With New Year’s Eve upon us, I’ve been thinking back over my 2017 travel experiences and asking myself what the highlight of this year has been for me. This year saw me visit Germany for the first time, when I paid a visit to Hamburg as part of the Come to Hamburg programme. I only spent two full days in the city, but I managed to pack a lot into the little time I had. While in Hamburg, I experienced what I class as my ultimate travel highlight of 2017 – a visit to Chocoversum chocolate museum!
Chocoversum chocolate museum was what drew me to Hamburg in the first place. As soon as I knew the city had its very own museum dedicated to chocolate, I knew I had to go! I’ve written about it briefly as part of a blog post on things to do in Hamburg, but as Chocoversum was such a memorable experience, I feel it deserves its very own post!
My visit to Chocoversum chocolate museum
A visit to Chocoversum chocolate museum takes the form of an interactive 90-minute tour guiding you through German chocolatier, Hachez’s chocolate-making process, from cacao bean to chocolate bar.
To kick things off, we were ushered into a dark, dimly lit room, at the centre of which stood a 90-litre capacity chocolate fountain filled with melted milk chocolate made from Ecuadorian Arriba cacao beans. Kids and adults alike revelled in pouring the hot, sweet-smelling chocolate from the taps onto wafers handed to us by our guide.
After sampling the chocolate, we were led into a room decked out to look like a scene from the tropics, covered in green leafy prints. We were invited to take a seat on a row of benches, and our tour guide went on to explain how Hachez’s cacao beans are grown and harvested in hot, humid climates such as those in Ecuador. Some of us were even lucky enough to sample a freshly cut Arriba cacao bean for ourselves.
After the cacao beans have been harvested, we were shown how they are fermented by covering them in banana leaves and leaving them for 10-20 days, allowing the flavours to develop. Vinegar and alcohol still remain within the beans, but this can be evaporated at a later stage. Some farmers choose to use the by-product to create cacao liqueur (just the sound of it is enough to make me salivate!)
The next step involves drying out the beans, giving them their rich, brown colour. While drying out, the beans develop a shell that protects them from parasites and moisture. They are now ready to be shipped overseas in airtight metal containers. The container is filled with nitrogen prior to shipping, which helps to ensure no air remains inside, which further protects against moisture or mould, and parasites.
Checking for ‘bad’ beans
Our tour guide showed us how to check for ‘bad’ beans by checking the weight of the beans, and by cutting open the beans to make sure they are a lovely brown colour, with a ratio of around 20% shell to 80% core, similar to the structure of a walnut. ‘Bad’ beans don’t have such a rich, brown colour and mightn’t have been fermented for long enough, so they’ll still be a little raw and will need to be left to dry out for longer. Other beans may have been roasted for too long, in which case they won’t be any good for use in making chocolate, but could be used to create another kind of cacao-based product.
Some ‘bad’ beans may even have become mouldy or infested and if this is the case for over 5% of the cacao beans stored in any one given container, regulations state that the entire container of beans must be burnt, as they can be harmful to human health.
Where do the world’s cacao beans grow?
After discovering how to test the quality of the cacao beans, we were led over to a world map which showed the world’s leading countries for cacao production, including child labour hot spots. The dark green areas cover Ecuador, Venezuela, Madagascar, North Australia and Indonesia. These areas are dominated by the Criollo cacao tree, which produces a big, fruity bean which is expensive to buy as each tree only produces 400 pods each year.
In contrast, the lighter green areas include Africa and Australia, the home of the Forastero cacao tree. This tree can produce three times as many pods each year than the Criollo tree. The major areas of production include Ivory Coast and Ghana, accounting for 70% of world cacao bean production in 2016, in comparison to only around 23% across South America.
The chocolate production process
We then went on to look at how the chocolate is made when the cacao beans reach Hachez’s factory in Bremen, North Germany. The first stage of the process involves roasting the beans, which helps to bring out their flavour. This is done using hot air and a machine similar to a coffee roaster.
Afterwards, the beans are ground to remove the shell left on them, and shaken in a pan to ensure the shell is fully separated from the core. They are also split into weight classes, using a blowing machine with different wind strengths.
The resulting cocoa nibs can be ground down and mixed with sugar to make dark chocolate, while for milk chocolate, milk powder would be added. For white chocolate, the cocoa nibs would need to be pressed so that the cocoa butter can be extracted, and milk powder would also be used.
As you can see, Hachez’s dark chocolate contains the most cacao at 77%. I was surprised to discover that white chocolate has as much as 48% sugar in it, and this is one of the reasons why Hachez only manufactures milk and dark chocolate.
After the ingredients have been mixed together, they are ground together in a French machine known as a melanger, consisting of two big, heavy granite wheels. The friction produces a heat that melts together the cocoa dry mass and butter, and the cocoa nibs and sugar. The smell of chocolate coming from this machine was enough to make me drool, so I was delighted when we got to taste some. At this stage, the chocolate is still fairly gritty and not as smooth and silky as we’d like it to be.
To get rid of this texture and achieve a ‘tenderly melting’ finish, the next stage in the chocolate production process uses another machine consisting of metal cylinders filled with cold water, which cools down the chocolate and causes it harden and stick to these rolls.
At the rear part of the machine, the chocolate is cut away from these cylinders. The process is repeated over and over, producing a very fine milk chocolate powder. We were invited to try a spoonful of this, and when it melts in your mouth, it practically transforms into chocolate. It looks almost like drinking chocolate, but as it contains milk, you can’t add fluids to it because it’ll go clumpy. If you’ve ever dreamt of bathing in chocolate, however, it’s ideal for a hot water bath! In fact, this powder is what’s used in the milk chocolate fountain that we saw at the beginning of our tour.
Following on from this, we were lucky enough to see a working conche machine, originally developed in Switzerland by Rudolph Lindt (the guy in the white hat on the Lindt adverts) in 1879. Each conch (the big troughs) can hold 250 litres of chocolate, and the grinding mechanism helps to make sure the cocoa butter is spread evenly throughout the chocolate, producing an even more tenderly melting chocolate. This machine is one of the reasons why videos are forbidden at Chocoversum chocolate museum, as Lindt still own the commercialising rights.
The final stage in the chocolate-making process is to package the chocolate, ensuring it has an airtight seal.
Making our own chocolate bars
It was really interesting to discover how chocolate is made, but the highlight of the tour was getting to make our own chocolate bars in the chocolate kitchen. We could opt for either 40% milk or 60% dark chocolate and we were given a mould filled with melted chocolate to decorate in any way we liked using up to three toppings. I made a milk chocolate bar topped with crumbled amaretto, hazelnut, roasted cocoa. We wrote our names onto our moulds and then they were carefully placed into the fridge to set, ready for us to collect after our tour.
No visit to Hamburg is complete until you’ve been to Chocoversum chocolate museum, especially if you’re a chocoholic! Chocoversum is open every day from 10am until 6pm, including public holidays. Entrance costs €15 for adults, €13.50 for concessions and €11 for children aged six to 17 years, while children under two go free. However, you can get a group ticket to cover two children and two adults for just €41. Tours are available in German, Danish and English. Book in advance to avoid disappointment.
Chocoversum by Hachez
+49 40 – 41 91 230-0
Would you like to visit the Chocoversum chocolate museum in Hamburg?