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„Indio Rojo / Mayan Red“
Appearance and flavour
Our cocoa wears its name in that the predominant colour of its pods is deep red. The “Indio Rojo” or “Mayan Red” is a hybrid variety, a cross between a cocoa originating from Honduras and a “Criollo Antiguo” bean from Guatemala. Genetically, this variety is most closely related to the cocoa found in old barrels used by the Mayans. The flavour of chocolate made from “Indio Rojo” comes close to the aromas and flavours of the cocoa crafted by the ancient Mayan people.
The taste of the raw cocoa is described as sweet and fruity, capturing the aromas of banana, lemon, vanilla and apple. A distinct note of cocoa, a subtle tartness, and a slightly bitter aftertaste lend it a clean, harmonious and rounded flavour.
The cultivation and tending of the cocoa trees at our Fincas are all done by hand. The young plants are propagated and grafted in the nursery – or “Vivero” in Spanish – before being planted outside. The cocoa tree does not react well to standing water and prefers spots that are protected from direct sunlight and strong winds. It is, therefore, well suited to being planted in steep terrain and between tall trees. In its first few years of life, the cocoa tree has to fight for survival against nature, the rampant growth of grass and scrub as well as insects such as ants and termites. In our quest to produce organic cocoa, we try to avoid the use of chemicals as far as possible during this period. As a result, we regularly remove the weeds between the plants with a machete whilst our tame ant-eater “Trompita”, who lives at the Finca, loves to tuck into all the insects.
When the cocoa trees reach a certain size, their own canopy provides them with sufficient shade and the leaves they shed create a thick carpet of biomass on the ground, checking the growth of weeds.
The young plantlets are fed with the composted rinds of the cocoa pods as well as so-called “Humus de Lombriz”, obtained from the excrement of earthworms. We prune our trees at regular intervals so that they keep their shape and wild shoots (“Chupones”) are kept at bay. The trees – which grow to heights of 15 metres in the wild – are restricted to 6 metres in height to facilitate the harvest.
Harvest and further processing
In favourable conditions, the evergreen cocoa tree will blossom all year round, bearing fruit from January to December. It normally takes 5 - 6 years for the tree to blossom for the first time, producing a full yield from the age of about 12 years. The ripe, greenish yellow to red fruit can grow up to 30cm in length and weigh up to 800g. Each pod contains 30 – 50 seeds, commonly referred to as cocoa beans, which are embedded in the flesh of the fruit (= baba). The tiny flowers, that sit only around the trunk and main branches, are pollinated not by bees but by small flies. In English-speaking countries of the Caribbean, they are referred to as “no-see-flies”. The main harvest at our Fincas takes place from December to May. The ripe fruit is gently severed from the stem with a machete or a pair of scissors, ensuring that the trunk is not damaged and the cut stalk can produce a new flower.
We collect the pods (= pochas) at our main building, where they are carefully opened without damaging the seeds inside. In the first of a three-phase fermentation process, the seeds and the pulp are poured into a wooden box and covered with banana leaves. The white sugary pulp soon starts to ferment, developing temperatures of around 50°C. The germination of the seeds is stopped by the alcohol that is created during fermentation, and the beans lose a portion of their bitter compounds. It is during this fermentation process, lasting around 5 – 6 days, that the beans develop their characteristic flavour, aroma and colour. Every 48 hours, the seeds are shovelled into the next box down and mixed for uniform results. The duration of the fermentation phase depends on the type of cocoa to be processed and the cocoa’s intended usage. At this stage, we did a lot of experimenting until we achieved the exact result we were looking for. Fermentation is followed by drying, another key step in the process. We spread the beans across our drying tables and turn them several times a day. We designed and built the drying tables ourselves so that they could be moved into the shade or under cover whenever necessary. Too much sunshine and heat during drying can be just as damaging to the beans as a sudden downpour. The drying phase takes around 10 days, during which they lose around 50% of their weight. By the end of this production phase, the moisture content of the beans should be no more than 7%, ensuring safe storage and transportation. The cocoa beans are carefully filled into sacks and brought to our warehouse in Morales. The sacks are regularly turned by hand and the indoor climate is closely monitored.
Analysing and assessing the cocoa
In March 2017, our cocoa was analysed at a laboratory operated by luxury chocolate maker Rausch which issued the following findings:
“The general appearance of the samples is good; the cocoa beans are clean and uniform in both shape and colour. The cadmium content of both samples is very small (0.07 and 0.12 mg/kg).”
In May 2017, the renowned Swiss company Max Felchlin AG received a sample of our cocoa for assessment. Felchlin processes raw cocoa into cocoa mass and supplies it to the best confectioners and chocolatiers in the world. 13 inspectors tested the cocoa, awarding it a high approval rating as well as 100% market potential (see type test). We subsequently sent another sample to Switzerland so that Felchlin could make a test batch of cocoa mass. We received six 80g bars of chocolate based on three different roasting profiles. We were equally delighted with the results of this test.
Georg Bernardini – an established expert with keen senses and author of the chocolate industry bible “The Chocolate Tester”, made a test batch of chocolate with our cocoa. 64% cocoa, 6% cocoa butter and 30% raw cane sugar. His conclusion: “We like the cocoa and the chocolate was a great success.”