From the Cocoa Pod to Monggo

1. The Tree and the Bean

Cocoa beans are the product of the cocoa tree. This tree is strictly a tropical plant thriving only in hot, rainy climates. Thus, its cultivation is confined to lands not more than 20 degrees north or south of the equator. Originally the tree grew only in Central and South America but it spread to Africa and Asia. In 1778 the Dutch brought cocoa beans from the Philippines to Jakarta. They established a propagation facility that soon lead to major production. Whilst the cocoa tree bears fruit (or pods) all year round, harvesting is generally seasonal. Three different kinds of beans can be found, Criollo, Forastero and Trinitario. The job of picking ripe cocoa pods is not an easy one. The tree is frail and its roots are so shallow that workmen cannot risk injuring it by climbing to reach the pods on the higher branches. The pods are collected in baskets and transported to the edge of a field where the pod breaking operation begins. Anywhere from 20 to 50 cream coloured beans are scooped from a typical pod. Exposure to air quickly changes the cream coloured beans to a lavender or purple.

2. Fermentation and Drying

The pods are put into boxes or thrown on heaps and covered. Around the beans is a layer of pulp that starts to heat up and ferment. This process takes away the bitter taste and develops the typical chocolate flavour. The result is a fully developed bean with a rich brown colour, a sign that the cocoa is now ready for drying. With favourable weather the drying process usually takes several days. During this period, beans lose all their moisture and more than half their weight. Farmers turn the beans from time to time and pick out the flat and broken beans. Dried beans from an average pod weigh less than two ounces, and approximately 400 beans are required to make one pound of chocolate The beans are now prepared for shipping in 130 to 200 pound sacks.

3. Roasting and Crushing

After the quality is checked by the buyers it is time for manufacturing. The first step to manufacturing is cleaning. This is done by passing the cocoa beans through a cleaning machine that removes dried cocoa pulp and pieces of pod. When thoroughly cleaned, the beans are carefully weighed and blended according to a company's particular specifications. Mechanical sieves separate the broken pieces into large and small grains while fans blow away the thin, light shell from the centre or " nibs ". The nibs are next conveyed to mills, where they are crushed. The process generates enough frictional heat to liquefy the cocoa butter and form what is commercially known as chocolate liquor. When the liquid is poured into moulds and allowed to solidify, the resulting cakes are unsweetened and bitter chocolate. To bring out the characteristic chocolate aroma, the beans are roasted in large rotary cylinders. This process can take from 30 minutes up to 2 hours according to the quality desired by the client. After roasting, the beans are quickly cooled and their thin shells, made brittle by roasting, are removed.

4. Eating Chocolate

Whilst cocoa powder is made by removing some of the chocolates' unique vegetable fat called cocoa butter, eating chocolate is made by adding it. The butter forms about 25 per cent of the weight of most chocolate bars. It enhances the flavour and makes the chocolate more fluid. This mixture then travels through a series of heavy rollers and gets refined to a smooth paste. A flavour development process follows. The chocolate goes through a kneading action called conching. Depending on the outcome desired, this may go on for several hours or as many as five days. After the conching, the mixture goes through a tempering interval (heating, cooling and reheating) and then at last into moulds to be formed into the shape of the complete product. The moulds take a variety of shapes and sizes, from the popular individual size bars available to consumers to a ten-pound block used by confectionery manufacturers. When the moulded chocolate reaches the cooling chamber, cooling proceeds at a fixed rate that keeps hard earned flavour intact. The bars are then removed from the moulds and hand wrapped, ready to be packed for shipment to distributors and confectioners.
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