Published: 20th August 2017
Here's how cocoa beans turn into chocolate bars in Nitin Chordia's Cocoashala
Nitin Chordia, the first chocolate taster in the country runs a school in Chennai that runs a unique course of making chocolates right from the bean
In three hours, you can learn to make chocolate. Sounds pretty easy, right? But what if we told you that it is from bean to bar. Surprised? Welcome to Cocoashala, a chocolate school run by Nitin Chordia, India's first chocolate taster. Now it's rather normal to wonder if chocolate tasting is a real profession. Spoiler: It isn't about eating chocolates and chocolate-based savouries all day, every day. It is much more than that. Fun fact: Nitin is one among the two chocolate tasters in India, the second being his wife Poonam Chordia.
Let's take a peek into Cocoashala. A reception filled with the aroma of chocolates leads us to Nitin's workspace. The wall shelves are filled with brands of luxurious chocolates that we haven't even heard of. Nitin welcomes us with a bright smile (and chocolates, of course). It is 12.15 pm and he has just begun his lecture on 'Bean to Bar'. Two of his students sit in rapt attention. "No no, you haven't missed much," Nitin reassures us. We grab a couple of chairs and sit down as this desi Willy Wonka teaches us the magic of making a bar of chocolate from a handful of cocoa beans.
Through the shades of cocoa trees
Who doesn't know that chocolates are made from cocoa beans? Through a visual tour, Nitin shows us how cocoa trees are grown. While he speaks about the varieties of beans, we are awestruck by how much we don't know. But wait for it! Next is the chocolate tasting session. "Break a small piece from this bar and slowly let it melt in your mouth," says Nitin, offering us a slab of dark chocolate. "What do you feel?" "I taste something fruity," says a student. "Good guess! But could you be more precise," asks Nitin. "Is it passion fruit by any chance?" she asks, with a puzzled look on her face. Bingo! That's the answer the chocolate man is looking for. Now wait for the real shocker! There is no passion fruit mixed in. The taste is natural and only a certain variety of cocoa bean can produce that. We taste a few other varieties that include a dark chocolate from Madagascar and jackfruit-infused chocolate from Kerala. (Gosh! I apparently know nothing about chocolates.)
You can help retailers choose between good and not so good chocolate, because there is definitely no bad chocolate
Nitin Chordia, Chocolate taster
Can you break the bean?
Next, Nitin gives each of us a cocoa bean and says, "Can you try breaking it?" For the next ten minutes, five angry women dig deep to channel their inner Hulk. A couple of them are successful, but the others (including me) sit there, accepting defeat.
"Do not worry! You can't break all the beans that easily," reassures Nitin, informing us that the beans first have to be roasted.
Setting the temperature right
Yes! Cocoa beans are roasted. Poonam Chordia, the chocolate lady walks in with a food-grade thermometer in hand to make sure that the beans are being roasted at the right temperature. Drawing inspiration from Nitin, Poonam too took a certificate course in Chocolate Tasting. While Nitin doesn't make edible chocolates, his wife does. While the couple are working with different retailers, Poonam is now all set to release her own brand of luxury chocolates, Enchantée. "This is Poonam's own brand of chocolates. I'm nowhere in the scene. I'm working with her as a chocolate taster. But the perk is, I'm always accessible to her," laughs Nitin.
Grind and conch
We next step out of the workstation to see a grinder that looks similar to what is used to make idli/dosa batter. This is where the beans are ground, we realise. The next step is conching, which promotes flavour development. And that is where the class ends. Conching yields cocoa liquor (It's got nothing to do with alcohol, trust me!), which is then poured into moulds and voila, chocolates!
A few great things you could do as a chocolate taster:
- Work with different chocolate makers and help them develop different products
- Be a buyer for a retailer and help them differentiate between the different chocolate categories and place the right chocolate on the shelf
- Start making your own bean-to-bar chocolates
- Get involved in the importing business. Most of the chocolates that you find on the shelves do not deserve to be there
- Get involved in research and development of chocolates
- Help farmers grow better cocoa beans