Have you ever wondered where chocolate comes from? And by that we don’t mean the corner shop, the supermarket or the petrol station.
We mean have you ever stopped to really think about the where your chocolate comes from? When you take that smooth, velvety goodness out of its packaging and pop it in your mouth, do you ever stop to consider how far it’s travelled? How many people have worked to get that chocolate from the ground, across the seas and into your mouth?
No. Of course you probably haven’t. No one really does. Most people go off the theory, ‘see chocolate, eat chocolate.’ That’s a theory we can completely understand. After all we hand make luxury chocolates like Helen’s Butter Fudge in Milk Chocolate and Helen’s Milk Champagne Truffle – trust us, these are almost impossible to devour in an instant.
But we think that the journey chocolate takes from it’s origins to you is important or at the very least interesting.
It all starts on a tree. That’s the last place you’d expect to find a Banoffee Pyramid or Coconut Macaroon chocolate growing. But of course you don’t find these decadent chocolates growing on trees. The tree where it all begins is the cocoa tree.
Cocoa trees are specific to certain climates in the world. In particular it’s the equatorial, tropical climates that provide the most prosperous conditions for the cocoa tree. Some of the biggest cocoa growing areas are in Africa, Latina America and Asia. Countries such as the Ivory Coats, Ghana, Ecuador and Indonesia make the perfect climate for cocoa trees.
The World Atlas current estimates that the Ivory Coast is the number one supplier of cocoa in the world. They supply around 30% of the world’s total cocoa with around 1,485,822 tonnes per year.
Ghana’s about half a million metric tonnes behind in second position. That’s still a massive amount of cocoa. And for the economic development of Ghana it’s critically important. Around one sixth of the country's GDP is thanks to cocoa farming.
It take a new cocoa tree anywhere from three to five years to mature sufficiently to produce a harvest. But once they’re of maturity they’ll typically produce for about 25 years. However each tree will only produce around 20 to 30 pods per year.
That means to produce so much chocolate every year the world needs a lot of cocoa trees!
Once ready for harvest the cocoa pods on the tree will turn a yellow/orange/red colour and are taken off the tree. There will be around 40 - 50 cocoa beans per cocoa pod harvested.
The pods are usually cut down and opened by hand. The beans inside are then removed and left to ferment and dry – all part of the process and part of unlocking the delicious flavours of chocolate.
Once cut down it can take a good five to seven days of fermentation. And then another six to seven days for drying. So even before beans leave their country of origin they’ve taken around two weeks from straight off the tree even to get ready for transport globally. Or if the pods happen to come from a new harvesting tree, then they’re been getting ready to make it into your chocolate for years.
Once the beans are fermented and dried they’re ready to head out around the world. And boy do they go everywhere. Beans from Ghana might travel to Singapore for further processing and then on to Australia for production and domestic shipping into shops.
That’s about 11,000 miles at a minimum! All to get a tasty, delicious chocolate into the hands of consumers.
Still wherever their destination from origin there’s still a bit of work that goes into the journey into a finished product.
Typically the cocoa beans are ground and liquefied into chocolate liquor. Going another step further from there the liquor can go through processing to two components, cocoa powder and cocoa butter.
With different quantities of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter and cocoa powder (plus sometimes a bit of milk or sugar or vanilla) different types of chocolate can be created.
That’s how you end up with dark, milk and white chocolate. But that’s just to get the basics. From there things get really fun. You see for us it’s all about creating a range of delicious, luxurious and high quality handmade chocolates.
Adding in scrumptious flavours like caramel, hazelnut, truffle and raspberry are just some of the additions that make a chocolate that extra little bit special.
So next time you’ve taken a Helen’s Exotic Cupcake with Mango % Tutti Fruitti chocolate or a Damson Gin Truffle out of its box take a moment – and appreciate that little chocolate you’re about to enjoy has probably travelled thousands of miles, undergone weeks of preparation and then seen delicious flavours added to it all for that tiny moment of pleasure.
It might sound like a lot of effort for such a small delight, but that’s what makes the chocolate industry and Helen’s Chocolates so special. It’s about the effort, the time, the care and handmade nature of our work that makes sure every time you have one of our chocolates, you appreciate everything about it.