I know where chocolate comes from and the process by which the magical transformation of the cacao bean undergoes before hitting the shelves for the consumer. Still curious to see what the pod and tree look like in real life, I decided to go straight to the source and experience this unique opportunity of a “tree to bar” tour at the Rabot Estate in St. Lucia.
On the Rabot Estate, they grow a variety of cacao trees, fruit trees and orchids. In terms of cacao, they have created a gene bank and started crossing different species of cacao plants. Through research and development, they are able to plant species of cacao based on flavour, yields and the plant’s susceptibility to diseases, droughts, fungus, and pests.
The man in the picture on the left is responsible for almost all the cacao production in St. Lucia.
He oversees the production and ensures the quality and standards are kept by educating farmers around the island. The man on the right is responsible for becoming a maitre chocolatier? … maybe one day.
The beans along with its delicious lychee-like coating are put into a box to undergo fermentation for 5-7 days. The lychee-like substance, composed of mainly acid, sugar and vinegar help accelerate the process.
After the fermentation process, the bean is left out in the sun to dry. The bean is then roasted and shipped to Germany for processing.
In the seedling nursery, we grafted a cacao plant to be planted in just a few short months and harvested within 2 years.
In the second part of the tour, I discovered the “bean to bar” experience by creating a chocolate bar with a pestle and mortar. The pestle and mortar was heated in the oven, the cacao nibs were first added to the pestle and mortar. Using a circular motion, you grind the nibs into a fine powder, then you add cocoa butter to the existing mixture. When the cocoa butter is completely melted, you add sugar and continue to grind until the mixture feels smooth between your fingers. The entire process to make a chocolate bar by hand took almost an hour.