Newsletter # 2  



In the eighteenth century, the Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus, who devised a scientific system for classifying plants, named the cacao (pronounced “ke  kou”) bush from which chocolate is produced Theobroma – food of the gods.  But cocoa beans were also highly valued by the native people of Central and South America centuries before any European landed on its shores.

The Mayan people used the sun-dried beans as a form of currency for trade before their civilization severely declined around 900 A.D.  Farther north in what is now Mexico, the Toltec people also valued the beans and when they were conquered by the Aztecs in 1325, cocoa beans became the currency of the new empire.

The Aztecs discovered if the beans fermented before they dried in the sun, they had a less bitter flavor; they also developed techniques for crushing, roasting, grinding, and mixing the fat-rich cocoa paste with cold water.  In the sixteenth century, the Spanish conquistadors began to flavor the drink with spices from Spain and regarded it as a stimulant that improved the endurance of soldiers.  It became a fashionable in Spain and its Caribbean colonies, but nowhere else until the Italians became aware of it 100 years later and began to import cocoa beans.  From there the fame of this now hot rather than cold drink, sometimes made with milk, spread throughout Europe. 

The transformation from drink to confectionery could not begin until the dawn of the Machine Age.  Separating out the cocoa butter was the first stage in 1828, patented by Dutchman C.J. van Houten, and other developments followed, but it was Swiss confectioners who produced the first real “eating” chocolate.

Brief History of Chocolate

Chocolate has been used as a drink for nearly all of its history.  The earliest record of using chocolate dates back to the cultures of Mexico and Central America.  These people included the Maya and Aztec.  However, in November 2007, archaeologists reported finding evidence of the oldest known cultivation and use of cacao in Honduras, dating from about 1100 to 1400 BC.  The chocolate residue found in an early ancient Maya pot in Río Azul, Guatemala, suggests that Maya were drinking chocolate around 400 AD. 

It was not until the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs in the early 1500’s that chocolate could be imported to Europe, where it quickly became a court favorite.  For hundreds of years, the chocolate making process remained unchanged.  When the people saw the Industrial Revolution arrive, many changes occurred that brought the hard, sweet candy we love today to life.  In the 1700’s, mechanical mills were created that squeezed out cocoa butter, which in turn helped to create hard, durable chocolate.  Not long after the revolution cooled down, companies began advertising this new invention to sell many of the chocolate treats we see today.  When new machines were produced, people began experiencing and consuming chocolate worldwide.


Chocolate is made from the beans that grow inside the pod of the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) that belongs to the cacao plant family (Sterculia ceae) that is indigenous to Mexico, Central and South AmericaCacao trees are small, understory trees that need rich, well drained soils and flourish in a hot, tropical climate (at least 75° F), with heavy, evenly distributed rain falls within 20° latitudes north and south of the equator.  Cacao trees cannot tolerate a temperature lower than 59°F. 

The tree begins to flower at 3 years old, blooming twice a year thereafter.  Only one in a thousand flowers bears fruit.  Depending on the type of tree, it takes four to eight months before the flower becomes a pod-like fruit.  The ellipse-shaped pod grows to about 8 inches and has a 1 inch leathery outer shell.  Inside the pod is a sweet, jelly-like pulp containing about 50 to 60 cacao beans.  A cacao tree will normally yield about 50 pods a year, giving about 4 kilos (almost 9 pounds) of beans.


Harvesting the pods takes place all year round, but is most intensively during November– December, and May – July.  The pods cannot be picked mechanically and cannot be torn off the tree since this would prevent the re-growth of flower.  The pods are cut off with a machete, making harvesting very labor-intensive process.

The cacao tree grows together with vanilla, sugar cane and coffee bushes which are three major flavor enhancers of chocolate. 


The cocoa bean develops its aroma during fermentation and gives the beans their familiar chocolate taste.  The fruit pulp containing the cocoa beans is poured into a fermenting tub or placed between banana leaves.  Fermentation begins at 100 –120°F.

