Everything that goes into Ixcacao chocolate, from cocoa to vanilla to sugar, is sourced right here on site.
Around us, cocoa pods hung from the lower branches of the trees. Some had holes drilled in the side. The smallest holes are left by woodpeckers or spikes. The biggest holes come from howler monkeys. Juan joked that this is how the ancient Mayans discovered cocoa.
“Imagine someone watching the monkeys eat those beans,” he said. “They see the monkeys getting happier, more energetic, so they want to eat those beans too!”
The cacao pod is shaped like a slender American football, and they are heavy, about 500g each. Juan snapped a pod off the tree and cracked the firm husk on a rock.
Each pod produces about 35 to 50 cocoa beans, each covered in a slippery white pulp. This pulp is the fruit. We each slipped an almond-shaped seed out of the pod and sucked out the pulp. It wasn’t chocolate. Rather, the taste was tropical, vaguely like mango and banana mashed together.
Juan bit his seed in half, then held it. It was a mottled purple color. I chewed my own seed; it had a soft texture, a bitter and nutty taste. Again, not close to chocolate at this point.
Once the cocoa is harvested, the fruit is fermented for six days. During this time, the sweet pulp becomes watery and slides off, leaving only the seeds behind. These seeds are dried in the sun for two weeks. They are then roasted, shelled and finally winnowed to remove the pieces of hard shell from the roasted beans.