Bean To Bar
In our small factory in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, we roast, crack, winnow, grind, conche and temper chocolate in small batches. By directly importing fine flavor cacao from small farmers, we create a deeper connection to the source. We summon the food geek within to elicit the best flavors each bean has to offer. We do all of this because we seek a closer relationship with our food, and we want to share it with you.
Every chocolate-maker’s process is slightly different: grinding media, air exposure, times, temperatures, aging… there are so many variables to tweak! Our small-batch process is unique to our company, and continues to evolve as we learn and grow as chocolate-makers. Suffice it to say, we are driven by our principles to make the best chocolate we can, with intention and integrity at every step.
Cacao grows in the humid tropics, so we spend a good deal of time in Central and South America building relationships with knowledgeable farmers who grow high-quality, sustainably produced cacao. We nurture those relationships and negotiate mutually beneficial terms, which we hope will encourage future generations to continue the agricultural traditions of their communities, with pride and prosperity. Currently, we source primarily from Perú, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Guatemala.
Once the cacao arrives at our little factory in Asheville, we sort it by hand, removing traces of debris and composting any seeds that are not up to our high standards (which could negatively impact flavor). By inspecting the seeds at this stage, we know that only the very best make it to the next step, and ultimately into our chocolate.
We presently roast our cacao in convection ovens – strong air currents keep temperatures even across the seeds. We primarily roast slowly and at low temperatures, allowing us to highlight each origin’s best traits with frequent sensory analysis of aroma and flavor. Beyond developing new flavors, roasting is important because it helps separate the husk from the nib, and removes both residual moisture and undesirable volatile compounds from the beans. The primary mechanism is a set of non-enzymatic browning processes, collectively known as Maillard Reactions, where proteins are broken down into free aminos and recombined in the presence of a reducing sugar. The best known examples are the crust of bread and browning of butter.
After the cacao has cooled, it is fed into our winnower, a machine that first cracks the cacao, completing the separation of nib, husk and radicle. The pieces are then carried by vibration down several screens which categorize them by size,a process which maximizes the efficiency of the following step. Finally, vacuum hoses suck the lighter husk away from the denser nib. The result is clean cacao nibs, ready for the next step! The shells (or fines) are either sold to breweries to use for chocolate beer or composted and used for mulch (like the seeds that got sorted out in step 2).
The fine texture of chocolate owes much to a narrow distribution of particle size; that is to say: we want all of the cacao particles to be as close in size to one another as possible. Nibs come out of the husk in all different shapes and sizes; passing through the set gap of a 2-roll mill gives us a more uniform starting point, at the consistency of a dry paste.
In granite horizontal grinders (akin to an older machine, called a melangeur), we grind the milled nib until they liquefy into what is called “chocolate liquor.” Once the liquor is made, sugar and other ingredients (depending on the recipe, our 100% bar is nothing but cacao!) are mixed and ground together. Further particle and flavor refinement occurs in the grinders for many hours, up to 3 consecutive days!
This is the last part of the refinement process, named for the shell-like shape of the original machine (invented by one Rudolfi Lindt...yes, that Lindt).. In this step, the chocolate is constantly agitated while the temperature and air-flow across its surface are manipulated to put the finishing touches on the flavor and texture. We are able to remove unwanted volatile compounds that may contribute undesirable flavors, while simultaneously continuing to develop new flavors. . Simultaneously, this agitation homogeneously disperses the solids within the cacao butter, improving mouthfeel and flow properties.
The chocolate is then poured into blocks until we are ready to use it. Some of it will be made into truffles, some will go to our pastry kitchen where it will be made into cakes, cookies, mousses, ice cream, and sipping chocolate, like our signature Liquid Truffles. Some of it will be sold to chefs at fine restaurants and bakeries all over the country, and some of it will be made into bars and enjoyed all over the world.
8. Tempering + Molding
Tempering is a process whereby chocolate is constantly agitated while manipulating the temperature in a set order in order to encourage development of the 2nd most compact, stable form of cacao butter crystal. Once solidified, this will gradually transform into the most stable form, Form VI. Well-tempered chocolate will have an audible snap when broken, melts slowly and evenly in your mouth, and has a beautiful sheen on the exterior. The chocolate is then poured into custom moulds, vibrated to remove air pockets, and cooled in a homemade cooling cabinet (essentially an insulated closet with air conditioning…Dan really likes to build stuff). Once crystallized and set, we demould the bars, inspect for blemishes, and pass them to our packaging crew.
Each bar is gently slipped into a compostable, plant fiber-based cellophane bag, and heat sealed. Now, the bar meets a package finely tailored to honor the chocolate within. Like an elegant, old book, the gold foil-stamped clamshell box seeks to tell you a love story: the story of French Broad Chocolates, the story of the chocolate in your hands.
10. The Final Step
Eat slowly, inhaling aromatics as the chocolate melts. Appreciate the beautiful offering you just gave yourself. It’s the best part.