While visiting my grandparents in Bengaluru, India, I discovered something on their farm that I hadn't seen before. Cacao pods! My grandparents had no plans for these pods and have never used them before. So I decided to undergo the task of making chocolate from scratch. I had no idea how to make chocolate from cacao pods, so I did the only thing I could; I googled it. After looking at one article about harvesting and processing the cacao, one about how to make cocoa powder from cacao beans, and one about another first timer harvesting cacao beans and making chocolate, I felt vaguely prepared. I proceeded to embark on my journey with my phone as my only guide.

Step 1: Pod Harvest

Dia Mahesh

According to an article I read, in order to harvest cacao pods I needed a machete or a specialized knife, and I would need to remove the pods carefully to not damage the plant, which would in turn, prevent its' growth next year. Since I did not have a specialized knife and I did not trust myself with a machete (which we had many of on the farm), I grabbed a small kitchen knife and headed to the cacao plants. There are many different kinds of cacao plants, and ripe plants can appear to be in a few different colors depending on the variety. Since I had no idea what variety our plants were, I assumed these yellow pods (pictured above) were ripe based on the fact that they were bigger than some green pods I saw.

At first, I harvested by sawing away at the stem above the pod until it broke off. Then, I discovered that I could twist the pod the way you would pick an apple. I proceeded to twist off 9 pods, with the knowledge from a Google search that it takes about 2-5 pods to make a bar of chocolate.

Step 2: Bean Harvest

Dia Mahesh
Dia Mahesh

I brought my 9 pods back to the farm house and proceeded to start the bean harvest. I used my knife to cut the pod in half, which can most closely be compared to carving a pumpkin. Inside the cacao pod I found cacao beans. They are coated in a white slimy pulp that will later need to be removed.

Based on what I read, I think the fact that the pulp was slimy meant that the pods were pretty ripe when I picked them. I was vaguely worried since a lot of pictures of cacao pods online looked much bigger than the pods I had, but I assumed I had a different variety. I recruited my brother to help me, and together we used our hands to pluck the beans from the stringy 'stuff' attaching them to the pod. It took a little less than 10 minutes to cut the pods and pluck all the beans out. After I compiled my pile of beans, I was ready to figure out the next step.

Step 3: Fermentation

Dia Mahesh

The next step was to ferment the beans. One article said to put the seeds in an airtight container lined with banana leaves so the beans wouldn't oxidize. My grandparents also grow bananas on their farm, so I grabbed a banana leaf, ripped it apart to make it the correct size for the container, and lined the inside. I filled the beans to the top of the container, and I proceeded to cover them with more banana leaf and then the lid.

The fermentation process is meant to cause the pulp covering the beans to drip off. Some articles said I should turn the beans every 48 hours, then put them back to ferment more, but I felt like that would give me a greater probability for error. Each article I read said different things about how long to ferment the beans. I decided on 3 days in the container, then I would check on the beans and keep fermenting them if need be.

Step 4: Drying

Dia Mahesh
Dia Mahesh

I ended up fermenting the beans for 5 days instead of 3. I wanted to wait for a day sunny enough to dry the beans properly in the sun, which ended up being the fifth day.

The first picture shows the beans dumped onto a tray right after fermentation. The beans smelled a little alcoholic, and the pulp was still there but looked less thick. I spread the beans out on a tray and put them outside where they got about 6 hours of direct sunlight. As shown in the second picture, the beans dried out significantly. There was still moisture and pulp, especially on beans that were clumped together and on the sides of the beans that weren't facing the sun.

I flipped the beans a couple times to allow every part to dry, which definitely helped. Some sources online said to dry the beans in the sun for multiple days, and some not at all. I was planning on drying the beans for one day, but I ran into the problem of not having a working oven. While I tried to find an oven to use, I dried the beans for 3 days. (I forgot to take a picture after drying, but the beans lost all the pulp and looked like almonds - similar to the second picture above but completely dry)

Step 5: Roasting

Dia Mahesh

Next, I roasted the beans in an oven. Everything I read told me to roast the beans low and slow, but I think the combination of using celsius, the very powerful oven, and my inexperience lead me to accidentally completely ignoring that.

