Picture yourself snacking on a chocolate bar. That chocolate bar's journey began at least four years ago. Welcome to the first part of our series on How Chocolate is Made: Cocoa Farming.
When I mention that chocolate began its journey four years ago, I wasn't exaggerating. In fact, it could be far longer than that. Because chocolate gets it start as a seed of a fruit, known as cacao. This seed takes 3-5 years to grow strong and begin to produce fruit which we call cacao pods. Crazy, right? Thankfully, if everything is cared for, the tree will produce fruit for up to 30 years.
Cacao seeds sprouting. I love how the seed itself extends into the air
During the first four years, these soon to be fruiting cacao trees require the skillset of a cocoa farmer (or many to be quite honest!). Without skilled sets of farm hands, there is no chance the trees will even produce pods. These farmers must protect the trees from too much sun or wind, while watching for any sign of disease or stress.
When the trees are finally producing cacao pods, it is time to harvest. Most producing countries have 2 periods of production - a main harvest and a secondary, smaller harvest. As the pods ripen, skilled workers cut down and collect the fruit. Care must be taken to avoid and damage to the pod itself, as it will effect the final quality of the product they intend to sell.
On our trip to Colombia, Katie was able to taste ripe cacao pods, ready for harvest
After collecting the ripe cacao pods, the farmers must ready themselves for fermentation. The pods are sliced open with the aid of a machete, and the inner fruit and seeds are removed. The fruit is packed in large wooden boxes and fermentation begins shortly after. This process typically spans 4-7 days. When the farmer is able to properly navigate fermentation, there is a greater chance his or her cacao will end up in the hands of a specialty producer, fetching a higher price per kilogram, rather than being sold to the commercial market.
The seeds have been scooped from their pods and are ready to begin fermentation
After fermentation has finished, the beans are removed from the wooden boxes and spread out to dry. Drying is the next critical step. Allowing the beans to dry halts fermentation and prepares the cacao for their journey into our hands. If the beans are shipped with a high moisture content, we may receive cacao that is moldy. If the beans are too dry, breakage can occur.
Inspecting the cacao upon arrival to our shop in Toronto, Ontario
Creating quality chocolate starts with quality raw products, and that is why we are proud to work with select farmers from different countries around this world. The price we pay for our cacao is, on average, 2-3x what commercial cacao fetches.
So, next time you're snacking on your favourite chocolate, imagine all of the steps that had to go just right to make it taste so good.