Our first cacao harvest was made in Spring 2018, what a fantastic moment for everyone connected with Maui Ku‘ia Estate Chocolate! Cacao farming is an interesting, labor intensive and very colorful process and in this week’s blog we’d like to show you how we have been manually harvesting our crops up at our beautiful West Maui farm.
Cacao pods are the fruit from a tree, whose name is Theobroma cacao—this translates as “food of the gods.” Each tree will yield about 20-100 pods per year, and it takes 12-15 average pods to make a pound of chocolate. We expect our first year’s total haul to weigh in at approximately 2204 lb.
We currently have 20 acres of cacao trees and all our harvesting to date has been done by hand. We simply make a clean cut through the peduncle (stem) of the cacao pod, as seen below, taking care not to damage either the pod or the branch where more cacao flowers are growing, this ensures continued and healthy growth of the tree and its fruit.
Once all the brightly colored cacao pods have been gathered, we pile them up for our Ku‘ia Farm team to weigh.
Then we begin cracking! This is where we split open the pods to remove the beans—we just whack them with a sturdy piece of wood and the pod breaks open, revealing a sweet white pulp which surrounds the cacao beans. The husk is then discarded (we use it later for mulch) and the pulp goes into a container before being weighed.
The fresh beans are then hung in mesh sacks to drain excess juice. We collect this sweet and tangy juice, which is delicious when served chilled. It will be making an appearance at our Chef’s Table dinners and in our range of chocolate (more on that to come in the future!).
The beans then go into wooden boxes, are covered with banana leaves and ferment for five to seven days, depending on the varietal and style of fermentation. The yeasts and beneficial bacteria that drive the fermentation process consume the sugars in the cacao pulp, producing heat and biochemical changes within the seed. The transformation that occurs during fermentation is what produces the precursors for chocolate flavor, which will be brought out during later processes such as roasting and refining.
Next up, the beans go into wooden drying racks in our greenhouse where the Maui sun continues the drying process. We rake them by hand to ensure even drying, which further reduces their moisture levels. The beans are now reddish brown and are starting to resemble the rich colors that we associate with delicious chocolate.
Then we load the beans into burlap bags where they undergo aging for two to three months. Stored beans are measured routinely with a moisture meter to check their humidity levels. After aging they go into tightly sealed bags and into our climate-controlled storage facility to age.
We can’t wait to show you what happens next and, when our Lahaina Chocolate Factory is operational, we’ll take you behind the scenes for the next steps, roasting and winnowing!