Continuing Cocoa Husk Tea Experiment

I am opening the door again to cocoa husk tea testing. Before, I immediately turned it down after one test. I simply never liked it and stopped. Fueled by side of chocolate community that was also against the idea. From the time of harvest to pod breaking, fermentation, drying, storage, transport up to point it reaches the hands of chocolate makers. The husk is the most exposed to environmental contamination. After fermentation and before drying, if the process has significant gap. Ochratoxin may be produced by molds. It may also contain heavy metals, especially if the crop was grown near volcanic area. We are talking here of three hurdles; microbes, ochratoxin and heavy metals, most of which reside on husks. They claim, its removal takes away 90 percent of the problem.

While others say no to the idea, some still continue to venture with it. One chocolatier I know was against it before, but, they changed their mind and began serving husk base drinks. They experimented with it, their customers liked it and keep asking for more. What else can they do? Giving what customers want is essential to business. To battle the fear of danger, they are sending every husk batch for safety analysis.

For the start. I used ten grams husk to 150 ml recently boiled water. Steeped it for five minutes and filtered off. Adding sugar could make it better but I want the pure untainted flavor.

Husk is part of bean. I was expecting strong chocolate flavor but the experience was on a completely different level. It has faint brownie flavor with a sharp citrus kick. It has tarty aftertaste. Tartness gets stronger as the beverage gets colder. The citrus fades while the brownie flavor stays the same.

The flavor I described was specific to the cocoa beans on hand. Beans of different variety, location, and cultural practice may taste different.

Husk has other uses other than drinks. The global standard for cocoa mass husk content is about one percent. The lesser the better. However, husk, as I said is part of cacao bean. One may intentionally add more without label declaration. For the purpose of increasing yield in exchange for lower quality. It may be ground together with cocoa cake to produce a lower quality cocoa powder.

cocoa husk on top of hot water

cocoa tea version 2

I tried another, but not husk, cocoa nibs instead. I was curious which taste better given the same set of preparation. Same recently boiled water, same steeping time and same weight.

The resulting tea was light colored. The overall flavor was also light. This might not be the right preparation mode. Bigger nib sizes and low surface area were hindering factors of flavor diffusion. Husks on the other hand are thin and have large surface areas.

This might be a good starting point for those who want healthier beverage but cannot take the strong kick of pure coffee or cacao.

I never filtered off the nibs. I was chewing it once in a while, while enjoying the light tea. This brought  back the memories of a friend who was adding cocoa nibs in his hot coffee.

cocoa nibs tea

Repeated the nibs tea. Same set of ingredients. Instead of steeping, I set it to running boil for about two minutes.  The resulting tea was cloudy brown. Might be due to some powdery nibs suspended in liquid by boiling.  The chocolate aroma was strong while boiling but became light after. The overall flavor was also light.

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.

Cocoa Butter

I am not a fan. A client insisted on making milk chocolate. I have no choice but include it in recipe list. Addition of milk and sugar at certain point needs a balance of extra butter. Maker may extract his own, buy from other source or use a suitable replacement. They insist on a sweeter blend so extra cocoa butter is necessary.

cocoa butter

It has a weird smell not inherent to cocao. The flavor is bland. Not suggestive of cacao either. I haven’t produced cocoa butter yet. I occasionally gather and taste floating cocoa butter on stored cocoa mass. That is how I can compare.

I make chocolates. The one and two ingredients variants. Pure refined cacao bar and 70% plus sugar. I am considering the idea of extracting cocoa butter in-house. Add extra butter to products. Then what about the left over cake. Sell it as cocoa powder? I haven’t convinced myself that it is high quality product worth selling.

Note : In cocoa industry, the leftover of cocoa pressing is called “cake”. It is dry and crumbly. Easier to pulverize than nibs with intact butter.

Cacao has typical acidity of 5 to 6. True and evident for fermented beans. Anyone can tell it easily by eating raw and roasted beans. No need for high precision equipment and technical know how. Even the acidity levels can be estimated thru taste buds and score sheet.

A pH meter can be purchase for relatively cheap cost though. No need to do the guess work if your senses are not keen enough. Or, you are deligating the task to someone else. We have different levels of sensitivity. Standard mode of measurement is still necessary for long term.

Cacao bean, by nature, is not acidic. I have been working on fermented and unfermented for years. I can confidently assure that the latter is by no means acidic. It taste bitter, astringent and unpleasant. Roasting and subsequent processing changes flavor but I cannot say it is toward the better. It is bad before and after. Addition of sugar and milk only mask, not improve.

