How is chocolate made? There are many steps in the process to turn cocoa beans into chocolate. It involves both very basic agriculture in growing cocoa trees and harvesting the beans and very modern, computer-controlled manufacturing technology to process the beans into gourmet chocolate.
Cocoa trees only grow in hot parts of the world -- within about 20 degrees latitude from the equator. In addition, the trees require a rain forest atmosphere to thrive because only there are insects called midges that pollinate the small, five-petaled cocoa flowers. Check out this chocolate history for more details.
Cocoa trees first produce fruit when they are about four to five years old. Pods grow on the trunk and the thickest branches. The pods are harvested twice a year. They are slit open so the “seeds” – cocoa beans - can be scooped out and left to ferment and dry in the sun.
Most trees yield only one or two pounds of dried beans per year. (Beans loose 50 percent of their weight while drying.) The beans are thoroughly cleaned and then roasted in rotating “ovens” - either before or after the outer shell is removed. Proper roasting is a key step. The inside kernel of the cocoa bean is called the nib.
Roasted nibs, typically from several varieties of beans/trees, are ground into a thick paste. Heat generated during grinding melts the cocoa butter in the nib, part of the cocoa butter is pressed out and the paste is then called chocolate liquor or cocoa liquor. When this paste is further refined, it may be used for unsweetened baking chocolate.
So how is chocolate made from the liquor? The liquor can be further processed and pressed to produce additional cocoa butter and “cake,” sometimes ground/refined to a very small particle size for other uses. Cocoa liquor is mixed with additional cocoa butter and sugar to produce dark chocolate. To make milk chocolate, sweetened condensed or powdered milk is added depending on the taste desired.
Conching (using a conche - an agitator) thoroughly stirs and rolls the heated chocolate mixture to smooth the particles to give the chocolate a smooth, uniform texture and taste. This process takes a few hours to three or more days. Next the liquid chocolate is tempered (heating, cooling, reheating and slowly cooling) to further improve texture and flavor. It is then poured into block molds or shipped in tanks for sale to bakers, dairies, or confectioners. Some manufacturers use it directly to make their own products.