The Process of Tempering: Good for Chocolate and Good for Our Souls

Tempering is one of the most important processes in chocolate making. It is a very technical chemical process, the heating and cooling and then heating again the cocoa liquor to very specific temperatures so that a specific type of crystals form, making the final chocolate product look shiny, taste silky, and also giving it a stiff and firm texture that “snaps” when you break it in your hands.

Beautiful well-tempered chocolate! Smooth, glossy, and stiff!

Today, we were pulling chocolate out of the molds and it looked stunning, smooth and shiny!! We were excited and ready to wrap them up and get them to the market. But then as we started packing the chocolates and handling them more, we saw that some of the chocolates had an outer layer flaking off and what we saw beneath was not so beautiful. So, we started cutting up the chocolate squares one by one and found that they ALL had this ugly, dry, grainy/powdery texture underneath the glossy smooth surface and that they were crumbling in our hands. Having been doing this now for at least a year, the students and I looked at each other and knew exactly what had happened as soon as we saw it: somewhere along the lines we had rushed the tempering process (or a drop of water had accidentally got mixed in) and the crystals had not formed as they should.

It reminded me instantly of the story of when Jesus called out the Pharisees out on their hypocrisy saying ” Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness (Matthew 23:25-28).” There is no way we could sell this chocolate as it is…sure, it would have looked beautiful and perfect on the outside but as soon as the customer bit into it they would have known right away that something was wrong with it and spit it out and probably never bought from us again.

It reminded me of how so often we try and rush or even ignore our own spiritual growth and development, ignoring whatever is going on inside and just focusing our efforts on making sure that it all at least looks good on the outside, caring more about what other people think than what is actually real. Other people might not be able to see the problems going on inside our hearts immediately, but eventually those ugly things do get seen in the way that we treat people around us or respond to certain situations…. eventually it is known. And the truth is that God saw our ugly hearts the whole time anyways so what really was the point of painting ourselves as shiny and clean anyways? Who wants to drink from a cup that is clean on the outside but actually dirty on the inside?

It was tempting to want to wrap the rest of those pretty looking chocolates up, the ones we hadn’t yet cracked open, the ones that still looked beautiful and shiny. We had spent hours making them after all and a good bit of money too! But we knew it would not have been right for us to sell those chocolates, it would have been dishonest and in the long run it would have hurt our business a lot. We were marketing our chocolate as smooth, rich, and creamy but the product here was the exact opposite. Who would have wanted to buy that product again? Who would have been attracted to it again if the taste was not what was expected and marketed?

It’s tempting to want to rush the process of God working on our hearts, it’s a long and tedious process of continual growth, cleansing, and inner-reflection that sometimes has us digging deep into our hearts to places that we’d rather just cover up and ignore. It takes patience, it takes humility, it takes courage, it takes surrender. It takes ignoring our natural instinct to want to cover the ugly things up, it takes letting Him inside of us. If we truly want to live a changed life, one that reflects His beauty to the world and draws and points people toward Him, we have to allow for and desire change on the inside. The thing that draws us closer to Christ and other people to Christ is not us and our outward “perfect personas”, it is Him IN us. It’s what’s on the inside, the sweet, rich, silky, real taste of His love, grace, power, and majesty that makes people hunger for more of Him.  

There’s more than enough fakeness and hypocrisy in this world, so many people are desperately looking for something real, something bigger than themselves, something to fix, fill, wash, and heal the insides once and for all, something that will finally give them peace and rest and to help carry those burdens they will never be able to carry on their own, something that will stand firm when everything else seems to be falling apart. People don’t need more of our clever tricks of how to look like we’ve got it all together. People don’t need more of us or attempts at “shininess.” In fact, we ourselves don’t even need any more of that either. They and we ALL need more of Him…. to taste Him and know that He is real and that He is good. If our lives are not a reflection of His love, grace, and transforming power to change and renew something from the inside out as we so widely proclaim, who will ever come back for more? Who will ever want to taste Him and His Word again if once they bite down all they taste is crumbly, dry, fake, unpalatable, and dirty? If I were them, I would spit it right out, walk away, and never come back.

I’m not saying that our lives will ever be perfect, they surely won’t, nor do they need to be. But, when people see us and “bite into us” they should be able to see and taste Christ in us and that taste, that taste of something so real and potent, should leave them (and us) wanting more. It should make them realize that whatever they had before was fake, not good enough any longer. I remember the first time I bit into our Liberian-made chocolate for the first time, after 1.5 years of eating the really cheap stuff that the grocery stores here in Liberia label as “chocolate” here and convincing myself that it was just as good as the dark chocolate Lindt truffles that I used to buy for myself back in the US. Immediately, I knew that what I was tasting now was the real thing (better than Lindt even) and I never wanted to go back to that nasty stuff I had convinced myself was good for so long. Do you remember the first time that you tasted Jesus? The sweet taste of His grace and love? The potency of his power and might? The raw realness of His presence that could not be denied? When people taste us as Christians, there should be something different about us on the inside, different than what the rest of the world has been offering. Something sweet, something real, something that leaves them longing for another taste. Our lives should be a testimony and through us the world should be able to see that God is who He says He is ,”for He who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23). How will the world ever know the real thing if they never have a chance to taste the real thing?

The only way for us to taste Jesus is for us to experience Him for ourselves and the only way for people to taste Jesus in us, is for us to allow ourselves to be transformed and molded, heated and cooled, and shaped like pliable clay in the hands of a potter or silky chocolate liquor in the careful hands of a chocolatier. We must desire and allow for our souls to be tempered over and over again by our Creator. It is only by His guiding hands and our willing spirit that our insides can truly be made new and we can share His true goodness with the world. Likewise, it is only through the careful process of tempering, the intentional and precise rising and lowering of the chocolate liquor’s temperature, that high quality chocolate can be made, the kind of chocolate that makes you realize what you were missing out on all these years!

Students tempering the chocolate. Here they have taken 75% of the chocolate liquor and are spreading it out on the cold tile counter tops so they can drop the temperature from 120F to 80F. Then they will mix it back with the remaining 25% and raise the chocolate back up to 89F. Just a few degrees off and the whole batch spoils.

We ourselves don’t want to eat bad chocolate and we certainly don’t want to sell bad chocolate either. People need to taste our chocolate to know that it is good, that it is real, that it is exactly what we say it is on the wrapper. And so today, our plans have changed. We will now spend hours cutting these chocolate pieces down to smaller sizes, removing any impurities, gathering up what remains and throwing them back onto the stove, melting them back down to a liquor and starting the whole tempering process over again from the start, patiently heating the chocolate, cooling the chocolate, and then heating the chocolate back up again before we re-pour it into the molds. By God’s grace, when we pull them out of the molds this afternoon, they will be smooth, shiny, and stiff not only on the outside, but on the inside as well.

Psalm 34:8 “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”