Yesterday I visited the Cocoa Plantation R&D Center in Hilir Perak with a few classmates for our second compulsary field trip. Well, not really compulsory for me but who's complaining ^^ Thank god this time we were allowed a coaster for transport. Even though the bus driver was a bit cranky and hardly gave us time to rest or eat, Alhamdulillah he drove fairly safe and got us to our destination all in one piece.
The cocoa plantation was suprisingly very homey and old school, rightfully so since it was first established in 1972 and was actually the first cocoa center built in Malaysia. The staff began with a short introduction on cocoa, cocoa planting, and cocoa pests and diseases.
Then it was off to the plantation and the processing area. The center in Hilir is only responsible for the processing of cocoa up to the production of dried beans. So the major processing there only involved the fermentation as well as drying of the seeds. It was my first time to actually taste the fresh cocoa fruit. It reminded me of a cross between mangostene and buah ramabai. Prety decent and actually far from what i expected cocoa would taste like.
As we entered the processing area we were graciously presented with air kelapa refreshments, which was a nice suprise seeing that it was really, really hot and i was close to drowning in perspiration myself. (Soooo not kidding)
It was easy to spot where the fermentation was conducted since i was able to detect the distinct sour odour from miles away. Generally cocoa beans are fermented over the course of 6 days, The initially white seeds will finally turn brown by the end of the process. I was actually surprised to see that the frementation pods were pretty simple. This is probably because the capacity of cocoa production in Hilir was at a pretty small scale. After fementation the beans are spread out for air drying. A lot like the drying of cofee beans if i'm not mistaken. I got pretty light headed while we were here. I don't think the combination of the fumes and the intense heat was really hitting it off with my system. Oh but the woes of a camera woman. ^^v
The most valuable part is actually the dark stuff inside once you peel away the brown skin. We got to taste some. It had some taste of cocoa, but before roasting there was still none of that chocolatey good smell.
All in all it was a nice and informative trip. We were treated with care and learned quite a bit about cocoa. Despite the fact that i'm not a huge chocolate fan myself, it was actually sad to hear that the future of cocoa in Malaysia is not looking too bright with the gradual decline in cocoa sales. Interestingly enough, processed chocolate seems to be getting gradually more and more expensive. Figures.