Fermented on the other hand, taste good in its raw form. It improves dramatically during processing. It can stand on its own without the addition of any. Small percentage of sugar usually suffice to those who cannot appreciate.

They say Criollo possesses great flavor. No need fermentation to unleashed its potential. However, it is low producer and susceptible to pests and diseases. Unattractive to farmers. Hybrid varities are resistant and high yielding. Their flavor profiles are not great as tradeoffs. Fermentation helps combat this weakness. It improves flavor but contributes acidity as well.

Another problem but there are always solutions. Roasting, refining and conching tame acidity but I guessed not enough. The products we are selling are still sour even after long hours of processing times. We learnt to live by it and many customers followed. Others who cannot, opt for unfermented produce and highly processed products with lots of ingredients. Too many that cacao itself became a small portion of the whole. That is not chocolate .. imo.

There exist a basic chemistry for neutralizing acidity. Addition of enough alkaline compound turns the pH level to 7. As for cacao, they use potassium carbonate for the so called dutch processing. It has pH 11. Highly corrosive substance. It is safe? Maybe not!

If you are getting butter from external source. The chances of it coming from dutch processing is very high. The manufacturer wants the by-product to be accepted by majority. They can sell it with ease. Alkalization also maximize cocoa butter yield. With a very expensive product, every drop counts. They are extracting every ounce they can press. Cocoa butter has high demand because of pharmaceutical and beauty industry. Perhaps your favorite lipstick has cocoa butter as base.

Here is the scenario. Large chocolate companies extract butter from cacao beans. Sell the butter to other companies or make their own beauty products line. For the left-over, the cocoa cake. They are pulverized and sent to baking industry. Some are clever enough to add butter replacement, sugar, milk and other additives. Sold it as if it is the real chocolate in the end.

There are another bad things. With pH above 7, phytonutrients mostly breaks down in high temperature environment. Chocolate is healthy, but too much processing void this claim. Sugar is poison and milk is found binding cacao phytonutrients.

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.

Toblerone and Spaces, A Lack of Chocolate.

Oh, a bar of Toblerone! It has been quite a while since I got a bite of the bitterly sweet treat. Never mind. It was not mine for the taking. Perhaps a gift from someone to someone he adored. Ever since I started making my own chocolate bar, I took my eyes off from brands not as bitter and pure as mine.

It turned out the bar was for all. It traveled from one hand to another until I got a piece. Thanks to generous sponsor. I was not expecting it so I considered myself lucky. There where so many people in the gathering. The chance of it reaching my hand was very low. It was like a lottery.

It could be a came back gift (pasalubong). When a relative or friend went abroad or out-of-town, it became a tradition to bring back something. It maybe food or thing. Usually, the first.  How I wished they brought uncommon thing. Something that we cannot get from nearby grocery store. This brand is so popular and widespread. Anyone can buy it whenever and almost wherever they like.

The shape was different from before. The chocolate brand Toblerone is known for its signature shape. Series of pyramid (some as many as toblerone letters) connected to each other. The connection point or canal serve as breaking point. Snap a piece, eat and save the rest for other or later.

That time  was different. The canal was somewhat extended. It seemed a great flood just occurred and ate away the ridges base. The bar had extended breaking point and smaller ridges. I only got a piece, but it was enough to draw conclusion.

a piece of shrank toblerone

I read news regarding this matter from internet sometime ago. Most consumers said, raising the price would be better than making the shape awful. Rather, make it smaller than increasing empty spaces.

As for me. It was awkward looking. A huge quality drop. Price increase is the way to go. However, if they are inclined toward lower market bracket, the decision would be a tough. When the cost of production increased, the manufacturer may increase the selling price, add a filler ingredient, replace the current with cheaper alternative, or, decrease the weight which would also result in size shrink.  However, the company, chose to decreased the weight without noticeable change in packaging size.  Someone might called it cheating when it was actually not. If the weight was not properly declared, then that is cheating.

They maintained the taste quality. I assumed.

According to speculations, the sudden increase of spaces was due to worldwide deficit in cacao production. A rather straightforward thinking of cacao farmers, cocoa traders and advocate. Price increase, due to low supply and high demand, could be easily justified. Government authorities and NGO’s  are using data like this for convincing stakeholders to venture into cacao farming. Replacing some to completely eradicating their current poorly performing crops.  Only to find out in the end that they cannot profit much either.  Project ends and the support ends. New project is created and the cycle continues.


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.

