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Processing - for perfect beans

Much of the cocoa traded around the world has not been properly fermented – but this is a vital step for fine-flavour beans and the chocolate made from them. We are still experimenting – trying out our own ideas and working with researchers from Queensland – to optimize this vital step.

After harvest, the cocoa pods are left to mature for a couple of days; then the beans, with their sweet-acid pulp (with a taste reminiscent of soursop or custard apple), are placed in a traditional wooden fermentation bin. The beans spontaneously start to ferment, fuelled by yeasts naturally associated with the fruit and the sugar in the pulp. Every two days, the beans are turned and thoroughly mixed – and the temperature climbs to almost 50°C. Around the fourth day of fermentation (according to the researchers!) bacteria begin to take over from the yeasts and the smell of the fermentation becomes more acidic. Soon afterwards, usually on the sixth day, we split open samples of beans, to make sure that they are fermented enough – but not too much!

The beans are then sun-dried for a week to ten days, in Fiji’s beautiful sunshine. If there are rainy days, we use the waste heat from the chocolate factory air-conditioning to prevent mould from forming – and the ‘greenhouse effect’ in our innovative drying building keeps air flowing through the drying racks. When the beans are dry enough for ‘safe’ storage – that is, without going mouldy – they are moved to our dry store and left to mature for at least two months.

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