Artisanal bars from Michael Mischer Chocolates of Oakland, California. Photo by Melody Lan | THE NIBBLE.
From Pod to Palate: The Birth Of The Bar
Page 2: Growing & Harvesting The Cacao Beans
Growing & Preparing The Cacao Beans
A consistent high temperature, plentiful rainfall, the right soil nutrients, and many large shade trees to protect them from the sun and the wind (known as mother trees) are required to nurture delicate, sensitive cacao trees. Cacao trees grow worldwide in the warm and wet tropical belt that stretches 20 degrees above and below the equator. About 80% of the world cacao harvest is grown in 1- to 2-hectare estates: It’s not big agribusiness, but small farm production. The cacao tree takes 4 to 5 years to produce its first crop but needs 10 years to produce really good fruit. The trees can reach 30 to 45 feet in height but are usually cut to 18 to 20 feet to make harvesting easier. The trees produce fruit twice a year, which is generally harvested before and after the rainy season. The fruit itself is sweet and tart, in the manner of passionfruit. The beans are innocuous, and give no indication that, after many processing steps, they will produce something as wonderful as chocolate. As you can see, the pods grow right from the branches and trunk ot the cacao tree. Photo courtesy of Dagoba Chocolate.
Cacao can be harvested throughout the year, but its main seasons are November to January and May to July. The football-shaped pods, also called cabosses (singular, cabosse, pronounced kuh-BAHSS) are hand-harvested by machete. It impossible to use machines for harvesting, because of the varying sizes of the fruit and because of potential damage to the tree, which is continuously producing new flowers and fruit. The pods are cut from the trees and sliced open manually using machetes. The whitish beans (the seeds of the fruit) which are surrounded by milky, sticky, sweet tasting pulp (the fruit) are removed. When ripe, each pod contains 30 to 40 seeds. Photo of cabosses by Keith Weller, courtesy of World Cocoa Association. Each cabosse yields enough beans for one chocolate bar.
Fermentation of the beans takes place according to different methods in different countries: wrapped under large banana (plantain) leaves, in baskets, in wooden boxes or in cylinders stored away from light. It is during fermentation that the cacao beans start to develop the typical cacao flavors. Fermentation is a reaction between yeast and the sticky pulp. The fermentation process lasts from 3 days for some Criollo varietals to 6 or 7 days for other varietals. Fermentation reduces the bitter taste, gives the brown color to the bean and breaks down the remaining pulp. Once the yeast has done its work the result is a sweeter, more chocolatey flavor.
Before We Dry The Beans,
We’ll never forget the day we had our first Amedei chocolate. We danced with joy, and couldn’t wait to give them to all of our chocolate-loving friends. Get to know one of our favorite artisan producers (Amedei means beloved of God, like Amadeus), made by the brother and sister team of Alessio and Cecelia Tessieri of Pisa, Italy. Click here for our review of this tiny chocolate powerhouse.
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