The natural sugar is converted into alcohol during fermentation and a waste product of lactic acid is produced.  During this process, the pulp is broken down and the bittersweet taste disappears.  The beans also develop their brown color.  Fermentation is important and must be carefully controlled.

After fermentation, the beans must be quickly dried to prevent mold growth, climate and weather permitting.  This is done by spreading the beans out in the sun from 5 to 7 days.


The dried beans are transported from the plantation where they were grown to a chocolate manufacturing facility.  The beans are then cleaned, removing twigs, stones, and other debris, roasted, and graded.  Next the shells are removed to extract the nib.  Finally, the nibs are heated and then ground into a smooth liquid state which release and melts the cocoa butter producing chocolate liquor.  This is then cooled and molded into blocks.  This chocolate liquor contains roughly 53% cocoa butter.  From this all chocolate is made.


Chocolate liquor is blended with the cocoa butter in varying quantities to make different types of chocolate or couvertures.  The basic blends of ingredients for the various types of chocolate (in order of highest quantity of cocoa liquor first), are as follows:

  • Dark chocolate:  sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa liquor, and (sometimes) vanilla
  • Milk chocolate:  sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa liquor, milk or milk powder, and vanilla
  • White chocolate:  sugar, cocoa butter, milk or milk powder, and vanilla


Usually, an emulsifying agent such as soy lecithin is added.


The second to last process is called conching.  A conche is a container filled with metal beads, which act as grinders.  The refined and blended chocolate mass is kept in a liquid state by frictional heat.  Chocolate prior to conching has an uneven and gritty texture.  The conching process produces cocoa and sugar particles smaller than the tongue can detect, hence the smooth feel in the mouth.  The length of the conching process determines the final smoothness and quality of the chocolate.  High-quality chocolate is conched for about 72 hours, lesser grades about 4 to 6 hours.  After the process is complete, the chocolate mass is stored in tanks heated to approximately 113 to 122°F until final processing.


Temperature is crucial when working with chocolate for patisserie and confectionery

The final process is called tempering.  Uncontrolled crystallization of cocoa butter typically results in crystals of varying size to form.  This causes the surface of the chocolate to appear mottled and matte, and causes the chocolate to crumble rather than snap when broken.  The uniform sheen and crisp bite of properly processed chocolate are the result of consistently small cocoa butter crystals produced by the tempering process.

The fats in cocoa butter can crystallize in six different forms (polymorphous crystallization).   The primary purpose of tempering is to assure that only the best form is present.  The six different crystal forms have different properties.





63°F (17°C)

Soft, crumbly, melts too easily


70°F (21°C)

Soft, crumbly, melts too easily


78°F (26°C)

Firm, poor snap, melts too easily


82°F (28°C)

Firm, good snap, melts too easily


94°F (34°C)

Glossy, firm, best snap, melts near body temperature (98.6°F  37°C)


97°F (36°C)

Hard, takes weeks to form

Good chocolate should be even texture with no grains or specks and should have a distinctive chocolate taste rather than a flavor of cocoa.  It should melt on the tongue and not feel sticky or greasy.  As a general rule, the higher the percentage of cocoa butter, the better the flavor and texture of the product and the higher the price.  Making chocolate considered “good” is about forming as many type V crystals as possible.  This provides the best appearance and texture and creates the most stable crystals so the texture and appearance will not degrade over time.  To accomplish this, the temperature is carefully manipulated during the crystallization.

Couverture is always high-quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate designed for cooking, frosting and making confectionary.  It has a high percentage of cocoa butter, a minimum of 32%, which makes it very workable, but it must be tempered before use.  Do not confuse this with “Coating” chocolate that comes in wafers and contains vegetable oil.

Couverture is the special type of chocolate used in patisserie (baking) and confectionery (candy making), which flows more readily than the type of chocolate found in candy bars.  The consistency you need will depend on what you are using it for, such as covering cakes or coating candies. 

When it is heated (the temperature must never exceed 105°F), Couverture loses its binding properties.  The sugar, cocoa solids, and cocoa butter separate.  Tempering binds them together again, and the couverture returns to its original state:  hard chocolate with a lovely sheen. 

