Chocolate is the greatest gift the Earth has given us. It’s so beloved, so appreciated, that the Swedish scientist who named the cocoa plant that gives us chocolate called it Theobroma cacao, which means “food of the gods.”
How do those brightly coloured cacao pods get turned into your delicious chocolate bar? There are many stages along the way but the first important steps is harvesting and processing the cacao. But it’s not easy. We’re talking long, complex procedures and painstaking attention to detail.
1. Checking for Ripeness
Cacao picking is a difficult task. And one of the biggest challenges lies in telling when the pods are ripe. Under-ripe cacao won’t have developed all its flavors and aromas. Pods don’t ripen at the same time – even those on the same tree. It takes expert knowledge to understand cacao ripeness.
Once a producer knows their crop is ready to harvest, they hand-pick the pods. As the pods ripen at different times, a machete or a specialized knife harvests them instead of a machine.
3. Pod & Bean Separation
Two pickers will place a wooden box and sit across each other and, with a little machete that isn’t sharp, will break the pod. Next comes quality control. It’s important to inspect and sort the harvest. They’ll inspect it and, which is fine cacao, they check the amount of pulp and ripeness. If it’s overripe, it won’t into the wooden box. It will go onto a separate plastic sheet.
Cacao is fermented in wooden boxes the same day the harvesting happens. They have two sizes of boxes. The small size yields up to 180 kilos of wet cacao, filling a 0.5 by 0.6 meter box The big box is double that size, one by one by 0.6 meters.”
When filling the boxes, producers look for witches’ broom, a deformity caused by a fungal disease. The fermentation boxes should be filled at around 4 or 5 pm on the same day as picking. Your fermentation begins when sugars start get concentrated and the temperature rises up to 58°C. The next morning, at around 8 or 9 o’clock in the morning, you switch the cacao from one box to another.With wood or plastic shovels, you turn your cacao. Once you’ve turned it, you close the top with banana leaves and leave no gaps for air to come in. They’re then turned again, covered once again, and then turned every 24 hours until at least 6 days has passed.
While the fermentation is happening, the pulp will drip off the beans. The fermentation boxes have holes that the pulp can drip through.
Finally, after the lengthy fermentation process, your beans are ready to be dried. This is another crucial step in the enhancement of cacao flavor. Cacao is dried in wooden boxes, beds, pallets or patios. The drying stage should bring humidity levels down from 60% to 7%.
Finally, after the drying stage, cacao beans are now ready to be aged. This step can last from 30 days up to a year. The beans are stored in sacks in a storage house. However, be careful with humidity levels. While we mature the cacao beans, they may gain some humidity once again, but you don’t want to get the humidity level up to 8%. Otherwise, mold may be introduced and you’ll have to dry the beans once again.
Now, the cacao is finally ready to be stored until it’s time for the buyer to collect it. A producer’s work extends far beyond planting and growing cacao. Harvesting, fermenting, drying, aging… All these steps demand time, attention, and skill. Do them poorly, and you will find quality begins to fall. But do them well and you have a recipe for exceptional fine cacao.
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Video resource: Noal Farm