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, as a lot of our equipment is designed and built onsite by owner, Dan Rattigan (most of the chocolate equipment on the market is made for the huge, global players). Suffice it to say, we are driven by our principles to make the best chocolate we can, with intention and integrity at every step. Below we expound briefly on how we do things. For more information, you really ought to schedule a factory tour!
Cacao grows in the humid tropics, so we spend a good deal of time in Central and South America hunting for smart, responsible farmers with high quality cacao. We nurture those relationships and negotiate mutually beneficial terms to buy and import their cacao directly.
Once we have imported our cacao beans, we sift through to eliminate any trace of debris and poor quality cacao. By sorting each individual bean by hand, we make sure only the best make it into our chocolate.
We presently roast our cacao beans in convection ovens – strong air currents keep temperatures even across the beans. We primarily roast slowly and at low temperatures, allowing us to detect each cacao origin’s best traits with frequent sensory analysis of aroma and taste. Beyond developing aroma and taste, roasting is important because it helps separate the husk from the nib, and removes any residual moisture from the beans.
Cracking + Winnowing
After the beans have cooled from the roast, they go into the Bean Cracker, a motorized mill (originally designed for home brewers cracking grains). This machine cracks the cacao, aiding the separation of the nib from the husk. The broken beans fall from the cracker into our Vibrating Classifier, designed and built by our own Dan Rattigan. The Vibrating Classifier shakes broken nib and shell fragments through a cascade of steel screens, separating pieces by size. The broken fragments are then transferred to our Vacuum Winnower, another Dan-made machine (read about Dan’s mad innovation skills here). Previously classified by size, the nib and shell fragments then get separated by gravity, weight and air resistance. The result is clean cacao nibs, ready to be ground into chocolate liquor!
With the aid of an old Italian granite 2-roll mill, acquired from our awesome colleagues at Taza Chocolate, we prepare the nib for the primary grind and refinement. In order to achieve a smooth mouth feel, the largest and the smallest granules of cocoa solids should end up in a tight range. This range is called “particle size distribution,” or PSD. Nibs come out of the husk in all different shapes and sizes, so pre-grinding in the 2-roll mill gives us a more uniform starting point, grinding seed to fine paste.
In granite horizontal grinders (often called Melangers), we mill the nibs into a coarse paste, called “chocolate liquor.” Once the paste is made, sugar and other ingredients are mixed and ground together. We then use a granite 2-Roll Refiner to improve particle size uniformity, in turn increasing the consistency and smoothness of our chocolate. Further particle and flavor refinement occurs in the grinders for many hours, up to 2 days!
This is the last part of the refinement process, named for the shell-like shape of the first industrial conche devices. This step essentially agitates the chocolate without further particle size reduction, and blasts it with heated air to remove unwanted volatile compounds that would contribute acidity, bitterness, and astringency. With higher temperature, aeration and agitation, we are able to bring to light certain delicate flavors that may have been hiding beneath more brute, overbearing players, bringing out a more complex and enjoyable chocolate taste.
Tempering + Molding
Tempering involves moving chocolate through varying temperatures in order to get the most compact, stable form of the cocoa butter crystals. Well-tempered chocolate will have an audible snap when broken, melts slowly and smoothly in your mouth, and has a beautiful sheen on the exterior. The chocolate is then poured into custom molds, 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 unmold 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, which becomes the story of the chocolate in your hands.
The Final Step
Eat slowly, inhaling aromatics as the chocolate melts. Appreciate the beautiful offering you just gave yourself. It’s the best part.
Now you’re ready to schedule a Factory tour, hmm?