Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company
This month we feature The Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company. We visited with Steven Wallace to find out about his business, which is located right here in the Gateway Region.
Steve Wallace founded Omanhene in February of 1991 at the age of 29. The name of the company – Omanhene (pronounced – oh-mahn-hee-nee) comes from the West African Twi language and is the title for the traditional king or chief, the repository of ethical and moral authority in Ghana, Africa.
How did Steve become interested in Cocoa Beans?
Steve told us that he lived in the town of Sunyani in Ghana, West Africa with a host family during an AFS high school educational exchange.
Omanhene was thus created as a joint venture between the U.S. and Ghana. Omanhene sends the Wisconsin-produced wrappers/packaging as well as product design and various intellectual property to Ghana and then the cocoa products are crafted at their facility in Ghana, thereby securing a freshness advantage lost when raw beans are tucked into the hold of a steamship and subjected to a 4-8 week ocean voyage for processing elsewhere. Omanhene produces gourmet chocolate and hot cocoa drink mixes tailored specifically to export markets resulting in enhanced foreign exchange revenues for Ghana and exports of key components from Wisconsin — an unusual example of global trade whereby every side benefits.
Ghanaian farmers have been growing and harvesting cocoa beans by hand for many generations using the traditions that have been passed on for many generations. Ghana is home to over 600,000 small, family-owned cocoa farms, most of which are about 2 acres in size. Cocoa is a commodity crop and farm incomes in Ghana are subject to world cocoa price fluctuations. The Omanhene venture provides some price protection since a portion of the value is added in Ghana. These Ghanaian beans are transformed into the world’s most delicious and expensive chocolate.
We thought it would be interesting to find out how chocolate is made
Steve told us that the process of chocolate making at Omanhene takes about six weeks. Cocoa beans are actually “seeds” found inside a cocoa pod. Pods grow on cocoa trees which are about the size of a small apple tree. Each tree can produce about 60 to 80 pods (if the tree is pollinated by hand). Cocoa beans in Ghana are harvested by slicing open the cocoa pods with a machete and fermenting the raw beans between in palm fronds or banana leaves, placed on the forest floor, a flavor-enhancing process that takes about two weeks. The cocoa bean loses some of its moisture and the flavor becomes concentrated. After this fermentation process, the beans are spread on large racks to dry in the hot Ghana sun, again reducing the moisture content of the bean which improves the flavor. Beans will continue to dry and take on the maroon color that most of us associate with cocoa beans. Steve stressed that this process is not universally used in the chocolate industry. Once sun-dried, the beans are graded and taken to the factory to be crafted into finished chocolate.
The first process is roasting the cocoa. It is only after roasting that the distinctive chocolate aroma becomes noticeable and the scent of pure chocolate is very distinctive. After roasting, the beans are kibbled or chopped into small pieces called “cocoa nibs.” People who visit Steve’s office here in the Gateway District are given the opportunity to inhale the aroma of these nibs. This scent is almost overwhelming and almost alcoholic in intensity. There is also no real sweetness to the nibs. Next, the nibs are grinded and heat and pressure are used to express nearly every drop of liquid from the nib.
Two liquids are expressed: cocoa liquor and cocoa butter.
Cocoa liquor contains over 300 chemical compounds that give chocolate that addictive and euphoria-inducing attributes — the reason why many of us love pure chocolate so much.
Cocoa butter imparts no flavor or aroma to finished chocolate. Cocoa butter is a fat that gives the smoothness to finished chocolate.
We often see cocoa butter as a natural ingredient in many cosmetics and moisturizing creams and lotions because of its singular ability to moisturize the skin. Steve said that Omanhene uses only 100% cocoa butter in their chocolate. You may notice when you read the ingredients on other labels, that other chocolatiers use vegetable fat as an ingredient in their chocolate in place of all-natural cocoa butter.
After the cocoa butter and cocoa liquor are expressed from the nibs, what is left are chalky pieces the size of small stones, known as cocoa cake. Cocoa cake is pulverized to make the cocoa powder for hot cocoa or for baking. As you can see, there is hardly any waste in the manufacture of chocolate and chocolate products. This is the original way cocoa has been crafted for well over a hundred years.
Steve mentioned that the Dutch decided to change the process many years ago and you often hear of “Dutch Chocolate.” Dutch chocolate is when the cocoa is “washed” in a bicarbonate bath thus making the cocoa less acidic, less bitter to the taste.
Omanhene still uses the original, all-natural method of producing cocoa and does “Dutch” process or otherwise artificially alter the pH of the cake, thus creating a more authentic tasting cocoa.
Making Chocolate Bars
To make fine chocolate, only four or five ingredients are used; cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, sugar and one-tenth of one percent of soy lecithin which is a natural emulsifier – meaning it binds the cocoa liquor and butter together (otherwise the two ingredients would naturally repel, similar to vinegar and oil.) The fifth ingredient is milk if milk chocolate is being produced. Omanhene uses only full cream milk in the manufacture of its milk chocolate.
All of these ingredients are blended together into a paste called cocoa mass and sent through steel rollers. This mass is put into a heated mixing chamber known as a conche, where it is blended as it melts to form chocolate. Proper conching is very important to the integrity of the chocolate. After the chocolate is conched, it is poured into moulds, where it is cooled and then wrapped. Omanhene folds both a foil inner wrapper and a paper exterior wrapper around their chocolate bars. It is placed in boxes and in a pre-cooled, temperature and humidity controlled shipping container to be sent to the U.S. from Ghana.
Steve said that his customers say that their milk chocolate tastes very “chocolatey.” Their chocolate ingots contain more chocolate liquor than any other milk chocolate in the world.
There’s nothing like a great piece of chocolate! We really enjoyed learning about Omanhene and especially tasting his fine chocolate products.
To find out more about Omanhene and chocolate visit www.omanhene.com
Omanhene products can be purchased online on their website or at various stores in the area. One of the closest stores to the Airport Gateway area that carries Omanhene chocolate is Woodman’s in Oak Creek. You will find it in the baking section of the store. We recommend you try it in your Holiday baking this year.
Steve just released his new book entitled “Obroni & The Chocolate Factory.”
Check it out here:
For additional information, please contact The Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company at 1-800-LUV-CHOC (1-800-588-2462) or 414-744-8780 or firstname.lastname@example.org