On the morning of Tuesday, February 16, 2016 our tour group boarded the bus and headed out of Guayaquil southeast bound for the city of Cuenca. This is a 200-kilometer/125-mile journey that normally takes about three and a half hours. But we had several stops to make along the way, the first of which was a cocoa plantation.
We learned much about cocoa farming that day. For instance, the cocoa bean comes from the cacao (cocoa) tree, or Theobroma cacao, and there’s a lengthy process between that bean and your Swiss chocolate bar.
Slice open a cocoa pod and you’ll find cocoa beans coated in a slimy fruit pulp. Beware the pulp, as it’ll play havoc with your intestinal track if eaten. Fermented however it makes for an interesting alcoholic beverage:
Remove one of those slime-covered nuggets and slice into it to find the actual bean:
This is how the sliced bean appears up close:
That bean is far from ready for use, however. The first process involves laying the beans out to dry, which also results in the pulp liquefying and wicking away from the beans as the pulp ferments. The dried beans are then placed in bins and fermented for about a week, with each bin being stirred several times throughout the process. In the photo below, the higher bins contain the newest beans and the lowest bins hold the beans that have undergone the longest fermentation period:
Once the beans in the lowest bins have fermented enough they are shoveled into wheelbarrows and dumped out to dry in the sun. The middle bins are then emptied into the lower bins, and the upper bins into the middle bins. This fermentation and later drying are critical, for without this process the cocoa bean retains a taste similar to raw potato.
At this particular cocoa plantation we were given samples not only of chocolate from their cocoa beans, but also liquor from the fruit pulp of the cocoa pods.