In the western world, chocolate is everywhere - the local corner store, the big box chains, on the Internet and of course in small boutique chocolate shops. We eat chocolate to be happy
, to be healthy
and to celebrate our lives. Our demand for chocolate is evident, but have you ever wondered how a small hard bean turns into a silky smooth chocolate bar?
Collaborative efforts of many people and many countries are imperative when transforming bean to bar. From third world growers to western manufacturers, every step impacts the quality of the chocolate we eat. Chocolate means different things to different people. Artful attention to detail and a commitment to craftsmanship are vitally important every step of the way.
Cacao is valued worldwide as a trade commodity, local food and manufacturing product. For the next two weeks, let's explore, from the ground up, how chocolate is made - from bean to bar. It might inspire you to appreciate your chocolate just a little bit more.
Growing the Cacao Tree
Chocolate begins in the field, not the factory. Growing a healthy, vibrant tree is the first step in making quality chocolate.
The cacao tree originated in Central America but now grows in many areas of West Africa, Asia, Malaysia and Indonesia. There are about 2 to 2.5 million producers worldwide, 90% being small-scale farmers with 12 acres or less. Cacao trees thrive in these areas because of their humid tropical climates with regular rains and short dry seasons.
The trees can produce pods year round for 25 to 30 years. Thousands of flowers grow from the tree’s trunk each year but only about 1% will bear fruit called pods. The pod is of similar size and shape to a football and grows from the trunk or limbs of the tree. It takes five to six months for the fruit to ripen. Pods can grow in a range of colors: brown, orange, red, green and yellow.
Many modern day chocolatiers are working diligently to empower the farmers of the cacao tree by trading fairly, paying above market value and assisting with better working conditions. This helps both the farmer and the manufacturer to produce higher quality chocolate while encouraging more humane and fair practices.
Harvesting the Pods
Once the pods are ripe, they are harvested by cutting the stalk with a machete or long sharp pruning loppers. This is done with great care, as the stalk must be preserved for further pod production. If the stalk is damaged, that area of the tree becomes infertile and will no longer produce the flower or the pod. Pods can be harvested year round but are usually harvested every six months, coinciding with the rainy seasons.
Removing the Cacao Beans
Once on the ground, the pods are sorted by quality and placed in piles. In many areas this is a social affair, where stories, news and jokes are shared as everyone works. Skilled craftsmen will open the pods with a machete, with just enough pressure to open the pod but not damage the beans inside. The beans are heaped upon large leaves, usually banana leaves. The group socializes as they watch the fruits of their labor pile up.
The empty hulls are gathered and placed in the sun to rot. This will later be used as compost for nourishing the next crop.
Some farmers take their crop to fermenting houses, selling their beans by weight. For these farmers, it’s the end of the road. Others choose to ferment the beans themselves. Whether the fermentation happens on the farm or at the fermenting house, the harvesting has now ended and the beans move forward for further processing.
Many of the farmers who produce the cacao have never tasted a chocolate bar. The cacao trees are a source of community, spirit and livelihood among the farmers and their commitment to growing a quality product touches the world. Without the farmer, there would be no chocolate.
Join us next week as we follow the next phases of the chocolate journey.
At Chocology, research is one of our top priorities. Since we want to learn all there is to know about chocolate and pass that knowledge on to you, we’re always on the lookout for new chocolate covered theories.
We recently heard that chocolate might play a role in helping people achieve higher levels of productivity. Well. . . at the very least, it might make people happier and then stimulate more productivity.
In any case, a study organized by three university researchers, Andrew J. Oswald, Eugenio Proto, and Daniel Sgroi, set out to prove that happy people are more productive. You can find a full version of their paper entitled “Happiness and Productivity” here
You’re welcome to read the full report, but basically the trio compiled four control groups to study whether happiness had an effect on productivity. Two groups were shown funny comedian clips, one group was given free fruit, chocolate and drinks and the fourth group was asked to talk about a recent tragedy in their personal lives.
All of the groups were then asked to complete standardize math quizzes to determine if the comedy or food improved their productivity in these tasks. The three groups that were given incentives did much better on the quizzes while the control group that talked about their misfortunes did worse. In fact, the happy producing incentives raised productivity by an average of 12%.
Google is probably the most well known company to offer an array of workplace perks. It has been voted the best company to work for by Fortune.com
for the last five years and productivity at Google has increased by 37% since these perks have been implemented.
The driving force seems to be that the happier people are, the more productive they are.
