Each step of the chocolate making process has an important impact on the end flavor and overall quality of the chocolate product. Ignoring quality standards at any step in the chocolate making process negatively impacts the quality and flavor.
It all starts with the tropical cacao tree. The cacao (cocoa) beans grow inside the fruit on cacao trees.
Once removed from the fruit, the beans are fermented and dried in the same location where they are grown. The specific variety of cocoa bean determines the proper fermentation process, which causes the chemical changes that help the chocolate flavor develop. The drying process locks in the effects of the fermentation, so the cocoa beans retain the perfect flavor during transport from the plantation to the manufacturer.
The Cacao (cocoa) beans are cleaned. In some cases, cocoa beans of different varieties are mixed together to create a more complex combination that dictates the flavor of the finished product. From there, the Cacao (cocoa) beans are roasted to get rid of moisture and add even more complexity to the flavor. The roasting process is what brings out the rich chocolate flavor. The length and temperature of roasting varies and affects the final flavor of the chocolate.
Once roasted, the outer shell comes off the beans to reveal the inside, called the nibs. Cacao (cocoa) nibs consist of about 54 percent Cacao (cocoa) butter. The nibs get ground into Cacao (cocoa) liquor, also known as Cacao (cocoa) mass. The Cacao (cocoa) liquor is further processed through pressing, which separates out the Cacao (cocoa) butter and leaves behind the Cacao (cocoa) cake. Cacao (cocoa) cake becomes Cacao powder which is called Cocoa when it is ground.
Cocoa butter goes into the chocolate, along with cocoa powder for flavor and sugar for sweetness. The cocoa butter creates the melting quality of chocolate.
All of the ingredients that go into a particular batch of chocolate get mixed together through a process called conching. Special machines mix and knead the ingredients in a process that lasts anywhere from hours to days. Conching affects how the chocolate tastes when it is finished.
The tempering process comes after conching. This process applies heat to the chocolate mixture to crystallize the cocoa butter. Once tempered, the chocolate gets poured into molds and hardens into large blocks of chocolate.