Last week I had the unforgettable experience of making my own chocolate bars using commercial equipment in Rakka Chocolate’s facility! The factory, located in the trendy Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, offers chocolate making classes ($50 a person, advanced booking required) that include a presentation on harvesting cacao beans, a factory tour, making three bars, and a chocolate tasting. This sounds like a lot for 2 hours but the class was so well-run!
We started in the back, where our host talked about cacao. First he showed us a video of the cacao pod harvesting process, which was not narrated. The host talked about what was happening in the video as it played, which was a cool way of learning about the process. The process of getting the beans out of the pods takes weeks and involves drying and fermentation. Generally, cacao beans are roasted, but Raaka doesn’t roast its beans because they believe different depths of flavors can come through in raw, or virgin, chocolate.
The host passed around cacao beans (to sample) and an unprocessed cacao pod (to touch and smell).
The beans do not immediately taste of chocolate in its familiar candy form. They’re more like nuts – it is clear they have a high fat content. Bitterness is also the primary sensation, like the bitterness of a coffee bean.
It was cool to see a pod. The beans are surrounded by white stuff which is apparently tasty. We were told that a woman on a previous tour turned away because she was grossed out.
Then we learned about how Raaka processed the beans into cocoa powder. In the beginning, they ground the beans by hand, using the device below. This was very inefficient and not fun. The guide told us that, by the end of a year, everyone looked like walking “before and after” pictures because the muscles on one side of their bodies was significantly more developed than the muscles on the other side. A funny image.
Here you can see the husks of the beans being separated from the cocoa nibs inside.
With a lot of engineering ingenuity, Raaka was able to cobble together a machine that could perform the process of grinding beans more efficiently. The beans are put several times through this machine (which incorporates the blades of a juicer).
The next step in the process is to separate the husks from the nibs. This is another specialized machine that uses laser technology inside to recognize and sort beans and husks. The husks are donated to community gardens for mulch.
Now cocoa butter (yellowish chunks, below) is added to the cocoa solids and the mixing begins. This is when we start to recognize the product as chocolate.
The cocoa solids and cocoa butter are blended for three days, becoming smoother each day. Sugar and any flavorings are added in this step.
After three days, the liquid is pressed through another machine to make it smoother…
…and one more. We would make our chocolate bars by holding molds under the stream of molten chocolate. The next post will be about filling molds with chocolate, adding flavorings, packaging the chocolate, and the chocolate tasting. Check back tomorrow!