Dear chocolate friends!
In our last episode we talked about our Peini farms and our outgrowers – the source of our Kakaw beans, and our vertical integration.
Let us now look at the following stages: our post-harvest facility and our chocolate factory!
Our Post Harvest Depot
It goes without saying that “our chocolate’s flavour is a testament to the arduous dedication and effort made during the cultivation and post-harvest process”.
Truth be told, great chocolate starts from the farm but what cannot be overly emphasized, is the post-harvest process, a critical control point for quality Kakaw beans.
Fermentation, drying and selection are three critical areas in the post-harvest process that determines whether the kakaw beans are fit for chocolate by any chocolate makers’ standard. Many of my colleagues would go on to establish that fermentation is perhaps the most fundamental building blocks, a precursor for flavor development which are further enhanced during roasting.
We do not object! In fact our quality control system, traceability and critical control points system are promulgated across our company and enshrined within our core principles.
Our depot consists of 18 wooden boxes, each with a 2,000 lb capacity and a drying station with pull-out trays on each side, capable of drying 3 MT’s at any given time.
Enclosed with a cement structure and a traditional thatch roof, each fermentation system is 3 tiered allowing a top-down systematic transfer of beans every 24 hours.
Each box is closed properly, so that the micro-organisms develop to start the fermentation of the pulp.
Pulp is the liquid white substance which covers the beans when ripe. It is made up of 85% water and 15% of sugars (glucose and fructose), protein, acids and inorganic salts.
The beans are turned at least 1 time for the day to ensure even fermentation of every bean in the box. The beans will stay in each box for 2 days before they are transferred to the lower tier until reaching the 3rd box at ground level on the 5th day.
At the end of day 6 or 7 (depending on cut-test results to verify the fermentation rate), the beans are removed from the final box and taken to the drying decks where they begin the first day of drying.
At the drying rack, relying on solar energy, the beans are turned at least three times per day to obtain even drying and reduced moisture. On day 5, moisture readings are obtained. Once the beans have the desired moisture content of 6.5 they are removed from further drying and taken to the sorting station for selection. Here, all the unwanted debris is taken out, cracked and small beans are removed and only the best beans are kept.
During sorting, random cut and taste tests are performed for every lot to verify the fermentation rate. Flavor notes from the exercise as well as details of the lot are recorded daily, forming part of a traceability system.
Our Manufacturing Process
Fresh cacao beans arriving at the receiving station are once more checked for quality which consist of visual and sensory checks. Once accepted, the chocolate making process begins. Each bag is screened to eliminate cracked, germinated and flat beans. Beans are then roasted to the desired roast profile before they are cracked and winnowed, separating the skin from the cacao nibs.
Cacao nibs are pre-ground, turning the nibs to cacao paste. The pre-grinding process reduces frictional stress observed during the first one hour of stone refining. Ingredients are added during the refining stage based on the chocolate recipe. The chocolate will refine for 48 hrs before the conching process.
Standards in some countries recognizes “Cacao Mass” as the right term and ingredient for chocolate. “Cacao beans” cannot be used on labels or packaging as an ingredient for chocolate. Cacao mass is 100% refined cacao beans without skin.
Chocolate is filtered immediately after refining and moulded into chocolate bars/tablets. Excess chocolate is moulded into 5kg blocks for storage and later use.
Moulded chocolate bars are hand packed and prepared for the local and export market. All completed within 4 days after receiving the cacao beans!
Our teams are intimately connected with every stage of the process – from the seeds all the way to the finished product, so that every stage is executed with love and care. Our standard operating procedures help guide every member of our team to produce and execute at their best and ensure a consistent end product.
As one of the benefits of vertical integration, our manufacturing team closely communicates with our farming and post-harvest team, sharing knowledge or providing recommendations to improve processes.
The results are not only celebrated by our people, but evident in the products produced either by our manufacturing team in the form of chocolate products or by chocolate makers around the world utilizing our cacao beans.
Importantly the higher than market prices paid to our growers for their wet cacao beans augment their sustainable growth creating a healthy social, cultural, economic and ecological environment for their families.
In our next episode we will look at our farmers and our field officers. Stay tuned as we bring our operation closer to you.
Have a happy chocolate day!