From Bean to Bud: How Wilbur Chocolate is Made
It’s no secret that chocolate is one of the most popular foods in the world. In fact, the chocolate industry generates approximately $98.2 billion in worldwide revenue. Yet despite the popularity of this sweet delicacy, few people realize that it originates from a small cocoa bean.
The task of harvesting cocoa beans and converting them into chocolate is an extensive process. And while there are thousands of chocolatiers across the globe who count on their chocolate supply to be consistent and constant, there are actually only a couple of chocolate manufacturers who have the ability to manage the entire supply chain and process from beginning to end.
Discover how we manage the entire chocolate lifecycle, from bean to bar. Or in our case, from bean to bud.
Where Does Chocolate Come From?
Unlike money, chocolate does grow on trees. Chocolate is derived from the seeds of Theobroma cacao, better known as a cocoa tree. Theobroma, which means “food of the gods” in Greek, supplies the cocoa beans which we extract and process in order to make delicious chocolate.
The tropical cocoa trees grow in a specific area of the world known as the Chocolate Belt, which stretches 20 degrees latitude north and south of the equator. The most prolific producers are in West Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia. Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) is the largest supplier of cocoa beans, producing 33 percent of the world’s cocoa supply.
Cocoa trees come in three basic varieties, which affect the characteristics of their beans:
- Criollo – the rarest variety which produces the highest quality beans, known for their unique, nutty flavor.
- Forastero – the most common type, forming most of today’s supply; they are typically strong in the classic “chocolate” flavor.
- Trinitario – a hybrid cross between criollo and forastero that produces a high yield of quality, aromatic beans.
Farming: From Tree to Bean
Growing & Harvesting
Cocoa trees start bearing fruit when they’re about five years old. They’re prolific flower producers, growing anywhere between 5,000 and 15,000 blossoms every year. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of these blossoms actually develop into mature cacao pods.
Each tree yields 20-40 rugby-ball shaped pods. Inside, the pods contain 30-40 cocoa seeds (or beans), covered by a white pulp. It takes about 400 beans to make a single pound of chocolate, so on average, one tree produces 1-2 pounds of chocolate per year.
Harvesters cut ripe pods from the tree with long-handled machetes, then gather them in piles. From there, they break open the pods by hand to extract the cocoa beans.
Raw cocoa seeds don’t taste at all like the chocolate flavor we’ve come to love. The fermentation process is critical to the flavor and color development of the beans.
The beans in their white pulp are boxed or covered with banana leaves for 5-6 days. This breaks down the sugary pulp and drains away the beans’ bitter taste. They also change in color from grey to purple to characteristic brown.
After fermentation, the beans are 60% water – which means they’d quickly rot if you tried to bag them up. So the next step is a week-long drying process, either in the hot sun or using special machinery, which reduces moisture content down to about 5-7%.
The dried beans are then packed and transported to local ports, where they undergo rigorous quality tests to check for color, flavor, size, moisture, and more. If approved, beans are shipped to a processing facility to continue their journey to becoming chocolate.
Our team is constantly working with farmers to ensure that we only receive and ship the best quality cocoa beans. We work closely with farming organizations in origin countries to purchase beans directly from small local farmers and provide training and education to improve farming and post-harvesting methods.
Processing: From Bean to Chocolate
More Quality Checks
When you bite into a piece of Wilbur chocolate, we want you to experience the same high quality, delicious chocolate every time. So we add an extra quality step to re-test beans upon arrival. We actually make and taste a small test batch of chocolate liquor before putting the full lot of beans into production.
Processing Beans into Liquor
Finally, the manufacturing process can begin. It’s a multi-step process to transform the beans into actual chocolate.
- Cleaning: a multi-stage screening process removes debris like stones, twigs, pod fragments, and dust that would contaminate the chocolate or damage processing equipment.
- Micronizing: a gas fired oven loosens the shells to increase efficiency of de-shelling and reduces the number of microorganisms that might contaminate the chocolate.
- Breaking & sifting: a machine called a winnower removes the shell, separating out the nib, or meat, of the bean.
- Roasting: this is a key step to the development of chocolate flavor, and it kills any remaining microorganisms. Our skilled chocolate makers can adjust roasting time, temperature and the mixture of nibs to ensure the quality and flavor consistency of our chocolate.
- Grinding into liquor: we grind the solid nibs into a fine paste. The heat from the process transforms the solid paste into a liquid, releasing the fat content of the bean, called cocoa butter. The end result is a thick, bitter liquid known as chocolate liquor, or baking chocolate.
Production: From Chocolate to Bud
Now we get to the really tasty part: adding ingredients like milk, sugar, and vanilla to the chocolate liquor. Here our team of innovators can get really creative, developing different recipes and flavor profiles to meet the demands of our customers.
By this point, the chocolate tastes good, but it’s still very gritty. We put it through a refiner full of steel rollers to break down large particles, so that the finished chocolate feels smooth.
The best chocolate doesn’t just taste good – it’s rich, aromatic, and it has that melt-in-your-mouth consistency. That’s where conching comes in.
Conching is a fancy form of mixing where the chocolate is churned at high temperatures for long periods of time. This brings out the full flavor of the chocolate, reduces moisture, and ensures the final product is pure, mouthwatering chocolate.
Storing & Molding
After one final quality check, we transfer the finished chocolate to large storage tanks. From there, it can be distributed to chocolatiers as liquid chocolate, or it can be tempered and molded into various solid forms like blocks, wafers, chunks, or flakes.
But our personal favorite is, of course, the famous Wilbur Bud.
Complete from Bean to Bud
As you can see, behind every box of Wilbur chocolate is a long and complex process that goes into making each delicious treat. However, for us it’s not just about controlling all the steps along the way, it’s about making the whole process better.
From helping train and educate farmers to grow the best beans, to experimenting with unique ingredients and recipes, all the way to the final product, our goal is to responsibly produce the highest quality chocolate – and improve lives along the way.