Processing of Cocoa Beans

There has been no change of processing of cacao beans from harvesting through drying. This is done in the producing countries.


Once the flowers are pollinated the pods take 5-6 months to grow and mature to the yellowish red color of the ripened pod. The pods are harvested manually. Once harvested, they may keep for about a week before spoiling. After harvesting the pods are carefully cut open with machetes and the beans with the pulp are removed. These are then placed in large boxes, or just in heaps, covered with banana leaves and left to ferment. The fermentation process gives flavor to the beans and the pulp slowly liquefies and runs off as the temperature rises. This takes up to a week. The beans start to germinate in the first couple of days of fermentation, soon to be killed by the high heat produced by the fermentation. This stage is important since ungerminated beans lack flavor. The mass is turned from time to time so hot spots don't develop and the temperature is maintained at around 110F to 120F.

The beans are then dried either on patios for a couple of weeks, or in an oven with continuous turning in order to reduce the moisture content to about 7%. Then the beans are packed to be sent to chocolate factories, mostly overseas.


Roaster -
When the dried beans are received at the factory they are artfully roasted at 200F to 250F for one to two hours in order to develop the flavor of the beans. The beans become brown in color and friable (brittle).

Next, the roasted beans are broken down and the thin shell (chaff) is removed in the process called winnowing. The remaining pieces of kernel are called cacao nibs, which have the final chocolate flavor as we know it. Nibs contain about 400 different chemicals responsible for the flavor of the final products.


Grinding Machine - The True History of Chocolate Sophie D Coe, Michael D. Coe
The nibs are ground under heavy steel rollers with some heat. The grinding process also produces its own heat. The nibs change into a thick paste called cacao liquor and contain about 50-55% cacao butter.

Filtering the Butter

Filtering the Butter
Hydraulic Press - Callebaut
Next, the liquor is filtered using hydraulic presses to remove the colorless cacao butter, which is a liquid. The cacao in the form of a cake remaining is used for further processing into cocoa, hot chocolate and cheap commercial chocolates. The cake contains about 10-20% butter.

The high quality gourmet chocolates are made from cacao liquore.

Making Hot Chocolate Mix

The cacao cake is pulverized by grinding, then mixed with ground sugar and milk powder, artificial shortening agents and lecithin are added, to make it easily mixed in water to form the drink. This is the typical commercial hot chocolate mix.

The high quality gourmet hot chocolate like ours is made by pulverizing the cake, adding some cacao butter and evaporated sugarcane juice and also bits of dark chocolate. There is no dairy product or other additives. The prepared drink can be made using milk, rice milk, soymilk or water and spicing if desired.

Making Chocolate

The cacao cake is ground and mixed with a little cacao butter, shortening, lecithin, pulverized confectionery sugar, flavorings and milk powder (for milk chocolate). The resulting mass is then mixed and ready for refining.

High quality gourmet chocolates are made from cacao liquor, which is not filtered to remove the cacao butter. To this pulverized confectionary sugar and vanilla or other natural flavors, milk powder for milk chocolates, and a little lecithin are added.


The above mixture is refined through a series of rollers to give the chocolate its consistency by reducing the particle size of the mixture so that they cannot be felt on the tongue. The size is generally reduced to 20 millionth of a meter, smaller than the distance between two sensory taste buds in the mouth. The process also creates its own heat, which develops the flavor of the chocolate.


The refined chocolate is further improved by grinding under rollers of machines called conch because the resemblance of its shape to a conch (shell). Here the refined chocolate is ground under granite rollers, which goes back and forth on a flat granite table with curved lips. When the rollers go back and forth on the lip, the mass splashes on to the roller towards the main body of the machine. This friction produces heat, develops the flavor and drives out volatile acids while masticating the material. The process takes 1 to 3 days.

High quality gourmet chocolates are still manufactured using similarly designed equipment but the cheap commercial chocolate is produced on equipments using heat and paddles to stir the mass to remove the volatile acids and develop flavor.


Modern conching equipment with paddles -
The final step before molding into bars and other shapes is tempering. The cacao butter when cooled forms two kinds of crystals, stable and unstable. Unstable crystals form gray streaks, known as bloom, in the final chocolate. Also, the chocolate should have mostly stable crystals so it does not melt in the hand. To remove the unstable crystals the chocolate is slowly heated to 118F (48C) to melt all the fat crystals. Then it is cooled to 81F (27C) to set the correct amount of stable fat crystals to provide the beginning of a structure (seed crystals). Unfortunately, some unstable crystals are formed. To remove these the chocolate's temperature is again increased to 90F (32C), which is warm enough to melt the unstable crystals but not the stable crystals. In the final molded chocolate the stable crystals give the bases to form the entire chocolate with stable crystals.

Chocolate melts at about 98F, which is the body temperature, thus melting in the mouth.