Like wine or coffee, several different varietals of cacao plant exist, but unlike them-the method of propagation of the cacao plant makes it very difficult to make chocolate derived from a single variety. When it comes to chocolate, it’s primarily the geographic, climatic and farming conditions of the region that are responsible for the flavours we taste.
It’s important to understand that chocolate with a similar percentage of cacao, but that comes from different origins can have vastly different profiles — smoky, earthy, fruity, floral, sweet or even savoury. These profiles are enhanced when the quality and integrity of the beans are preserved throughout production. Thus, the farmers, chocolate makers and chocolatiers all play vital roles in making chocolate.
Farmers grow cacao trees on plantations within the equatorial belt. Quite a difficult plant to grow, farmers must nurture the trees for three to five years before they can bear fruit.
The cacao beans grow in football-sized, oblong pods and are harvested twice a year. The pods must be hand-cut as any damage to the tree from a machine that is less scrupulous can leave a wound that makes the plant susceptible to disease or can stunt the tree’s growth, permanently jeopardising its ability to fruit.
Once cut, the pods are split open and the white flesh surrounding the cacao bean is left to ferment. Fermentation is an integral part of the process; the chemical reaction induced simultaneously unlocks the cacao bean’s flavours and protects them from harmful bacteria. Beans that do not undergo this process tend to lack complexity in taste and aroma.
Farmers may take their yield to local cooperatives that check the quality of the bean, dry them and ship them off to processing plants around the world, though some chocolate makers and farmers too are starting the chocolate production process at the origin. Doing this ensures that the quality of the cacao bean is not compromised during transport, and can even make shipping more efficient.
At this point, the chocolate makers step in. The beans are roasted and the shells removed to produce the cacao nib. These nibs are then ground to create cacao liquor, a thick paste which, with the addition of sugar, is chocolate in its simplest form. The cacao liquor itself can be further pressed to make cacao butter and cacao powder. From these products- the liquor, the butter, and the powder- chocolate makers can use a variety of combinations to make their chocolate recipe, adding things like vanilla and cinnamon for flavour, or other emulsifiers to improve texture.
The paste is then put through the conche, a grinder which refines and mixes the chocolate, integral to a smooth texture and further enhancing the flavour. Next, the chocolate is tempered. Tempering restructures the crystals in the cacao butter, giving the chocolate its shiny, smooth appearance and snap when broken. This product, known as the couverture, is then passed on to the chocolatiers.
Chocolatiers remelt, mould, temper and sculpt couverture into the chocolate we enjoy. They are the final crafts people who give chocolate its beautiful, familiar form.
Monsieur Truffe sources the best couverture we can and add the highest-quality ingredients available — like our homemade honeycomb and organic hazelnuts from Piedmonte- to make you a range of delicious, beautiful products.
From the cafe floor of East Elevation you can see us working with our chocolate in our factory, come by to take a look.