Chocolate liquor is a combination of cocoa solids and cocoa butter that is obtained when cacao beans are processed to make chocolate products. Once chocolate makers have produced the liquor, there are a number of ways in which the substance can be handled to make various chocolate products, ranging from cocoa to baking chocolate. As a general rule, liquor is created in the factories of chocolate producers, allowing the companies to have control over the composition of their chocolate, although smaller chocolate makers may order this and other products from bigger companies to bypass the expensive and time-consuming process of making chocolate from scratch.
Getting to chocolate liquor requires several stages. To begin with, the large pods of the Theobroma cacao tree must be harvested, split to expose the beans, and allowed to ferment, taking some of the bitterness out of the beans inside. Once the beans have fermented, they must be roasted and cracked to remove the hulls, leaving behind the cacao nibs. These nibs are then ground to produce the liquor.
This substance turns liquid because the grinding process melts the rich cocoa butter inside the nibs. As the nibs are ground, they break apart into a gritty, runny paste. While the paste smells like chocolate and even looks like it, it wouldn't be very appetizing, because it is unsweetened and the grainy texture is not very enjoyable.
After a factory has produced chocolate liquor, it is pressed to form what is known as press cake. During the pressing process, the cocoa butter runs out, leaving behind the cocoa solids. The separated components of the chocolate can be blended back together in varying amounts and conched with ingredients like sugar, milk, and spices to make bar chocolate, or they may be processed individually to make things like cocoa and white chocolate.
Processing the liquor requires care and precision. Nibs from different parts of the world have distinctly different flavors, so chocolate producers must think carefully about the blend they want to produce. The beans are typically blended during the roasting process, but they must be inspected carefully before being submitted to grinding to make sure that they adhere to the producer's standards. Improperly fermented or roasted beans can ruin a batch of chocolate, and given the high cost of this coveted ingredient, this is not desirable.