There are several farmers on Hawai’i Island planting varieties of Theobroma cacao trees that produce cacao seeds or pods from which cocoa and chocolate is made. The best known varieties are Criollo, Forastero and Trinitario which is a hybrid mix of both Criollo and Forastero.
The quality of the chocolate depends on the variety of the tree, and Criollo is considered the best chocolate producing trees.
I recently participated in a fun one-day chocolate making workshop that took us from harvesting the cacao pods to making the chocolate and all the steps in between.
We arrived at the site early on a beautiful, sunny but breezy morning and were given a short orientation talk by Tom Sharkey, the owner of the little farmstead and a coffee and cacao grower.
Our group got paired up in teams of twos, one picking the pods and the other carrying a burlap sack to put them in. As we walked through the cacao grove, Tom explained and demonstrated what to look for and how to pick. He explained how the trees need to be trimmed by cutting all but the main trunk as the little trees grew to make it easier to harvest.
The pods are harvested approximately every two weeks and the ‘ripe’ stage can be red, yellow, orange or mixed, depending on the variety of cacao tree. We harvested approximately 300 pods that morning.
As sacks were filled and dumped into a wheelbarrow they were taken to the shed where the processing started.
We were taught how to open the pods by giving them one or two sharp blows with a mallet and how to shuck the pods by removing the placentas with the seeds. Each pod can contain anywhere from 30 to 40 seeds.
After all the pods were opened and shucked, the seeds were placed in a large plastic container with drainage in the bottom to collect the juices. We were given ice-cold juice from a previous harvest to taste and found it delicious. The empty pods are recycled as composting material and nothing is wasted.
After the juices are drained, the beans are placed in a different container to ferment for 5 to 7 days, turning them each day, making sure that the beans are heating up.
After fermenting comes the drying stage; the beans are turned onto a mesh bottom drying rack in a single layer, in a well ventilated area and stirred daily. This process can take up to 6 days, depending on heat and air circulation, but dryness can be tested by opening a bean.
The dried beans need to be ground or cracked using a machine called Crackenstein or for small batches just simply a rolling pin. Tom has a machine he rigged up to separate the dried husks from the nibs, but a regular hand-held hair dryer can be used when processing small batches.
When roasting small batches of nibs, set a toaster oven at 425oF and roast for 9 minutes, then down to 325oF for another 9 minutes and finally bring the temperature down to 259oF for 10 minutes.
To grind the nibs a large Champion juicer can be used or a peanut butter machine to turn the nibs into paste. The paste is then placed in a Santha wet grinding-mixing machine for conching, for 2 to 4 days, adding sugar and vanilla slowly after paste is liquefied (about 12 hours). At this point you may also add cocoa butter and lecithin (emulsifier), but we didn’t add anything but sugar and vanilla to our batch.
Sugar can be adjusted according to your taste. Our dark chocolate was made using 75% cacao to 25% sugar.
To temper, the chocolate should be brought up to 115 to 120 degrees, then removed from heat and cooled to approximately 82 F. Bring the temperature back to 88-90 degrees and maintain while pouring into molds by working quickly.
Squirt bottles work well for pouring the liquid chocolate into the molds. To minimize air bubbles, first tap the squirt bottle and after pouring, tap the molds to remove as many bubbles as possible. Chill for about 15 to 20 minutes to set and pop loose from mold.
Each participant left on a chocolate high with a few packages of the chocolate and a potted one foot Criollo variety of cacao tree.
For more information on Tom Sharkey’s chocolate making workshops contact him at email@example.com Tom also runs Sharky's Cafe on the first block of Waianuenue Avenue in downtown Hilo
Cacao: the name of the tree and the pod, not to be confused with cocoa a product derived from processing the cacao beans
Nibs: the clean, roasted and slightly crushed cacao bean. The taste is slightly bittersweet and richer than the chocolate made from them.
Conching: the process by which the chocolate is processed to avoid grittiness by keeping the chocolate in a hot liquid state until completely smooth.
Tempering: the final process which gives the chocolate a satiny and glossy finish by removing all crystallization from the liquid.
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