Our Cacao Trees and How We Make Nibs

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

Open cacao pod

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.

Flower of Cacao Treecacao pods on treeCacao Pod Cacao Tree Costa RicaCacao on Display

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).

Making Raw Chocolate
When we are ready to roast we build a 3 point fire outside and we place the beans over the fire and constantly stir. We only want to roast enough to loosen the top layer shell so we can easily remove it from the bean. After removing the thin shell, the bean is the dark color we associate with chocolate. We then roast again to bring out as many flavors and scents as possible. This is basically all about the nose and what smells delicious to the Roaster.
After the beans cool you can crunch them up into smaller pieces and you have cacao nibs. We add our nibs to smoothies, to squash soup, on top of vanilla ice cream anything that we want to add extra flavor and goodness to. There is an abundance of information on Wikipedia on the history of chocolate so if you would like to know the benefits of cacao go there. I am still searching through the information available for making the chocolate paste or liquor as that is the next step to making bar chocolate. So far from what I can tell you have to agitate the paste until the cocoa butter separates from the solid and then you have another process of adding some cocoa butter, sugar, spices, etc. to make a finished product. We are happy to use our nibs until then.


2 comments on “Our Cacao Trees and How We Make Nibs”

  1. Pingback: Making Chocolate; 10 Easy Steps|10 Degrees Above in Costa Rica

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