All About Chocolate Part 2
|Tao Watts is a chef and chocolatier whose chocolate company, Samaritan Xocolata,originally founded in 2005 in the Osa Peninsula, is located in the mountains of Perez Zeledon. She sources most of the organic cacao she uses from the Southern Zone. For more information: www.samaritanxocolata.com|
COSTA RICA IN THE GLOBAL CHOCOLATE MARKET
Though Cacao originated in Central America, Costa Rica’s market share of the world chocolate market is 0.03%. Thanks in part to the Criollo flavor strain favored here, Costa Rican chocolate ranks high in quality, treasured for the complex, fruity flavors of its cocoa. We, in the industry, are working towards establishing Costa Rica not only as a significant producer of fine chocolate in the world of chocolate, but create a local demand for high quality chocolate grown and produced locally. There are only a handful of companies that make fine chocolate from Costa Rican cacao, and only a handful of International companies that import beans from Costa Rica for production of artisan chocolates.
The Samaritan Xocolata story began in San Miguel de Cañaza, on the Osa Peninsula, in the mountain range near the northeast boundary of Corcovado National Park. Even though we are now producing our products in the cooler climate of Canaan de Rivas, Perez Zeledón, we still source nearly all our cacao from the Southern Zoneand much of it from the Cañaza area.
THIS IS HOW IT HAPPENS:
Cacao occurs naturally in the biodiversity of the lowland humid rainforest. It has been “domesticated” to grow in small plantations in this climate. Hybrids have been cultured that better withstand the pressures of plantation growth that allow for successful cacao cultivation. One of the criteria for the environment for cacao growth is the pollination by small insects called midges that subsist on the nectar of the cacao flower. When the midges fly from blossom to blossom, they transfer pollen and fertilize the trees so that the fruit can grow.
After pollination, brightly colored fruits, or cacao pods, develop all along the tree’s trunk and branches. Inside these pods are the cacao seeds. Usually starting out as small green or purple pods, or mazorcas de cacao, the fruit turns orange or yellow when it is mature.
Cacao pods ripen throughout the year, but the main harvests usually occur twice yearly. The mazorcas must be harvested by hand, using machetes, or short, hooked blades mounted on long poles to reach the high fruit. It takes an experienced and well-trained eye to both recognize a truly ripe pod and to also harvest it without injuring the delicate bark of the cacao tree.
One by one, the pods’ thick shells are hacked open with a few precise blows with a machete. The pulp-covered cacao seeds are scooped out by hand and the husks discarded. The seeds and pulp are put in rice sacks, or under banana leaves, or in wooden troughs to ferment. As the fruit ferments, it turns to a liquid that sloughs off, and can be collected. We call this “chocolate champagne”
It takes between 3 and 10 days for the fruit to completely ferment, leaving the beans clean and damp.
The cacao seeds are then dried in the sun on rooftops, tables, or mats on the ground, and raked periodically to turn them until they are dry. Since this process usually happens during the rainy season, they are best dried under a roof of tin or plastic, out of the rain.
Once properly fermented and dried, the cacao is transported in sacks and or stored in barrels until ready for processing.
Roasting makes the outer shell brittle and makes it easier to remove the shell. We have found that it is still a difficult and painful process to shell the dry beans by hand, and using a machine to crack and winnow the skins away tends to break the bean into nibs; we prefer to work with whole beans since we use whole beans in some of our products, and it allows us to hand pick the beans for quality, so we soak them for a couple of minutes and drain them so that the shells peel off easily. Then the shelled beans are set in the sun again to dry so they don’t get moldy. Once again, the beans are hand-sorted for quality.
When the cacao beans are ready to become chocolate, we toast them, and grind them. Since the bean is comprised of about 50% cacao butter, toasting the beans before grinding activates the fat and makes the grinding process easier and smoother.
Originally, the beans were ground on metates, but this is labor intensive and exhausting. We grind the beans with a champion juicer. Since we are doing small batches, this works well. Blenders, coffee grinders and food processors do not do the job.
The grinding of nibs creates a thick paste that we call chocolate liquor. It has the cacao butter and the solids together. We take the chocolate liquor, add a little extra cocoa butter, raw sugar, and churn the chocolate in the conching machine for 2- 3 days. Conching affects the characteristic taste, smell and texture of the chocolate, while the stone on stone grind refining reduces the size of the cocoa solids and sugar crystals. Conching the paste not only smoothes the texture, but allows air to break down acids and evaporate any moisture. The result will be a mellower, more well-rounded flavor, not acidic, as some chocolate, conched for a brief time can be.
During this time, I also add the seasoning that makes my chocolate taste the way it does. These are the same flavors that the Spanish originally added when they first brought introduced cacao to Europe in the sixteenth century. These seasonings give a “round” flavor on your tongue and in your mouth that stimulates all your taste buds and gives a pleasing sensation and taste.
When the chocolate is removed from the melanger (conching machine), we store it in blocks of 2 kilos and allow it to age slightly. When we are ready to use it, we melt it gently and temper it to slowly bring it down to about 30° C for molding. This gives it a glossy sheen and smoothness and the snap of fine chocolate when it is broken cold. The chocolate is then molded either as bars or bonbons, with additional flavors added in, or made into truffles, ganaches, or other chocolate products and put in the refrigerator until it is set. We then hand wrap and package for distribution and sales.
Samaritan Xocolata is committed to do our best to protect our natural tropical environment by being conscientious on all levels. Our products are fresh and contain no lecithin, preservatives or artificial flavors, and should be stored in a cool, dry place. We employ local women who would ordinarily not be able to find work close to home and their families. It is our desire to expand our reach all over the world, bringing quality Costa Rican chocolate to the world, and home to Costa Rica.
This is our simple mission at Samaritan Xocolata: to help people feel good! What better way than with CHOCOLATE?