Chocolate... Well, cacao, but that's where it comes from.
Fields of cacao trees giving up their pods day after day. Freshly shucked seeds flowing into the co-op on the back of moto-taxis and money flowing out of my pockets at an alarming rate. Stage 1 of the project includes a 4-ton pilot project. The two main species that we could, on this trip, isolate and export were the original yellow bean "Criollo" and the "Hibrido de la chakra" (Hibrid from the farm). The reason I put Criollo in quotation marks is because we are yet to genetically identify the variety, but we know that most of the beans in the area are direct decedents of Nicefero's original plants. The other variety seems to be a clasic Trinitario or hybrid species that exists on the farm that is owned by Pacho's family. Pacho works in the co-op and can carry a 100kg bag of beans like it's nothing but a thing. We set about a process for keeping the beans separate so that the product we would eventually import into the U.S. would be consistent to the varieties we were targeting.
Fermentation is a complicated process, but once you learn the method it can be standardized and measured. With the measuring comes the management. From the farm, to the co-op, into the batch fermentation chambers. Two days to get the ferment up to temperature (usually around 50 degrees Celsius) and then the agitation and aeration. These factors are critical. Ensuring that the microbial activity has enough oxygen to work in all areas of the chamber will guarantee a consistent product for funding our business in Colorado. As it seems that we are unable to find grant funding for our project, we have to set up a finished product or chocolate company to fund our Peruvian farmers.
The picture above is of the main batch fermentation system. A two wide three high construction that was designed with gravity in mind. Batches move left to right and top to bottom to lessen the physical exertion of aeration. As evidenced in this photo, a great waste of capacity and a dangerous work space to say the least. I think I fell into one of the open bins at least 5 times. No major injuries but a good deal of embarrassment and much humor to my Peruvian friends. One of our next jobs is to work out a flow so that more of the bins can be utilized at full capacity. Our preferred method, that has a more manageable capacity and one that works with our one batch one bag goals is the stand alone chambers. We constructed a number of these using the Lush grant funding and aside from a couple of steel nail issues have a chamber that starts at 180 liters and produces a yield of 63 kg, which is exactly one export sized bag.
From the fermentation chamber to the drying area. Much of the intense sweat soaked labor and nervous rushed moments of dread are experienced in this phase of production. With little to no infrastructure, most of the work is manual and with the regular jungle downpours, scrambling to cover or bring in the drying beans can have a great impact on the quality of the finished product. Stage 2 will be all about covered drying tables and facility security so that the end of day bagging and securing in the co-op building will no longer be the unnecessarily task I consider it to be.