Published by Max Felchlin AG, Schwyz, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary. (2008)
Since visiting Felchlin 2010 and 2011, I must admit I’m addicted to there chocolate and there philosophy. This book is to interesting not to blog, so I must share this on my blog.
From Flower to Bean.
The evergreen cacao tree has its origins in the New World but has, for a long time, been prospering around the globe, namely in the tropical belt 20 degrees north and 20 degrees south of the Equator. The cacao tree is very particular about where it is grown and the surrounding environment has to meet its requirements exactly. If all conditions are right, it will flourish magnificently, however, it starts to flounder as soon as its equilibrium is disturbed.
The climate has to be humid with 1.5 to 2 metres of rainfall per year (Bern: approx. 1 metre). The cacao tree is most comfortable at temperatures of between 25 to 28 degrees Celcius. It is very susceptible to wide fluctations in temperature and also to wind. In the “coldest” months, the temperature must never drop below 20 degrees Celsius.
The cacao tree is unimposing and certainly no giant. It grows in the shade of other trees and shuns direct sunlight. Long and thin, it can grow up to a height of ten to 15 metres, which means that, in the tropical Rain Forest, it is simply part of the undergrowth! The cacao tree has strong, tongue-shaped leaves that grow to a length of about 20 centimetres. They help to protect the fruits from the sun’s rays. Thousands of mosquitoes, flies and other tiny creatures that are irritating to man are essential to the plants, as it is the insects that pollinate the flowers. Since the cacao tree is always in flower, all development stages of teh cacao can be seen on the tree at the same time, from the flower to ripe fruit, known as the “pod”. The flowers consist of five small, narriw, pink sepals and five petals that are either yellowy-white or reddish in colour.
The cacao tree blossoms and produces fruit all year round. New flowers continue to grow on its thicker branches and are either a soft yellow or a subtle pink in color. Five to eight months after pollination, they turn into fruits growning directly on the trunk or branches. Depending on their maturity, these cover the entire colour spectrum from green, through orange, to red. The pods are approximately 15 to 25 centimetres long and weigh about a pound each. They look like elongated pumpkins or brightly-coloured rugby balls. When cultivated carefully, a cacao tree lives for 30 to 60 years. Fruits are generaly harvested twice a year (the most efficient system) but sometimes as many as four to five times a year.
Each fruit contains 25 to 50 longish, almond-shaped seeds: the cocoa beans. These are either light beige or whitish violet in colour and are surrounded by a slippery, juicy white pulp that unlike the bitter beans, has a sweet-and sour taste with a similar aroma to lychees. This pulp is refreshing and sometimes eaten by farmers but, more importantly, it is used for the fermentation of the beans after harvesting.
Not all cacao beans are the same. Scientists have so far identified more than one thousand different varieties and variations and new varieties are currrently being researched. It’s very difficult to distinguish between different varieties and only experts can do this. This is because the fruits of the same variety can look very different.
The original variety names, Criollo, Nacional and Trinitario, which are the fine or flavour cacao beans, and Forastero, the bulk cocoa beans that do not have the same flavour, have today become trade names. However, there are lots of regional differences. Expressed in simple terms, the three flavour beans do not even account for one tenth of the world crop, since the trees are susceptible to disease and produce a lower yield. On a global scale, more than 90 percent of cococa is harvested from the robust, more resilient and less capricious but high-yield trees of the Forastero family, even though the flavour beans have a much richer, finer taste.
Only flavour beans are used in Felchlin’s Grand Cru chocolate.
As a result of the increasing mixing of different varieteis on a plantation and in growing regions, cocoa beans are no longer traded under variety names, but are categorised according to their origin. This groups together beans from remoter regions and local plantations, from the mixed cultivation of smallholders to the tree islands in the Bolivian Amazon, where the indigenous people gather cocoa beans from wild trees.
This grouping according to region and increasing differentiations are comparable with the practice of viniculture. For example, we talk of an appellation, such as Maracaibo (a specific region), a specific growth is a cru (a vineyard), and a cuvee is an individual blend of wine (corresponds to cocoa from different types of bean produced on a hacienda).
100.000 Flowers: “Cauliflory” is a botanical term refering to the growth of flowers on the trunk of a wodddy plant, the plants themselves are known as “cauliflors”. Three to four times a year, the cacao tree grows new leaves directly on its trunk or branches. It produces the largest numbers of flowers when it is between ten and twelve years old: it can produce up to 100.000 flowers a year!
Next time, part 3: The fine-flavours varieties.