Candice Alstrom Roasting and packaging. Packaging in plastic helps seal in the flavors longer. Wrapped foil bars tend to lose much more aromas and possible flavors quicker.
David Arnold Almost everything in the making of chocolate has an affect on flavor. Some makers rely on different aspects having more importance. If I needed to pick just one thing it would be genetics. Even then the best beans need a very talented chocolate maker.
Debbie Ceder Every aspect of the process has some impact on the end flavor of the chocolate – even the type of material chosen to wrap it in. I think it would be really difficult to choose the aspect that has the biggest impact. Certainly the soil and weather conditions have a significant impact on the condition of the beans at harvest time, as does the amount of time fermenting and method of drying. This establishes the highest potential flavor of a bean. But a chocolate maker can choose to make a product comprised of one type of bean or a blend of many. Then we must think about the roasting and conching of those beans, which probably has a bigger impact in the flavor of the end product. Not being a chocolate maker myself (or even a chef), I admire those that have the expertise to fully develop the potential flavor in their products.
Vic Ceder I'm a consumer, not a Chocolate Maker. I believe that growing locale, growing conditions, bean selection, bean care, roasting, and conching are all important. Packaging is also important. Wrapping in foil or air-tight plastic helps keep the chocolate from being exposed to airborne odors and oxidation. And, of course, chocolate should be stored at the proper temperature.
ChocoFiles Every step is important because if one step is done poorly then it lessens the quality of the bar. I’m not sure if any one step in the chain can be said to have the “biggest impact”. Obviously, the type of cacao beans and the terroir are crucial. Fermentation and drying must be done correctly too. Roasting has a huge impact on the chocolate, but then so does conching. Even aging will affect the chocolate. Some makers age their chocolate before tempering to allow as many flavors to develop as possible, while a few makers try to sell their chocolate as soon as it is made so that it is the freshest. Although wrapping does not directly affect the taste it does affect the overall experience. If a maker took two identical bars and wrapped one in a cheap unattractive way while the other was wrapped in an elegant high class manner I would probably enjoy the elegantly wrapped bar more because I was predisposed to like it before I even tasted the chocolate.
I suppose if I was pushed, though, I might say that beyond terroir roasting, fermentation, and conching are some of the factors that have the highest impact on the flavor.
Scott of Dallas Food I think Art Pollard said it best: "Each and every step of the chocolate-making process is the most important step." Blow it at any individual stage and the quality potential is reduced, if not completely obliterated.
Chloe Doutre-Roussel Every one says the same thing, and from my tasting experiences, it seems quite true: each step is important, even if some are key to make an exceptional product. It is impossible to give a % of importance to each (genetic, maturity of the pod, fermentation, drying, storage, roasting, conching, even storing of the finished bar).
In some cases, genetics can make a huge difference when all the rest is done "as well as possible"(fermentation +drying+ roasting).
Terroir plays an important role; look at Chuao, the genetics in the valley are a mess, but the special trio "terroir+fermentation+drying" of that place gives almost systematically a very good chocolate.
George Gensler I think any aspect can have the biggest impact. If the beans are grown perfectly, but overroasted, then it’s the roasting that has the biggest impact. If the beans are grown perfectly, the bar is processed perfectly, but the wrapper imparts flavor, then it’s the wrapping that has the biggest impact. The entire process is so delicate that any one misstep can overcome every other step. That said, no matter how perfect the process is, a bad bean can’t be overcome.
Maricel Presilla That's an easy question. In my experience everything has a bearing on the ultimate flavor of chocolate. It all begins with the treatment of the cacao tree at the plantation and it might end with the wrapper. Some wrappers have chemicals that can give an odd flavor to the chocolate. You have to be very careful in using the right packaging for chocolate. I've seen problems and companies have had to change wrapping. But everything matters. Terroir matters. I've heard very good and respected chocolate makers say terroir does not make a difference. But it does matter. I saw it with Guasare. Guasare from the Andes, from the germplasm station near Merida, has a particular taste. When Guasare was taken to sea level in Paria, to the Francheschi farm, it developed some different notes of flavor. The reason I know this is because I had made chocolate from Guasare sourced in Merida for a project with Mars for a conference organized by the Cocoa Merchants' Association of America. I worked on this chocolate made with beans I sourced directly from San Juan de Lagunillas. I wish I had kept some samples. But I had kept the memory of its flavor in my head, and then I tasted the Guasare bar by Domori. I identified familiar notes, but I noticed substantial differences. Why? Was it the process? No. The process might have contributed some notes of flavor, but I am convinced that Paria's terroir contributes a particular flavor profile to the flavor baseline genetically inherent to Guasare. No doubt, terroir matters. Seasons matter. The earth, the weather, rivers matter.
When we talk about terroir, we also talk about the cultural component of terroir, which is man. Everything man does to cacao matters. For instance, every farmer has a particular way of treating cacao. If a farmer cuts the time of fermentation when the cacao needs more time or less time, this is going to affect flavor in different ways. At the factory, a chocolate maker might decide to over toast the cacao. Some delicate cacaos die when they are over toasted. Others with basic flavor might even benefit from the extra boost. Some great French companies have a tendency toward over roasting. We also know that excessive amount of cocoa butter might tame some very bitter and acidic cacaos but for the most part it dulls the taste of the chocolate. Some of us are very receptive to this practice and find it to be a mark of quality and then some of us hate it. Some of us love that buttery taste and for some of us, including me, it is something to be despised. I think there is a limit to what you can do with cocoa butter. If chocolate makers use too much cocoa butter, it is because they feel the need to mask something.
Fire drying in Indonesia is an example of terroir; it is a solution to a problem of excess humidity, not being able to dry the cacao properly in the rainy season. The problem is that the cacao beans acquire a smoky taste. You can buy a beautiful Java cacao with beautiful large beans of a lovely terracotta color looking almost like a criollo (because they do have some criollo blood), but you can't work with this cacao because it has a dominant smoky flavor. You can't do a fine chocolate with it unless you are looking for that smoky edge. This is totally fine with me if you say you are looking for smokiness, but fire drying is a cultural practice related to terroir.
I would say, let's make a chocolate with this cacao and use it for mole or some savory sauce .
Some companies, even in Ecuador, often use gasoline generators. In general, most farmers try to be careful and keep the generators far enough away so there are no fumes. But I know that in some places like Bahia, Brazil, gasoline generators were often used to dry amelonado very fast and you always got aspirin-bitter and very acid cacao; excess acidity is one of the problems of fast drying.
There are many factors in the chain that can impact chocolate quality, including genetics, weather, farming, harvesting, fermentation, drying, sorting, roasting, milling, ingredients, conching, tempering, storage, and aging. Roasting probably has the biggest impact on flavor, but the others do as well. Note that raw chocolates are not roasted. They are kept at temperatures below 120°F throughout processing. Genetics provide the base from which all the flavors begin. Weather, farming, and harvesting techniques impact cacao as with any other agricultural crop. Fermentation develops and alters flavors of the beans. Improper drying can harm flavor. Sorting out bad beans is important to optimize flavor. Roasting brings out flavors in the cacao. Milling greatly impacts the texture. Other ingredients obviously affect the final flavor and texture. Conching alters the texture and flavor as well. Tempering helps determine melt. Improper storage and aging both alter flavor.
The flavour of chocolate can be impacted negatively at any stage, so no stage is more important than another in that respect. Every link is important to make a good chain. To quote the old saying, a chain is only as good as its weakest link.