Before you start making chocolate of any kind you first need to consider the cocoa beans. They are the basic raw material of any type of chocolates be it Belgian chocolates, Swiss chocolates or plain old ordinary mass produced sweet shop chocolates from the supermarket. There are many steps in converting the cocoa bean into the glorious confection that we know as Belgian chocolate. It's a complex process too involving many closely guarded secrets. Did you know that a cocoa tree in a good year will bear about 6000 flowers of which only about 1% will develop into cocoa pods? That's 60 or so pods per tree so to grow cocoa beans commercially you need an awful lot of trees! Anyway if we're going to make Belgian chocolate we need to harvest enough beans of the finest quality. Each pod on the tree will be yellow or red when it's ripe and be about 15 to 30 cm in length. Inside we should find between 25 and 50 of the seeds we call cocoa beans. They're creamy coloured at this stage and we must remove them from the pods and put them into heaps on the ground or into trays. Some people cover them with banana leaves. We'll leave them there to ferment in the trays or heaps until they've turned brown, you know, a sort of chocolate colour. Then we've got to dry them before they're ready to be hulled, rather like shelling peas, cleaned and roasted. Once the beans are roasted it's much easier to separate the nibs from the shells. It's the nibs we want to make our Belgian chocolate. Remember those closely guarded secrets? Well here's one. At this stage the nibs are carefully blended to produce exactly the flavour and colour we're after. It's a bit like blending coffee beans really. No-one is going to tell us exactly what proportions of blending they use. Once blended the nibs are ground using rotating stones, rollers or discs. That produces a liquid that's more than 50% fat or cocoa butter. It's actually called chocolate liqueur and it's at this stage that various other ingredients may be added to produce different kinds of chocolate such as milk solids and sugar for milk chocolate. When all is thoroughly blended we have to put the mixture into a refiner which crushes it into a smooth choclaty sort of texture. We're still not there yet! There now follows a process called "conching." We have to heat our raw chocolate to quite high temperatures, something of the order of 54-71ºC, the exact temperature being another of those closely guarded secrets. It has to be stirred continuously till we achieve a pure homogeneous liquid. Oh, and while we're doing this we have to keep a blast of fresh air directed at the liquid all the time. At this stage we can add various other ingredients such as vanilla for flavour and lecithin for emulsifying. Of course the quantities and proportions are a closely guarded secret! Once that process is completed the liquid chocolate has to be tempered by pouring into metal moulds to form blocks or other shapes. The moulds need to be subjected to vibration to remove any bubbles of air in the chocolate before it cools and sets into the form we are all familiar with. It's that process of conching, together with the quality of the original beans that determines the quality of the chocolate we'll have made. Incidentally it's what goes into the mixture at this stage that makes for the different types of chocolate associated with different countries. Belgian chocolate for instance has less sugar blended in than Swiss chocolate which is much sweeter. So, that's roughly how to do it. Are you ready to have a go at making some Belgian chocolate? If so you need to remember the three most important factors you need to get right. Your beans must be of exceptionally good quality preferably grown as close as possible to the Equator. You need to get your conching process just right, and if you intend to fill your chocolates the filling needs to be both delicate and rich enough to complement the flavour of the chocolate itself. Oh and it probably helps if you're Belgian and descended from a long line of chocolatiers. Bearing in mind all those closely guarded secrets it's going to be a rather hit and miss affair anyway so the chances of you coming up with a result to match the best that Belgium can produce are pretty remote. Wouldn't it be a much better idea to go out and find a source of supply for genuine Belgian chocolate made by people who really do know how to make it and get it just right?