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How Chocolate Is Processed
The fruit is harvested in the form called "cacao pods", which look something like papayas or mangoes on the outside. Cacao trees grown in areas such as Central America, withint 20 degrees of the Equator. In most cases, cacao trees produce buds - which you can think of as the seeds of chocolate - all year long.
Cacao is harvested very carefully, by hand. This is the first of many delicate steps in making chocolate.
The pods are opened and the inner beans (which we call cocoa beans) and white pulped are removed. These need to be fermented and then dried in specific conditions, to beginning the chocolate-making process.
Next the cocoa beans are separated by being cracked. This removes the bean kernel. The cracked cocoa beans are called cocoa nibs.
The next step in processing chocolate is called winnowing. This uses air to blue shells away from the heavier cocoa nibs. The nibs, by the way, contain about 53% cocoa butter. (This varies depending on the species of cacao pod, however.)
The cocoa nibs are ground or crushed. This makes something called chocolate liqor or chocolate liquid. (This is not an alcoholic product, despite the confusing name "liquor".) Grinding these chocolaty nibs liquefies the cocoa butter in them.
The chocolate liquid next needs to be heated. This melts and distributes the cocoa butter.
The chocolate liquid can also go through another step called conching. This develops the chocolate flavor of the chocolate liquor and releases some of the natural bitterness of chocolate. The conching process can take days!
Next the conched chocolate needs to be tempered and cooled down. This product is what chocolate makers produce. It has no flavorings and is still considered a "raw material" to be used by chocolatiers as they develop their recipes. It will need to be melted, flavored, blended, and made into chocolate treats before being molded or formed in other ways. This is the delicious work chocolatiers have to tackle.