The process of coating coffee beans is more an art than a science and it is for this reason we trust our friends at John Walker Chocolatier. Our beans are coated by hand, using a process called pan coating. It is very labour intensive and requires an eye for detail and a great deal of experience. Chocolate has a very sensitive disposition. Changes in temperature and humidity will affect the coating process and can frustrate any chocolatier.
What are Peaberries?
We start with a very special coffee bean. As you will notice our coated beans are almost round and as any coffee lover will tell you, a coffee bean is not round, in fact it is anything but. But that is not necessarily so. There is a coffee bean called a Peaberry, that is, as the name suggests, a pea shape. Now a Peaberry is not some strange variety of coffee bean. Any coffee bush can throw up Peaberries because a Peaberry is a natural occurring phenomenon. When a coffee cherry grows it has two beans that lie nestled, flat side against each other. But once in a blue moon only one bean emerges and with all that extra room in the cherry the bean grows almost round in shape with no mate to restrict or check its growth.
This is a Peaberry and some say the flavour of a Peaberry is more intense and brighter. Because of the round shape the way we roast, Peaberries is different to the roasting profiles we use for standard flat beans. Once we have our fresh roasted Peaberries we deliver these to our chocolatier.
The chocolate coating
Now the magic begins. The chocolatiers have already anticipated the arrival of the coffee and have prepared three types of Belgian chocolate; milk chocolate, white chocolate and dark chocolate.
Our most popular chocolate is the Dark Chocolate. It is made from chocolate liquor and sugar. It has no dairy content so it is considered a vegan* friendly product. It has a noticeably darker colouration and is harder and more brittle than the other chocolates. The flavour is more intense and far less sweet, in fact it is almost bitter. *these chocolates are made in equipment that may contain traces of dairy solids.
The second most popular type of chocolate is this ‘light brown coloured’ treat that takes its name from an important ingredient; milk. It is a much sweeter chocolate because it contains sugar as well.
Made from cocoa butter white chocolate lacks the cocoa solids that give chocolate its classic brown colouration. Like milk chocolate it contains milk and sugar that gives it that same creamy sweetness.
The chocolates are heated to a molten state ready for the coating process. Each different chocolate is prepared one batch at a time. First the Peaberries are added to a stainless-steel pan that rotates, tumbling the contents ready for the chocolate to be added. The first task is to coat the beans in a sorghum flour and this is done by hand mixing the flour until there is a light and even dusting over all of the beans. The ‘flour’ helps the chocolate adhere to the beans and ensures each coat has an even thickness.
The beans are now ready for the first coating of molten chocolate. Chocolate is slowly ladled over the beans as they tumble inside the pan. This is a painstaking process as too much chocolate will cause the beans to clump and create an uneven and misshapen coating. Cool air is then blown over the beans to accelerate drying. Once the beans are dry another coating can be added. This is repeated as many as eight times until the desired thickness of the chocolate is reached.
Patience and a great deal of care is required. This is a process that cannot be rushed. Air temperature and humidity will determine how long the coats take to dry. How fast the pan is tumbled and even how slowly the chocolate can be added to the tumbling beans all factor in the end result.
The eye and the experience of the chocolatier determines how long this process takes and even when it can take place.
Finally, when the beans are near perfect chocolate covered marbles, a high gloss finish is created in a separate pan. This final coating of shellac is the most difficult to apply but it is really important as it protects the chocolate it gives the beans a long shelf life.
This is the point at which the beans are now ready for packing in a light proof, airtight tins.