On Cacao, Cocoa, Chocolate, and Chocolates

To truly delve into the dark (and somewhat mysterious) realm of chocolate, one must first learn the shibboleths that trace the transformation of fickle botanicals into bon bons.  

It all starts with the cacao tree (species Theobroma cacao), first domesticated over 5,000 years ago in the Amazon jungle, in what is now Peru. The small evergreen produces large brilliant-hued pods that curiously sprout from the trunk as well as the branches. Once chopped open with a machete, the yellow, orange, red, or green pods reveal white fleshy plumes of soft, tart flesh. Two to three dozen smallish seeds inhabit the delicate fruit of each pod. The cacao farmer scoops out these seeds, called cacao beans, along with the fruit. The whole mess is collected into a pile and fermented for about a week. Meanwhile inside the beans a blessed chemistry creates the molecular precursors of chocolate. The beans are then cleaned of the flesh and dried. 

Next, the beans are purchased by a chocolate maker, who starts out by sorting and roasting the beans. Unroasted beans do not taste like chocolate. Roasted beans do, and that’s when they graduate from cacao to cocoa. 

Once roasted, the cocoa beans can then be crushed and ground into a thick, chocolate-brown liquid, called liquor. It contains no alcohol, but rather is comprised of about half cocoa butter and half cocoa solids. At this point you could separate the cocoa butter out and leave dry cocoa powder behind. To make a good chocolate though, the mixture is left intact, a little sugar is added that the grinding process is continued with an even finer mill, in a process called conching. Once the average particle size of the cocoa solids and sugar reaches 20 microns, it’s finished, silky chocolate. 

Liquid chocolate must then be tempered, or seeded with cocoa butter with the right crystal structure. Once it solidifies, the chocolate will have a smooth texture, a crisp snap, and a melting point just below body temperature. This is the chocolate maker’s final step in preparing chocolate to be either eaten as-is, or used in a recipe. 

Whereas the chocolate maker produces what we consider to be the finest medium, M. Cacao’s culinarily curious chocolatiers are the artists who combine this medium with other foods, other flavors, in order to express a culinary point of view in chocolatesChocolates (plural) is the term of art that distinguishes individual pieces of molded or enrobed ganaches, pralines, caramels, and other divine morsels from chocolate (singular), the bulk ingredient used to make the former.  

At M. Cacao, we are always exploring the full dimensions of a world of ingredients and cuisines. We’re always striving to pay our full respect to the incredible chocolates we are privileged to work with. As opposed to a candy maker, whose goal is chocolate-flavored confection, we use all our chocolatiering and culinary skills to mold chocolate into a unique pieces of foodcraft and art.