How do flavors get into fine chocolate?

Wie kommen Aromen in feine Schokolade?
Experts have already found almost 800 flavors in cocoa beans – more than in wine. Some of these flavors are almost tasteless while others we encounter over and over again. But how do they actually get into a chocolate that consists only of cocoa beans and sugar?

Fine chocolate and its aromas

In addition to the variety of aromas, fine chocolate – like wine – is also referred to as 'terroir' and the influence this has on the aromas of the chocolate. However, terroir is only one of many aspects that have an impact on the flavor nuances in the finished chocolate. play a similarly large role
  • the genetics of the tree
  • the farm management (e.g. the harvest time)
  • the transport and storage
  • the post-harvest process (drying and fermentation)
  • the processing (roasting and conching)
All this together already shows that the raw material - i.e. the quality of the cocoa beans - and the 'terroir' are just a few aspects of many and that the expert processing and handling of the beans are at least as important.

fine chocolate aromas

Genetics of the cacao tree

Cacao trees have been cultivated for thousands of years. Over time, varieties were preferred that could show special flavor profiles or were particularly adaptable. Especially in times of colonization, the latter were of particular relevance, since they were brought from the countries of origin to the respective colonies and cultivated there. More recently, research and optimization has focused on productivity and resilience. The taste component receded further and further into the background.
Today, hundreds of different varieties are grown and researched for different requirements such as flavor diversity, yield and disease resistance. And although the type of cocoa only plays a (small) role in the final aromas in the chocolate, it is important for the range of possible chocolate aromas. For example, the rare Porcelana cocoa – which you can often enjoy as part of our tastings – is not only light in appearance but also mild and nutty in taste. These aromas, genetically created in the beans, can be the basis for fine nutty notes in chocolate. However, they can also be destroyed by poor processing and handling.
This is opposed to the hybrid variety CCN-51, which is very productive and hardy. Their basic aromas should taste unpleasantly sour. No matter how finely these are processed, they will never be able to produce the same aromas as, for example, a Porcelana. In this respect, the genetics of the cocoa only have a small but nevertheless important part in the aromas in the final product.

fair chocolate

The terroir

The concept of 'terroir' is familiar to many in the wine world. It not only includes the physical environment of the cocoa such as soil conditions, temperature, neighboring plants, precipitation and general weather conditions. The taste of the cocoa beans can also be influenced by the care and treatment of the farmers.
And just like with wine, terroir is also a concept that is difficult to grasp and describe and, accordingly, difficult to explore with cocoa beans. Terroir is believed to have an impact on astringency, fruitiness, acidity, bitterness, or floralness in flavor formation. With regard to the variety of aromas, it is assumed that the neighboring plants can have a (varying) influence on the aromas. You will always find banana or fruit flavors in chocolates that were grown in the vicinity of these plants. The fermentation also seems to reflect the terroir. The same type of cocoa - fermented in different places - can have different flavors. It is suspected that this could be due to local differences in microbiotics.

Harvest timing and farm management

The timing of the harvest has a decisive influence. Since the (correct) sugar content in the cocoa pulp is essential for fermentation, it is important that the cocoa is harvested at the right time. Unripe cocoa can taste astringent and sour, while overripe cocoa can taste like overripe fruit. Caution is also required when harvesting. In order for the cocoa pods to grow back, the pods have to be harvested in a special way. Care must also be taken when cracking open the cocoa pods, as the pulp of the cocoa beans must not be damaged.

cocoa farm


Fermentation is one of the most important steps in the manufacturing process. A really tasty chocolate can be made with really well fermented, unroasted beans. One of our favorite manufacturers - Raaka - has a special way of making great ' raw chocolates ' using unroasted cocoa beans. Whether raw or roasted: it is practically impossible to produce fine chocolate from poorly fermented cocoa beans.
Immediately after harvesting, the cocoa beans are removed from the cocoa pod shells and fermented together with the cocoa pulp. Traditionally, the cocoa beans are placed in wooden boxes (or wooden baskets) and covered with banana leaves. The materials that the cocoa beans come into contact with during fermentation can affect the flavors in the chocolate. Another goal of fermentation is - with the help of heat - to kill the previously viable seeds. This is also essential to create the characteristic chocolate flavor as it triggers certain chemical reactions. This also reduces the caffeine content of the beans and reduces astringency. Accordingly, underfermented beans can exhibit raw, bitter, or astringent flavors. Overfermented beans, on the other hand, can taste musty, sometimes smoky and fleshy.
Fermentation is divided into two phases: the anaerobic phase (without oxygen) and the aerobic phase (with oxygen). During the anaerobic phase, the sugars in the pulp are converted into ethanol by the yeast. Some of the bacteria convert the ethanol into lactic acid. The escape of the "fermentation juice" and the turning of the beans means that oxygen reaches the cocoa beans. This means that after 1-2 days more aerobic bacteria become active and convert the resulting ethanol into acetic acid. Depending on the goal of the fermentation, the first course can be set here, for example with regard to the acidity in the fermented beans.
The length of the fermentation process varies depending on the type of cocoa bean. In this way, particularly sour, strong beans are fermented longer (approx. 5-8 days) and milder beans shorter (2-3 days). Are you really interested in fermentation? Here you can find out more about it.

cocoa cultivation cocoa pods


Depending on how much moisture the beans contain after fermentation, the cocoa beans have to be dried for different amounts of time before they can be shipped. Some of the oxidation processes set in motion during fermentation can continue to function during drying and consequently affect the flavors in the end product. Accordingly, drying too quickly can sometimes have a negative effect on the development of aromas. In the worst case, drying that takes too long can lead to mold growth.

cleaning and sorting

Even if the beans have already been pre-sorted before drying, there are usually still small asterisks or beans that are too small/too large in the quantity of beans. In order to achieve the most consistent taste possible, it is important that the beans are of similar sizes so that they can be roasted as evenly as possible during roasting. To ensure that the beans are not moldy and fermented evenly, "sample beans" are also examined in this step using what is known as the "cut test".


Alongside fermentation, roasting is the second key factor in aroma development. Due to the heat, certain chemical reactions are found in the hay that have an impact on the development of aromas. Different types of cocoa beans require different roasting profiles to get the most out of the beans. The differences between mass-produced chocolate and fine chocolate become particularly clear when it comes to roasting: while the cocoa beans in mass-produced chocolate are usually over-roasted and thus develop a bitter, one-dimensional – sometimes even burnt – taste, well-roasted cocoa beans can have a fine chocolaty taste with fruity or nutty notes accept grades.


After roasting, the cocoa beans are usually ground. The grinding process can have one or more steps, depending on how fine you want the cocoa mass to be. Some manufacturers continue to work with this mass and use it to make chocolate. In most cases, however, this mass is also placed in a conche or melange. Here the cocoa mass is further ground and stirred. The conching time can be between approx. 8 - approx. 80 hours, the typical conching time for fine chocolate is approx. 20 hours. Conching can also help get unwanted acidity or flavors out of the cocoa mass. On the other hand, a long conching time can also mean that the chocolate can become quite flat in taste, with a high degree of creaminess at the same time.

fine chocolate

Flavors are you interested in the beans?

So to sum up, there are a variety of factors that affect the flavors in chocolate. However, we find the practice even more exciting than the theory behind the variety of aromas. Do you want to combine theory and practice? In our chocolate tasting team events, you and your team can go on a chocolate trip around the world.

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