My friend Tiffany arranged a tour of the nearby ChocXO factory in Irvine yesterday, so Robert and I met her and a couple of friends there Saturday afternoon.
This was a serious tour, and we had to wear protective gear.
We got to see how chocolate is made, from bean to bar. It all starts with a cacao tree.
This is a fake cacao tree, but it’s the right size and appearance, and those cacao pods are real. Of course, unprocessed pods are not edible…for most people. Nothing stops me from trying chocolate in all of its forms.
Just kidding. But we did drink the juice of the pod pulp, which is sweet and tangy and not unpleasant at all. But the pulp is left intact on most pods so that they ferment the beans, which are then dried, resulting in these cacao beans.
We each cracked open a bean (it’s called “winnowing”) to extract and eat the nib inside. It tastes just like chocolate, unsweetened of course. If you have ever eaten unsweetened baking chocolate, a nib is like that.
We saw how nibs are ground in a conching device to make them smooth and silky, resulting in chocolate liquor, which we also tasted. Again, it was exactly like melted unsweetened chocolate. I liked it!
Finally, we saw how sugar is added to make chocolate flakes, which are sent through rollers to break up the sugar particles so the final chocolate is super smooth. We then tasted a 70% chocolate, both a single origin from Ecuador and a blend. Of course, I liked the single origin better, with its bright notes and distinct flavor, but the blend was good too.
As the tour progressed, we got to enter the actual factory floor, so we had to wear jackets and hair nets. They were going to give Robert and me “beard nets” too, but they couldn’t find them.
Robert was VERY enthusiastic, as you can see.
I didn’t take a lot of photos inside the factory, but I did get a good photo of the separator machine, which accepted piles of fermented beans straight from burlap sacks and separated out twigs and rocks and anything else that might have been scooped up after the beans had been dried.
You can see some beans on the bottom left, ready to be made into chocolate!
And of course, when the tour was over, they served us some samples, like these.
The top two were both caramels, while the bottom one was a lemon meringue truffle. They were all delicious.
I couldn’t leave without buying several dark chocolate bars, ranging from 68% to 80% cacao. I will be eating those this week, so expect reviews on this site soon.
Thanks for arranging this tour, Tiff!