The oven was preheated at 200 degrees celsius, and the beans were in for about 10 minutes. Most sources said to keep them in for about an hour, but the beans were smoking and looked like ones I saw in a youtube video, so I pulled them out earlier than expected. I packed up the beans and brought them back to my house, so I could get the cacao nib.

Step 6: De-shelling

Dia Mahesh
Dia Mahesh
Dia Mahesh

After roasting the beans, the cacao nib was ready to be separated from the shell. The shell was very thin and easy to remove, and the nib inside much bigger than I expected.

The first picture is the cacao with the shell, and the second picture is just the nib. I used my nails to crack the shell in the middle and then twisted the two sides off. I then put the nibs into the containers. The nibs were very crumbly, so I crushed them with my fingers to make it easier to grind later on. The picture showing my bucket of nibs was only about half of the beans from my 9 pods.

More than enough to make my first attempt at chocolate.

Step 7: Grinding

Dia Mahesh
Dia Mahesh

I put my nibs into a food processor to grind them. The beans  turned into powder very quickly. If I wanted to make 100% cocoa powder, then that would have been my ending point, and it would've looked like the first picture. But my goal was to make chocolate.

I kept grinding the powder, which is supposed to release the oils from the cacao and make a paste, like shown in the second picture. I had my cacao paste which was very bitter with a slight coffee taste. I tried grinding in some sugar and vanilla extract, because one recipe I saw said that was all I needed to make a simple chocolate, but it was still way too bitter. I left the cacao paste overnight in a bowl since I didn't have heavy cream or butter, which is what some other recipes recommended. The next day, I was ready to make my chocolate.

Step 8: Making Chocolate

Dia Mahesh

Since my paste had been left overnight, it had hardened and molded so it resembled chocolate more now. However, the texture was still off and the taste was still extremely bitter. I set up a double boiler and melted the hardened paste down so I could add more ingredients to it.

When adding ingredients, it was all a guess and taste process, so I don't have any actual measurements. I added about a tablespoon of butter to let it melt with the paste. I gradually added a little less than a pint of heavy cream, mixing it along the way. I also added a very large amount of powdered sugar, since I didn't have fine sugar.

Halfway through the process, I removed the bowl from the heat and continued adding heavy cream and sugar. Eventually, the chocolate had a creamy texture and its' color had lightened significantly. It tasted much sweeter, but still had a bitter coffee- like flavor. Now, I was ready to set the chocolate.

Step 9: Setting the Chocolate

Dia Mahesh

I used an ice cube tray and spooned my chocolate mixture into the rectangles. I put one tray in the fridge overnight and left one out. The next day, the chocolate left out hadn't really hardened.

The tray that came out of the fridge had more of a mousse-like texture. I think the amount of heavy cream that I added had prevented the chocolate from hardening completely.

The final result was a coffee tasting chocolate mousse, which wasn't my goal, but was still pretty good.


Dia Mahesh

After fermenting, there was a fungus on the beans at the top of the container. I did look this up, and saw that it wasn't unusual,  and since the outside of the bean would be de-shelled anyways, I decided that it was fine. I think this happened because the container wasn't as airtight as it needed to be.

I probably burned the cacao when roasting, so next time I would put the oven at a much lower temperature and roast for longer. Burning might have lead to a more bitter taste than there should have been.

Tempering the chocolate was a step some articles had included, which I could try next time. This step would require already having chocolate, which is why I didn't do it.

I'd want to try different flavors in order to reduce the bitterness of the chocolate (and just for fun!). Chili chocolate or salted caramel chocolate would be a delicious next step!

If you like really dark chocolate and coffee (two things I do not like), you probably would've loved the chocolate before I added insane amounts of cream and sugar. Maybe not right after grinding, but after a little sugar and cream.

I would definitely recommend making chocolate, and I know that I will be doing it again one day.