Hello and good day!
Over the years, we've come across little details in the harvesting and processing of cacao that make a significant difference in the resulting chocolate.
Each detail on its own may not be very significant, but when you put them altogether, we believe there is a compounding effect and they all add up to make a big impact.
It has taken us more than a decade to discover all of these.
I sometimes think to myself that even if everything were to fall apart with our business, nobody can take this knowledge away from us.No matter what happens, we will always know that these little things lead to better chocolate and we'll always be able to put the knowledge to good use.
However, I highly doubt that things will fall apart on us, as long as we make good products, do right by our cacao farm partners, and treat our customers well.
Anyhow, here is a list of some of the small details we make sure to get right.
When it is time to scrape beans out of the pod, we prefer that cacao farmers break pods open on rocks rather than hacking the pods open with machetes.
The farmers are expert with their machetes, but inescapably, some of the beans inside the pod get sliced, and we feel that a sliced bean ferments incorrectly.
And we want consistency.
Unlike almost any other company in the world, we do a selection out on the farms. First and foremost, we remove rotten cacao during the selection process.Can you believe that almost all chocolate in the world is made with some percentage of rotten cacao?
We know because we drive the rotten cacao back to town with us as a service to the cacao farmers and we sell it all to an industrial cacao buyer in town who happily takes it from us.
Also, out on the farm, we are looking for cacao seeds that have sprouted inside the pod. We are also removing some of the placenta that holds the seeds together in the pod. Again, all of this stuff usually makes into bags of exportable cacao.
Back at the cacao processing facility, we dump all of the freshly harvested cacao onto tables lined with plastic and do another selection.
We slosh through the fresh cacao and look for more rotten beans, more material from the pod that is not cacao, seeds that are germinating, and seeds that have been sliced with machetes. We remove as much as we can.
After this, we pile all of the cacao into juicer boxes. These are wooden boxes that allow the white mucilage that surrounds cacao in the pod to run down and out of the bottom of the box into buckets.
One of our team members works the cacao in the box with a wooden board. The juicer box does two things. First, we've found that less moisture in the fermentation boxes gives us a better ferment, which makes the chocolate taste better.
Also, we are exposing the cacao to more environmental yeast, which also gives us a better ferment. After the selection and the juicing, the cacao goes into fermentation boxes for 5-7 days.
In the fermentation boxes, we check pH, heat, and other variables on a daily basis, in several different locations, inside of each of several dozen boxes to make sure that our ferment is proceeding correctly. After fermentation is complete, we allow the cacao to rest for a day in our pre-dryer room.
Nobody else that we know of does this step.
The principal enemy of fine flavored chocolate in our opinion is acidity. Fermentation creates a lot of acid. We find that if you put cacao straight out onto dryer beds under the sun, the acidity will be trapped inside the skin once it hardens into shells.
The pre-dry allows some acidity to gas out and dissipate before we put the cacao out to dry. Out on the dryer tables, we do another selection.
This time we are looking for small, flat, or deformed beans. For this work, we hire local, single moms who will have a hard time finding a job. We give them a flex schedule so they can work around taking care of their children.
We sell our dryer bed discard to a broker who considers this cacao to be fine flavored! And the broker is right, to a degree.
It is of a genetic variety that make really good tasting chocolate. It has been but through a world class post harvest process. It is better than almost any other cacao on the market, and yet it is our discard.
Why do we discard it?
Because all cacao in a batch gets the same roast. It stands to reason that a smaller cacao bean will roast differently than a larger one.
If you cooked a small chicken for the same amount of time and at the same heat as a large chicken, you will get two different results.
We want consistency and so the smalls and flats have to go.
At the port in Lima, where our cacao is loaded onto a boat to go to Switzerland, our team stands next to the truck and won't let any cacao be unloaded until we are sure it is going straight into a sealed shipping container. The air in Lima is contaminated and near the sea the air is extremely fishy.
We don't want our precious cacao sitting out in that air absorbing the aromas for hours on end, which would almost certainly happen if our team wasn't there monitoring the situation. Sometimes this step requires us to grease the palms of stevedores, which we happily do.
Again, nobody else does this.
Only my finnicky brother Brian would notice something like this and come up with processes to manage it. This is just a limited smattering of the little things we do to put out the best chocolate we can.
I like the idea that little tweaks, discovered over the years, can snowball into a significant result. I like the idea that it takes a long time of patiently and diligently working on your craft to discover these important little tidbits.
And as I mentioned before, I love that once you know these things, you can never unknow them. They are yours. A reward for a long stretch of sustained effort.
One last thing before I sign off.
I once has two friends over for dinner and they were both plumbers, by coincidence. They both had tons of experience, more than twenty years each. I mentioned that I was having a little problem in one of our bathrooms and asked if they might take a peak after dinner to give me some advice.
Here is what cracked me up.
In the bathroom, both independently pulled small flashlights out of their pockets. Even though neither had plans to do any work, both carried around small flashlights with them at all times.Then they started talking and I was hypnotized by the conversation.
These guys both knew everything there was to know and they both had an amazing grasp of all kinds of little details. I could see that knowledge of the little things made them respect each other a lot.
Anyhow, I am running out of steam on this topic for now.
Thank you so much for your time today!
I hope that you have a truly blessed day!
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