Seed to Bean. How We Do It.
The quality of our chocolate products starts from the beans and the farmers play an integral role in the production of the fine flavour cacao we use in our products. Luis Armando Choco, our Executive Chocolate Maker, shares his time between the Mahogany Chocolate Shop on Ambergis Caye and the Toledo District in southern Belize where he visits the farms, speaks to the farmers and selects the beans (literally) from our fermentation & drying depot that go into every batch of our premium chocolate.
It is extremely important to the quality of our products that we start with fresh cacao beans. Each week, our 150 participating farmers harvest only the ripe pods from the cacao trees. The beans are carefully extracted by the farmers and picked up by our bean buying team within six hours of being harvested. After careful transportation through the lush Belize mountains, the beans arrive at our centralized processing facility in Crique Jute Village to begin fermentation.
Our cacao are predominantly trinitario varieties (a mixture of Forastero and Criollo cacao) although some criollo and forastero varieties can be found (less than 2%) in at least 45% of our current farm holdings. Hints from the lesser dominant variety can therefore be found in batches of our cacao beans. It is one of the most important organoleptic characteristics that gives our “Peini Blend” its distinct flavour profile compared to other trinitario cacao. Our chocolate team has identified our “Peini Blend” to be highly fruity in flavor with floral notes being dominant from our early harvest.
Our cacao beans are sourced from ecologically and sustainably managed farms. With our support the farmers employ good agricultural practices to ensure their trees have adequate sunlight, nutrients and care to yield only the highest quality cacao. We achieve this by maintaining rigorous farming practices that include soil and tree improvements, shade management, pest and disease control. Our extension officers visit these farmers to ensure that their practices continually meet our very high standards of sustainability and ecologically grown cacao.
Harvest is a vitally important part of our seed-to-bean process. This stage is controlled by our farmers and Farm Manager, Feliciano Pop, for our Peini Farms. Our team visits each farm to ensure that our farmers adhere to the strict harvesting protocol established by our technical team. By harvesting and cracking only the ripe pods before extracting the seeds correctly we can be guaranteed the highest quality beans. We provide constant training and recommendations for the farmers so they can improve their farming practices.
The fermentation process is a major part of developing the cacao flavor. The beans are weighed and checked (to ensure they are free from any foreign object) before they are placed in cascading (5 tier) wooden fermentation boxes. The beans are fermented for 6 days following the fermentation protocol established as per the characteristics of each batch. Cut tests and temperature readings are recorded every two days so as to monitor the fermentation progress. Amendments are made to achieve the desired fermentation percentage ratio.
Energy from the Sun! The beans are dried using passive solar energy, although this is sometimes challenging in a sub-tropical climate with high humidity especially during inclement weather conditions. Fortunately our optimally positioned, carefully structured and purpose-built drying facility with roll out drying racks aids the slow drying of the beans. To achieve an even dryness the beans are turned constantly by a team of experienced post-harvest personnel led by our Quality Control Manager Samuel Tzui.
Beans are dried until they reach a moisture content of 6.5%, achievable in 6 days during bright sunny conditions.