PROCESS | From Tree to Artisan
Fermentation of the cacao bean is a crucial part of the process that defines the flavor development of the bean. Fermentation is the process of sugar, acid, and enzymes from the pulp reacting to microbes in the air. The reaction that takes place during fermentation stops further ripening or germination of the cacao bean and brings out the natural flavors. Once fermentation begins, the bean starts to break down, heat up, and sweetens to become the base for chocolate as we know it. When the fresh beans are brought to the MMC facility they are drained of their juice and placed in large wooden fermentation boxes. MMC has a 3-tier box system that allows for the beans to be stirred and moved easily between boxes during the fermentation or “curing” process. Each box can hold roughly 500 lbs of wet cacao beans and are typically insulated with banana leaves or rice sacks to increase heat.
When a cacao bean is well fermented it will be brownish in color on the inside and juicy when cut into.
The fermentation process takes 5-7 days, during which temperatures can reach 120 degrees. At MMC we have a team that monitors the process carefully for consistency, flavor and quality in our final product. When a cacao bean is well fermented it will be brownish in color on the inside and juicy when cut into. Once a batch is fully fermented, the beans are ready for drying and transferred to large drying decks.
At the MMC processing facility we have two large solar driers that gently dry the cacao beans through indirect sun heat as well as an open-air drying patio for direct sun drying. The beans are raked and rotated multiple times throughout the day to ensure even drying and to prevent against mold. With a wet and humid climate in Belize, the solar driers with removable plastic siding are the best way to dry beans in order to keep them out of rain and to gradually dry the cacao beans to maintain subtle flavor notes.
Sunny day on the drying decks.
Along with the fermentation process, the drying process also has a critical role in developing the flavor of a cacao bean. If the drying happens too fast or too slow flavor can be compromised or mold can begin to grow. With constant movement through raking and rotating between direct and indirect sun drying, we are able to process beautiful beans that have deep flavor. The drying process can take about a week while the beans lose their moisture and become dry and crunchy. Before the beans are sorted and bagged each batch goes through a cut-test and flavor analysis, which we make available to all customers. This is another measure that MMC takes to track and ensure quality in order to create flavor profiles and improve on all levels.
Bagging and Export
Once beans are fully dried they are collected and sorted by hand. The sorting process gets rid of any beans that are cracked, flat, too small or compromised in any way. Once the beans are sorted they are packed in 100 lb burlap sacks lined with GrainPro bags to ensure dry and fresh beans. When ready for shipment, the bags are loaded into shipping containers bound for the specialty chocolate makers in the US market.