Everything that goes into Ixcacao chocolate, from cocoa to vanilla to sugar, is sourced locally.
All around us, cocoa pods dangled from low branches. Some had holes drilled in the side. The smaller holes leave behind woodpeckers or sap suckers. Larger holes are from howler monkeys. Juan joked that’s how the ancient Maya discovered cacao.
“Imagine someone watching the monkeys eat these beans,” he said. “You see the monkeys are getting happier and more energetic, so they want to eat those beans too!”
The cocoa pod is shaped like a slim American football and they are stout, about 500g each. Juan snapped a pod from the tree and broke open the solid shell on a rock.
Each pod produces around 35 to 50 cocoa seeds, each coated in slippery white flesh. This pulp is the fruit. We each pulled an almond-shaped seed from the pod and sucked on the pulp. It wasn’t chocolatey. Rather, the flavor was tropical, vague like mango and banana mashed together.
Juan bit his seed in half and then held it out. It was a mottled purple color. I chewed my own seed; it was soft in texture, bitter and nutty in taste. Again, nowhere near chocolate.
Once the cacao is harvested, the fruit is fermented for six days. During this time, the sweet pulp becomes watery and slides away, leaving only the seeds. These seeds are sun dried for two weeks. They are then roasted, shelled, and finally sieved to remove the hard pieces of shell from the roasted beans.