Cocoa Processing in Grenada

The cocoa season is here again in the beautiful Spice Isle of Grenada. With the processing stations of the Grenada Cocoa Association bursting at the seams we once again decided to process our beans ourselves. We want to share some of the knowledge and experiences gathered about cocoa processing with you.

1. Picking

Picking the ripe cocoa pods with a cocoa knife

First up the ripe cocoa pods have to be picked. We usually use cocoa knives in Grenada, which is really a sharpened blade with a curved hook. The aim is to either pull at or slice through the stem at the base of the pod, being careful not to damage the branches or the trunk of the trees where the pods are attached.
Some pods can be really subborn and it might require some technique to pick them but don't get too impatient - they all come down!

Picking and heaping

With just over 5 acres of cocoa we have our harvest all planned out "to the T". We perform one task at a time - pick and heap, then crack and clean. Depending on the load we would either crack and clean later on the same day or leave it for the day after.

Once picked the cocoa should not be left too long on the ground since a number of things could go wrong. Within a few days the beans could start to ferment prematurely or mould. Furthermore beans start to germinate soon after they have been picked. Such beans should be sorted out since they can completely alter the taste of the end cocoa product.
In addition, rats are sure to have a feast with all that food lying around. We aren't the only ones who love that taste of sweet, juicy cocoa beans!

Heap of cocoa pods waiting for cracking and cleaning

Heap of cocoa pods waiting for cracking and cleaning

2. Cracking and Cleaning

Cracking and cleaning cocoa

Once the picking is completed we set off to cracking and cleaning the cocoa. The pods are cracked open using a knife or a small cutlass. Either way the most important thing is to ensure that the beans are not injured in the process. Injured beans have to be sorted out and should not be put to ferment.

The cocoa beans are pulled away from the "guts" of the cocoa and collected in a bucket. 

A word to the wise! The juicy pulp surrounding the beans is highly acidic and can eat away at your skin. Try not to dig too deeply and forcefully into the pods to get the beans out. This could cause excess juice to get under your nails and cuticles. Let's just call it trouble from here!

Cracking and cleaning cocoa

Nothing is wasted here. After cleaning, the pods are scattered around the base of the cocoa trees and left to decompose. Add a bit of compost and decomposed seaweed to that and you have the perfect organic fertilizer for your cocoa.
3. Fermenting

Unarguably the most crucial phase in the entire cocoa processing chain. It is through careful and proper fermentation that the naturally occuring tannins, which account for the astringent, bitter taste of the beans are broken down and the rich, complex flavours of cocoa and ofcourse chocolate brought out.

Throughout the cocoa producing nations many different methods of fermentation are used. The main 2 methods are the heap method, widely used in West Africa and the sweat box method used in the West Indies, Central America and Malaysia. We ferment our beans in thick, cured jute sacks, lined and covered with banana leaves.

Cocoa fermentation in thick jute sacks covered and lined with banana leaves 

Fermentation is nothing but a series of chemical processes. Upon exposure to air naturally occuring yeast (saccharomyces) and micro-organisms start to break down the sugary pulp surrounding the beans into ethanol. Bacteria (Mycoderma acetifurther oxidise the ethanol into acetic acid and then into carbon dioxide and water in an aerobic, exothermic reaction. Temperatures start to rise to
40 - 45°C within the first 48 hours of fermentation.  On the third day the beans have to be turned to aerate the heap and increase bacterial activity.

At a temperature of about 43°C the germ of the bean dies and a series of internal chemical reactions initiated. These chemical reactions account for the typical chocolate flavour and colour.

Depending on the type of cocoa, fermentation usually takes 5 - 7 days.

4. Drying

After the beans have been properly fermented they are put out to dry ideally on a wooden surface which can be covered incase it starts to rainLuckily enough we have an old boucan on our plantation so we use that for drying.

For the first 1-2 days the beans should not be spred out too thinly as too much heat would be lost too quickly. For one this allows partially fermented beans to continue fermenting. Furthermore the chemical reactions which take place during fermentation are not halted abruptly thus preventing the beans from being overly bitter or acidic.  

Secondly the thin outer shell doesn't get too dry and crisp too quickly. This allows for the moisture and acids in the beans to escape easily thus prevently internal moulding and overly bitter beans. 

We place the beans in rows just about 2 - 3 inches high during this time.  Every 3 - 4 hours we turn and massage the beans and re-row them. Beans which would have gotten stuck together are separated and damaged, germinated or thin beans removed. 

Days 1 - 2 of the cocoa drying process

Days 1 - 2 of the cocoa drying process. Turning and massaging the beans

After the initial drying stage the beans can be spred out and allowed to dry another 5 - 7 days depending on how sunny it is. The beans are turned every 3 - 4 hours to ensure uniformed drying.

Properly dried beans should have a moisture content of 7,0 - 7,5%. Since we have no way of measuring this, we use our tried and tested "squeeze test". Take a hand full of beans and squeeze them. Once properly dried, the beans should sound crisp. Sometimes the shell might even chip off in the process.

The largest harvest occurs between December and March. Unfortunately it is still pretty rainy during that period so we literally have to sit and watch our beans once we put them out to dry. One has to prevent the beans from getting wet at all cost since they can mould. Mouldy beans receive a lower grade and are not accepted. 

5. Selling

Since 1947 the Grenada Cocoa Association (GCA) is the sole entity responsible for the marketing, sale and export of grenadian cocoa. Here is a list of prices which cocoa fetches at the moment.

  • Wet Cocoa                     -  EC $1,50/lb
  • Dried Cocoa Grade 1    -  EC $3,85/lb
  • Dried Cocoa Grade 2    -  no longer accepted by the GCA


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