Today’s guest post comes from Heather Hoog. Heather is an official distributor for the roasted cacao drink Choffy* and girl knows her cacao. Here she gives us a behind-the-scenes look at how cacao is grown, harvested and turned into delicious chocolate.
Calling all the chocolate lovers out there, especially the folks who like to walk on the dark (chocolate) side.
Have you ever stopped to think about where this wonderful, nutritious, full bodied, little piece of heaven comes from?
How one brand of chocolate can taste so completely different from the next? Or how in the world chocolate comes from a large, brightly sunset colored, football-shaped pod?
Let’s start at the beginning with the cacao tree.
Cacao trees thrive in tropical locations, but only in areas 20 degrees north and south of the equator. They must be planted close to larger trees, under a jungle-like canopy which offers protection from the tropical sun and high winds.
A tree matures around 6 years old and will then begin to produce pods (which encase the cacao or chocolate bean). Each tree bears about 30 pods a year, with each pod holding around a few hundred beans each.
You need somewhere around 1000 beans to make 1 pound of chocolate – thus a typical cacao tree will produce about 2 pounds of raw, bittersweet cacao/chocolate a year.
Many of these trees are cultivated on small family farms of about 15 acres. Come harvest time the yellow/ orange pods are harvested by hand, with machetes. The pods are then split in half and the cacao beans are scooped out for fermentation and drying in the hot sun.
The meat of the cacao pod is said to have a sweet taste, similar to that of a passion fruit or apricot. The typical drying process is around a week. Then the beans are collected, bagged and sold to buyers and chocolate producers who roast them, releasing that signature chocolate flavour.
There are 3 main types of cacao beans:
1. The hardy Forasteros (most commonly used for around 90% of today’s chocolate, 70% of which comes from Africa).
2. The rare and delectable Crillos (only used in around 1% of the world’s chocolate, found mostly in South America and harvested in the jungles via a dug out canoe)
3. The Trinitario, a hybrid cross between Forasteros, for their hardiness, and Crillos, for the taste. The Trinitario is found in both Africa and South America and is the bean mostly used in the higher quality dark chocolate that you find in your local store.
Many of the processors and chocolate makers blend the different types of beans from several locations to create their signature taste, thus leading to distinct differences between brands.
*Choffy can be a delicious alternative to your morning cuppa – I gave it the TMBL test here.
Weigh in: Are you a choc-a-holic? What’s your favourite brand? How dark do you like your chocolate?