As an avid chocolate lover since the early age of ever-since-I-can-remember, I’ve always enjoyed eating this delicious treat, although my tastes have changed throughout the years. When I was little chocolate was never to be found in the house, because I always discovered it first and it quickly disappeared in my belly. Later on, when I moved out to go to the University, I thrived solely on chocolate, cake, fruit and veggies. Why have a sandwich for lunch, when I could have a chocolate bar instead? It was the perfect diet for me at the time. In my late 20-ties I started favoring dark chocolate over the milk one I used to love, exploring new brands and varieties. It was not until a year and a half ago that I had my most profound chocolate revelation. It appeared in the form of a hand-made chocolate from Hawaii my amazing friend/travel companion Johnnie Ah Ah brought back and let me try. After tasting it, my world changed and there was no going back.
Life works in mysterious ways. A year after tasting the most amazing dark chocolate I have ever had in my life, Johnnie and I found ourselves in Hawaii. Not just anyplace, but at a coffee farm with six beautiful cacao trees. This is how our “From Bean To Bar” story begins…
Hello cacao tree! Cacao trees are beautiful, not very tall, with different colored leaves, and extremely pretty with bright orange ripe cacao pods. (Some other varieties of cacao have different colored pods – purple, yellow, etc).
This is what the pods on the trees here look like. The bright orange ones are ready to harvest – you can pick them by hand or carefully cut their stems.
It’s almost hard to believe that this gentle blossom is where chocolate comes from!
When harvesting the pods, the best it to pick only the ripe ones. If they are under/overripe the beans may not ferment properly. The brown pods from the photo above ended up on the compost pile.
This is what our cacao pod harvest looked like. We had about 50 good pods that we let sit for a week after we picked them, to help with fermentation.
Time to break the pods! Inside, the cacao beans hide. We broke the pods very carefully with a machete, being mindful not to damage the beans.
When taking the beans out of the pod, they must be carefully separated one by one by hand. Any black, sprouting or flat beans should be discarded.
The cacao beans are slippery and slimy – it’s their outer pulp that makes fermentation possible.
After extracting all beans from the pods, we spread them out on a screen to get some sun. Another useful tip we found that helps with fermentation.
The empty pods made for some beautiful compost.
After that it was time for the mysterious process of fermentation to begin. We decided to go with the traditional heap method, piling the beans on a layer of banana leaves. Holes had to be made in the leaves, so the liquid from the cacao pulp could drain.
Then we piled all the beans on a heap, to help them stay warm. The pulp surrounding the cacao bean transforms into alcohol during fermentation. It smells like alcohol, too!
Lastly, we carefully covered the beans with more banana leaves and let them sit in a warm place. During the day we put them out in the Sun, and at night we brought them inside.
“The best results are obtained in fermentations where the maximum temperature reached is between 45 to 50 degrees Celsius .” Can you spot Pabu, the cat?
Since we never bothered to measure the temperature of the fermenting beans, we made sure to turn them every day. We mixed the beans around by hand, “to help get air into the fermenting cocoa and to help make the fermentation even throughout the cocoa.” This is how the beans looked like on their second day of fermentation.
To know when the beans are done fermenting, you need to split them in half and check their color. “Beans which have fermented properly but are still wet, will also show a typical purple/brownish exudate when open and a brown colouration under the seed skin (pulp). ”
We fermented the beans for about a week (our hut smelled like chocolate liquor at night), and after checking their color we decided that they were ready to be dried. We soaked them in water for about 2 hours, since this has been reported to improve their chocolate flavor. Fishing them out of the slimy water and putting them on the drying screen was exciting to say the least… We used this opportunity to discard any dark purple or flat beans.
Drying took some time, since we had to take the beans out in the Sun for the first half of the day, and then bring them back in the afternoon to avoid the rain. However, with dedication and perseverance we achieved this laborsome task.
Perfectly good dried cacao beans. So far the process took about 4 weeks: picking the pods and leaving them rest for a week, then taking the cacao beans out and fermenting them for another week, and last but not least, 2 weeks of drying (that’s how long it took to Sun dry them at 2200ft elevation on the Big Island of Hawaii). Was this all worth it? Wait until you see the chocolate!
Learn about chocolate making in Part 2…
The quotes above are from this awesome manual we found online. Check in out for more in-dept information: http://www.canacacao.org/uploads/smartsection/19_Cocoa_fermentation_manual_Vietnam.pdf