How Chocolate is Made

From Cocoa Bean to Confection

Next time you bite into a decadent SunSpire™ chocolate, you might want to consider what goes into it. Truth be told, making exceptional chocolate is an art, and the long journey that a cocoa bean follows to become an indulgent, all-natural SunSpire confection is one worth knowing about.

Growing & Harvesting the Cocoa Tree

It all starts with the passionate workers on our producers’ farms in South America, Central America and Africa who carefully harvest the ripened fruit of the Theobroma tree, also known as the cacao or cocoa tree.  Cocoa can grow in equatorial locations being as far as 10 degrees north or south of the equator world wide.  The average cocoa farm has 8 trees and each tree has an average life span of 25 years.  It takes 5-6 years for each tree to reach harvest potential. This fruit consists of cocoa pods, each containing approximately 30-50 white seeds encased in a thick pulp.  With a quick cut of the machete, workers expertly split each pod, scoop out the pulp, and spread it over banana leaves to dry and ferment in the sun—a process that typically takes several days.  When the seeds are dried to perfection, the workers cull through them to select those of the highest quality, bag them in burlap sacks, and send them off for processing.

Preparing the Cocoa Bean

At the processing factory, the beans are meticulously hand-sifted to remove debris and then separated according to their type.  Just as terroir helps to define the flavor of tea leaves, coffee and grapes, the flavor specific to each cocoa bean is determined by the precise species of tree it comes from, the geological make up of the soil it grows in, the climate it enjoys, and the farming techniques that are employed in its growth.  SunSpire’s cocoa manufacturers select only the finest beans from each cocoa variety and then carefully blend them to produce a bold, rich and complex cocoa flavor in our chocolate.

These select beans are roasted to heighten their flavor, and then cracked open to reveal the inner parts of the cocoa bean, called the “nibs.”  The nibs are machine crushed and ground into a paste called chocolate liquor, which despite its name contains no alcohol.  The chocolate liquor is put through a hydraulic press that extracts the natural fat left in it, called cocoa butter.  The result is a circular brick known as ”cake,” which can either be ground into a dry powder that is pure unsweetened cocoa powder, or mixed with cocoa butter, sugar and other ingredients, including milk and vanilla, to make chocolate.

Processing then Delivery

If chocolate is the goal, the ingredients are skillfully blended and then carefully heated to create a smooth, creamy cohesive mixture.  This mixture is then “conched,” or placed into large vats that are continuously stirred over consistent heat.  The conching process aerates and refines the chocolate, ensuring a silky-smooth finished product.  Conching used to take days, but now can be completed in 6-8 hours. Finally, the chocolate is tempered by heating it to break down any remaining crystals, cooling it and agitating it as new crystals form, and finally, heating it again.  The tempered chocolate is then poured into molds for bars or extruded for baking chips, cooled, packaged and distributed.

Of course, the sweetest leg of any journey is its successful conclusion.  In the case of SunSpire chocolates, that conclusion comes when a humble cocoa bean—singled out for its premium flavor and plump size, transported halfway across the world to our high-quality processing facilities, and expertly crafted into a rich, delicious chocolate baking chip or candy bar—makes it way into the hands of a health-conscious consumer for a decadent taste sensation. Enjoy!

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