Since Divine launched in 1998 , we have always encouraged people to value and cherish chocolate more – by knowing more about the people who depend on it. Through our relationships with cocoa growers in Ghana and São Tomé, we can trace the cocoa in any bar of chocolate back to the co-operative from which it originated. This bean-to-bar approach demonstrates our commitment to social and economic issues and ensures excellence in quality control.
Understanding the specific journey of a cocoa bean means knowing about the great care and effort that farmers put into growing their cocoa and how important this is to ensure the chocolate we make tastes great!
Did you know that chocolate originates from fruit? Chocolate is derived from cocoa beans — these beans are technically dried and fermented seeds from the Theobroma cacao tree. From the tree, these seeds (also called beans) come from a fruit called a cocoa pod.
Cocoa quality is determined right from the moment it starts growing on the tree. The cocoa grows best under the canopy of the tropical rainforest, where the pods get the right amount of sun and shade. The humid conditions are also preferred by the midges (a type of insect) that pollinate the flowers.
Most Ghanaian cocoa is grown on small family farms, typically of between 2-3 hectares (approx. 2.5 acres per hectare). It is usually intercropped with other plants and trees, such as plantains, maize and spices. These not only provide shade while the cocoa trees are growing, but they can also provide up to 65% of the family’s own food supply as well as additional income.
Caring for cacao trees is very labor intensive, with a focus on continuous weeding around them. This maximises the nutrients the tree is getting and reduces the risk of disease.
The harvest time is critical for quality control. If the pods are too ripe, they are vulnerable to disease or the beans may germinate. If the pods are not ripe enough, the cocoa beans will be of very poor quality because the ‘aromatics’ which produce the familiar cocoa flavour are absent.
Harvesting is also very labor intensive. When the farmers cut the pods from the trees, they must be extremely careful in order to avoid damaging the rest of the tree. The pods are then split open with huge, sharp-bladed knives. Then, the slimy pulp containing the beans is scraped out.
Once harvested, the beans undergo a two-stage process to prepare them for sale: fermentation and drying. These processes begin the transition from a bitter cocoa bean to the chocolate taste we know and love.
Fermentation is a vital step in developing the cocoa bean’s ‘aromatics’. The beans are piled into heaps, and dark green plantain leaves are then wrapped around the beans. These ‘parcels’ are left in the heat for 5-8 days to ferment. The fleshy pulp which holds the beans inside the pod is crucial to the development of the cocoa flavour because it kick-starts the fermentation process.
As a final step, the beans are dried. To dry them, the beans are spread out on large tables in the sun and turned regularly to ensure they dry evenly and do not stick together. The drying process takes about 7-12 days. In this time, the moisture content is reduced from 60% to less than 8%
When drying is complete, the beans are packed into jute bags and stored in fully ventilated warehouses. On each bag, the village code is painted onto the side so it can be traced back to that village.
First, the beans are sorted and cleaned. Then, they are roasted between 248-300ºF. After roasting, the beans are crushed to release the internal “nib” from the shells and then transported through an air tunnel. This process — known as winnowing — blows the shell fragments up and away from the cocoa nibs.
The nibs are then ground into a thick brown liquid called cocoa mass. The cocoa mass is made up of rich cocoa butter (55-60%) with fine cocoa particles suspended inside of it. Next, the cocoa mass is heavily pressed until the cocoa butter is separated out, leaving only cocoa powder. (This cocoa powder is the same type that is often used in chocolate drinks, confectionary, and cooking.)
To make chocolate, cocoa butter and cocoa mass are combined in varying proportions, followed by the addition of sugar (and milk for milk chocolate). This mixture is then stirred continuously over several days — a process called ‘conching.’ Conching gives the finished chocolate its smooth, silky texture.
The mixture is cooled slowly while still moving in the machine — a process called tempering.
The resulting mixture — called couverture — forms the basis of most finished chocolate products. Other ingredients such as nuts can be added as well as any flavourings.
Once the chocolate is ready, it is wrapped and packed, transported to large handling warehouses, and distributed to shops for chocolate lovers to purchase!