Though Americans consume a lot of chocolate, not many people are familiar with the process during which cocoa beans become the tasty, creamy treat we all know and love.
Cacao pods are the source of the beans that supply our chocolate, and these are cut from trees using machetes (scary!) or they are shaken from the trees using a stick. Then harvesters remove the beans and their surrounding pulp from the pods, setting the beans aside to ferment and allowing them to develop a chocolatey taste. If the beans are harvested before they've fully ripened, they will have a weak flavor. When the fermentation process is complete, the beans must immediately be dried, usually by allowing them to sit in the sun for 5-7 days. If the beans are not immediately dried, mold can grow, ruining them.
Next stop for the beans is a chocolate factory- while there may not be a chocolate boat ride or oompah loompahs, there are facilities to clean the beans and remove debris, twigs, leaves or stones. The beans are then roasted, graded, and the shells are removed, extracting the nib, which is ground and liquefied into chocolate liquor. From this magical substance comes two important components- cocoa butter and cocoa solids.
The chocolate liquor is combined with cocoa butter in differing ratios to create varying kinds of chocolate- milk, dark, white and other varieties, like the strawberry chocolate we featured this summer. Chocolate is further refined and processed from here, but that varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and based on the quality of the chocolate.
So now you know the basic journey chocolate makes from the tree to your hands- pretty cool, huh?