With a few exceptions, the cacao tree will not bear fruit outside a band of 20° north and south of the equator. It requires year-round moisture, temperatures above 60°, and is vulnerable to a host of diseases. Of the many flowers on a tree only 1 - 3% actually bear fruit. The fruit is a large pod containing 30 to 40 almond-shaped seeds or “beans” surrounded by sweet juicy pulp. It takes 400 beans just to make one pound of chocolate! Second, the harvest is very labor intensive. Once the pods are opened by hand and the pulp removed, there are 4 major steps (fermentation, drying, roasting and winnowing) required to produce the cacao “nibs”, which are later ground into cocoa liqueur.
Sometime in the late 1600’s chocolate was brought to Europe and again enjoyed only by the elite. As in Meso America, they added chili’s, vanilla and other spices, but they are credited for adding one ingredient that changed chocolate forever, sugar. The manufacturing process which turns the nibs into what is known in the trade as “cacao liquor” requires great skill and expensive processing equipment. One half of the dried nib is cocoa; the other half is fat or cocoa butter. During the manufacturing process cocoa butter is removed and later added back in. The quantity that is returned will determine the quality of the final product. Really fine dark chocolate has upwards of 60% cacao solids or cacao liquor.
In 1867 the Swiss chemist Henri Nestle and Swiss chocolate manufacturer Daniel Peter added milk solids to chocolate and created the first milk chocolate product. And around the same time, Rudolphe Lindt invented “conching.” By pulverizing cocoa nibs and sugar together Lindt discovered that he could create a smooth creamy fondant-like chocolate. The weight and friction of the nibs being crushed between heavy rollers allows heat to build and chocolate paste to develop it’s desired flavor and wonderful smooth and silky “mouth-feel.”