HOW WE MAKE OUR CHOCOLATE
SOURCE HIGH QUALITY CACAO BEANS
The first step in chocolate-making process is sourcing high quality beans. The growing conditions and processing of the beans at the cacao farm have a huge impact on the final flavor of the chocolate. In particular, how and for how long the just-harvested beans are fermented plays a major role in flavor development. But other things such as rainfall, temperature and soil composition, as well as how the beans are dried affect their flavor as well.
SORTING OUT ANY IMPERFECTIONS
We carefully sort each lot of cacao beans by hand. This ensures that every batch of chocolate is free from impurities such as small debris, imperfect beans, and other occasional oddities. Since we source from small farms where people live and work instead of large industrial factories, it is common to find human evidence among our cacao beans. These unharmful bits are easy to remove, and they prove to us that we are receiving our ingredients from vibrant, lively communities. Sorting cacao beans by hand is a slow, painstaking process; it sets our chocolate apart, and it assures that every delicious bite comes straight from the best cacao possible.
ROASTING THE CACAO BEANS
After sorting, cacao beans are roasted in convection ovens to further dry them and develop a rich, full chocolate flavor. This crucial step has a profound impact on the flavor and quality of chocolate: under-roasted beans have bitter, muted flavors while over-roasting burns flavor out of the cacao entirely. Our goal in roasting, as with every step of the process, is to elicit cacao’s delicate natural taste. We constantly work to find a “just right” degree of roasting to achieve this goal. Experimenting with different beans, temperatures, and pieces of equipment is a fickle art that requires patience, perseverance, and creativity.
CRACKING & WINNOWING THE CACAO
Roasted beans are passed through a modified grain cracker that splits and separates the interior of the seeds from the paperlike cocoa shells. After the beans are cracked, we are left with a mixture of cacao nibs and husks. These husks have a bitter taste, undesirable for including in finished chocolate. As husk material is lighter than nibs, winnowing generally involves husk/nib mixture, and thus blowing the lighter shell material away. After winnowing, we are left with cacao nibs that are ready for refining.
GRINDING THE CACAO NIBS
Cacao nibs, now isolated from their husks, are ground into a smooth texture called cacao mass using a melanger. This thick paste consists of cacao solids and cacao butter—both of which are present, generally in equal proportion, within cacao nibs. Cacao nibs transform into paste with surprising speed, yet the entire process of turning solid into liquid takes multiple days. To fully break down cacao nibs into imperceptible particles, a melanger crushes material between two large wheels. Heat and friction over time reduces solid bits of cacao into tiny particles and releases fat within the plant, resulting in creamy, decadent chocolate.
CONCHING THE CHOCOLATE
Conching is one of the most misunderstood steps in the chocolate making process. On a molecular level, there is quite a bit going on during the conching process. One of the main things that occurs is that all of the solid particles (cacao and sugar) are rounded and encapsulated in cocoa butter. This contributes to the smoothness of the final chocolate. Another thing that occurs during conching is a general smoothing and evening of the flavor profile. This is due to the evaporation of some of the more volatile chemicals (i.e. acetic acid). Conversely, some of the more subtle desirable flavors can also be lost if chocolate is over-conched.
TEMPERING THE CHOCOLATE
The last step before the chocolate is molded into bars is tempering. Tempering involves manipulating the temperature of the liquid chocolate to affect the growth of the correct matrix of cocoa butter crystals. A properly tempered chocolate bar will have a glossy shine and a good snap. A poorly tempered bar (one that has an irregularly shaped or non uniform crystalline structure) will be soft, of poor luster, and will melt too easily as you hold it.
MOLDING THE CHOCOLATE INTO BARS
Finally, chocolate is dispersed from the tempering machine into a professional-grade polycarbonate chocolate mold. The liquid chocolate solidifies in the mold in a cool environment to allow for the crystallization to occur and to harden. Once set, the chocolate bar easily pop out of the mold.
WRAPPING THE CHOCOLATE
Each finished bar of Chequessett Chocolate is wrapped meticulously by hand, a process requiring time and labor. Performing this task manually is important to us as it provides additional jobs to offer community members. We wrap all our bars in a thin layer of protective plastic that ensures freshness, then we carefully enfold them in a resealable paper jacket featuring beautiful bathymetry designs. The process of stickering each bar jacket with a product description is also performed by hand.