Kyle King is a Community Economic Development (CED) volunteer serving in a pueblo in La Guajira, Colombia.
I’ve had the distinct honor of working with APOMD (Asociación de Productores Orgánicos del Municipio de Dibulla), the association I’ve worked closely with during my service here in La Guajira, Colombia. They are an association of roughly 40 farmers with a combined land usage of 250 hectares (~618 acres). Though they are still small producers, they perform many trainings with support from Colombian entities to train them on how to manage the crops and build a stronger association. It has been a learning process for them (and me!), but now instead of selling their cacao to producers, they are producing it themselves and making their own bars for hot chocolate. They don’t mess with any chemicals and grow their cacao all organically. They have taught me the cacao process at a very fundamental level, so here’s my easy step-by-step explanation of how it all works:
- The cacao is first graded by how many bad or tainted beans exist in a couple kilos of baba (the seed and fruit taken straight from its shell). The bad beans would be those that are discolored or black. The quality grade of the beans is recorded for each member of the association in order to track the quality of cacao that they produce per kilo.
- The cacao in baba is placed into the fermenting boxes. There are 3 sections for each box to facilitate rotation. As the heat rises, rotation is needed so that each bean reaches 60˚ Celsius evenly.
- Red cacao takes 6-7 days to properly ferment and green cacao takes 5-6 days to properly ferment.
- To properly check fermentation, temperature is taken, and sugar and PH balance are measured.
Drying the Bean
- The fermented beans are then put into drying tables that are made of wood and mesh plastic netting (the best is when the entire table is made of wood instead of plastic mesh, which doesn’t allow the bean to dry because of the humid soil).
- The first day of drying, beans are put out on the table for the first four hours of sunlight. Each hour, the beans should be mixed around for proper sun exposure.
- The second day of drying, beans are put out on the tables for the first six hours of sunlight. Each hour, the beans should be mixed around for proper sun exposure.
- The third day of drying, beans are put out for the whole day but not spread out too thin. They should create a layer of beans about 2 inches thick so that extensive sun exposure does not burn the beans. Beans should be rotated hourly.
- The fourth day and onward, beans are put out on tables for the whole day in thin layers and rotated hourly. Humidity is checked each day. Once humidity is at ≥7%, the beans are completely dry and ready for processing.
- Drying depends on the sun. In my site, with the hot Guajira sun, drying is typically 5-6 days on average.
Separating the Bean
- Dried beans are separated by largest to smallest. This is important, because when you toast the beans, you want them to be the same size so that they cook evenly and none are burned or undercooked.
- Beans are dumped on the machine. Big beans stay on top and smaller beans are collected at various levels below.
Toasting the Bean
- The beans then would be gathered and toasting will begin in order to cook the chocolate into a savory flavor while also making the shell of the seed easier to remove.
- The toaster uses propane for heat and electricity to rotate the beans to cook them evenly. This process smells sooooooo good!
Removing the Shell of the Bean
- The toasted beans are thrown into a woven sack and are mashed and mixed around to remove the shell.
- After using the woven sack, the beans are picked up and dropped through the passing air of a fan to blow away the shell, leaving the chocolate to drop into a bucket.
- The rest of the beans with shells remaining are removed by hand.
Grinding the Bean into Chocolate
- All that is left now is the 100% cacao. This is then passed through a grinder twice to turn them into a smooth liquid with minimal texture.
- The grinder can grind about a kilo a minute. The grinder does jam up at some points, so short delays take place to remove excess chocolate.
Molding and Storage
- The liquid chocolate is then quickly poured into a mold and is weighed to 250 grams.
- The weighed and finished molds are then put into a freezer that is between 0˚ to 5˚ Celsius for 20 – 30 minutes until it hardens.
- The hardened 100% cacao bars are then packaged, sealed, and stickered. They are then placed in a refrigerator for storage that does not exceed the temperature of 18˚ Celsius.
The final product is currently being wrapped in a plant leaf called bijao. This plant is used to wrap other foods such as tamales or others when cooking on a grill. It serves as a sustainable alternative to plastic. It is also wrapped in a string made from the fiqué plant. Therefore, every part of the product is decomposable, organic, and free from any chemical treatment.
This is the first product of the association. They are currently experimenting with other products that come from the cacao tree, such as cacao jelly and jams. Thanks for reading!