Chocolate is made with the seeds, or beans, of the cacao tree, a tropical tree that is believed to have originated in the Amazon-Orinoco river basin in South America.
Today the cacao tree flourishes in several warm and humid countries near the equator. It grows to a height of about 20 feet and produces leaves, flowers and fruit year-round.
The ripe fruit, known as the pod or cabosse, grows from the trunk and resembles a long cantaloupe. Each pod contains 20 to 40 almond-shaped seeds.
Plantation workers cut the pods from the trees, gather the pods and remove the seeds. The seeds (beans) are then covered with banana leaves and allowed to ferment. They are then dried and placed in bags for shipment.
Chocolate makers use a variety of types of beans, which they blend to produce the desired flavor and color.
The beans are cleaned, roasted, hulled, blended and broken up into fragments called nibs.
The nibs are then ground, a process which releases the cocoa butter, the natural fat of the cocoa bean.
Chocolate products are made with the resulting substance, known as chocolate liquor.
Cocoa powder is produced by using huge hydraulic presses to force some of the cocoa butter out of the heated chocolate liquor. The remaining mass forms large, hard cakes that are ground into a fine, reddish brown powder.
Milk chocolate is made with chocolate liquor, whole milk solids and granulated sugar. Additional cocoa butter (obtained from the production of cocoa powder) may be added to the chocolate liquor.
Dark chocolate, the kind mostly found in Parisian chocolate shops, is produced in the same way except that no milk solids are added.