The Cacao Experiment

Our first, very small cacao harvest of two fruits. The cacao tree is 3 years old, it is a bit of a late bloomer because of the poor conditions here. Since I’ve been dumping pig shit under the tree, the flowers produced many fruits, although many of the fruits rotted away before they could mature. It seems that the flies pollinated the flowers during the season of flies, that season associated with maize (in the hills) and the drying of manta ray meat (along the coast).

So I had a few cacao beans to experiment with. My goal was to learn to ferment, dry and roast the beans so that they possessed that most sought-after dark cacao flavour that seemed always absent in many commercial cacao tablets or powder available. The dutch alkalised cocoa are often the most bland.

This experiment, some 50 cacao beans, yielded less than half cup of cacao powder. With these and the wonderful aroma of the beans after roasting, I can say that my experiment is a success. Most importantly, I can now relate the flavour, and thus the importance, of fermenting the beans, with that intoxicating dark cacao flavour.

I am certain that if the beans are fermented properly, then it would not be necessary to roast the beans for too long. If the beans are roasted too long, the precious cacao butter or oil seeps into the skins of the beans – and the skins are discarded and with it, much of the flavour and healthful benefits of cacao.

Before roasting, drying is also crucial and it needs to be done within 2 days. It was raining when the beans were fermenting, and just when I needed to dry them, the sun generously made sure that the beans dried within 2 days!

To grind the cacao beans, folks normally go to a shop in the city that offers such services for cacao, corn, coffee, meat, etc. It would be ridiculous if I went there with my 50 cacao beans which will simply disappear into the grinder. So I decided I could do it at home, but without the benefit of the heated grinding that cacao really needs. For now, I tried using a Turkish coffee grinder, which proved impossible. So I opted for the osteriser which I bought a couple of years ago primarily for the purpose of grinding coffee beans.

The taste and aroma of these roasted cacao beans is distinctly pure dark chocolate – no off bitterness, no acidic or sour taste. I cannot believe my luck in achieving this on my first attempt. However, since Trevor planted the beans 3 years ago, I have been reading about the process of – perhaps the secret of – producing the perfect cacao, from the tree to the cup. That was all theory, and now if I can only replicate this practical experiment with more cacao beans. We have two fruiting trees now, and about 6 smaller ones. Perhaps in the next season …