PLEASURE FROM FAR…
When you talk of chocolate you talk of travel, Aztecs, exports, production… in brief, there is a whole story to be told and to find out about…
2.000 BC : The Mayan and Aztec Indians already use cocoa beans to obtain a bitter drink. This drink was consumed by monarchs during ceremonies because for the Aztecs, cocoa was a food of the Gods.
1.500 AD : The Aztec civilisation dominates Central America. At this time the conquistador Hernando Cortez brought back a sweetened form of chocolate to Spain. This commodity was very expensive and was reserved for the elite. Doctors prescribed it as a medicine. Chocolate then became a symbol of wealth throughout Europe until the 18th century.
Beginning of the 18th century: Cocoa beans were introduced to the whole of Europe. Each country adapted the drink to its dietary habits. Only the royal families and the upper classes could consume it because it was a sign of wealth and power. It was not until the 20th century that chocolate became accessible to everyone.
A little before 1830, the chemist Conrad Van Houten managed to extract the fat contained in the cocoa bean in order to manufacture cocoa powder. This was a real revolution which made it possible to combine chocolate and sugar.
In the second part of the 19th century, a process making it possible to mix milk to the chocolate was perfected.
At the beginning of the 20th century, mass production commenced. New tools like the cocoa press and the mixing machine made production in large quantity possible. This was, therefore, less expensive and quicker. Chocolate, in powder or in bars, finally became affordable to the general public.
After the second world war, mass production had competition: that of the chocolate artisans mainly established in Belgium. Demand was then centred on a finer chocolate of greater quality.
Nowadays, cultivation of cocoa is not very different from that of Aztec times. It is simply the new technology that has enabled us to improve the taste of the chocolate, to create various shapes with it and to make it accessible to everyone.
FROM COCOA TO CHOCOLATE, AN EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEY!
From harvest to roasting, the cocoa bean makes a long journey before turning up in your favourite praline…
The cocoa tree
A tall, slender tree of a maximum height of 20 metres, the cocoa tree likes high temperatures and humidity. It is, therefore, not by chance that it mainly grows in equatorial regions.
The fruit of the cocoa tree measures 15 to 30 cm in length and may contain between 30 and 40 cocoa beans.
Everything starts with the harvest…
The farmers harvest the cocoa pods twice a year. The method applied is still identical to the method developed by the Aztecs because the trees are too fragile for mechanical harvest. So everything is done manually with the aid of a machete. When the pods have been gathered and hung on poles, they ripen for another five days.
A few days after harvest, the beans are cut in two in order to release the pulp. The workers then shell each bean and form small piles in order to facilitate fermentation. Each pile is covered with banana leaves for between 3 and 9 days. The fermentation now starts. The sugar contained in the beans is transformed into acetic acid; the pulp is heated and creates enzymes which give its irresistible cocoa taste. Fermentation is complete when the beans turn a beautiful brown colour.
The whole fermentation and drying process lasts approximately 10 days.
Under the tropical sun
The third stage of production is the drying. In fact, a bean cannot be packed unless it has been previously dried. In order to accelerate the reaction, some farmers use heated pipes or air canons. But most of the farmers use the sun. The fermented beans are placed on mats and take about a week to dry.
For information: it takes 400 beans to obtain a pound of chocolate and during drying, each bean loses about half of its initial weight.
The dried beans are packed in canvass sacks before beginning their long journey. When they arrive in the shipping centres, they are analysed by the potential purchasers. While waiting for their purchaser, the beans are stored in an insulated space and protected from all external stresses because they must not mix with products that have a strong odour.
The purchasers are not shy of negotiating the price and checking the quality of the beans. In respect of the last point, the purchaser only has to split a bean in two. If the centre of the bean is crimson, it means that the fermentation has been neglected. The price will then be much lower.
For information: each chocolate maker can trace his cocoa load, and sorts the beans depending on the category and the country of origin.
The cleaning is probably the first stage of the process for manufacturing chocolate. The beans are put into a machine which makes it possible to remove the remainder of the pulp, the pod or any other suspect element.
After cleaning, each bean is weighed and allocated to a distinctive mixture depending on the recipes of the chocolate maker.
The roasting is the stage which allows the chocolate to assume its full flavour. The beans are placed into a large rotating oven at a temperature of between 100 to 150°C. This stage may last from 30 minutes to 2 hours; it allows the beans to release their moisture and to develop their flavour. Bacteria will also be eliminated during this phase.
The bean shells are cracked with the help of jagged cones. Then a ventilator separates the waste from the main material. The beans are then placed on a sieve and sorted according to their size.
A cocoa bean consists of 53% cocoa butter and 47% pure cocoa. Separating these elements is difficult and requires two specific stages:
- Grinding consists of crushing the beans to liquefy them into a thick paste called chocolate liquor.
- This chocolate liquor is placed under enormous presses of more than 20 tonnes. The cocoa butter flows out of this. This stage is called pressing.
The remaining liquor is mixed with sugar and cocoa butter. The latter allows the chocolate to remain solid at ambient temperatures. This mixture is beaten until a brown powder is obtained which is called crumb.
The crumb passes between various rollers in order to be finely crushed. Depending on the taste that is required, the crumb will be more or less crushed. This stage is essential and aims to eliminate the remaining particles of cocoa butter and sugar.
Depending on the type of chocolate, ingredients will be added at this stage.
In order to obtain milk chocolate, milk powder is added whereas for white chocolate cocoa butter, sugar and milk powder are mixed together.
Need for air
When the chocolate paste has been refined, it is placed into a large vat and crushed by two cylinders which makes it possible to extract the last sugar crystals and to aerate it. This is called mixing.
Mixing allows the flavours and the taste to be released but the conching determines the final taste of the product. This stage consists of stirring the chocolate for several hours.
Conching finishes with the addition of lecithin and cocoa butter.
The tempering stage makes it possible to give the chocolate its fondant and its shine. These two characteristics are obtained by repeating the heating and cooling of the chocolate.
For information: when it has been tempered, the chocolate can be kept in a liquid state and used in the creation of pralines.
This stage consists of filling a mould with chocolate that has undergone the tempering process. Then, the mould is placed on the vibrating tables in order to eliminate any air bubbles. When the mould is full, it passes through a cooling tunnel.
Once out of this tunnel, the mould is turned out in order to eliminate the surplus chocolate. The external wall must then be cooled in a cooling tunnel at a temperature of approximately 10 °C.
After sufficient cooling time, the filling is poured into the mould with the help of a depositing machine. The filling is spread uniformly in the mould by vibration. Then, the mixture is once again cooled.
To finish, the praline is coated with chocolate and sent for the last time into the cooling tunnel. After about fifteen minutes, the praline can be turned out of the mould.
The same method is applied for filled tablets.
This is another method of working.
First a base is manufactured, on which the filling will sit. This base goes through a cooling tunnel and then passes through a tempered chocolate bath.
Then, a vibrating machine is responsible for giving the chocolate adequate thickness and a uniform covering.
In general, the decoration is applied by hand. For example, a trickle of white chocolate on a milk chocolate praline.
After all these processes, the praline passes through the cooling tunnel for the last time.
End of the process
The last two stages are packaging and placing in a box. Due to our concern for hygiene and cost effectiveness, this is carried out by hyper-fast machines.