From bean to...

It all starts with the humble cocoa tree. Cultivated in the narrow sub-tropical strip around the equator (more specifically in the zone between 23° north and 23° south), the cocoa tree is the source of all the flavour and goodness of fine-quality chocolate. 

The largest cocoa producing countries are Ivory Coast and Ghana. But, although cocoa likes the heat, it does not like exposure to full sun. For this reason, it is grown in the shade of adjacent trees. After fertilisation, the flowers that grow along the trunks of the cocoa tree develop into a coloured fruit. When ripe, the fruit is handpicked with the help of a machete, to avoid damaging the trees.

The cocoa beans are removed from the pod, laid out together with the pulp and fermented and dried - all in the country of origin. After drying, the majority of the remaining cocoa beans are shipped to Europe and America, where they are passed through a crusher that splits the shell to expose the nib. The nibs are then roasted and finely ground – an essential step that is critical for the quality of the final chocolate. The product of this process is what is referred to as cocoa mass, which is subsequently pressed together to make cocoa butter, used to reduce the viscosity of the final chocolate. After pressing, the cocoa mass yields approximately 55% cocoa butter and 45% cocoa powder.

This is the point at which Belcolade’s chocolate specialists employ their magic. Their job is complex and involves the three vital processes that make Belgian chocolate so unique: the selection of ingredients, the refining process and the conching of the actual chocolate.

In other words, the delicious taste of Belcolade begins with the careful selection of ingredients. Only the finest quality cocoa beans from around the world are selected and expertly blended. The Belcolade team of experts analyses the ingredients at the Erembodegem factory to ensure that only the best quality cocoa mass, cocoa butter and other ingredients are used. Naturally, we only use 100% cocoa butter and 100% natural vanilla.

The next step involves blending the ingredients. Different ingredients are combined depending on the type of chocolate being produced. Dark chocolate, for example, does not contain any milk powder, while no cocoa mass is added to white chocolate.

The chocolate mass is then refined. Belgian chocolate is known for its fineness and incredible mouth feel. Two crucial steps are involved here. Firstly, all particles are ground until they are of the same size (150 microns). Next, the chocolate is made even finer, around 20 microns, which is beyond the sensitivity level of the human tongue, ensuring a smooth, creamy texture.

After grinding, the chocolate is conched in order to ensure a perfectly even texture. Any remaining moisture and volatile aromas are evaporated during this stage, while the desired flavour components are created through the close contact of sugar, milk powder and cocoa mass. This is a crucial step in creating the typical taste of Belcolade chocolate.

The next step is to adapt the viscosity of the chocolate by adding cocoa butter depending on the final application. Bake-stable chocolate, for example, requires less cocoa butter than liquid chocolate used for enrobing.

Finally, the chocolate is tempered, causing it to harden and shrink. This stage of the process is essential for creating good melting properties in the mouth and to make the chocolate truly shine.

From this point, only the packaging and transportation remain.