How do cacao beans become insanely delicious chocolate?
The arrival of cacao beans is always exciting, but it’s just the beginning of an exacting process that all happens right here at our farm. These fine flavor beans will go through many steps before they become Goodnow Farms chocolate. Here’s what’s involved:
Step 1 – Sorting
Each bean is sorted by hand. Imperfections in a bean can result in imperfections in the taste of the finished chocolate, so we carefully sort small batches to remove beans that are broken, moldy, or just too small to roast properly. We also remove anything that doesn’t rightly belong in chocolate, like rocks, nails, and... more rocks. Once they’re sorted the beans are taken upstairs for roasting.
Step 2 – Roasting
This is a critical step in developing flavor, because roasting transforms the many “flavor precursors” in cacao beans into actual flavor. How a bean is roasted has a tremendous impact on the flavors of the finished chocolate, which is why we do dozens of test roasts before deciding on our preferred roasting profiles. Our profiles are very different for different beans, and creating these great roasting profiles is one of the most enjoyable and challenging aspects of making craft chocolate.
Step 3 – Winnowing
Each bean is covered with a protective shell, which needs to be removed prior to refining because it adds a bitter taste to the finished chocolate. The beans are cracked to separate the meat of the bean (called the nib) from the shell. Once cracked, the bits of nib and shell travel across a screen and pass under what amounts to a big vacuum. Since the shell is much lighter than the nib, the pieces of shell are sucked up into the vacuum while the nibs fall down into a container for later refining. The shells are collected and used for compost.
Step 4 – Pressing Cocoa Butter
Adding cocoa butter to chocolate makes it extra smooth... and we love smooth chocolate. But, most large chocolate manufacturers use “deodorized” cocoa butter, which is collected from many different types of beans and then processed to remove the flavors of those beans. The problem with this approach is that the resulting cocoa butter has a bland and unappealing flavor, which dilutes and competes with the flavors of single origin chocolate. We believe it is critical to capture and preserve the distinctive flavors inherent in each variety of bean, so we press our own cocoa butter directly from the beans we use to make each variety of bar. It’s a time consuming process, but one that ensures that the flavors in each bar remain true to the bean.
Step 5 – Refining and Conching
This is a complicated step because two things are happening, mostly simultaneously. Particle size is being reduced (refining) and excess moisture and volatile compounds, like acetic acid, are being released (conching). Along with roasting, conching is one of the most important steps in developing chocolate flavors. In this step the cacao nibs from the winnower are placed in a large stone grinder–the heavy granite wheels slowly crush the nibs into a paste, and eventually turn it into a liquid known as “chocolate liquor.” During this step we also add sugar and cocoa butter. Once the particle size has been reduced to a certain level (but not too low!) and the flavors are where we want them to be, the liquor is poured out of the grinder and put in the tempering machine.
Step 6 – Tempering and Molding
Tempering is the process of creating a certain type of crystals in cocoa butter to give the bar a harder consistency, higher melting point, and a nice appearance. To create the right type of crystal the temperature is raised high enough to melt all of the fat crystals, and then lowered to a point that’s ideal for the correct type of crystal to be created. Once our chocolate is tempered properly we deposit it into molds, chill the molds to further stabilize the cocoa butter crystals, and then let the bars come back up to room temperature in preparation for wrapping.
Step 7 – Wrapping
This is a labor intensive but very satisfying step, since at the end we have finished chocolate bars! Each of our bars is wrapped by hand, with a foil inner wrapper to seal in the taste, and a beautiful outer wrapper that’s suitable for framing.