Only about 1% to 3% of the delicate little cocoa flowers on a tree go on to produce cocoa pods. Unusually, pods grow direct from the trunk and main branches and they do it throughout the year, taking about six months to grow into mature pods. We harvest twice a year – the main one happens between November and February and there’s a smaller one between April and June. Unfortunately, Hurricane Tomaz, which hit Saint Lucia on 30th October last year robbed us of our main crop – we’re hoping for a bumper crop this year as Mother Nature has a habit of compensating!
The pods are picked when they’re ripe and left to rest for three or so days, after which they are ‘cracked’ (chopped open with great skill using sharp machetes). The empty pods are used as organic fertiliser around the estate while the seeds and pulp are scooped out and placed in wooden boxes in the fermentation shed. It’s a crucial, seven-day process by which the beans undergo a chemical reaction and the foundations of future chocolate flavours are laid. We turn the box every two days using wooden cocoa paddles, gathering temperature data at each turn – the beans can reach 50ºC.
After seven days, the beans are turned out onto trays to dry in the warm Saint Lucian sun. At Rabot Estate and elsewhere in the West Indies, our drying trays are on runners so they can be pushed under cover as you never know when the next tropical shower might come along. Recently, we have also started to protect our beans from the hottest part of the sun to avoid burning or over-drying them by putting them in the shade between midday and 2pm.