Cacao beans should be fermented after taking out of the pod. Not the usual wash-and-dry technique. Otherwise, it is not fit for chocolate making. However, cacao growers should not worry to much about it. There is still market for non-fermented beans. It can still be turned to tabliya. It hurts my ear every time I hear that kind of reasoning. It is like a good song that was awfully rendered. There was a time when a merchant was offering me washed-and-dried beans. I replied, I wanted it fermented. He answered no, fermented beans are for export while the non-fermented are for tabliya making. What was wrong with them?
I used to buy the non-fermented. I stopped when I established reliable suppliers of good beans. It is fact, fermentation is requirement for good tasting chocolate. Others often taste boring and most of the time have inherent soil taste. Is that what they call “earthy”? Perhaps, but what I am referring to is strong soil flavor. It is not pleasant.
Like what others do, I can buy separate set of washed-and-dried beans and save couple of pesos per kilogram. Then get rid of the minor problem I will mention later. However, the bigger problem lies with the storage. It is very attractive to weevils. A 50 kilogram sack often never last for two weeks. It becomes unfit for roasting after the said period. Weevils quickly get to unmanageable numbers which the customers are sure to return the product to us. We don’t like that incident to happen. So if we found unusable unfermented batch, it is automatically rejected and profit loss, with portion of the capital.
Here is the minor problem. It maybe huge as there is very small portion of customer pool brave enough to complain. They said, why our tabliya tasted like wine and vinegar. Yes, if the one buying is accustomed to regular grocery cocoa powder. He is sure has a big question mark in his head right after sipping the first cup. The same is true for baking purposes, as the alkalized and non-alkalized cocoa mass should be used differently.
We are always explaining. We are using good fermented beans and never adding any except some sugar for our 70% bars (and other higher concentration bars). Our 100% bars and pure tabliya are nothing but cacao. We never claim it is minimally processed and hand made though. The processing from bean to bar or to tabliya requires several machinery and lasts for few days. It is never artisinal. By definition, it means “by hand”. Purely by hand is not impossible but highly inefficient.
There are several ways get rid of winey and vinegary taste. First is the choice of unfermented beans. Second. Roast it longer, refine longer and conch longer. Lengthy processing times remove most of the undesirable flavors but also bring the good with it. You’ll probably end up with flat and boring product. Third is alkalization. It is as simple as adding the nibs or mass with alkaline substance to get a neutral pH and getting rid of acid taste. Then, it allows greater extraction of butter and the remaining mass dissolves better in water.
Third. I think it is the most significant. Commercial makers and some micro to small scale processors are adding too much ingredients. To extent, cacao become a very small fraction of a whole. We love the concoction and often rejects the pure thing.
Marvin is the lead chocolate maker of Ben and Lyn Chocolate Inc. Has strong background in food research and development. Occasionally conducts training and lectures. Lecturer of Cocoa Foundation of the Philippines. Do coaching and consultancy services on his free time.