Process: Bean to Bar
We are one of the few bean to bar chocolate makers that produces in the origin country. This enables us to:
- Foster deeper and more direct relationships with the farmers, and the cacao tree itself
- Source ingredients in a hyper local and seasonal way
- Employ more people in the cacao origin country
- Influence the growing chocolate industry within Nicaragua
- Contribute to the cultural development of San Juan del Sur as a destination for high quality artisanal products
This more direct, localized farm to bar process gives rise to a variety of other downstream benefits that we continue to learn about every day, here in Nicaragua. We also host educational workshops as well as farm and kitchen tours that contribute to our local tourism industry.
Check our part of our process in this short video below:
Curious for a bit more detail? What follows is a step by step version of what happens from bean to bar, all right here in Nicaragua.
The beginning of the process for making fine chocolate is the most important step, it’s in the beans. We are proud to work directly with Enliven Cacao farmers who cultivate heirloom varieties of cacao indigenous to the northern region of Nicaragua. We’ve visited their farms and know that they grow cacao trees naturally with no chemicals, insecticides, pesticides, fungicides, nothing extra. The trees are watered by the rains and pruned lightly by hand.
Enliven Cacao farmers harvest cacao beans for 8-10 months out of the year, and they can do so in cycles of 15-20 days. Pods are harvested by hand and carried back through the forest to the fermentation facility in large sacks, often with the help of donkeys.
We work side-by-side with Enliven Cacao farmers to direct and refine the fermentation process in untreated wooden boxes with banana leaves. We have an ongoing conversation with the fermenters, honing the beans to optimal flavors.
The beans are then taken to our friend Jonathan’s farm, to be carefully dried. Typically, this step happens on large cement platforms resulting in high heat and fast drying. We have opted for a different approach, where beans are slowly dried on wooden racks in the mountains with lower heat. This results in a smoother, less acidic flavor ideal for fine chocolate making.
Once dried, the cacao is placed into natural jute sacks, where off-gassing can continue. When the sacks are ready for pickup, we get a call from Jonathan.
We embark on a day-long journey across the country up into the highlands of Matagalpa. We camp out, catch up with the farmers and go for walks to appreciate the rainforest where our cacao grows.
We load up the Landcruiser with sacks full of cacao and we begin a day-long journey, across the country, back home to the beachside town of San Juan del Sur. It’s almost time to make some chocolate.
Cacao beans are aged in jute sacks for 2 months, allowing off-gassing of undesirable flavors still present from the fermentation process. At this point, beans are sealed in air-tight bags, protecting them from mold and moisture, locking in the flavor profile.
Each micro-batch of cacao beans is hand sorted, removing all undeveloped beans or debris that may have gotten into the sample.
Cacao beans are lightly roasted in micro-batches in a custom-built roaster, with a carefully monitored temperature evolution process. This begins by high temperature heat sterilizing the beans then carefully lowering the temperature to continue roasting to the point where essential oils are not evaporated. This means that the chocolate flavor may be retained in the beans and the eventual chocolate that will come from them. This lighter roasting process also helps amplify some of the health benefits of cocoa.
Out of the roaster, cacao beans are placed on a fan-driven cooling tray to quickly stop the roasting process.
Cacao beans have a hard outer shell that must be removed. This process is known as winnowing. We use a machine developed specifically for artisanal chocolate makers to crack the beans and remove the husk resulting in clean cacao nibs.
Cacao nibs are loaded into a black stone grinder, sometimes with cane sugar and other ingredients, to be ground for 24-48 hours. The first part of this process reduces the particles down to smaller than 15 microns, enough to feel like smooth silk on the tongue.
The second part of grinding process is known as conching. This helps to evaporate some of the stronger tasting flavors, which brings the subtler notes into balance for the finished chocolate. The result of this step is referred to as chocolate paste or chocolate liquor (not the alcoholic kind)
The chocolate paste is then tempered through a disciplined heating and cooling process that creates the ideal crystal formation in the chocolate and gives it the shine, and snap that we look for in a fine chocolate bar.
Tempered chocolate paste is poured into artistically designed molds.
Carefully sourced and hand prepared inclusions are added into chocolate bars.
The bars are placed into a refrigeration system, to quickly cool and set the tempering process.
Once settled, molds are removed from refrigeration and chocolate bars are meticulously de-molded.
Once cooled each bar is hand wrapped into a heat resistant wrapper and placed into a beautiful locally sourced craft paper package.
Packaged chocolate bars are carefully delivered to Managua where they embark on a climate controlled journey to you.
You see Oro Chocolate for sale.
It’s your turn.