The next important step in cocoa processing is the drying process. Drying of cacao is an important step in cocoa processing as some of the reactions which produce good flavoured cacao are still proceeding during the drying process. Ideally, cacao should be dried over a five to seven day period. This allows acids in the cacao to evaporate and produce a low acid, high cocoa flavoured product. If drying takes longer than seven days, mould contamination can occur and this leads to down-grading of the cocoa and buyers will pay less for it.
Drying methods and durations will vary according to the means and technology that each Cooperative or Association has in place.
In the cooperative that I visit, the beans are first placed to dry in a heap of 20 cms high in a covered area where they will stay overnight. This is the pre-drying stage (“el pre-secado”) before the beans are taken out to dry in the sun.
This will enable the partially fermented beans to complete their fermentation process.
On the second day the beans are spread out and turned twice a day with a wooden rake for the beans to dry evenly. This allows the acetic acids in the cacao to evaporate, thereby reducing the bitter flavours of the bean.
At the end of the third day, the beans are brought to dry out in the direct sunlight for a few more days. This is the final stage of the drying process.
Depending on the weather, the drying process in this case can take five to six days in total.
Some cooperatives, have now developed the micro-solar drying system, which speeds up the drying process of the beans particularly during periods of heavy rain.
The beans are dried on a kind of metallic tray that has small holes. This facilitates aeration enabling the beans to dry consistently and evenly.
As you travel through towns and villages in the region of San Martin, it is quite common to see individual farmers drying their beans directly in the sun along the side of the road, which they will then sell on to the “buy” and “sell” agents.
This process is not really recommended as the beans are exposed to pollutants that can ultimately damage the taste and flavours of the beans during the drying process.
Nevertheless, the duration during which the beans are dried is very important. If the beans dry too quickly some of the chemical reactions that started in the fermentation process are interrupted, thereby making the beans taste acidic or bitter. If the drying is too slow, the beans can develop fungus during the storage and off-flavors can develop inside the beans.
During the drying process, the beans lose nearly all of their moisture and half of their weight. Ideally a dried bean should have 7% moisture content for the export market.
The dried beans are collected and weighed.
Each sack of beans weighs 64.5 kg, the weight at which cacao is exported in individual jute sacks.
Once weighed, the beans are then cleaned and selected.
The beans are separated according to their size, and any defective beans are removed.
Once the beans have been selected, they are stored in the warehouse ready to be exported to the other side of the world.
Below is a bigger cacao warehouse, in fact this cooperative has one of the highest cacao production levels in Peru.