Lesson—How Chocolate is Made
A short overview of how chocolate is made from bean to bar. Each
step in the process is crucial to entice the best flavor from the
Chocolate processing practices haven’t changed much from
the time of the Maya; it is just that the equipment and processes
have been refined. These processes can be divided into six major
In the Cacao Field
Harvest and Fermentation
Cacao trees produce buds on a continuous basis—this can
be year-round in subtropical areas, such as Central America or it
can be tied to the rain cycle, as it is in Africa. Fluctuations in
growth cycle and harvest can occur because of changes in climate
Harvesting the cacao pods is still done by hand, as the mature pods
need to be identified and cut from the tree, without damaging flower
buds, immature pods or the stem area from which the bud grows. For
pictures of the different types of cacao and shapes of pods go to
The pods are carefully broken open to release the cacao beans,
which are embedded in a moist, fibrous, white pulp. The beans and
pulp are scooped out quickly and either heaped in a pile on mats
or banana leaves and covered, or put into a bin or box with a lid.
Fermentation occurs when the pulp surrounding the cacao bean is
converted into alcohol by the yeasts present in the air and the
heat generated by the pile or box. The beans are mixed gently during
this process to introduce oxygen into the pile or box, which turns
the alcohol into lactic and acetic acid. Slits or holes in the box
allow the resulting liquid with its alcohol content to slowly leak
out of the pile of beans during the fermentation process, leaving
just the beans.
Germination in the cacao bean is killed by the high temperatures
produced during the fermentation process. The beans gather moisture
from the environment and plump. Their flavor begins to change from
mainly bitter to the beginnings of the complex flavor called chocolate.
The fermentation process can take up to eight days, depending on
the species of cacao bean. Better fermentation results in better
flavor and requires less roasting time to bring out that flavor.
Drying and Storage
The cocoa beans, as they are now called after fermentation, come
out of this process with a high moisture content. In order to be
shipped or stored, they must be dried.
The drying process differs, depending on the climate or size of
the plantation. Cocoa beans can be dried out in the sun on trays
or mats where the climate permits. Sun-drying usually happens in
smaller plantations in drier environments. In tropical areas, where
daily rainfall is the norm, the beans can be dried in sheds, as long
as there is enough air circulating around the flats of beans. The
use of wood fire to speed the drying process is disliked by bulk
chocolate manufacturers and chocolatiers, as the process leaves the
beans with a smoky taste.
Once the moisture percentage in the cocoa beans has reached 6 to 7
percent, they are sorted and bagged. The sorting process is very
important because the cocoa beans are classified and sold in the
industry by their size and quality. The bagged cocoa beans are then
loaded on ships to be delivered to chocolate manufacturers.
In the Manufacturing Plant
Each chocolate manufacturer has a closely guarded “secret
recipe” for each chocolate product that it produces. This
secret begins with the type and quality of the cocoa beans used.
I will use the symbol: § to indicate points in the process
where the manufacturer may use their own secret formula.
Testing, Cleaning, and Roasting
When the selected § cocoa beans arrive at the manufacturing
plant they go through a very extensive sampling and testing procedure.
Sample cocoa beans are tested for size and defects, such as insects
or mold, and then converted into chocolate liquor, which is evaluated
for flavor and aroma by company tasters. Once the testing is complete
and the shipment is accepted by the manufacturer, the beans are
thoroughly cleaned to remove any foreign matter. The cocoa beans
then go into the roaster for anywhere from § 10 to 35
Cracking (or Fanning) and Grinding
While roasting, the shell of the cocoa bean separates from the
bean kernel and is removed in the first step of the cracking or
fanning process. The beans are cracked (not crushed) by being passed
through serrated cones. The cracked beans are now called cocoa
As the shell is dry and lightweight, it can be winnowed from the
cocoa nib. Winnowing is done by exposure to a current of air, so
that the shells are blown free of the heavier nibs. The nibs contain
approximately 53 percent cocoa butter, depending on the cacao species.
Grinding or Refining
The first grind of the beans is usually done in a milling or grinding machine such as a melangeur. The nibs are ground or crushed to liquefy the cocoa butter and
produce what is now called chocolate liquor or chocolate
For the second refining process, most chocolate manufacturers use a roll refiner or ball mill, which
has two functions: to further reduce the particle size of the cocoa mass
(and any other ingredients, such as sugar or milk powder) and to
distribute the cocoa butter evenly throughout the mass, coating
all the particles.
The rolling process itself creates heat that melts and distributes
the cocoa butter. As well as the flavor of the chocolate, manufacturers
must decide on the § particle size for each of their chocolates.
This is the first step to developing chocolate’s smooth and
Different percentages of § cocoa butter are removed or added
to the chocolate liquor. Cocoa butter carries the flavor of the
chocolate and produces a cooling effect on your tongue that you
might notice when eating dark chocolate. Also, depending on the
chocolate flavor desired, some or all of the following § ingredients
are added: sugar, lecithin, milk or cream powder or milk crumb (used
to produce a caramel-like taste in milk chocolate), and spices such
as vanilla. The formula the chocolate manufacturer develops for
combining specific ingredients with the chocolate liquor is what
gives the chocolate its unique taste.
This process develops the flavor of the chocolate liquor, releasing
some of the inherent bitterness and gives the resulting chocolate
its smooth, melt-in-your-mouth quality. The conch machine has rollers
or paddles that continuously knead the chocolate liquor and its
ingredients over a § period of hours or days depending on the
flavor and texture desired by the manufacturer.
Tempering and Forming Chocolate
For the last two steps in the chocolate process, the conched chocolate
mass is tempered and molded into bulk bars or it may go into another
production cycle to produce specialized retail products, such as
coated-candy centers and molded items.