Cacao trees, fruits and how we roast the beans to make nibs
We have approximately 25 cacao trees here on our farm in Costa Rica. Some of the trees have been hacked at over time in order to put up fencing and many had been left neglected with life sucking vines covering them. For the past 9 months we have been cleaning them up, giving them some light and watching their progress. While not perfect specimen trees yet, they look healthier and have given us some fruit to play around with.
If you would like to see our video of the entire process – Making Chocolate
Shaped like a football
The very heavy “football” shaped fruits grow directly on the trunk and turn either yellow or red when they are ready to be removed from the tree. When I say football shaped, I mean a football in the U.S. because everywhere else in the world soccer is football or futbol here in Costa Rica. Here is the tree, a blossom, a close up of an un-ripened fruit and some fruits ripening on our farm.
Learning to Process Cacao
Figuring out how to process the fruit was very difficult for us. Armed only with the internet we reviewed every webpage that we could find about chocolate, cacao and what to do. There is a chocolate tour, touristy place about an hour and a half South of us where we may be able to get information but they want a $25 per person and well I am a tight wad with cash lately. We will stick to experimenting on our own. We figured out that the beans need to be fermented first in order to give the future cacao nibs their flavor and aroma.
First, you must break open the pod with a knife or machete. It is best to hit it at the one-third down and at an angle as to not disturb the single dangling fruit strand. There is a white, soft pulp that surrounds the beans when first removed from the pods. There are approximately 25 usable beans in a strand. We have to place the pulp covered beans in a deep dish, add a tablespoon of “real” sugar, mix it up and then cover with a cloth and let sit outside to ferment for 7-14 days. We then rinse off the beans and place on Barry’s handmade drying rack (see image below) and place the beans in the fierce Caribbean sun for as many days as it takes until we can find the time to roast them, usually two weeks which is one week more than necessary (that’s a math story problem for those of you into that kind of thing).