bean to bar craft chocolate
Before there can be a bar there is a bean. Bean to bar chocolate begins with the cacao bean. This might seem obvious, but the truth is that most confectioners, chocolatiers, and pastry chefs buy pre-manufactured chocolate and then melt it to make confections, bon bons, truffles, and all manner of treats. But a chocolate maker starts with the raw cocoa bean.
In bean to bar chocolate making cacao beans are chosen and taken through every step of the chocolate-making process: the beans are sorted to remove debris or misshapen beans, then roasted. After cooling the whole beans are cracked & winnowed into nibs; the nibs are then then ground (melanged) into a liquid paste called chocolate liquor. At Map we use stone grinders called melangeurs to grind the nibs. If the chocolate maker chooses, sugar and cocoa butter are added. The amount of other ingredients determines the chocolate percentage; the higher that number, the higher the total amount of cocoa bean in relation to the other ingredients. A 100% chocolate has only cocoa beans, while a 75% two-ingredient chocolate has 75% cocoa beans and 25% sugar. A 75% three-ingredient chocolate (cocoa beans, sugar, and cocoa butter) can be 70% cocoa beans/25% sugar/5% cocoa butter. The formulation depends 100% on the maker.
But back to those nibs: Once the nibs are in the melangeur the friction and shear of the wheels grinds them down until smooth and silky, while the heat produced by the friction helps drive off volatiles. After the melanging phase some chocolate makers use a process using heat/time/motion and a specialized piece of a equipment called a conche, that further develops the flavor. When the chocolate is finished (and this is where the chocolate maker must use their taste, intuition, and trust their gut), it is either set aside to age or is ready to be tempered and poured into bar moulds.
That's the short version.
Very large chocolate makers also make bean to bar chocolate, but do so with factory-scaled equipment that is designed to mass produce chocolate, unlike small batch craft makers who, out of a pioneering desire to make chocolate (and necessity) learned to re-purpose + re-invent tools that can be used on a small scale. Micro batch chocolate is made in small batch. It's less front-end loader and more hands-on.
a few words on the subject
drinking chocolate: not to be confused with hot "cocoa" which is made from cocoa powder and sugar. drinking chocolate is crafted from single origin or blends of origins. Map's drinking chocolate is made in a user-friendly syrup form.
cacao: cocoa beans. these grow in wonkily wonderful pods, straight off the trunk of the cacao tree. all chocolate (the real stuff) starts at the cacao tree. the trees grow 20 degrees north or south of the equator (thus, in regions of central america, south america, africa, and indonesia). cacao trees thrive in the shadow of rainforests, need heat, humidity, and rainfall. the pods grow year-round, and are harvested by hand using machetes or long knives.
chocolate: a fermented food. after the cacao pods are harvested they are split open. inside are the seeds (cocoa beans) which are encased in a sweet pulp called baba, which is then fermented in heaps before drying. the art and craft of chocolate making owes everything to the farmers who tend the trees, know the best time to hand harvest, and then ferment the beans perfectly. under-fermented or over-fermented cacao does not make great chocolate.
cocoa butter: the natural fat within the cacao bean; cacao beans are approx 50% fat (cocoa butter). it is what lends chocolate the "melt in your mouth" beauty. by itself it is solid at room temp, looks lovely and buttery, and tastes remarkably disappointing.
craft chocolate: by definition craft focuses on quality over quantity, and doesn't weigh heavily on automated processes. it's all about the intent.
dark chocolate: the scale of dark to light slides a range of percentages; the higher the %, the more cacao (and cocoa butter, as it is a natural part of a cacao bean) makes up the chocolate (and less sugar) thus, the darker the chocolate. you might see chocolate listed as 75% (which is pretty intense) or even 80% (which is almost whacked and let's not go near that 100% trend). milk chocolate is on the lower end of the scale because it has not just cacao and sugar in it, but also milk powder.
fermentation: chocolate is a fermented food; after the cacao pods are split open the seeds (beans) must first ferment in the pulp before they are dried. how well (or not) the beans are fermented makes a big difference in the quality and flavor of the cacao. The flow chart of chocolate goes: cocoa tree -> harvest -> fermentation -> drying -> transport -> roasting -> winnowing -> grinding/melanging/conching -> aging -> tempering/moulding -> wrapping.
grinding: also called melanging. this is the process of smashing the nibs into smaller and smaller particles until the natural fat (cocoa butter) emerges, the nibs become silky and smooth and voila, chocolate. a mortar and pestle is a traditional method of grinding. folks have tried cuisanarts (nope), blenders (not gonna happen), a nifty tool called a crankenstein (best attempted with a cold one at the ready), and a stone wheel/stone base device called a melangeur that can be as big as a washing machine or as unobtrusive as a waffle maker.
liquor: as in chocolate liquor. the term for ground cacao paste before it has completely smoothified.
melangeur: fancy french word for the whirring device fitted with a stone base and stone wheels that grinds and smoothes the cacao nibs into a shiny happy people food. not to be confused with melanger, which is actually "one who melanges."
microbatch: small batch. small is, of course, relative. if i can lift it by myself i call it small batch. if it is delivered in metric tons and requires a forklift? maybe not so small.
milk chocolate: adding liquid to chocolate is tricky and unpredictable, and not for the squeamish, so over time chocolatiers figured out milk powder was the way to go. milk chocolate can be made using cow's milk powder or goat's milk powder, or vegan-ish and with coconut milk or oat milk. because it has the milk powder and often, a heck of a lot more cocoa butter added, the % of milk chocolate is lower than dark, and tastes sweeter.
nibs: through cracking and winnowing (removing the husk, aka shell) the cacao beans become smaller bits called nibs. nibs can be made using a grinder (we use a re-purposed and modified champion juicer) and a winnower designed for removing the husk, or for nano batches a blowdryer, a big bowl, and if you're not outside, a broom and a dustpan.
nutella-ish spreads: ginaduja/gianduia. nutella is the kleenex of chocolate + nut spreads. one of the wonders of the world, as is toast, and such a happy marriage they make. can be made with hazelnuts, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, coconut oil.
roasting: after fermentation, roasting is the trickiest and most intuitive aspect of chocolate making: a good roast translates the nuanced flavors of a bean, whereas a bad roast obiterates it (commodity cocoa roasts the heck out of poor quality beans, then dumps in flavorings and lots of sugar). we roast our cacao beans because roasting takes an astringent, bitter, puckery-up and not all that great-in-the-raw cacao bean and helps it taste like something we want to eat. some makers opt for convection ovens, with the beans lying on trays. we prefer drum (barrel) roasting, as the heat is more evenly circulated, and the beans are tumbled as the drum turns. small batch roasting for us means a small oven that can only roast 2 pounds of cacao at a time for our test roasts, and a hundred year-old vintage re-purposed Royal N.5 coffee roaster that roasts 25# for us at a time. she's sweet and squeaky, and we're just a bit in love with Ms. Royal.
single origin: cacao sourced from a single region within a country. most often this means beans are aggregated from many farms by a co-op or fermentary. cacao beans are named after the region where they are found or the co-op where they're collected. and are influenced by terroir (growing environment) of that region. single estate beans come from a single farm. map chocolate uses single origin beans because we want to experience the flavor and personality of a particular bean, not mr. bean and his far-flung relatives.
tempering: a process of heating and cooling chocolate in order to coax the necessary crystals to form, line up and behave. tempering is the science-y part that makes chocolate shiny and have a snap. baking chocolate, because it will be melted or cooked or heated, is not necessarily tempered.