So, how does this relate specifically to chocolate? Well, at Chocology we believe that chocolate does raise happiness levels. We know scientifically that it activates the pleasure centers in our brain. History
tells us that people through the ages have consumed it for it’s medicinal and mood elevating properties. In only stands to reason that if we eat chocolate, we become just a little bit happier, at least for the moments that we’re eating it.
If the study by Oswald, Proto and Sgroi is accurate, then consuming chocolate should increase our productivity! It might be a stretch, but it’s a stretch we’re willing to make. Chocolate won’t hurt you and it just might make you happier and more productive. It’s certainly worth a try!
How about you? Do you think chocolate increases happiness? Could happiness increases productivity? Have you seen incidents in which happiness increased productivity in your life? Comment here or join us on Facebook
and let us know what you think.
Since we’re talking about research, what kinds of things would you like to know about chocolate? Give us some ideas and we may choose it as one of our research projects for a future blog post.
Want to help Chocology kick off its North American online store? Well you can and we hope you will!
By now, you may be getting to know us a little better. You’ve learned about our family, our staff and our values. We love all things chocolate and want to expand our research and bring fun education and great chocolates to our customers. Now, you can help by letting us get to know you.
We’ve tried every kind of chocolate, from bacon dipped delights to rose petal truffles. With so much to choose from, your input is invaluable. While we at Chocology love all chocolates, we do have our preferences. And we know you do too. What would you like to see line the Chocology shelves?
We strive to satisfy your chocolate wishes. How better to do that to cultivate a direct relationship with you and find out what you like?
Are you more conservative with your chocolate or do you like to live on the edge? Do you want to stick with what you know or try new things? Please take a moment to scan through our poll and give us your thoughts in the "Leave a Comment"
Thanks for your responses. As we get to know you better, we feel confident we can better serve you and your chocolate needs.
The results of our poll will be posted in a future blog post and of course will be reflected on our Chocology shelves.
We at Chocology are committed to and love the study of chocolate – extending that love and knowledge to the world in a new and exciting way is our passion.
Chocolate has acquired a reputation over time as a food that should be avoided rather than revered. Most of the candies you find at the checkout line have very little cocoa in them, sometimes as little as ten percent. Instead they are packed with white sugar and milk solids, making them a nice occasional treat with little nutritional value. And still, millions of us consume them in vast amounts on a daily basis.
True cocoa, however has been held in high esteem since the days of the ancient Mayans. Used for spiritual and medicinal purposes, it was and still is recognized as one of the super foods of the world. The higher the cocoa content, the higher the health benefits.
How do we come to appreciate higher cocoa contents and flip our paradigm from “chocolate is bad” to “chocolate is nutritious”? The art of chocolate encompasses all of our senses; it truly is a sensory experience.
We start where we are and become present when we eat chocolate in any form. Mindfully tasting chocolate can be a rewarding experience when we slow down and appreciate it. When we are accustomed to popping it into our mouths heedlessly, we miss the adventure of skillfully tasting this super food.
Chocolate tickles the senses and the cocoa in it provides nourishment for our bodies. We want to learn to like the good stuff, right? But going from a highly processed milk chocolate to an eighty-five percent dark chocolate bar is quiet a leap. That’s why we acknowledge where we are now and begin the process of recalibrating our taste buds, moment by moment.
Let’s begin by engaging our senses and paying attention to what we are experiencing here and now. We’ll shift the emphasis to the tasting experience itself rather than reaching an anticipated end goal. Perhaps you can close your eyes, pay attention to your breath and then begin the process of tasting.
Choose the highest quality chocolate possible. Even if it is one of the popular grocery store brands, it’s a start. Our first goal is to experience chocolate in the moment, with reverence and appreciation. As we expand our awareness, we can choose higher cocoa contents and different brands to experiment with.
Rather than popping it into your mouth right away, why not take a moment to evaluate its packaging. Is it a box of truffles or a slick sleeved bar? Is there writing on the container? What does it say? In what region of the world did the cocoa grow? What is the percentage of cocoa in your candy?
Unwrap your chocolate slowly. Listen to the rustle of the paper or the crinkling of the box as you open it. Can you anticipate what you will see?
Now, ponder the color, texture and shape of your chocolate. Is it dark brown or light? Does it appear smooth or bumpy? Did the artisan design the shape or color in an unusual way? Have they added nuts or fruit? What does that look like?
Next, bring the chocolate to your nose. While some of the flavor aromas are “trapped” inside of the cocoa butter until melted in your mouth, there will be others you can detect. Do you know what they are? Can you identify them?
