FROM BLOSSOM TO BAR
How cocoa grows and is transformed into the chocolate we crave
■ The journey starts with tiny orchidlike flowers that bloom on tall, spindly trees growing in a thin belt 10 to 20 degrees north and south of the Equator. Each tree produces up to 100,000 flowers a year.
■ Midges, a type of small biting fly, pollinate between 1 and 5 percent of the pink and white blossoms.
■ Roughly 2 percent of pollinated flowers produce pods—around 20 to 30 per tree—which ripen five to six months later. After harvesting, the fruits are cut open with machetes and the pulpy cacao seeds are scooped out.
■ The seeds are then fermented in wooden boxes or under banana leaves, where bacteria and yeast cause the thin layer of pulp to disintegrate. This microbial activity is key to flavor development, where tantalizing aroma compounds begin to develop and off-flavors dissipate.
■ The seeds, now referred to as beans, are dried, sorted and shipped around the world. (Once processing begins the beans are called cocoa, rather than cacao.)
■ When the beans reach the maker or manufacturer, they’re sorted, roasted, broken and shelled.
■ The smaller pieces, called cocoa nibs, are ground into a paste, mixed for several days to improve texture, and tempered—a process of heating and cooling that rearranges the fat molecules in cocoa and improves the look, texture and melt of the end product.
■ Finally, molten chocolate is poured into molds, chilled and packaged. The entire process from blossom to bar can take seven to eight months.