The job of picking ripe cacao pods is not an easy one. The tree is so frail and its roots are so shallow that pickers cannot risk injuring it by climbing in it to reach the highest pods. It requires experience and training to know which fruit is ripe and ready to be picked. Ripe pods are found on trees at all times, since the growing season in the tropics is continuous. Gatherers follow the harvesters who have removed the ripe pods from the trees. The pods are collected and transported to the edge of a field where the pod breaking operation begins. One or two lengthwise blows from a well-wielded machete are usually enough to split open the woody shells. A good breaker can open 500 pods an hour. A great deal of patience is required to complete harvesting. Anywhere from 20 to 50 cream-colored beans are scooped from a typical pod and the husk and inner membrane are discarded. Dried beans from an average pod weigh less than two ounces, and approximately 400 beans are required to make one pound of chocolate.
The cocoa beans or seeds are then either removed from the pods and put into boxes or thrown on heaps and covered. Around the beans is a layer of pulp that starts to heat up and ferment. Fermentation lasts from three to nine days and serves to remove the raw bitter taste of cocoa and to develop precursors and components that are characteristic of chocolate flavor. This process generates temperatures as high as 125 degrees Fahrenheit, which kill the germ of the bean and activate existing enzymes in the beans to form compounds that produce the chocolate flavor when the beans are roasted. The result is a fully developed bean with a rich brown color, a sign that the cocoa is now ready for drying. Like any moisture-filled fruit, the beans must be dried to preserve them. In some countries, drying is accomplished simply by laying the beans on trays or bamboo matting and leaving them to sit in the sun. When moist climate conditions interfere with sun-drying, artificial methods are used. For example, the beans can be carried indoors and dried by hot-air pipes. With favorable weather the drying process usually takes several days. In this interval, farmers turn the beans frequently and use the opportunity to pick them over for foreign matter and flat, broken or germinated beans. During drying, beans lose nearly all their moisture and more than half their weight. When the beans are dried, they are prepared for shipping in 130 to 200 pound sacks. They are seldom stored except at shipping centers, where they await inspection by buyers.
SCIENCE AND ART
We now come to the remarkable art of chocolate making, a process that is comparable with the skill and finesse of the world's greatest chefs. The manufacturing process requires much time and painstaking care. Just to make an individual-sized chocolate bar, for instance, takes from two to four days or more. In a factory, the beans are washed and sorted. When thoroughly clean, the beans are weighed and blended according to a company's particular specifications. These formulas are based on experience and desirability. In the science of chocolate making, much depends on the ability to achieve the right formula for the desired end product. To bring out the characteristic chocolate aroma, the beans are roasted in large rotary cylinders. Depending upon the variety of the beans and the desired end result, the roasting lasts from 30 minutes to two hours at temperatures of 250 degrees Fahrenheit and higher. As the beans turn over and over, their moisture content drops, their color changes to a rich brown, and the characteristic aroma of chocolate becomes evident. Next they are de-hulled by a "nibber" machine that also removes the germ. The nibs, which contain about 53 percent cocoa butter, are sent to the mills, where they are ground between three sets of stones until they emerge as a thick creamy paste commercially known as chocolate liquor. The term liquor does not refer to alcohol, it simply means liquid. When the liquid is poured into molds and allowed to solidify, the resulting cakes are unsweetened or bitter chocolate. Up to this point, the manufacturing of cocoa and chocolate is identical. The process now diverges, but there is an important interconnection to be noted. The by-product of cocoa shortly becomes an essential component of chocolate. That component is the unique vegetable fat, cocoa butter, which forms about 25 percent of the weight of most chocolate bars.
HOW TO MAKE CHOCOLATE POWDER
The chocolate liquor, destined to become a cup of cocoa, is pumped into giant hydraulic presses weighing up to 25 tons, where pressure is applied to remove the desired cocoa butter. The fat drains away as a yellow liquid. It is then collected for use in chocolate manufacturing. The pressed cake that is left after the removal of cocoa butter can be cooled pulverized and sifted into cocoa powder. Cocoa that is packaged for sale to grocery stores or put into bulk for use as a flavor by dairies, bakeries, and confectionery manufacturers, may have 10 percent or more cocoa butter content. "Breakfast cocoa," a less common type, must contain at least 22 percent cocoa butter. In the so-called "Dutch" process, the manufacturer treats the cocoa with an alkali to develop a slightly different flavor and give the cocoa a darker appearance characteristic of the Dutch type. The alkali acts as a processing agent rather than as a flavor ingredient.
HOW TO MAKE EATING CHOCOLATE
While cocoa is made by removing some of the cocoa butter, eating chocolate is made by adding it. This holds true of all eating chocolate, whether it is dark, bittersweet, or milk chocolate. Besides enhancing the flavor, the added cocoa butter serves to make the chocolate more fluid. The finest dark chocolate couvertures contain at least 70 percent cocoa (solids) whereas milk chocolate usually contains up to 50 percent. High quality white chocolate couvertures contain only about 33 percent cocoa. Inferior and mass produced chocolate contains much less cocoa (as low as 7 percent in many cases) and fats other than cocoa butter. Whatever ingredients are used, the mixture then travels through a series of heavy rollers set one atop the other. Under the grinding that takes place here, the mixture is refined to a smooth paste ready for "conching."
WHAT IS CONCHING?
Conching is a flavor development process which puts the chocolate through a "kneading" action and takes its name from the shell-like shape of the containers originally employed. The "conches," as the machines are called, are equipped with heavy rollers that plow back and forth through the chocolate mass anywhere from a few hours to several days. Under regulated speeds, these rollers can produce different degrees of agitation and aeration in developing and modifying the chocolate flavors. In some manufacturing setups, there is an emulsifying operation that either takes the place of conching or else supplements it. This operation is carried out by a machine that works like an eggbeater to break up sugar crystals and other particles in the chocolate mixture to give it a fine, velvety smoothness. After the emulsifying or conching machines, the mixture goes through a tempering interval-heating, cooling and reheating-and then at last into molds to be formed into the shape of the complete product. The molds take a variety of shapes and sizes, from the popular individual-size bars available to consumers to a ten-pound block used by confectionery manufacturers.