Story of chocolate

From Cocoa to Chocolate

A Primer on Chocolate


Christopher Columbus was the first European to see and touch cacao beans, although he attached little importance to them.  In 1519, the Spanish explorer Cortez discovered the chocolate drink, which at the time was drunk with great ceremony at the court of King Montezuma, appreciated by all and consumed and European travelers send information about cocoa back to Europe and thus it came to be known.  However, this bitter drink was only liked when honey was added. That is how cane sugar (planted by the Spanish from the time the Americas were discovered) soon became the indispensable complement to cocoa. In 1524, Cortez sent a cargo of beans to Charles Quint who, little by little, came to appreciate its benefits, as did his court. The monopoly on cocoa imports was therefore held by the Spanish.


Other navigators soon realized the value of cocoa: the Dutch, then the Italians, the Germans, and the British.  In France, chocolate was introduced by Anne of Austria.  By means of a patent letter signed by Louis XIV, one of the Queen’s officers, David Chaillou, was accorded “the exclusive privilege of selling a certain composition know as chocolate” for a period of 29 years… He had a shop in the Rue de l’Arbre-Sec in Paris. The fashion for chocolates began to spread through the city and the Royale Court, but it was still unfamiliar to the French people in spite of Colbert’s wish to develop chocolate production in the French colonies.


Monarchs came and went but chocolate remained, and other chocolate specialists ensured that the art of chocolate-making prospered. Under Louis XV, it was fashionable, for the nobility, to always carry a candy box (and there were some very pretty models) filled with chocolate drops. Some preferred them with all sorts of spices, other simply flavoured with vanilla… 


The cacao tree belongs to the family of Sterculiaceae.  Its scientific name is Theobroma Cacao.  It is a delicate tree, grown within 20˚ of the equator, north or south, in a tropical climate. It is usually planted on the banks of a river, sheltered from the sun and wind, under the shade of a variety of trees, depending on the region, banana trees, mango trees, etc. The soil must be rich in potassium and nitrogen. If there is little rainfall in the area, the soil must be watered.


The cacao tree measures 3 to 5 meters by its third year, and around 8 meters by  its third year. Its bark is a beautiful dark brown color and becomes thicker as it ages. It lives for about 30 years when cultivated and 50 years growing wild.  The root grows deep down from a lateral roots that spread a long way into the friable soil, with water sources deep beneath the surface.  The leaves are alternate, simple, with short stalks, glabrous on top, with slightly velvety veins on the bottom, obovate-lanceolated, slightly shrunken at the base, acuminated at the top, 20 to 30 cm long, 7 to 12 cm wide. They are accompanied by two stipules. These feature a double stalk joint which enables them to keep their face turned to the light.  The flowers develop in tufts on the trunk and the main branches, never on the young branches. They start to appear on trees 3 to 4 years old, forming little inflorescences of one to five flowers, usually two or three. Many flowers fall before being pollinated, which each tuft generally producing just one pod.


Types of Cacao Trees 

Cacao trees are currently divided into three major groups: (a) Criollo ; the finest cacao, (b) Amazonian Forastero; average quality and (c) Trinitario ; excellent quality.  The Criollo produces the finest cocoas but represents less than 10% of worldwide production. It is grown in Mexico, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Colombia, Madagascar and the Comoros.  The Amazonian Forastero is the most common cacao tree and represents around 70% of worldwide production. It is grown in Ghana, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, Brazil, Costa Rica the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador.  The Trinitario is a hybrid obtained through cross-breeding Criollos and Forasteros.  Its yield is greater than that of the other species. It is more resistant to disease than the Criollo and has a finer flavor than the Forastero. Trinitarios currently represent around 20% of the worldwide production. They are mainly grown in the countries where Criollos used to grow.


Fermentation of Cacao 

The flavor of cocoa is developed through fermentation. The sticky white pulp that surrounds the beans is piled into tank: the temperature rises rapidly under the influence of fermentation. This must be monitored, so as not to kill the yeasts and enzymes that play a vital role in the initial processing. This fermentation is both external (alcoholic and acetic fermentation) and internal (a diastase action via hydrolyzing, oxidizing and reducing enzymes).  Well-fermented beans have a shiny appearance, with no mold, and the cotyledons break off easily. The inside is brown, slightly purplish towards the center in the case of Forasteros, pale brown and reddish for the Criollos. An aromatic chocolate smell is given off, and the bitterness is scarcely perceptible. The fermentation temperature is around 45˚C and the process takes between 5 and 7 days.


