Chocolate making starts with the cocoa bean. Cocoa beans are seeds from the pods of cacao trees, a tropical plant that thrives only in hot, rainy climates. It is grown worldwide in tropical rainforests within 20° latitude of the equator in such places as Brazil, Venezuela, and Ecuador in South America; The Ivory Coast and Ghana in West Africa; and Malaysia and Indonesia in Southeast Asia. Where the beans grow determines the flavor characteristics of the cocoa–all beans are not the same.
Based on documentation in 2010, Indonesia is the third largest cocoa producer in the world after Ivory Coast – Africa (38%) and Ghana – Africa (19%). Indonesia produces 18% of world produc- tion, or about 600,000 tons of cocoa a year.
A cacao tree can produce close to two thousand pods per year. The fruit grows from the branches and oddly, straight out of the trunk. The pods, which mature throughout the year, encase a sticky white pulp and about 30 or 40 seeds. The pulp is both sweet and tart; it is eaten and used in making drinks. The seeds, were you to bite into one straight out of the pod, are incredibly bitter. Not at all like the chocolate that comes from them.
The varieties of cacao pods fall under three classifications.
• Criollo has a light color with a unique, pleasant aroma and is used in the finest chocolate.
• Forastero is more plentiful, easier to cultivate, and has a pungent aroma.
• Trinitario is a cross of strains of the other two types and generally has a good, aromatic flavor. The majority of the world’s chocolate is made from Forastero beans.
The key to making a great chocolate is to source the beans from different areas of the world, and blend them together to come up with a unique flavor profile.
In Wahana Interfood Nusantara, PT. we only use the finest fermented Criollo and Trinitario cocoa beans to manufacture our products.
The cacao tree bears fruit (or pods) all year, but harvesting is generally seasonal. Harvesting requires a delicate touch, as cacao trees are very frail. Training and experience are necessary to know when the pods are ripe and ready to be cut. Harvesting is accomplished by workers on the ground, who wield either a machete or a long pole with a machete in the end. Then, workers open the pods by hand, taking care not to damage the beans inside. About 20 to 50 beans are scooped from a typical pod, and approximately 400 beans are required to make 0.5kg of chocolate.
Next comes one of the most important steps in the process – fermentation; which serves to develop the characteristics of the chocolate flavor. Without fermentation, chocolate does not taste like chocolate. The beans, still sticky with pulp, are placed in earthen pits or wooden bins an covered with banana leaves, then left fermented. The heat of fermentation changes the bitter flavours in the beans into something more edible, more chocolaty. The sugars in the bean turn into acids, the color changes from pale to dark brown, and the pulp residue melts away. The length of fermentation process depends on the type of the beans; it may need a few days or a week or more.
After fermentation, the beans are dried. In some countries, the beans are simply spread out on trays or mats and left to dry under the sun. During drying, the beans lose nearly all their moisture and more than half their weight. The drying process generally takes five to seven days, during which the beans are frequently turned.
Cocoa beans can also be artificially dried by blowing hot air over the beans from fires. This cuts the time in half but leaves a smoky character in the chocolate. Though less expensive, beans dried using this method are not used for making premium chocolate in Wahana Interfood Nusantara, PT.
Once the beans are dried, they are packed and shipped to chocolate manufacturers.