Source: Akesson Farm
Region: Ambanja, Diana Region
Source Type: Farm
Beans: Grown and fermented on farm
Fermentation Style: Onsite, 3-tier box system
Tasting Notes: lemon, nuts
While bean genetics, fermentation, and environment play integral roles in the flavor development of cacao, drying can make a significant impact on a bean’s final flavor. The beans we buy from Madagascar represent the effects of this process beautifully.
Cacao beans are fermented in their own pulp—a thick, tart, and sugary liquid called mucilage, and often referred to as “miel” for its honeylike consistency. Fermentation typically begins immediately following harvest, in one of two ways—either piled high and wrapped in banana leaves (“heap fermentation”), or graduated through a series of boxes over five to seven days. In either case, the beans are turned every couple of days to facilitate both aerobic and anaerobic bacterial activity.
In the process, ambient yeasts convert the sugars of the pulp into ethanol and carbon dioxide, while lactic acid bacteria utilize the anaerobic environment to convert the alcohol into lactic acid. Eventually, as the yeasts die off and the beans are continually turned and aerated, aerobic conditions increase and acetic acid halts the development of lactic acid. The acids penetrate the bean, lower its pH, and help to break down the cell walls. This encourages enzymatic activity, oxidation, and the conversion of proteins into amino acids—producing aromatic compounds that contribute to the development of the cacao’s flavor.
Fermentation also serves to arrest the growth and life of the beans, which cannot survive in the hot, alcoholic, and acidic environment created by the microbes. Acetic acid occurs in all cacao fermentation, but it plays a slightly more important role in the final product from Madagascar.
At the end of 2011, Cam and Alice visited the 2000-hectare Akesson farm in Madagascar. With Bertil, the farm’s owner, they decided on a unique style of drying that retains more acidity, resulting in a final product that holds a strong and fruity punch. The fruitiness of Akesson’s beans is partly a product of the oft flooded, lush valley from which they come, but also from the drying process that is quicker and hotter than most. Beneath the blazing Madagascar sun, the beans are dried on concrete—too quickly to let much acetic acid dissipate. In the end, we choose to roast these beans lightly, and refine them for the least amount of time possible in order to preserve their citrusy, fruit-forward character.