Reason #17: Cleaning the beans
Why do you love local craft chocolate so much more than the big brands? Lots of reasons, most stemming from the fact that your craft chocolate maker cares enough about you and about her craft to do lots of little things that add up to a big difference. Reason #17 is about cleaning the beans.
Chocolate in the Raw
Why clean the beans? Cocoa beans beans are a raw agricultural product. Most beans are grown in developing countries, where they are harvested and handled in conditions that are often quite basic. During the fermenting and drying parts of the process, the beans can pick up lots of extra stuff that needs to be removed before the beans can be made into chocolate.
There's a legendary saying, sometimes attributed to Michelangelo, that a sculptor looks at a block of marble and simply chips away anything that does not look like the intended subject. In a sense, that saying describes what a craft chocolate maker does when cleaning beans. He looks at the beans and takes away everything that doesn't look it would make good chocolate.
Bean by bean by bean...
Cocoa beans usually arrive in our factory in 70 Kg bags. Each bean must pass inspection before it makes its way into your chocolate. Your craft chocolate maker makes a difference because a human being sees every bean. Unlike the big makers, no electric eye or robot or computer automates the cleaning process.
And it's a dusty process! When cleaning beans, the craft chocolate maker removes rocks, flat beans, doubles (beans that have stuck together during fermentation) and under-fermented beans. She picks out debris that might burn in the roaster. We've even found flower blossoms and bird feathers in the beans! In the words of that famous foodie, Alton Brown, this stuff is "not good eats."
After sorting, the beans are poured over powerful magnets that remove any metal that the human might have missed. We've never caught any metal this way, but better safe than sorry.
So the next time you are enjoying the fruits of your craft chocolate maker's efforts, you'll know that one of the reasons is because he took so much care to ensure that only great cocoa beans made it into the chocolate.
Comment and let us know if you have other questions about chocolate. Watch for future installments in our Crafting Chocolate series.