PunkRotten wrote:I found some nursery the next city over that sells nothing but tropicals and cacao tree is on their list. They say zone 10 or higher for outdoor growing. He basically says everything on his list is proven to grow in this area. But I am guessing these trees need protection in the cold. It is tempting to get one but they get too big for me, and I know nothing about processing it to make chocolate. All I know is that the seeds or pods need to ferment for a week and you do something else.
Absolutely cold protection. They are beyond frost-tender.
Also, what's "too big for me" in terms of tree size? Cacao, when you're growing it for harvest, is pruned to about 6' shrubs. Only in the wilds of the Amazon does it become the 12-18' tree it's meant to be.
In terms of processing, it's easier than you think, and if you're growing coffee it's nearly the same process, up to the roasting stage at least:
1. The pods are cracked open, and the seeds inside are fermented in water for about a week - until the mucilage slips off easily. Then they're sun-dried. The end product of those is what's called a Raw Cocoa Nib.
2 The nibs are then roasted in large brass pailas, much in the same manner as coffee, until they darken and take on a characteristic chocolate aroma. The roasting step, and how long one roasts, will affect the final flavour of the chocolate - the same way that French roast coffee and, say, Espresso are different, although the base bean used is the same. Roasting also helps to loosen the shells and liberate the cocoa butter. After roasting, the nibs are winnowed to remove their shells.
3. Roast nibs are alkalinized using NaCO3. This stabilizes them and increases flavour. This step is optional - following it is the Dutch process; omitting it is the Maya process.
4. The nibs are milled, usually under heat. This produces cocoa liquor, which is cocoa solids suspended in cocoa butter. When I process nibs, I mill on a traditional granite stone with a pestle.
5. A portion of the resulting liquor is pressed. This separates the butter from the solids.
6. The dry solids are milled to produce cocoa powder.
7. The butter is added back to a portion of the liquor, along with vanilla, sugar, possibly milk solids, and other adjuncts (depending on the type of chocolate being made, this can be milk butter, flavourings, waxes, emulsifiers, etc). This paste is passed through fine rollers (or in hand-processing, it continues to be milled on the mortar) until it reaches a smooth texture. At this point, you've got chocolate.
8. The resulting smooth liquid is conched - this is an emulsification process similar to beating or whipping.
9. The chocolate is tempered (brought to a specific temperature based on the percentage of cocoa butter), then moulded.