Once the beans are fermented, they’re then dried. Drying prevents them from getting moldy and enables them to be shipped and stored without spoiling. The dried beans are what farmers like Eladio take to market to sell. At the time we were there, they were getting $1.15 USD per pound of beans. Doesn't sound like much, does it? That's because it isn't. Eladio said a few years ago he was selling up to 800-900 lbs of cacao beans but in recent years, he's only been able to harvest around 400 lbs of beans. He wasn't really clear about why the drop in production but I think some of it had to do with a bad tornado that blew through his farm and damaged his cacao trees.
We were given demonstrations of what to do with the dried beans both at Eladio’s farm and at Cotton Tree Chocolate which had a little “factory”, aka a room, a back porch and a small tempering room. First you roast the beans. At Cotton Tree, they roasted the beans in a coffee roasting oven. And yes, they smelled as good as you might imagine.
Second, you take the (cooled) roasted beans and grind them to break up the shells and the nibs within the shells. You only want the nibs and not the shells so to separate them, Cotton Tree winnows the shells by blowing through the bowl of cracked nibs and shells with a hair dryer. Yes, a hair dryer. It was pretty effective too, once you know how to do it. There’s a certain skill in having the hair dryer in one hand aimed at the bowl and mixing up the nibs and shells with the other hand. Done properly, the hot air blowing from the hair dryer will blow out the lighter shells while keeping the nibs in the bowl. Done improperly, Kendra and I discovered our hair blowing (or nibs/shell blowing) techniques were metaphoric for our lives and personalities. Kendra was told by the Cotton Tree chocolate maker than she was blowing too hard and therefore causing the nibs to fly out of the bowl along with the shells. I had the opposite problem in that I was so afraid of losing the nibs that I wasn’t aggressive enough and left some of the shells in the bowl. Hmm, read into that what you will of each of our personalities.
Me with my careful, cautious dryer blowing
Kendra going for it with the hair dryer - nibs, shells and all :)
Once we had the bowl of shelled nibs, we put them in what was essentially a juicer and fed the nibs into it at one end and out the other came a wet mass of processed cocoa nibs, aka cocoa liqueur, which more or less had the consistency of peanut butter. Nibs have a lot of fat (cocoa butter) in them and you could see the oil as it was being processed through the juicer. Julie, the Cotton Tree Chocolate manager, called it juicing. My chocolate books refer to it as milling.
The last remaining steps to follow....