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How about we visit a cacao farm and learn all about producing chocolate? The nice thing about this tour is you do not need to purchase a package from a tour company if you are in the area. If you are visiting or staying anywhere along highway 256, you can walk (drive or bike) up to the chocolate store to purchase your ticket for the tour. First, locate the Jaguar Rescue Center (Visit “Places to visit” on my blog for additional directions), then go south about 1.7 kilometers. The chocolate store will be on your right. Look for the signage (second picture) you see below. The tour will cost about $20 U.S. and starts during the week at 3 p.m.
After you purchase your ticket for the tour, walk about 9 meters (10 yards) to the entrance to the farm. The coca farm is 400 meters up the road and where the tour begins. Being that most of this is up hill, I suggest you take a car or bike to the tour starting point. The road up the hill is right next to the chocolate store. (see above picture)
You will first meet David, your tour guide. He will point out flora and fauna as the tour begins.
On our walk to the farm we also met some small creatures that you do not want to fall in with.
(Paraponera clavata is a species of ant, commonly known as the bullet ant, named for its extremely potent sting. If you ever find yourself inadvertently standing on a Bullet Ant nest….well, you will realize it fairly quickly. Then for the next 24 hours you will be in excruciating pain with waves of burning and intense throbbing.)
The cacao bean grows on the cacao tree and are found inside the “pod”, called the “fruit”.
When the fruit (pods) are opened, the cacao “seeds” or (or cacao “beans”) are removed from the fruit. These are then placed in a large wooden box to ferment. You can get 30 to 40 beans from a pod.
When the fermentation is done, the beans are set out to dry. Notice, in the picture below, there is a roof on the right of the drying table. It rains at night quite often; the roof is rolled over the beans to protect them from the rain.
After drying, the beans must be roasted for about 10 minutes but must be turned in the pan so they don’t burn. At this farm, it was all done by hand. The gentleman doing the roasting has a special spatula he uses to stir the beans. David explained that in big commercial farms they would use large mechanical arms to spread the beans around as they are being roasted.
After the roasting, the “skin” (or “husk”) must be separated from the roasted beans. They must be crusted (in a matter of speaking) to break the skin/husk from the beans. It is a simple method, but effective.
After the beans are crushed (rolled over with a rock) to break the skin/husk from the bean, they are ready to separate the husk from the bean.
On the farm, they use a fan to help in this next process.
The beans, being heavy, fall down into the pan, and the husk, being very light, blows away. This gives you a nice yield of clean cacao beans that are now ready to make chocolate paste.
To make the paste, the beans are placed in a grinder.
The result is chocolate paste that you can use to make all kinds of chocolate items. For us, they added melted sugar cane to the chocolate. Then, we were served the best chocolate drink I have ever tasted. Trust me, I am a chocoholic! It was amazing!!
A few facts from Wikipedia and other sources on chocolate:
The production of the cacao is increasing steadily at about 3% per year. The Netherlands, United States and the UK import the highest amount of cocoa to make chocolates. Cacao and its products are used worldwide. The African region produces the most cacao, about 70% of the worldwide total. The country of Cote d’lvoire, in west Africa, is the largest producer of cacao beans at 1.44 million tons annually, or about 34.7% of worldwide total.
Until the next post.