From Bean to Cocoa 

The process of making cocoa from the bean is a labor intensive process.  First cocoa beans must be cleaned to improve the quality of the finished product, to obtain the most homogeneous roasting possible.  The level of foreign matter in the batches generally does not exceed 2%. This foreign matter can be of all sorts: bits of string, pieces of pod, stones, sand and dust, metal debris.  Once cleaned and sorted, the beans now go for roasting.

 Roasting is the first important operation in chocolate-making since it accentuates the results of reactions that began during fermentation.  Roasting requires a thorough knowledge of the origin of the beans, their characteristics and their preparation.  Roasting consists in bringing the cacao beans to a temperature of 140 to 150˚C, so that they undergo the transformations necessary for obtaining the strongest cocoa aroma, then re-cooling them very abruptly. The fruit will have reached a core temperature of 130˚C.  The intensity of the taste increases as the internal temperature rise because the heat causes the free acids to volatilize. Next, gradually, the acidic smell lessens as the characteristics cocoa aroma appears. The cocoa aroma is left to develop over a relatively short period then, at a given time, the person responsible for roasting must stop the operation otherwise a burnt smell will be detected that will only increase if roasting continues.  Roasting develops the flavor that begins in the fermentation process, eliminates volatile acids and lowers the water content through drying to facilitate the separation of shell and kernel (or nib).

 After roasting, the beans are winnowed. The winnowing process actually comprises two parts: winnowing proper and dehusking and degerming. The aim of these operations is to eliminate any undesirable elements from the bean, in other words the shell and the germ.  Winnowing breaks up the beans by passing them between a mobile disc or through violent projection, but without pressing them too much so as not to extract the fat.

 Grinding is intended to reduce the size of the nibs, measuring around 40 microns, so as to facilitate subsequent mixing during the manufacture of the chocolate and to liquefy the cocoa butter, the thereby lowering viscosity. Grinding is carried out with the help of  roller mills, discs or cylinders, or hydraulics presses. This produces a paste known as “cocoa liquor”.  One might be surprised at obtaining a liquid paste from a dry fruit without using any liquid. This is due to the cocoa butter softening under the effect of the heat produced during grinding. The cocoa liquor is used in parallel as a raw material in the manufacture of the chocolate or in producing cocoa butter it is regarded as a semi- finished product.  “Cocoa butter” is the fatty substance obtained from cocoa beans or part of cocoa bean.  54% of cocoa liquor is cocoa butter.


Manufacturing couverture chocolates 

Now, the bean is ready to be transformed into the chocolate creations of Padovani’s Chocolates.  The basic ingredients of chocolate are cocoa liquor, sugar, cocoa butter and powder milk in the case of milk chocolate.  Vanilla is often added, along with salt and pepper to strengthen the cocoa taste.  The ingredients are mixed together, followed by grinding/refining and conching. Before it can be used, this mixture will need to be tempered.


The Changing World of Chocolate 

The world of chocolate is changing, using some of the same commitment to terroir that is used in producing wine.  Valrhona was the first company to manufacture chocolate using the same criteria as winemakers, so called Grand Cru, with extra high demands and specifications as to the type and quality of beans used.  Subsequently the world’s first vintage chocolate was produced-Gran Couva 68% from Trinidad, which contains Trinitario beans from one plantation alone (“Single Estate Chocolate”).  The result was great success and the first harvest in 1999 from Gran Couva and the San Juan Estate on Trinidad was of exceptionally high quality.  This was the first time that chocolate had been made with beans from one plantation.

 Valrhona markets its now markets its chocolates by using beans from specific locations.  For example, Valrhona uses high-aroma Trinitario beans from different plantations on Trinidad for their Grand Cru Pur Caraibe.  Valrhona’s three finest varieties are named “Les Grand Cru de Chocolate.” These unique Vintage dark Chocolates, are made from selected beans of one single harvest originated from one exceptional estate.  The Gran Couva is 64% cacao, Trinitario beans from the Gran Couva plantation in Trinidad.  It has a harmonious mild with powerful almond and roasted hazelnut flavor and spicy notes.  Ampamakia is 64% cacao, Criollo beans from the Millot plantation in Madagascar.  It has a rich, full taste.  Pamaria is 64% cacao, Criollo beans from the Palmira plantation in Venezuela.  The chocolate is subtle, with a full round taste with notes of honey and nuts.