Making Chocolate – is No Fast Food

Part 1

From interview with Colin Hart, Aloha Feels Cacao Farmer and Cacao fermentation researcher at University of Hawaii 

First 8 steps to chocolate starts at the Farm

Harvesting – Making chocolate starts by going to the cacao farm to harvest the cacao beans from the trees. We work with trees that grow on a lot of different heights and harvest the cacao pods using garden clippers. The ripeness of the cacao beans varies a lot between the different orchards, but the cacao pods are normally ripe when they turn from green to yellow or orange and dark purple to red. We first determine which pods are ripe then carefully clip these pods.

Cracking – The next step after harvesting the pods is to crack the pods with machetes to get the actual cacao seeds that are inside. I’ve used two methods for the process when cracking pods. One way is to harvest all the pods, put them into sacks and haul them onto a truck, then unload them from the sacks into the truck and drive it all to a central processing location and crack them there. The other method is to crack the pods in the farm field itself, which I like as it saves time and also recycles some of the nutrients in the pod back into the field. The pods are loaded with potassium and other nutrients so if you disperse the pods in the field the nutrients can get back into the trees. It is more efficient too as you are not hauling all the weight as 80% of the pod is in the husk so you want to minimize how much you are hauling – if you crack in the field you just hauling the wet seed which is much lighter.

Scooping and Draining – After the first step of harvesting and cracking the pods we manually scoop out all the wet seeds that are inside. After scooping out all the seed we put them through a pre-draining process, firstly to get the cacao juice (which is really delicious) and second you want to get rid of some of the liquid on the cacao to make the fermentation process a little better quality.

Fermenting – After they have drained we load the beans into fermentation bins, which are wooden boxes made of untreated maple plywood. Each box holds 500 pounds of wet seed which is enough to have the critical volume needed to maintain the heat throughout the fermentation. The fermentation lasts about a week or 6-7 days depending on the conditions and throughout that time we are turning everything. We are flipping the beans from one box to the other which create a uniformity in the fermentation and also helps develop the flavor profile you associate with chocolate.

Drying – Once the fermentation is completed we scoop the fermented cacao beans out of the fermentation bins and spread them out on to the drying racks. We use natural sun drying conditions in a greenhouse. Drying is crucial and is sometimes really underrated. Drying is an extension of the fermentation as there is still a lot of chemical reactions taking place especially the first few days of the drying process. It is critical to stir the beans, keeping them aerated and continuously move the beans at the bottom to come up to the surface to allow them all to dry evenly. It is very difficult to dry in Hilo as the weather conditions are all over the place, but we do what we can with what we have. The drying ideally should take a week to a week and a half but sometimes it even takes three or even four weeks if it is rainy which is not a good situation.

Storing and Curing – Storing helps develop flavors too, so if your sell beans directly when you are done drying them you will have a different flavor than if you store them and let them cure. Ideally you should let them cure 6 weeks before you would be selling them.Some dry and cure and immediately sell them to chocolate makers. Not all chocolate makers believe in or care about this, but I do sense that it makes a difference.

Say bye bye Cacao Baby

Over to the Factory – After the beans are sun-dried then that is more of less the end of what we do as farmers and processors. In the whole bean-to-bar chocolate making process you divide it into two main categories. The first category is what happens on the farm the second category is what happens in the chocolate factory. As farmers and processors, we take it up to a fermented and dried product and store them in bags after that it is time for the chocolate makers at the factory to further develop the product. But more about that in the next blog.

Here is to Good Quality Chocolate made with Love. Thank you for reading and Aloha!

Colin Hart, Aloha Feels Farmer

PS Written and edited by Kazemaru (English is my third language so excuse any typos or grammatical incorrectness. They are all mine, not Colin’s 😉 ) In the next blog we will write about how chocolate is made in the factory as they take over the beans from the farmers. For now, we hope you enjoy a piece of dark chocolate every day, or some cacao nibs. It is good for your heart, your health and your mood.