The creation of this confection is tedious and time-consuming, and has both a sweet and a bittersweet ending. Initially, skilled workers cut ripe cacao bean pods from the cacao tree, split them open, and scrape out the pulp contained inside. After the mass of pulp ferments for a few days, workmen spread it in the hot sun to dry, separate the dried seeds from the remainder of the pulp, and bag them for shipment to the market.
Once the bagged seeds arrive at their destination, the manufacturer's processing mill, they are cleaned to remove foreign material. Next, they are roasted, to loosen their husks, which are then literally blown away in yet another process. Finally, the inner kernel of the seed is broken into bits called "nibs." At this juncture, the road in the chocolate making process forks, as what is done next with the nibs determines the final product.
When the nibs are ground under heavy stone mills, the oil within the nibs is released, and transforms the mass into "chocolate liquor," a thick substance which, upon hardening, produces the bitter chocolate used in recipes for baking and for candy-making. The method of producing sweet chocolate follows that of producing bitter chocolate, with the addition of other substances, such as cocoa butter, a fat.
Workmen obtain cocoa butter, a byproduct of the cocoa making process, by grinding the nibs, and by separating part of the fat from the resulting mass. Not only is cocoa butter an essential ingredient in producing sweet chocolate, but also in producing cosmetics and medicines. Once the cocoa butter is extracted for its various uses, the remaining mass is finely, and finally, ground to produce cocoa.
Cocoa, the drink, is the mother of all chocolate making. The ancient Aztecs prepared the original version of this beverage by crushing cacao beans, which they boiled with water and various spices, seasoned with pepper, and served cold.
Spanish explorers, who stumbled upon this potent Aztec drink, stole the recipe, deleted the pepper from it, and substituted an equal measure of sugar to the crushed cacao beans and water before boiling it. The Spaniards successfully squirreled away their new and improved drink recipe for almost 100 years until, in the mid 17th century, a Frenchman found sweet success by discovering the art of making solid chocolate from finely ground cacao beans.
The secret was out, and the rest is history!