even fermentation. Cacao juice tends to settle at the bottom of the container and has to be drained out around twice a day – this can be used to make cacao wine or even drank just on its own. 


Following the fermentation process, the beans are spread out over vast surfaces to form one layer which eases drying under the sun. In countries with wet climates, drying is typically done in a covered facility using wood fire, infusing a unique smoky aroma into the beans. Farms often export their dried beans to be processed separately by various chocolate-makers, therefore maintaining the quality of the bean at this stage is essential for the farm’s reputation.


Roasting can occur while the dry fermented bean is still whole and intact, or it could be done after the nibs have been separated (under ‘Winnowing’). Either way, it is up to the chocolatier to decide based on their preferred flavour profile. Specialised roasting equipment is used to rotate and churn the beans, with temperatures and duration set according to the chocolate maker’s unique method.  


After roasting, it’s time to remove the thin, papery shell of the cocoa bean in a process called cracking. Notice we used ‘c-o-c-o-a bean’ and not ‘c-a-c-a-o bean’ anymore due to the difference made by roasting. The cocoa beans are fed into a juicer or cracking apparatus that separates the skin from the nibs – when done manually, the remaining paper skin is simply blown away gently using electrical stand fans. What’s left are good old bits of cocoa bean, also known as cocoa nibs. 

Grinding & Conching

The cocoa nibs are now poured into huge grinding machines called ‘melangers’ for high-speed mixing and melting. The rollers in the machine keep working (often overnight) to produce a pure chocolate paste that contains cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Cocoa butter is the natural fat of the cacao bean which can be extracted and added again for a creamier texture. Sugar is added to the refined paste and allowed to mix evenly for long periods, anywhere from hours to days. The resulting flavour is completely unique to the conditions under which the chocolate was mixed


The chocolate is then transferred to a tempering machine which keeps the melted chocolate circulating at ideal temperatures. This process is vital for the chocolate to cool down in a way that gives it texture and body, ensuring that satisfying ‘snap’ when broken apart by hand. To get a tad technical; the polymorphic crystals in the cocoa fat and solids start to align so that they harden at the same temperature. Tempering is also where certain chocolatiers play with the flavours of the cocoa butter which can be extracted, flavoured, and added back without compromising the desired texture.


The chocolate is now ready to be filled into moulds and dried before wrapping. Once filled, the moulds are agitated to remove all air bubbles and lock in quality. The finished bars are wrapped and sent to millions of eager chocolate-lovers around the globe. 

Getting to know the ins and outs of chocolate-making actually made us love it even more, which we thought wasn’t possible. Now that you know how much time and work goes into the making of each bar, we hope you’ll savour every bite even more than before! See you at Ben’s Independent Grocer for our fair! More details here: 

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