2015 was our first full year of operations at the Alto Beni Cacao Co., our project aiming to revolutionize the Bolivian cacao industry by building the first-in-country centralized cacao fermentation plant, and nursery program for high-quality Bolivian cacao seedlings. Invalsa's cacao business started in 2009, when Alex Whitmore, founder and CEO of Taza Chocolate in Somerville, MA, contacted us to help his company source organic Bolivian cacao. At that point, we knew a lot about Bolivia and Bolivan coffee, but nothing about cacao. Alex has been an excellent teacher and in 2010, we sourced Taza Chocolate's first shipment of direct-trade, organic cacao from the CIAAB cooperative in the Palos Blancos, Alto Beni region of Bolivia. Taza Chocolate uses it to make their very popular, highest dark-chocolate (87%) bar, available here.
These cacao beans are a hybrid variety (also know as Trinitario), a combination of Criollo and Forastero cacao beans. We are continually making improvements in the quality control system at our plant, but these beans are of a much more consistent quality than previously available sources of Bolivian cacao .
How do I roast cacao beans?
To roast cacao beans, you need to expose them to a high temperature, close to 325 degrees, and then gradually lower that temperature for the next 15 to 30 minutes. You lower temperature to prevent burning of the outside of the beans while the inside gets appropriately hot, and kills all the bacteria and mold that may be left over from fermentating the fresh cacao beans. When the beans start to pop (from water evaporation), making a sound known as the "crack" in coffee roasting parlance, they are very close to being finished. You want to stop just after most are finished cracking, but not so long after that they start to smell burnt. It is a trial-and-error method and you will get better as you roast more cacao beans. Many coffee afficionados roast their own coffee at home to ensure the highest degree of flavor and quality, and save lots of money in the process. If you are one of them, you can do exactly the same thing for cacao beans. Even if you dont roast coffee at home, but just love the flavor of high-quality cocoa or chocolate, you can follow these quick, easy steps to roast your own cacao beans in your own kitchen.
The processes of roasting coffee and cacao beans are nearly the same, except because cacao beans are more fragile than coffee beans, they have to be roasted at a much lower temperature. Coffee beans are generally roasted at around 450-480 degrees Fahrenheit, while cacao beans should never get hotter than 325 degrees. Your nose will tell you. If it stars smelling burnt, it is too hot! Other than the lower temperature, the process is the same. We recommend using the Behmor 1600 coffee roaster for cacao roasting. The Behmor 1600 is designed as a coffee roaster, but works well with cacao. Use the one-pound setting with the P2 profile, but fill the grid drum with 2.5 to 3 lbs of raw cacao beans. We are an authorized distributor of the Behmor 1600, and you can find it on this site in the "Roasters & Grinders" collection.