Then, break off a small piece. Listen. Does it snap or is it pliable? How does in feel in your fingers? Is it light? Heavy? Filled with ganache or cream?
Finally, place the chocolate on your tongue and bite into it gently but don’t chew. Try to experience the taste and not judge it as good or bad. Allow the chocolate to slowly coat your tongue and the roof of your mouth. What flavors do you taste? Is it bitter? Can you taste sweetness? A hint of salt? What sensations do you have in your mouth after you’ve swallowed? Has the taste evolved even further? Do you want to try it again or would you prefer something else?
Each time you taste, your ability to decipher new flavors and nuances grow and your appreciation of the quality expands with it.
Tasting chocolate is an experience much different than just eating it. While we don’t want to over think it, mindfully considering the elegance of chocolate can leave us feeling satisfied. It satiates our desire for sweetness and provides our bodies with nourishment. Our incessant need for more diminishes and the appreciation of what is in front of us increases.
When we contemplate art, we do it slowly and appreciatively. Quality chocolate is an art form worthy of our presence and full attention. The feeling of happiness and well-being grows when we acknowledge appreciation in our lives. Appreciating the chocolate in our lives is good for us and assists us in making the leap to finer and higher quality with each mindful taste.
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Pizza and Ice Cream Party![/caption]
Madeline’s Innovative Thinking Pays Off
We at Chocology pride ourselves on personalizing every experience. Our 12-year-old cofounder, Madeline is no exception. With her big ideas and out of the box thinking, she keeps us hopping with new possibilities.
Madeline and her mom Linda had just attended a girls club meeting where a party for the girls was being planned. Madeline was in charge of providing the treats. As she and her mom drove home, Madeline sat in the passengers seat deep in thought. Conversation bubbles seemed to dance above her head. Pizza party or ice cream social
? What should I choose? What would be the most popular option? What will get everyone excited?
Suddenly, Madeline exclaimed, “I’ve got it, Mama! Why can’t we have both? Chocolate on top of pizza crust with ice cream!”
Linda smiled and veered off the road toward their favorite Whole Foods grocery store. With loving care they picked out all natural light multigrain cocoa pop cakes, which would become the pizza crust for their new creation. They also chose a variety of chocolates; dark, semi-sweet and milk.
Ingredients in hand, they set out to make Madeline’s creation a reality. Since the Johnson family normally eats dark chocolate, the milk chocolate proved to be a bit tricky to work with on their “pizza dough.” But their diligence paid off and the pizza crusts were brought to fruition.
Next, they worked on presentation. Linda had the idea to call their favorite pizza place in New York and tell them what they were doing. To make the pizza experience fun, she asked to buy 10 personal pizza boxes to present Madeline’s treats in. The pizza place loved it. “Come on in…,” they said.
When they arrived, Linda and Madeline were surprised that the pizza shop not only provided boxes for the girls, but plates, bags and t-shirts as well. With ice cream in tow, Linda and Madeline made their “pizza” delivery to the girls club. The delight on the girls’ faces was all Madeline needed, to know that her idea was a success.
Madeline’s drive to create limitless possibilities is an inspiration at Chocology. She knows that sometimes we don’t have to choose. Sometimes we can have it all!
Linda’s “Ooops” Moment
So much goes into starting a new business; planning, purchasing, advertising and much more. Linda loves her chocolate business, but at times her mind spins with the conversions that are necessary for the operation of Chocology, an international company.
- Time Zone conversions
- Euros/British pounds/US Dollars
It was time to get ready for the big U.S. launch promotion. Needing to order chocolates that would be offered as samples to potential customers, she sat down with her computer to make the online purchase from her Belgian Chocolatier.
Making her selections was fun. Her focus on personalizing her sample products was at the forefront of her mind. She excitedly hit the place order button. Ahh. The order was complete.
The confirmation flashed to the screen. She did a double take.
! Did I just order 1,440 pounds of chocolate? Oh NO!! I’m ordering samples, not stocking all of the Whole Food Stores in the U.S.!
Grabbing her phone she hit speed dial to her Belgian supplier. They laughed over her blunder and then got it corrected. All was right in the world.
Luckily Linda knows that these things are bound to happen when running a business. We are human after all. Mistakes turn to learning experiences and she definitely learned one here. Always double-check the Kilo/Pound conversion. Always…
Our North American promotional chocolate will be going out the second week in July. If you would like to try a sample, please contact us at Linda@chocologyunlimited.com