The Bean-to-Bar process consists of manufacturing edible chocolate bars from the raw cacao beans. There are different steps that need to happen before we can indulge with delicious chocolate confections. Cacao beans are the main ingredient in fine chocolate bars. These beans contain natural occurring fats (cacao butter) and cacao solids that when grinded and mixed with a sweetener produce chocolate bars. It is just a few ingredients, but the process requires some mastery. Raw cacao beans are not that tasty on its own, actually they are bitter and nutty but the magic happens when they are properly processed to develop the chocolate flavor we all love. Below the main steps that we take in the confection of our Allegretto chocolate bars:
Sourcing of Ingredients
To make good chocolate, that does not require tons of sugars and artificial flavorings, is necessary to start with high quality cacao beans. We source our beans from a specialty cacao broker that imports fine cacao. Let’s have a quick look on how those beans are grown:
The cacao tree yields fruits commonly known as cacao pods. Inside the fruit there is a white pulp (called mucilage) and seeds. Both components are set together in containers to ferment. Fermentation is a key step to develop the aromas. Farmers apply specific techniques and wait some days for this process to complete before the fermented beans are set to dry. Once dried the beans are packed and shipped.
The cocoa beans arrive in bags and they are thoroughly inspected on size and defects. Beans that are not in good standing are disposed and any foreign material that found a way into the bag (sticks, stones, etc.) are removed.
Roasting is a key step because it develops the flavors that were imbedded during fermentation and drying. It also kills bacteria so that the finish products are safe to eat. The cocoa beans are set in a roaster for about 15-30 minutes and heated between 220 – 260°F depending on roasting profile. In Allegretto we like to give an initial punch of high temperature and finish with an extended period over medium temperatures.
During the roasting process, the shell of the cocoa bean dries leading to some separation from the kernel. In order to fully remove the shells, the beans are cracked using a cracking machine that breaks down both, kernel and shells, into small fractions. The shells are now lighter, and the kernels became cocoa nibs.
We are interested on obtaining just the cacao nibs so the mixture of cracked shells/nibs require full separation. The mix is tossed into the winnowing machine which applies air to blow away the shells (that are lighter) and catch the nibs (that are heavier) in a separate container.
Grinding & Refining
The nibs are put into a grinding machine to be crushed and liquefied. It takes several hours for the solid nibs to lose the cacao fat (cacao butter) they have inside to produce a liquid mass, called chocolate liquor. Additional cacao butter in small amounts is added to facilitate this process. After several hours other ingredients such as sweeteners and milk are added to the chocolate liquor. The process continues for a long period of time (1-3 days) until reaching the desired particle size reduction that leads to the smoothness in the final product.
In this step the liquified chocolate is let to rotate and move freely for a couple hours to develop the flavor of the chocolate liquor. Some acids and bitterness are released, so flavor improves while the texture becomes smoother.
Tempering and Molding
Tempering is a crucial yet, very tricky, step that involves a precise sequence of heating – cooling – heating chocolate. There is a lot of chemistry that comes into play but to summarize let’s say that there are different types of crystals within the cacao butter that need to be arranged properly to have a smooth, stable and glossy finish, and, a good snap. Those crystals react to different temperatures and if tempering correctly they will arrange themselves the right way and create a stable form. Untempered chocolate leads to a brittle chocolate and/or chocolate bloom (unappealing whitish spots, streaks in the surface).
Molding and Packing
The tempered chocolate is poured into molds and let cool down until solid. Right after that, the chocolate bars are ready for packing and eating. Watch the video of the manufacturing process.