OUR 70-STEP PROCESS
FINDING THE FARMERS: DREAM AND PRAY (STEP 1)
We begin the process by finding farmers that we already have some contact with. In other words, we are introduced to the farmers by a mutual acquaintance. We find farmers first because farmers are more important to us than beans. Sure, we want high-quality rare beans; more importantly, though, we want farmers that we can work with on issues that are important to us. We would rather work with and buy from farmers who will accept our input on the first issue that affects taste: post-harvest techniques for fermentation and drying. So, the 1st step is finding the right farmers through existing relationships. This is the hardest part of the process. It would be much easier to call a commodities broker in the U.S. If we did that then we would not know the name of every single farmer that grew the beans that make our chocolate.
FINDING THE BEANS: ADVENTURE (STEPS 2–7)
The next step is finding the right beans and helping the farmers produce post-harvest to our specification. (2) I travel to each country and work with the farmers directly. (3) I use a cutting unit to examine and classify beans in the field. (4) I also use the old fashioned method of looking at the beans, taking a handful, crushing them together and taking in the aroma. (5) I try to determine the moisture content of the dried beans at the farm. (6) I check the temperature of the beans that are fermenting. (7) Finally, I taste the raw beans repeatedly for flavor and consistency.
IMPORTING THE BEANS: SHIPS THAT PASS IN THE NIGHT (STEPS 8–10)
This sounds like a boring phase of the process but it is really quite dramatic. If we used a commodities broker life would be much easier in this department, but we don’t and it is not. We use the services of a shipping broker and together we work to (8) transport the beans from the farm to the nearest port. (9) Then we arrange for a steamship line to carefully carry our beans to an American port, through customs and then to Springfield. (10) We inspect every bag of beans upon arrival at our climate controlled cocoa bean warehouse.
ROASTING THE BEANS: FLAVOR (STEPS 11–17)
(11) When we are ready to roast beans we bring just what we need from our cocoa bean storage facility to our nearby factory. We move these beans delicately. (12) Once in our factory we open the bags and look at each bean as we run them over a magnet to clean out any metal particles that might have made their way into the bag. (13) We ready the roaster—from Colombia—to the right temperature depending on the bean origin and place the beans in the hopper. (14) We start looking and tasting the beans at selected intervals in the roasting process. Proper roasting is the next step—after fermentation—that can affect the flavor of our chocolate. It is interesting that Hershey has now subcontracted this important step out to other companies. (16) We dump the roasted beans into a cooling tray so they don’t continue to roast and get the perfect amount of heat. (17) Once cooled we take the beans out of the cooling tray and place them into buckets in preparation for the winnower.
GETTING TO THE GOOD STUFF: DON’T WASTE (STEPS 18–21)
(18) We then use our winnower (also from Colombia) to remove the hull from the roasted bean, leaving the inside of the bean called the nib. The machine uses proper airflow to vacuum the hull (which is lighter than the nib) into a cyclone. We climb up the steps of the winnower and put the beans in the hopper to start the process of separation. We repeat this process several times. (19) We take the processed nibs and once more we visually inspect the nibs and remove any shell we might have missed. (20) We don’t hide bad beans with good beans or vanilla or some other flavoring. I taste the nibs to make sure the flavor meets our standards and so I can overdose on anti-oxidants (we even sell them just like this for the true choco-geek). (21) We bag and weigh all of the shells and donate them to Assumption Abbey in Ava, Missouri to be used as mulch.
MAKING LIQUOR: NOT THE ALCOHOL KIND (STEPS 22–31)
Chocolate liquor—as it is called in the industry—is nothing more than nibs ground into paste. There is nothing else added at this point. (22) We carefully weigh out the nibs and place them in containers. At this point, we have a choice depending on where we are in the process: we can either use our melangeur to make liquor, which is a vintage German mixer about 80 years old or we can use our universal refiner, which is brand new and was made for us in Scotland. (23) Most of the time we use the melangeur as a pre-grind step taking the nibs by hand placing them on the granite bed of this mixer. We also use the melanguer to make liquor for our cocoa butter press. (24) We take the rough paste mixture out of the melangeur by hand and (25) place it into our dissolver tank for further melting. We melt the liquor making it more viscous and then (26) pump it into a holding tank. (27) We also take nibs and at times place them into our universal to make liquor (again placing into our dissolver and into our holding tank). (28) The particle size is checked and (29) we remove the liquor from the universal. (30) The liquor is placed into containers and prepared for storage until we are ready to make chocolate. If we have stored the liquor it will have solidified into blocks. (31) If so, we take the blocks and melt them in our dissolver and pump the liquor again into our holding tank. Now we are ready to take the wonderment to the next stage.
