Roasting Cacao for Fun and … More Fun!

I have always been curious about cacao when traveling to coffee areas. It turns out it’s fun to roast at home as well!

When I travel to coffee-growing regions, I am always excited to see cacao trees, or cacao being sold in the local marketplaces. I made a habit of buying any cacao I found, and trying to roast it in my toaster oven at home.

Cacao: Pods of cacao ripen on the tree. Sulawesi seems to have g
Cacao: Pods of cacao ripen on the Theobroma cacao tree. From my trip to Sulawesi in 2018

I have encountered the Theobroma Cacao tree in many coffee-producing countries, although it tends to generally grow at lower altitudes. (By the way, cacao is the name before roasting, and cocoa refers to the product after roasting, to my knowledge).

I have mostly found crossover between coffee and cacao in Indonesia, especially Sulawesi, Bali, Flores, Sumatra. I have seen cacao production in Central and South America too: Guatemala, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, although it is generally in different areas than high-grown arabica coffee. I have seen cacao in Uganda as well. I have not visited or seen the intense production areas in Africa, on the Ivory Coast or Ghana, as we don’t get any coffee from West Africa.

A Side Trip into Cacao Roasting

Everyone may not be able to travel and buy cacao from local markets, but interest in cacao is certainly widespread. In fact, there is a “Sweet Maria’s of Cacao” so to speak — Chocolate Alchemy is a business solely dedicated to sharing the joys of roasting and producing chocolate at home. I can’t recommend them enough; I am their customer too.

Sweet Maria’s isn’t going down the chocolate river. Believe me…coffee keeps us busy enough and we wouldn’t pretend to know about all the facets of producing chocolate. That’s the Chocolate Alchemy zone.

That being said, roasting cacao is fun! As a home coffee roasting person, you might already have everything you need to roast cacao. There are some basic things you can do with cocoa nibs or powders, like making a quite amazing fresh-roasted cocoa tea. Or you might enjoy tasting the fresh roasted cocoa as is. I definitely do! Plus, if you like cocoa and chocolate the the amazing smell of roasting cacao alone is worth the experience!

Although we’ll be leaving it to the experts, we’ve had a great time experimenting with cacao! It was interesting to roast samples and comparing them to coffees that have strong cocoa flavor profiles. One of the highlights was a cocoa cupping where we compared two cocoa origins, Ecuador and Uganda. We weren’t even sure if a traditional cupping format was going to work when we started, but it actually went pretty well! We were able to pick out discernible differences of varietal characteristics, a write a flavor profile for each individual cocoa.

If any of this seems interesting to you or seems like something you want to try, we definitely recommend you check out our other library articles on cocoa and cacao:

2 Responses

  1. Enjoyed the discussion on cacao and coffee on Youtube. I have found that a little darker cacao roast does produce a more classic dark chocolate taste while a lighter roast, like coffee in a way, leaves a lot of the more interesting notes intact.

    1. Thanks Ashley, glad you enjoyed the discussion! We played around with roast levels and found similar results with the lighter end of the spectrum. Dark was tricky. There seems to be an optimal end point that, once passed, turns pleasant bittersweetness to acrid and ashy. We’ve generally been happy with the long, gentle roasts of a Behmor.


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