The Manufacturing Process
There is a consistent pattern to chocolate making although manufacturers may incorporate their own nuances throughout the process to achieve their desired finished chocolate product. Ghirardelli is one of very few American manufacturers that make chocolate starting from the cocoa bean through to finished products.
Bean Selection and Cleaning
After the cocoa beans are carefully selected, they are cleaned when they pass through a bean cleaning machine that removes extraneous materials. Different bean varieties are then precisely blended to produce the desired flavor of chocolate.
Developing the right formula of beans is integral to the art and science of chocolate making. Ghirardelli selects only the finest cocoa beans, rejecting around 40% of the beans we sample because they do not meet our rigorous flavor standards. This relatively high rejection rate is how we ensure our signature intense chocolate taste. Ghirardelli uses a proprietary blend of bean varieties, that has been refined over the company's 150-year history to provide the company's distinct and intense chocolate taste.
The beans are roasted to develop the characteristic chocolate flavor. They are roasted in large rotary cylinders. Depending on the varieties of the beans and the desired end result, the roasting lasts from 30 minutes to two hours at very high temperatures.
During roasting, the bean color changes to a rich brown, and the aroma of chocolate comes through. After roasting, the bean shells are cracked and removed, leaving the essence of pure chocolate called the "nib". For Dutch roasts, an alkaline solution is added to produce nibs that are darker and less acidic in flavor.
Nib Roasting at Ghirardelli Chocolate
Different from many chocolate manufacturers, Ghirardelli Chocolate utilizes a nib roasting process that allows for deeper roasts in order to produce a more robust chocolate flavor.
During the bean cleaning process, the shells of the beans are removed, leaving the nib (or the meat) of the bean. The unshelled nibs then undergo the roasting process. This gives us more control over the temperature and time, so we can get a more specific flavor. The result is a deeper roast that produces the legendary intense flavor of Ghirardelli chocolate.
Historical image of Ghirardelli Chocolate Mill Liquor Milling
The roasted nibs are milled through a process that liquefies the cocoa butter in the nibs and forms "chocolate liquor." Chocolate liquor is non-alcoholic and simply refers to the chocolate liquid. The chocolate liquor can either be pressed for cocoa butter and cocoa powders, or molded and solidified to make unsweetened chocolate.
The cocoa press hydraulically squeezes a portion of the cocoa butter from the chocolate liquor, leaving "cocoa cakes." The cocoa butter is used in the manufacture of chocolates; the remaining cakes of cocoa solids are pulverized into cocoa powders.
Historical image of Ghirardelli Chocolate Refiner Mixing and Refining
Ingredients such as chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, and milk powder, in quantities that make up the different types of chocolate, are blended in mixers to a paste with the consistency of dough. Chocolate refiners, a set of rollers, crush the paste into flakes that are significantly reduced in size. This step is critical in determining how smooth chocolate is when eaten.
Historical image of Ghirardelli Chocolate Mixer
At Ghirardelli, we refine many of our chocolates to 19 microns, giving them an extremely smooth texture with no "graininess," unlike other mass market chocolates that are only refined to 40 microns.
Conching is a flavor development process during which the chocolate is put under constant agitation. The conching machines, called "conches," have large paddles that sweep back and forth through the refined chocolate mass anywhere from a few hours to several days.
Conching reduces moisture, drives off any lingering acidic flavors, and coats each particle of chocolate with a layer of cocoa butter. The resulting chocolate has a smoother, mellower flavor.
Tempering and Molding
The chocolate then undergoes a tempering heating and cooling process that creates small, stable cocoa butter crystals in the fluid chocolate mass. It is deposited into molds of different forms: chips, chunks, wafers, SQUARES™, and bars. Proper tempering creates a finished product that has a glossy, smooth appearance.
Cooling and Packaging
The molded chocolate enters controlled cooling tunnels to solidify the pieces. Depending on the size of the chocolate pieces, the cooling cycle takes between 20 minutes to two hours. From the cooling tunnels, the chocolate is packaged for delivery to retailers and ultimately into the hands of consumers.