The Chocolate Journey

Everything that surrounds us has been on a journey. Some things have travelled far and wide and others just a couple of millimeters. But nothing compares to that bar of chocolate that is in your local shop, or more likely sitting on your desk right now :)

I would put my whole life savings on the fact that everyone has tried a bar of chocolate. But how many of you have any idea how the bar got there in the first place? How many of you know what a cocoa tree looks like? Unless you live in an area that grows cocoa, my bet is that very few of you know.

So it is my job to change this. I will go through the steps one by one, but don't worry I will try and keep it interesting so you don't feel like your in a lecture that is dragging on for a lifetime.

Here is the process explained in photos - more interesting right?

 
 First of all the seed is planted in our nursery and grown for 3 months. In that period we treat it with care and give it as much healthy organic matter as possible. Once these three months are up, we graft on a branch from one of our chosen ‘mother trees’. This is to combine the new plant with the genes from the ‘mother tree’. We want trees to be as high yielding as possible without sacrificing the flavour profiles, this technique gets these results (most of the time anyway!)

First of all the seed is planted in our nursery and grown for 3 months. In that period we treat it with care and give it as much healthy organic matter as possible. Once these three months are up, we graft on a branch from one of our chosen ‘mother trees’. This is to combine the new plant with the genes from the ‘mother tree’. We want trees to be as high yielding as possible without sacrificing the flavour profiles, this technique gets these results (most of the time anyway!)

 
 
   
  
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     After 6 months we set it free and plant it on one of our farms. To avoid landslides etc. we terrace each plant so to give it the best chance of survival.

 After 6 months we set it free and plant it on one of our farms. To avoid landslides etc. we terrace each plant so to give it the best chance of survival.

 
 
   
  
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   It takes around 5 years to be fully productive. Once harvest time come up, our extension officers and their teams come round and carefully take the pods of the tree.

It takes around 5 years to be fully productive. Once harvest time come up, our extension officers and their teams come round and carefully take the pods of the tree.

 
 
   
  
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   The beans are then split and put in the fermentory box. It is during this stage when the cocoa bean creates its flavor.  The pulp that surrounds the cocoa beans transforms into alcohol during fermentation and temperatures exceed 50 degrees in this process! – This process takes 6-7 days depending on what flavour profile you want. Some chocolatiers even ferment it for as long as 12 days! 

The beans are then split and put in the fermentory box. It is during this stage when the cocoa bean creates its flavor.  The pulp that surrounds the cocoa beans transforms into alcohol during fermentation and temperatures exceed 50 degrees in this process! – This process takes 6-7 days depending on what flavour profile you want. Some chocolatiers even ferment it for as long as 12 days! 

 

 The fermented beans then take the sort trip down to the state of the art solar dryer. There they are spread around to get the moisture level to around 8% moisture level. The solar dryer feels like a sauna just sapping all moisture out, it does the job very efficiently and in a very short period of time.

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Our fermented and dried beans are delivered to the chocolate factory and we start by separating the beans by size to ensure an even roasting.

Once the beans have been roasted, we place them in our cracking and winnowing machine. This is to remove the outer husk leaving just the raw cacao nibs.   These nibs are fed through a grinding machine to reduce them to a liquid, which we call chocolate liquor.

Whilst adding sugar and a very small quality of binding agent lecathin, this liquor is slowly introduced to our two conching machines which further grind and fold the liquid chocolate for a full three days.

The chocolate is very warm by this stage and needs to be cooled down to enable it to crystalize as solid chocolate.  So the tempering machine takes it down to exactly 30 °C. If done properly and consistently this process will give chocolate the attractive shine and the snap required. Equally you can also temper by hand on a slab of marble as the picture above shows.

The chocolate is then poured into the moulds, air bubbles removed and cooled and set to a precise temperature.

 
 

The job is then handed over to the packing team who in my eyes have the hardest job in the world. Packaging chocolate without eating it all is not an easy feat!

And there you have it. The whole cocoa/chocolate supply chain compacted into just a couple of pages. This process is not for the faint hearted, if any of these steps are done incorrectly the whole process suffers!

Enjoy!

The Benefits of Eating Chocolate

We all know that after a long hard days work, the time comes where we want to beach ourselves on the sofa, pour a glass of wine and tuck into a few cubes of chocolate. Now many people are under the assumption that chocolate is bad for you, or that it is their 'guilty pleasure'. So it is my job, in this first blog, to discuss the positive aspects of eating chocolate so that when the time comes and your munching away, you feel less 'guilty'.

I will keep this short as no doubt you'll be dashing to the shops to get your hands on a Vincentian Chocolate bar. So here we go...

1) Consumption of Cocoa has been shown to actually decrease cholesterol levels and potentially lowering the risk of Cardiovascular disease. 

2) Much like the previous point, chocolate consumption helps the heart and increases circulation by preventing the white blood cells form sticking to the walls by reducing the risk of clogged up arteries. This means that the risk of getting a stroke is made far less likely.

3) It is very good for your skin. With all the natural flavonols in cocoa it actually acts as protection against the sun. Everyone nowadays is obsessed with trying to to looker younger, so this is your perfect ingredient. The cocoa butter smooths out your skin and gives it a glow. (please still put suncream on though!)

4) The flavonols act as a disease fighting machine. The reason is because they contain a huge amount of antioxidants which is also found in red wine and fruit & veg.

5) Chocolate can make you eat less - there have been many tests giving participants some chocolate a few hours before the meal. In one example the ingestion of dark chocolate was correlated with 17% lower calorie intake at the next meal.

6) Chocolate makes you live longer. Havard researchers found that eating chocolate actually adds two years to your life expectancy. I mean if there is no other reason to eat chocolate surely this is enough!

7) Finally - it increases your libido. Yep you heard me. Chocolate contains theobromine, an alkaloid that is very similar to caffeine. It also contains a chemical called phenylethylamine which is believed to produce the feeling of being 'in love'.

One final point and it is quite an important one. When eating chocolate, eat it in moderation and choose the bars with the highest cocoa content e.g. 72%. Don't think that eating 4 bars a day is going to do you any good!

Thats it from us, now settle down and enjoy a few cubes of chocolate.

Happy eating!