Everyone loves chocolate right?! When I was younger I didn’t like chocolate at all. I now enjoy it every now and then, but am very fussy about it. While in Peru recently we went on a chocolate making workshop and as it’s chocolate week here in the UK I thought it was the perfect opportunity to share a bit about just how chocolate is made – from bean to bar.
In Cusco we had a free day that also happened to be my birthday. While looking for activities to do we came across the Choco Museo’s chocolate making workshops and participated in their bean to bar workshop. I highly recommend it if ever you visit Peru.
The cacao tree
Earlier on in our trip we saw plenty of cacao trees and unripe pods in the jungle. What’s interesting is that the fruit doesn’t grow on the branches, but grows from the trunk instead. A cacao pod will contain about 30 seeds inside which need to be dried and fermented to begin the chocolate making process.
In our workshop we were given a bucket of raw cacao beans to smell and see what sorts of flavours we could detect. Vinegar certainly wasn’t what I was expecting to smell! There are about 12 different aromas that may be noticeable in the raw cacao beans, vinegar being one of them. We then had to take the shell off our raw bean and eat it to detect other flavours. It wasn’t pleasant!! Nothing even vaguely resembling chocolate.
Roasting the cacao beans
Next the beans had to be roasted. Traditionally, Peruvians would roast the beans in a terracotta pot over an open flame. You have it continue moving them around to avoid the shell burning and tainting the chocolate. The smell!!! As we were roasting the beans, the aroma of chocolate brownies baking in the oven began to fill the room making us all hungry for brownies.
Once the beans were roasted they needed to be shelled. The shells aren’t wasted as they are used to make cacao tea. It was a lot easier to shell the beans when they were roasted compared to raw that’s for sure.
We then got handed a mortar and pestle each and were given the challenge of turning our beans into chocolate paste in two minutes. Apparently if you were good enough you would be able to separate the oils from the beans… Man oh man, does two minutes of that see like a long time. Our leader assessed all the pastes, decided none were good enough so we had to do another minute! There were two winners of who had the best chocolate paste. Kev was one of them. Since it was my birthday they were kind enough to give me the chocolate they won!
After seeing how it was done the old fashioned way, we scraped all our individual pastes into a bowl. A hand grinder to process the cacao paste again was locked onto a chair for stability. I got to crank the handle which pressed all the oils in the beans to turn our dry paste into a thick chocolate paste. The paste can be used straight as it is to make chocolate, or be separated into cocoa powder and cocoa butter. Our leader talked about different qualities of chocolate and how the quantity of the cocoa solids is impacted by that. At the Choco Museo they make chocolate using the cacao solids without separating them – unless they are making white chocolate which is made from just the cocoa butter.
Chocolate tea & hot chocolate
While we had been working up a sweat grinding the beans, a kettle of water and a saucepan of milk were on the boil. First she showed us how to make cacao tea using the shells discarded from the beans. I was impressed! It taste quite similar to Milo when it is made with water, not milk. Definitely a chocolate flavour going on there.
Our leader then made traditional Aztec hot chocolate. The word they used actually meant bitter water as they didn’t use any sweetener. This drink was made using cacao paste, water, a pinch of chilli and a little sugar to make it more drinkable. Not bad. She made us all panic a bit though! Apparently to make the properly we had to sacrifice some blood from a specific part of the body. One brave volunteer out his hand up, so she snapped on her rubber gloves, grabbed a needle and told him to stick his tongue out over the jug of hot chocolate. We all looked on in horror unsure if she was joking or not. It was a tense few seconds before she cracked up and told us that she was kidding. The guy who volunteered probably nearly had a heart attack!
Then was the good stuff. Proper hot chocolate. Into the jug she out a couple of cloves, some cinnamon sticks, a big dollop of the cacao paste and filled it up with hot milk. We learnt that it would only taste right if we sang while mixing it. Everyone in the group (about 15 people) had to take their turn to sing something, anything while taking their turn to mix it up. Since it was my birthday, a few people sang happy birthday to me. Some people really didn’t want to be there or get involved so flat out refused to get into it. I sang Dream a little dream!
Once again the lady running the workshop had the best of us. Now, let me just say I’m gullible at the best of times! I trust people and believe what they tell me. While we were halfway through drinking our cups of hot chocolate she began telling us how they used a special milk to make this hot chocolate so asked us to guess what animal they used. It wasn’t llama’s or alpaca’s. Apparently, they used guinea pig milk to make this hot chocolate so tasty. With special machines to milk them, she told us that it took about 15 guinea pigs to collect enough milk to make the jug of hot chocolate. Gullible the lot of us! I reckon it was the way she told us, everyone believed her. Until she began to laugh at us of course!
Tempering the chocolate
Once you have the chocolate paste, you then need to add sugar and any other ingredients such as milk to complete the chocolate making process. At the Choco Museo, they have a special machine which they run for 24 hours before tempering the chocolate. The machine blends all the ingredients together keeping it at a constant temperature to make sure the chocolate is creamy and has that smooth melt-in-your-mouth quality.
At the end of the workshop we got given a 120g bowl of melted chocolate (from yesterday’s class) of our choice (milk or dark) and some chocolate molds to make our own. I’m not even ashamed to say I licked the bowl. It tasted that good! 🙂
Are you a chocolate fan? What’s your flavour?