What makes a Chocolate Gourmet?
Chocola Processing

What Makes a Chocolate Gourmet?

Many factors contribute to making a gourmet chocolate. The type of cacao bean, the origin and environment where the beans grow and how the cacao is processed all determine how the gourmet chocolate tastes.

Cacao Beans

Cacao beans come in three varieties. Criollo beans grow in milder climates and rich soils. They are considered the finest, producing the most aromatic and least acidic beans. Forastero beans make up 90% of the world's crop. They offer higher yield but tend to have earthy, relatively simple flavors with moderate acidity. The Trinitario bean is a hybrid that combines the superior taste of the Criollo bean with the higher yield of the Forastero variety. At Café Britt, we only use selected cacao beans from the two quality varieties: Criollo and Trinitario.

Cacao Beans

Growth and Harvesting

1. Growth and Harvesting

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Cacao trees produce their first pods in four to five years, and then about every six months. As they mature, the pods turn from green or red to orange or yellow. A mature pod can weigh about one kilo (2.2 pounds) and contain as many as 45 beans – the "seeds" of the tree. Mature pods are handpicked and cut open with a machete. The beans are removed from a purplish pulp inside by hand.


2. Fermentation

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Only beans destined for finer chocolate undergo fermentation. The beans are stacked in large, wood boxes, covered with banana leaves and left to ferment for about five days. During fermentation, yeasts and bacteria are added to break down the beans' natural sugars into lactic and acetic acids. Compounds and enzymes within the beans work together to form the beginnings of gourmet chocolate flavor.


3. Drying

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After fermentation, the beans are removed from the box and spread in the sun to dry. Sun drying takes about a week and is absolutely critical for a flavorful gourmet chocolate. The beans are occasionally raked to expose all moist surfaces and ensure even drying. Sometimes fire is used for drying beans, but this produces a bitter, smoky flavor.


4. Winnowing

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Next, the beans are cleaned and subject to a brief, intense burst of hot air to separate the shell from the "nib" or the inner part of the bean used for making chocolate. The outer shell is often used as animal feed.


5. Roasting

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The winnowed nibs are roasted at temperatures higher than 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit). Roasting brings out the rich flavor and characteristic color of chocolate. At Café Britt, we use cocoa roasted at the lower end of the heat spectrum to bring out the flavor but not rid the beans of their natural, varietal flavors.


6. Grinding

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We're almost finished! The roasted nibs are ground to produce a rich cocoa mass or "liquor" that is about the consistency of cream. Despite its name, cocoa liquor contains no alcohol. This mass contains the cocoa particles suspended in about a 55-percent mixture of fat or "cocoa butter." At this point, the cocoa liquor is used for different products. It can be further processed to produce cocoa powder, hot cocoa and cocoa butter or it may be used to make chocolate bars.