How our chocolate is made (part 1)
At this point, most of you probably know that we grow our own cocoa in St. Vincent, Caribbean. We take pride in being ‘Tree-to-Bar’ because that separates us from the rest. However, most of you may be unfamiliar with the phrase Tree-to-Bar. By this we mean, we plant the cacao seed and control every part of the supply chain from start to finish.
The cocoa and chocolate process is long and has many different moving parts hence why we decided to break it up into two posts. For this article, we will focus on the journey of the bean, managing the tree and then the final step of ensuring quality.
To make you feel a part of this journey, imagine walking through a beautiful tropical forest which has a mixture of cacao trees as tall as 15-20 foot, banana, citrus fruits and Mahogany. Ah it's a beautiful sight. All of our cocoa trees are raised in our nursery from seeds which are obtained from mature pods. These spectacular plants bloom and bear fruit all year around. There are thousands of delicate flowers covering the tree, but only a mere 40 of the flowers develop into fruit. It takes about five months for the pollinated flowers to develop into cacao pods which takes us to the next step, harvesting.
For those of you who have never come across a cacao pod, it’s size and shape can vary, but typically range between 6 inches and over a foot in length. A ripe fruit can contain 40-60 cocoa beans. The great advantage of cocoa farming in St Vincent is that the harvesting period can be spread over the whole year.
When harvesting the tree, our dedicated farmers and management team remove the ripe pods manually which is a very labour intensive task. The pods are transported to the fermentory where they are cracked, and the cocoa beans are removed. We then return nutrients into the soil by distributing the discarded husks throughout the fields which is known as mulching.
The fermentation process is crucial to bringing out the best flavours in the chocolate. Our fermentation takes place in three large wooden boxes, each of them holding 1MT of wet cocoa. We use banana leaves to cover the beans to conserve the heat which is generated through the fermentation process.
Cocoa beans are dried to the desired moisture level of 6%-7% which is very important when storing the cocoa and during shipping because if there is too much moisture then there is a danger that they could develop mould or rot.
Quality and flavour
Each bean is sampled and analysed with a cut test to make sure they are not damaged and free of mould. After this, the assessment of flavour can take place at the cocoa liquor stage. This tasting period is done by grinding down the cocoa without any additional sugar etc. This is to determine its flavour, residual acidity and bitterness.
After we've made sure that all our beans are perfect, they are ready to go on to the next stage and be transformed into delicious chocolate.
Next week we will go into further detail about how we make the ultimate chocolate experience.
Have a great week