MAKING COCOA BUTTER: NOT JUST FOR SUN TAN LOTION (STEPS 32–35)
Just before we make chocolate we have one more step. We had a cocoa butter press custom made for us and we use our cocoa liquor to make cocoa butter. We use this cocoa butter to add into our chocolate recipe to enhance the texture of our chocolate. (32) We place our liquor (from the same origin as our batch) in an agitation tank near the press. (33) The liquor is pumped to the press. This machine operates at very high pressure to literally (34) squeeze the natural fat (cocoa butter) out of the liquor. (35) We remove the cocoa butter and hold it for later use in our chocolate. It is rare for a small batch maker to make their own cocoa butter as most of it is purchased from industrial makers like Cargill or ADM. Click on “Buy Chocolate” in the upper right corner and to see the exact amount of cocoa butter in each recipe. For example, our first batch of Del Tambo was 70% dark chocolate which is made up of 68% cocoa liquor and 2% of our own cocoa butter (and of course pure cane sugar rounding out the remaining 30%).
CHOCOLATE MAKING: FINALLY (STEPS 36–43)
(36) We place the liquor, in its melted form, in the universal refiner.
(37) We add something to the recipe that we do not make—in fact the only ingredient that we don’t make—pure cane sugar.
(38) We use our homemade cocoa butter at this stage to add back into the chocolate for an even creamier taste. This is an expensive proposition as industrial cocoa butter is much cheaper. But ours is special because it’s from the same origin as the cocoa bean used for the liquor.
(39) We carefully monitor the particle size of the chocolate at this phase through taste and a measuring tool.
(40) We taste the chocolate at selected intervals and when it is ready we remove the chocolate from the universal refiner.
(41) We hand carry the chocolate and place it in our 100 year old Italian conche. This conche is extremely energy efficient through the use of a proprietary aeration system. We do this not so we can make the chocolate more quickly but so we can reduce energy consumption.
(42) I carefully monitor the taste and texture of the chocolate because this is the 3rd and final chance to affect flavor.
(43) At the perfect time we pump the chocolate delightfulness about twenty feet to the molding room and into a holding tank slowing turning the chocolate.
MOLDING: THE FINAL STEP BEFORE EATING (STEPS 44–70)
(44) We carefully adjust and monitor the temperature and humidity in our molding room.
(45) Once in the holding tank, we raise the temperature to about 120, we let the chocolate pour into our pre-tempering tank.
(46) We watch and monitor the viscosity of the chocolate.
(47) Next we adjust the temperature of the chocolate so it will be between 92 and 94 degrees and ready for our final temper.
(48) We then transfer the chocolate through a pipe that is temperature controlled to our final temper tank for depositing.
(49) We take the temperature through a defined curve so our bars will snap and shine—in what is the most delicate step in the process.
(50) We adjust the filling unit to measure out the perfect amount the chocolate into our molds.
(51) We ready our molds on the table and make sure they are not too cold (not easy in a cold room).
(52) We move a mold into place under the filling unit.
(56) We pump the chocolate into the mold using an air pneumatic dosing device. If there were a chance for a Lucille Ball moment it would be here.
(57) And move the mold from the filling table to the vibrating table to remove any air bubbles
(58) We weigh the chocolate making sure we have enough in each mold.
(59) At this point we may be ready for more chocolate to be moved from the pre-tempering tank to the tempering tank.
(60) We move the mold into a carryall that holds more molds
(61) And place them into our cooling tunnel which has only one moving part again powered by air for energy efficiency.
(62) The carryalls are removed from the tunnel.
(63) We remove the molds from each carryall.
(64) The bars are very carefully removed from their mold and placed on a table.
(65) By hand we place the chocolate into our 100% compost-able biodegradable inner wrapping.
(66) For freshness and tamper proofing we heat seal the top of the bag. One well-known artisan chocolate maker actually sub-contracts out this step and ships the bars across the country and another company melts the bars down, re-molds, and packages them.
(67) The inner wrap and map are placed by hand in an unbleached natural waxed paper bag with a picture of one the farmers that we do business with on the front.
(68) We tie a string on the bag that we re-use from the biodegradable bags used to ship beans to our factory from Ecuador. The bars are then placed in a box and prepared for shipping.
(69) We do not wash the molds but scrape any excess chocolate off and put back in our storage tank so there is no waste in the process. Plus, the molds are clean and so are our tables.
(70) Eat some good chocolate! The final step! Unless, of course, you want to share it with others (which we hope you do).