From tree to chocolate
Cacao grows 20 degrees north and south of the equator. This is known as the “cacao belt.”
Chocolate does grow on trees. In pods.
The trees grow flowers, which are pollinated by tiny insects called midges. These pollinated flowers will develop into pods, but not all pods will develop into their final size. The trees will actually cut off the nutrients if there are more pollinated pods than it can sustain.
Mature pods are roughly the size of a football, though some are smaller (especially in Bolivia). They are harvested by machete or shears. Twisting the pods off the branches is not recommended.
After the pods are cracked open, you can see the beans are covered in a white mucilage that is sweet and tastes like lychee.
When you split the beans open, they’re usually purple, though some can be tan or even white (there is debate on the value of cacao judged by color as indication of quality).
This is a fairly typical cacao fermentary. The wet cacao beans (called “baba”) are carried up the stairs and dumped into the top box, then covered with banana leaves for about 48 hours. During this time, much of the pulp drains away and the sugars begin to ferment. The beans are moved through a slot into the next box down and stirred. After 24 hours, the process is repeated until they reach the last box and the beans are then dried.
Depending on the type of beans and the weather, the drying can take a few days to a week or more. The fermentation process still carries on to an extent during the drying phase, and further browning of the interior of the beans develops during this phase.
After the beans are dried, they are bagged, usually into 70kg (155lb) bags. This is where we come in! We meet with farmers and co-ops and buy beans directly or with the assistance of other chocolate makers collaboratively.
At the factory
The first thing we do when we get bags is empty them out, line the bags with GrainPro plastic, then refill them. We do this so that the beans stay fresher longer and keep out pests.
Next we carefully sort each and every bean, making sure to remove sticks, rocks, broken beans and beans stuck together that would harm our machines or affect the flavor in a negative way.
After sorting, we roast. Each origin requires a different roasting profile. We start by tasting the raw cacao and listen – the beans tell us how they want to be roasted!
After roasting, the beans are placed in a proofer overnight. We further reduce any moisture and attain less viscosity this way.
After proofing, the beans are loaded into a hopper and cracked.
Cracking results in a mix of shells and nibs. The process of winnowing is separating the nibs that we want from the shells that we don’t. The shells are then used as fertilizer and mulch.
The nibs are loaded into a stone grinder and liquefy. Roughly 50% of the nibs is cocoa butter and this gets released as the nibs are broken down into smaller and smaller bits.
After 48 hours or more, and after adding sugar, we pour the batch of chocolate into a steam pan to age.
We age our chocolate for at least a month, or sometimes longer depending on the origin and our production schedule. We haven’t found much of an advantage aging more than a couple months.
After the chocolate is aged, we break up the block into smaller pieces to be more easily melted for tempering.
Tempering chocolate is basically the heating and cooling to specific temperatures, which melt and crystalize the cocoa butter within the chocolate, taking the other ingredients (cocoa solids and sugar) along for the ride.
We pour chocolate into molds on a vibrating tray to get the air bubbles out.
After the molds are cooled, the finished bars are released for wrapping.
We wrap every bar by hand.
After foil wrapping, each bar is put into our custom packaging which we designed ourselves.
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