Fresh. Direct. Costa Rican Chocolate.

How We Make Sensational Chocolate

costa rican dark chocolate made fresh

For lots of folks, chocolate is a sweet treat…

They enjoy it. But they don’t think too much about where it came from or what went into making it.

We were part of that group, too… until we tried chocolate that blew our minds. It tasted fresh. It felt different in our mouths. And the flavors were new and unexpected.

One taste and we couldn’t go back to our old chocolate. So we had to dig deeper…

We learned that what most people think of as chocolate has very little cacao in it. In the U.S., “chocolate” only needs to contain 10% cacao in order to earn the name. And a lot of popular brands use only that much in their milk chocolate bars.

Whether milk or dark chocolate, though, big manufacturers’ main concerns are uniformity and a low-cost process.

At the other end of the spectrum, the best craft chocolate makers are artists. They focus on creating a unique and flavorful chocolate-tasting experience.

We’re glad that you’re reading this, by the way. It means that you, too, are interested in digging deeper. And we know you’ll enjoy your chocolate a lot more once you do.

Plus, the inevitable outcome of digging deeper is sinking your taste buds into sensational chocolate… whether it comes from us at The Latest Batch or somewhere else. And that is a very good thing.

So let’s get started…

Chocolate is one of the most complex foods on Earth. It contains at least 500 flavor compounds (more than twice the number found in red wines). And making it requires just about every type of food processing that exists.

From the time the cacao pods (which are fruits) are removed from the trees, up to a month of straight processing time may be needed to turn its seeds into chocolate.


Our goal at The Latest Batch is to bring out the best flavors of the finest Costa Rican beans we can find. This starts with strong relationships, both with the farmers who manage the land and the processors who handle fermenting and drying…



POST-HARVEST: FERMENTATION AND DRYING


Cacao seeds need to be fermented and dried in the country of origin, just after the cacao pods are opened.

Some experts say that as much as 70% of a chocolate’s flavor come from fermentation. The cacao undergoes its most complex changes during this process… So it requires knowledge, experience, and precision, which are hard to find. For fine flavor chocolate, good fermentation is critical.

Drying is also extremely important to flavor development. If done too quickly, it doesn’t allow the fermenting process to taper off and will lock in undesirable flavors. If done too slowly, the beans can mold and rot. Sun drying cacao in the tropics requires constant expert attention.

After these two steps, cacao seeds are often called “beans.”


CLEAN BEANS


Once our beans make it to the chocolate making lab, we like to age them for six months to a year (and sometimes longer). This helps to reveal the beans’ full flavor.

costa rican cocoa beans for dark chocolate

Then, our chocolate maker Jay touches every bean at least once. We hand sort and clean them, removing flat beans, clumped beans, broken beans, and misshapen beans. These beans have off flavors caused by uneven fermentation and what would soon be uneven roasting.

Only the highest quality beans make through to the next steps…

 

MAKING CHOCOLATE STARTS WITH

ROASTING, CRACKING, AND WINNOWING

Roasting is one of the most important steps a chocolate maker has control over. Different roasting temperatures, times, and methods bring out different flavors in different beans. And more than 14,000 varieties of cacao exist. So the flavor possibilities are tremendous.

The best way to choose how to turn beans into chocolate is through constant feedback using all five senses. (Eating so much cacao and chocolate is a tough job. But we’re happy to do it for you.)

After we roast the beans, we crack them and separate the husk (a thin shell) from the nibs (the good stuff). Removing the husks is called “winnowing.”

Chocolate making process

(Source: Pinterest – Yonderstarfish)

Next, we turn our crunchy, roasted nibs into chocolate by grinding them, in three steps…


CACAO NIBS, MEET THE GRINDER


In the pre-grind, we run the nibs through a grinder to warm them up and break them down into much smaller pieces. This makes a thick, but fluid paste called “liquor” or “cacao mass.”

Chocolate makers start their hands-on process with whole, fermented and dried cacao beans. Chocolatiers begin with cocoa liquor, which they buy from chocolate makers.



REFINING CHOCOLATE

From here, we refine the chocolate. We add our cacao liquor to a “melanger” (or “refiner”)… and grind it for days. For the first few hours to a day, we don’t add anything. Our goal is to reduce the particle size and to release the fats.

Only once the chocolate is smooth do we add cane sugar, which doesn’t take as long to grind down.

This long, slow grinding is the key to developing flavor compounds that formed during roasting. It’s like slow-cooking a pot of soup. The flavors meld, slowly caramelize, and make your house smell like a rich meal. The difference is that our house is a chocolate lab… And it carries the unmistakable fragrance of chocolate.

Then comes conching (pronounced con-ching).


CONCHING CHOCOLATE

For our chocolate maker Jay, conching is the most fun part of the process. This is when the flavor of the nearly finished chocolate finally starts to shine through. And it’s one of the most difficult steps to master…

You see, grinding isn’t just a physical process. It’s a chemical process, too…

Just like when you grind coffee beans or crush a basil leaf, grinding cacao beans releases aroma and flavor compounds that are locked inside. We enjoy some of these compounds… But not all of them.

Grind for too little time, for example, and the chocolate can come out overly acidic and have other unwanted flavors. But grind for too long and the chocolate can lose its complexity and turn bland.

Get it just right, though, and you can capture a huge range of amazing flavors. Chocolate can taste fruity, floral, and herbal… earthy and nutty… or rich and chocolatey.

Conching is the final step in chocolate making that determines your chocolate’s flavor and produces its smooth mouthfeel. Every prior step of the chocolate-making process expresses itself here.


THE FINAL STEP IN MAKING CHOCOLATE: TEMPERING

Tempering comes next. We heat the liquid chocolate up, then cool it down to the point just before it solidifies… keeping the chocolate moving all the while. Only then will five types of crystals form.

 

tempering craft dark chocolate

 

But we only want the “Type 5 Beta” crystals…

Beta 5 crystals have the hard snap and glossy shine that chocolate experts usually look for. And they melt between 93 and 95 degrees… just below body temperature. So when you eat well-tempered chocolate (in not-too-hot an environment), it melts slowly in your mouth. Mmmmm.

To get a uniform chocolate with only Beta 5 crystals, we heat the chocolate back up to exactly the point at which all other types of crystals melt. We keep it between 86 and 92 degrees… And when only the Type 5 Beta crystals remain, the chocolate is considered “in temper.”

We then chill the tempered liquid chocolate (or “set” it) in its final solid form.

This step has a huge impact on your chocolate-eating experience. The next time you put a piece of chocolate in your mouth, pay attention to how it melts. It’s all in the tempering.

Throughout this entire process, temperature and humidity levels need to be closely monitored. Chocolate doesn’t get along well with heat or moisture. (That’s why you should store your chocolate in a cool, dry place… not your refrigerator, if possible.)

Skilled chocolate makers are multi-talented. They’re chefs, chemists, mechanical engineers, dishwashers, and designers. And they make dozens or hundreds of decisions that affect the chocolate you slip into your mouth and enjoy.

Each step of the chocolate making process can vary wildly… And the final product can, too. At The Latest Batch, we aim to bring out the best qualities of each batch of chocolate.

That means that no two batches will ever be the same. Each will be uniquely amazing.

We can’t wait for you to try our next, Latest Batch… now that you know how we make it.

Enjoy your chocolate,

The Latest Batch Team

P.S. You can learn about our head chocolate maker, Jay Holecek, right here. And you can sink your taste buds into The Latest Batch of chocolate made by Jay by clicking here.