The End of an Era

After over 6 years of intensive research and community development work in and around the Yachana Reserve, GVI Amazon is coming to a close. We have finished our final research project (look forward to our Road Effects paper, coming soon!) and are handing over the project to our partner, The Yachana Foundation. They will continue to maintain and monitor the reserve, using it as an hands-on science education center for students -- we're very excited to see what fabulous things this next generation of scientists find! For more detail on GVI Amazon's closure, and our accomplishments over the years, please read on...
GVI Amazon Closure Statement

Monday, April 23, 2012

Jungle Chocolate!

This week I made chocolate. Real 100% dark Ecuadorian chocolate! Everyone was really excited because apparently I’m the first person to finish the while process. This therefore, is a step-by-step guide to the chocolate making process which may come in handy if you decide to join us out here at GVI Amazon base camp.

Step 1: Pick the right cacao pod!
Our base camp is located within secondary forest so cacao trees are scattered all over but finding a ripe cacao is not that easy. Luckily I had Abdon – the coolest park ranger ever, who works with GVI Amazon in the Yachana Reserve – to help me find some ready to be picked. They turn from green to red to yellow to green so when they are yellow/green they are ready to pick.

Step 2: Fermentation.
Cut the pods in half and take out all the beans. Place them in a sealable box and leave them in a cool dry place for three days. I left them in the bodega (our food storage area; bodega means storeroom or warehouse in Spanish).

Step 3: Drying.
Rinse the fermented seeds and place them on a flat tray covered in tin foil (shiny side up). Leave outside to dry for three days preferably under cover in case it rains – it rains a lot here!  We have a drying area for clothes which lets the light and heat in but not the rain, so I left it there.

Step 4: Roasting.
Pick out the good beans after they’ve dried and and dry roast them in a frying pan until crispy. The skin should crumble off when you squeeze the bean. Henry, an Ecuadorian student from the Yachana school, was helping me because he said that his Mum makes him chocolate like this. He said that the beans should be really hard, then they are ready.

Step 5: Crushing.
Peel all the skin off the beans and then grind them. We don’t have a grinder here so we had to improvise. Naren, another GVI Amazon volunteer, discovered a way. We used rocks to smash the beans into smaller pieces and then a rolling pin against the hard tiled surface i the kitchen to crush them some more and finally into powder. It smelled amazing! It was 100% chocolate!

Step 6: EAT IT!
I couldn’t decide what to do with it for a couple of days. I was really excited at all the possibilities! Cakes. Brownies, biscuits, hot chocolate, the list is endless. In the end I kept it simple with a chocolate sauce with fruit and biscuits. Delicious!

The next batch is fermenting in the bodega as you read this. I wonder what to make with it...

Reena Bhavsar, GVI Amazon Long Term Conservation Intern, Jan-June 2012