A method of tempering is the seeded method.  This is the simplest method of tempering.  The chocolate is chopped into small pieces and melted to a temperature of 105°F to melt all six forms of crystals.  Then grated or very finely chopped couverture is stirred (seeded) in small quantities at a time into the melted couverture.  This is repeated until the couverture starts to become visibly more viscous and the small particles dissolve very slowly.   The chocolate is cooled to 80°F which will allow crystal types IV and V to form.  At this temperature, the chocolate is agitated to create many small crystal “seeds” which will serve as nuclei to create small crystals in the chocolate.  It is then carefully heated until it reaches the ideal temperature of 89°F to eliminate any type IV crystals, leaving just type V.  After this point, any excessive heating of the chocolate will destroy the temper and this process will have to be repeated. 

Couverture can be held ready for use in thermostatically controlled tempering equipment.  Dark couverture is held at between 86 and 91°F, milk and white chocolate couverture between 86 and 89°F, because of the milk fat content.

Correctly and Incorrectly Tempered Couverture

A silky gloss is the ideal couverture surface.  If the couverture is too warm, it takes a long time to reach the setting point, and will then show stripes on a matt background.  If it is too cool, it will set up too fast and have a matted, dull surface.  The temperature range for working lies between 86 and 91°F.  Below this temperature, the couverture thickens and dries with a matt surface; above this temperature, the cocoa butter separates from the cocoa solids (91.4°F is the melting point of cocoa butter), and the couverture has to be tempered again.   


All brands of chocolate fall into one of four categories:  milk chocolate, bittersweet, semisweet, and white chocolate, with cocoa powder in its own separate category.  In the U. S. there are minimum requirements for chocolate:

  • Milk Chocolate must contain a minimum of 10% chocolate liquor and 12% whole milk solids.  It is quite sweet with up to 55% sugar.  It is light brown in color.
  • Dark Chocolate must contain a minimum of 35% chocolate liquor and an average fat content of 27%.  It is also known as bittersweet chocolate. It is very dark, sometimes almost black, and is very lightly sweetened.
  • Semisweet Chocolate must contain a minimum of 15% chocolate liquor, is dark, and contains more sweeteners than bittersweet chocolate.  It has a fat content similar to bittersweet chocolate.
  • White Chocolate is made up of cocoa butter, sugar, milk solids, and vanilla (or vanillin for less expensive white chocolate).  It does not contain any cocoa solids.  Cocoa butter can be substituted with vegetable oil to make imitation white chocolate.  White chocolate is the most fragile form of chocolate.  Pay close attention to it while heating or melting it to prevent the cocoa butter from separating.
  • Unsweetened Baking Chocolate is simply cooled, hardened chocolate liquor.  It is used primarily as an ingredient in recipes or as a garnish.  It contains no additional ingredients.
  • Cocoa Powder is produced when the cocoa butter is extracted from the chocolate liquor using hydraulic presses.  The hard dry cakes are then ground and sifted to produce cocoa powder.


By law, all products labeled “chocolate” (except white chocolate) must contain unsweetened chocolate (sometimes listed on the label as cocoa solids and cocoa butter, or chocolate liquor).

 52% of all Americans say chocolate is their favorite flavor for desserts and snacks; that breaks down to 57% of women and 48% of men.  Chocolate is the single most craved food in the United States.  In the year 2001, chocolate consumption is this country was over 3 billion pounds. 

Chocolate is a magic substance, the noblest of dessert ingredients and isn’t it magnificent that the melting point of cocoa butter is just below the temperature of the human body!  It truly melts in your mouth.     

Chocolate is a complex mixture of flavors and textures that provide comfort and nourishment, energy and satisfaction, and a magical quality that lifts the spirit.  Chocolate has evolved to new heights of sophistications and refinement, with wonderful ranges in flavor, aroma and textural characteristics. 


Until next time,

Joe Higgins
Chocolate Specialties by Joe

Newsletter # 2


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