Chocolate lovers all over the world should be thankful to this lovely tropical fruit called cocoa for providing the essential raw material for all chocolate-based products.  All bars emerge from these beans and the process is long and interesting with multiple stages. Farm Spice has a wide spectrum of customers who are chocolate and related products manufacturers who demand single origin cocoa and consistently fermented beans and bean products like cocoa powder, cocoa nibs, cocoa butter etc. These beautiful yellow pods from our farms end up as delicious bars in different chocolate products.

Chocolate making, right from harvesting till wrapping the final product is a long and refined process which involves so many stages. Cocoa is a beverage crop which grows mostly in the tropical regions of the world. The fruit which is normally seen on the trunk and the branches of the tree contains the pod with the embedded beans in it. The ripened pods are harvested and the beans obtained by breaking the pods carefully without damaging the bean and the pulp. This juicy mix is then fermented thoroughly separating the liquid and the beans. Fermentation also helps to improve the flavour profile and the raw bitter bean starts its journey towards the bar right from the wooden boxes prepared specially for the process of fermentation. The duration of formation is between two and eight days depending upon the bean type. The next process in line is drying of the beans. Cocoa beans are often sundried for removing the moisture content left after fermentation. Protecting the stock from moisture is important because it may induce microbial action leading to damage of the beans. In places where the availability of sunlight is scarce, alternative drying techniques like open fires are used, leaving it a smoky flavour. Fermentation and sun drying are two strategically important processes which determine the flavour and final quality profile of the cocoa products. The fermented and sundried beans are packed and delivered to the customers who demand the whole beans rather than refined products like cocoa butter, cocoa nibs and cocoa powder.

The fermented and sundried cocoa beans are not completely free from the risk of microbial attacks. They have to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before they enter the process of raw material production. These obtained beans are roasted further so that the process of flavor addition initiated during fermentation continues and the moisture retained in the beans gets reduced to the desired levels. Roasting also helps the processes of dehusking, cracking and winnowing. The roasting time may vary from five to thirty-five minutes and the temperature range is between 250 and 325 F. It also reduces the risk of infections by sterilizing the beans under high temperatures. Roasting takes place in high and monitored temperatures and the level of roasting is determined by the taste requirements and often smell and taste remain to be the major parameters. Roasting time and temperatures are decided according to the bean type mostly and the requirement for which it is processed.

Roasting leaves the hard outer shell thinner which can be broken easily either manually or with the help of machines. High temperature is maintained initially to give the beans the optimum heat level to initiate the process. This helps to separate the husk from the nibs as the beans expand upon heating. The ideally roasted cocoa bean should give an aromatic flavour without a raw or burnt taste. The roasted beans are cracked and winnowed to remove the cocoa nibs from the husk.  Cracking is done by applying pressure on the roasted beans which have tender outer shells and winnowing is done by passing the mixture through multiple screens and pipes using vibration and vacuum suction.  Cocoa husk seems to contain toxic heavy metals and they have to be removed completely leaving back pure cocoa nibs which are the most important raw material for chocolate manufacturing. Cocoa shells thus removed are often used in garden fertilizers.

Cocoa nibs then undergo the process of thorough grinding and in the next level it is converted in to a liquid called cocoa liquor which is also called unsweetened chocolate or cocoa mass. Grinding time varies according to the requirement, ranging from 36 to 72 hours sometimes. Optimum particle size distribution is achieved through a thorough grinding process. It is from this liquor that the two major cocoa products like cocoa butter and cocoa powder are obtained. After pressing the liquor for producing cocoa butter, the byproduct obtained is crushed to make cocoa powder. Freshly pressed butter gives a special aroma for the final products made.

It is during the process of refining that the other ingredients like sugar, milk powder and extra cocoa butter are introduced to the product. Now a days this is a highly machinated process where large number of products are made within a short span of time. Conching is an essential part of refining since the unwanted and volatile ingredients present in the mixture have to be thoroughly removed before the final products are made. The final recipe for a chocolate bar is decided by the price, taste factors and the brand specifications.

The right consistency of the chocolate thus made finally is achieved through the process of tempering, i.e., alternate lowering and raising of temperatures. Tempering is done either manually or with the help of machines. It is done to leave the bar glossy, smooth and crispy and not to be crumbly. The final appearance and texture of the chocolate bar is decided by the crystals which are formed during the tempering process. The three main types of crystals formed are named alpha, beta and gamma according to the particle size. Alpha, the first type is small and sharp which gives a brittle texture and shiny appearance to the bar. Beta crystals are larger and rounder and give a creamy texture and dull appearance. The smallest of the three types is gamma crystals which could give smooth and glossy chocolate with a snappy texture.  The tempered molten chocolate is poured in to the specially designed moulds for making the chocolate bars in the desired shapes and sizes. The moulds are tapped on to a flat surface to remove the trapped air bubbles in it. The cooled and solidified bars thus obtained are sent for quality check before being packed in to protective foil or paper for locking them fresh. The labelling is done accordingly with the brand name, list of ingredients and the essential dates to be published as per stipulated legal requirements. Chocolate thus produced is stocked in specially designed rooms with regulated temperatures and delivered far and wide as per customer orders.

Chocolates come in different tastes, flavour, colour and appearance. The Cocoa Percentage is a decisive factor in both the taste and appearance of chocolates. It is also suggestive of how much of the chocolate bar is made of cocoa bean and butter where the bean gives it a chocolaty taste and the butter leaves it creamier. Dark chocolates have a cocoa percentage between 60 and 100. Milk chocolates have 10-20%, white chocolates contain cocoa butter and not cocoa liquor but the cocoa percentage is roughly between 20 and 40. Highly nutritious and customized, vegan and keto chocolates are now made available from cocoa bean products.

It is hard to believe that all those lovely mouth-watering varieties of delicious chocolate bars we come across are made from those beautiful pods ripening on the cocoa bark and branches in the tropical belt. Yes, from bean to bar they grow.