Fermented Beans and Few Weevils

I am crushing weevils one by one as I sort out cacao beans. It has been ages since last I saw this grain pest. They were gone away almost immediately after switching to properly fermented cacao.

Going back to Mang Flaviano story. He is maintaining various crops in his farms, including cacao. Sometimes he is making good money out of it. Most of the time not. Why? He harvests whole year round so it is safe to assume that it generates decent income. Sad to say that weevils eat it first before buyers arrived.

His dilemma put to halt when he learn how to ferment beans. Base on his experience, wash-and-dry barely last for two weeks. He has been storing fermented for about three months and it barely has sign of infestation.

So his conclusion. Fermenting the beans make it easier to prepare. No need to take effort in removing those hard to remove mucilage. Very minimal to no weevil infestation. Those insect seems to hate the winey and vinegary flavor. Third and the sweetest, he earns more money by simply employing the right method.

His beans still has weevils but very few has hole. His method is not yet refined so few improperly fermented beans is not surprising. His previous stocks used to be heavily infested. Theses insects came from those. They are trying to continue their life cycle.

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.

Five Cocoa Pods Fermentation Trial

Now I have five medium pods. Thanks to my sponsor.

I assumed the five are medium pods. I lack experience when it comes to cocoa farming. Pods color are three greens and two yellows. Three seem fine while the other two have some issues.

One of the yellow pod has a rotting end. I opened it carefully and separated the part affected by rot. Curious, I cut open one bean. It is color violet. Seems okay. The odor is okay too so I decided to include it in the experiment. It probably taste bad. I can never be sure unless I try.

suspected rotten beans

The second problem. One green pod is not fully ripe yet. The beans with mucilage intact is hard and full. Not separated yet from pod inner surface. I scraped them out forcefully with spoon. Then separated each bean with bare hand. It was hard and some of bean shells were damage by metal spoon. So getting raw fruit increases the chance of bean damage.

raw cocoa pod opened

Fully ripe beans are loose while raw are sticking to each other. I am guessing this is one of the causes of clumped beans. During large harvest. Mistake in harvesting is inevitable and workers are not keen enough to attend to every bean.

I visited the vessel after  two days. There are lots of molds growing on the surface. A contamination for sure.  No molds observed in my first trial.  I mixed it anyway.

I intentionally included a cut bean for the sake of observation. Too see whether the color is changing from violet to brown.  I am seeing it, cotyledon color getting brown.

The aroma is a mix of acid and wine.  This is better than before I think.

The mucilage is coming off nicely now. Mucilage of suspected raw beans are also degraded. Determining which is which is now impossible.

Some beans have visible sprouts. It has something to do with late harvest I think. If pods are harvested too late in their ripening stage, seeds will begin to germinate.

Timing is the key to prevent both raw and sprouted beans.

I set the beans for drying after the fifth day. Not sun drying. Just air dry outside.  Some mucilage are already dry, flat and darkened after eight hours.  Beans are beginning to clump together. I pulled them all apart. Clumped beans are reject. I don’t want those.

I got a bit busy and lost track of this. Sorry!

For the drying part. I never did sun drying. I simply put it in woven basket and placed in open air. It was noticeably dried after seven days.

So even without sun rays, it is possible to dry beans right after fermentation. As long as there is plenty of air circulation. That is for small batches at least. Hope this works out for larger volumes.

home fermented cacao beans

For more than two months I left the dried beans in open area. There is no noticeable moisture re-absorption. Few weevils were observed after the said time period. This proved the farmer’s testimony that fermented beans resist pest damage.

However, the bean flavor is no where near to my high quality bean stocks. I need more practice and more beans.

Finally, I convinced one of my farmer friend to go into fermentation. He setup his first trial. I think it was about 18 pods that yielded about three kilograms after fermentation and drying. He did get the first day sap drippings. Too small to use however, so it was gone to waste. He used plastic crates lined with banana leaves.

He gave me few bean samples. I found it still too astringent though the shell appearance was darkened due to longer fermentation period. The thing was fermented but was not enough. When I did my trials the readings barely rose above room temperature. His rose up to 38 C, during middle of the day.

I think that is the point to consider, the volume of beans required to reach the recommended, 50 degrees Centigrade. It is not only about microorganisms consuming sugar and degrading the mucilage. It is also about the temperature and its accompanying chemical reaction  to make the beans fit for chocolate making and repel weevils.

The fermented beans I bought  from our town farmers were all infested with weevils. The beans I fermented myself were infested too. The bulk beans from our trusted supplier has never suffered the same faith.

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.