How is chocolate made? Why can't we eat chocolate all the time? Why does chocolate melt? Why can't dogs eat chocolate? In this episode, we travel to Taza Chocolate in Somerville, Massachusetts to get some answers. Plus, we visit a coffee roaster in Maine to learn about this parent fuel that so many kids find gross!
"Chocolate actually comes from cocoa beans, which is no bean at all, they are seeds of the cocoa trees," explained Ayala Ben-Chaim of Taza Chocolates. Taza is a "bean-to-bar" chocolate maker. That means they take raw cocoa beans and turn them into chocolate. Some places get chocolate that's already mostly made and they just add stuff to it.
The tree is the Theobroma cacao tree, which grows 20 degrees north or south of the equator. Taza Chocolates sources, or buys, cocoa beans from farmers in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Belize and Bolivia. It takes about five years from when it's planted for a cacao tree to produce cocoa pods. "Cocoa pods are a little bit funny to look at. They look like a gourd growing off of the tree, or like a lumpy tiny American football. The cocoa pods grow off of the branches of the tree like apples, but they also grow right off of the trunk of the tree."
"The next step in the process is fermentation. Fermentation is so important in chocolate making. And this is one of the things that is so surprising about chocolate making. We put all of these batches of wet-with-pulp cocoa beans into a wooden box. In this box, we stir this mix around and there's yeast in the atmosphere which likes to eat the sugar from the baba [the pulp found in a cacao pod]. The yeast eat the sugar and fire out carbon dioxide. What all of this is doing is cooking the cocoa beans and making nicely flavored and nice looking cocoa beans."
After the beans ferment, they are dried in the sun on wooden planks for a week. At this point they look like almonds. Next, they are packaged and shipped to wherever they'll be made into chocolate.
The first thing the chocolate maker will do is roast the beans, at 200 degrees for about an hour, which gives them a nice toasted flavor.
"We also start to separate the thin outer shell that surrounds the inner part of the cocoa bean. Our next step is to separate that shell from the inner part of the bean, called the nib. We do this by winnowing the cocoa beans, using a machine."
"Nibs are a little bit nutty; they're pretty dry; they are a little bitter. We bring the cacao nibs down to grind them."
"At Taza Chocolates we use a traditional Mexican milling style using a molino — or mill — to grind the cocoa beans down," Ben-Chaim said. "Over time, those cocoa nibs will be turned into a cocoa liquor, which is smooth and chocolaty. Imagine a chocolate waterfall. It looks beautiful, it smells chocolaty and delicious and yet it is not very tasty because we're missing a really important ingredient, and that is sugar."
Sugar is added to the chocolate liquor, then the sweetened chocolate is ground again, and other ingredients are sometimes added like spices or coffee or fruit.
At this point some chocolate makers will conch the chocolate, by raising the temperature to a certain point over several days, making it smooth.
"At Taza Chocolate we don't conch the chocolate; we go straight to what all chocolate makers do, and that's called tempering the chocolate. Tempering is so important: it's increasing and decreasing the temperature of the chocolate between 87 degrees and 89 degrees Fahrenheit." Tempering the chocolate makes it glossy and brittle. Then the chocolate is poured into molds and cooled. Then it's wrapped up and ready to take home.
Listen to the full episode for answers to more chocolate questions. And we visit 44 North Coffee to learn more about the mysterious beverage that so many adults like to drink.