Milk, dark, white, hazelnut, raisin or a mug full of warm chocolate… There is definitely something close to everyone’s heart. It is not possible to compare the pleasure of chocolate, which accompanies sweet crises in many happy and unhappy moments of our lives, with anything else. Of course, our chocolate shopping today is quite different from the past. Now, we can follow how the bar we buy is produced from the beans grown in which country, how much cocoa it contains, and discover its true taste by buying custom-made chocolates from artisanal shops that turn this work into art. So how do these magical cocoa beans turn into chocolate? Are you wondering what makes a chocolate good or bad, how to distinguish it?
The story of real chocolate
When the word artisan is used for chocolate, it symbolizes a new understanding. Quality artisan production from the bean to the chocolate bar is much more tedious and of course costly. Applying the process correctly is a real area of expertise. The taste of cocoa differs between regions where it is grown. In grapes, this regional identity is expressed by the term ‘terroir’. However, there is no such term for cocoa beans yet. Nevertheless, it is possible to have information about the aromas of chocolate in different regions by reading what is written on the chocolate packages about the source and region of cocoa. Good chocolate comes to life thanks to cocoa beans from countries located between 20 degrees north and 20 degrees south, such as Ecuador, Ghana, Dominican Republic, Tanzania, Cuba.
Cocoa is an extremely interesting tropical plant variety. When left alone in nature, it can bloom more than a thousand flowers budding from its branches. But it only produces 40 capsules containing about a kilo of cocoa beans. Only this one kilo of beans produces high quality chocolate. The ‘fair trade’ phrase that you will see on the chocolate package labels when reaching the right producers is of such great importance. Fairtrade means that the farmer who grows chocolate and works on the plantations for this arduous job gets his fair share of the sale.
Key word ‘couverture’
The products supplied by giant brands such as Godiva and Valhrona to large demands and small, boutique producers come from different plantations. World-renowned chocolatiers and confectioners choose their products mostly with their own experts. A very small amount of the total cocoa produced is reserved for such a luxurious object of desire. One of the words you often hear when you enter the world of chocolate is ‘couverture’. Couverture means raw material for professionals; it means unprocessed and unfinished chocolate. Professional chocolatiers prepare their own chocolates by processing and tempering this raw material (heating it to a certain degree and then cooling it systematically to bring it to a shiny chocolate structure). For example, a famous chocolatier like Pierre Hermé visits Valrhona plantations with his team, while presenting a new chocolate collection every year. He closely follows the cocoa beans and the processing of these beans. He has his own special couverture production made from the selection made after special tastings.
How are chocolate bars made?
Cocoa is collected in its raw form. At this stage, flavors such as blueberry, strawberry or grass, tobacco, wood, earth are chosen and become decisive. It is known that the kernel contains more than 300 flavor compounds and has 400 different flavors.The seeds, which are selected and collected according to the needs, are first dried. It is passed from the hot and steamy climate where the cocoa plantations are located to the factory. Factories carry out the crushing and grinding processes after stages such as sorting, roasting and dehulling. The core that becomes a paste is mixed with sugar. Milk and milk tou can also be added. This base dough is then refined and brought into its special form, which leaves a velvety feeling on the palate.
The most important step in obtaining a completely smooth chocolate is processing. It is known that it was first applied by Lindt in 1880. The most important differences that affect the taste occur at this stage. Giant shovels stir the chocolate and release heat, liquefying the chocolate. The processing time is decided according to the aroma. Sometimes it can be kept as long as 48-72 hours, sometimes quite short.
The final stage is tempering. Chocolate goes through different heat cycles as it goes from liquid to solid. It cools down from 40-45 degrees to 27-28 degrees. Different temperatures are applied for milky and bitter. These specially calculated and selected degrees allow the cocoa butter to crystallize and disperse in the chocolate. Different oils in cocoa crystallize at different temperatures. Tempering oils bring them into crystal form, giving them a high shine and aroma.
How to recognize good chocolate?
There are simple tasting rules you can follow to understand the quality of chocolate. When you choose the chocolates you will taste carefully, you can easily distinguish the nuances in their taste and the different perceptions that this experience brings.
Never keep the chocolate you are going to taste in the refrigerator. Chocolate made with good cocoa melts easily in the mouth with a tangy and clean finish. Refrigerating the chocolate prevents you from having this experience. Prefer to store in a dark and cool place. Chocolate can easily absorb the aromas around it. Therefore, do not put strong spices and fruits in the cabinet where you store them.
When you open the foil, you should see a shiny, smooth surface. The slightly roasted, rich aromas of cocoa should hit your nose. Don’t forget to sniff well.
Break a piece. It should make a sound like music when breaking.
Let the piece you put in your mouth melt on your tongue. Don’t chew right away. Your taste buds will begin to give you aromas quickly. It is such an enjoyable journey to trace the fruit, pepper, grass or tobacco in it. If you taste milk chocolate, you may feel that the flavors like banana, hazelnut and milk are more intense.
A product that produces on the basis of sustainability and bears the phrases of fair trade and organic is the right choice, but it is not decisive about its taste. When buying chocolate, find out where the cocoa comes from and don’t get too hung up on high cocoa ratios. This ratio does not guarantee the quality of real quality and taste. As with every product, the best chocolate is also expensive. However, when you start to choose products that reflect your own taste, you easily accept that the difference is worth it. Your determinant is your own taste. Find out which country you enjoy and which flavors you enjoy by reading the labels! Be sure to make sure you support fair trade.