Chocolatiering DIY Chocolate Making

How to Make Cocoa Powder from Raw Cacao Beans

how to make cocoa powder from cacao beans

Learn how to make cocoa powder at home from raw cacao beans. Ferment, dry, roast and grind cocoa beans to produce your own truly home made cocoa powder.

Just as the exuberance of jazz music is derived from the restraint of classical music, so too is the art of cocoa powder making based on the foundation of technical knowledge, after which we add our own refined sense of individual taste and technique.

The steps of making cocoa powder start from sourcing ripe cacao pods, fermenting them in their rich, sweet pulp, or mucilage, drying, cleaning, roasting then grinding them. You don’t need special equipment to make cocoa powder at home, nor is it labor-intensive, yet the end product is clean, delicious, and highly nutritious.

Ingredients and tools for homemade cacao powder:

  • Raw, fresh cocoa pods
  • Large, sharp knife
  • Non-metal perforated bowl or container (eg plastic colander)
  • Tray (for fermenting the cacao beans)
  • Drying tools (eg dehydrator, convection oven)
  • Roasting tools (eg oven, coffee roaster)
  • Grinding tools (eg food processor, coffee grinder)

How cocoa powder is made overview

  1. Retrieve the flower cushions from the cocoa pods
  2. Ferment the cacao beans
  3. Dry the cacao beans
  4. Roast the cocoa beans
  5. Cool and winnow
  6. Grind the cocoa beans

While it may seem like many steps, we will cover each one in detail below. You will find each step is actually quite easy, however, it is time-consuming and you should allow about 2 weeks to produce your home made cocoa powder. This is not an overnight task, but very rewarding if you don’t mind the wait.

How to make cocoa powder from cocoa beans at home

Step 1: Retrieve the flower cushions from the cacao pods

Source your ripe, fresh cacao pods. A quick online search will show you where to source raw cacao pods. Ripeness is determined by the type of bean you are working with. Ripe pods vary from mild green to yellow, red, purple, and brown.

Crack the cacao pods open the traditional way, with a few firm thwacks on a hard surface, or top and tail them with a sharp knife, then make incisions along its length, as you would an avocado.

Split the outer shell open with your fingers, and make sure you don’t slice into the flower cushions (cacao seed pods).

making home made cocoa powder with raw cacao pods
Slice around the cacao pod with a large sharp knife to open it (lengthways or sideways), then scoop out the flower cushions & mucilage (the white stuff) with your hands.

Step 2: Ferment the cacao beans (lacto-fermentation )

Lacto-fermentation, an essential step, is responsible for the first stage of flavor development and controlled acidity of ‘chocolate’ out of the cacao bean. Wild bacteria and yeasts floating in the air and on every surface catalyze the mucilaginous sugars into lactic or acetic acid. Fermentation also imbues the seeds with active enzymes and cultures, breaks proteins down into amino acids, and kills off mold and fungi. Without fermentation, we do not have a usable cocoa product.

To ferment, create this simple set-up in a darker part of your kitchen:

  1. Place a tray with higher edges on the counter. Arrange 4 “legs” on the tray.
  2. On top of the legs, set a non-metallic bowl with small holes in the bottom. You can use shot glasses, candle holders, or large, sterilized stones as legs.
  3. Set the bowl on the legs, and leave enough space between it and the tray.

Next, ferment the cacao beans:

  1. Scoop your flower cushions (with mucilage) into the bowl, and cover it with a plate or thick leaves, like banana or taro. Fruit flies love to lay eggs in fermenting matter, so cover the cushions properly.
  2. Leave them undisturbed for two days.
  3. After that, remove the leaves and stir the pods properly so the acids, which build up, and the mucilage, which breaks down, can drip onto the tray. In the process, fresh oxygen is whipped into it to activate aerobic fermentation (with the presence of air). Accumulated heat will also disperse.
  4. Do this every two days for 6 -10 days.
  5. You also have to change the bowl every two days to stop the acidic buildup on the sides and bottom of the bowl from over-acidifying the seeds. It is ok to remove the seeds, place them in a glass bowl as you rinse out the fermenting bowl with distilled water (no dishwashing liquid), then plonk the cacao back in again, covering them with fresh leaves.

Properly-fermented cacao should turn reddish brown. After fermenting, wash the cacao well and pat dry.

Step 3: Dry the cacao beans

The drying step is important because the proper removal of moisture kills any lingering mold. The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) points out that improper drying means that the cocoa product will have a higher FFA (free fatty acid) content, which produces a poor-quality cocoa product that easily turns rancid. We want to get the moisture down to at least 7%. Drying also makes cracking and winnowing easier.

There are a few ways you can approach drying:

  • Sun
  • Dehydrator
  • Convection oven
Drying Methods
  • Sun drying can only happen in dry climates. Place the cacao beans on a bamboo tray (Amazon has a wide, affordable range) suspended off the ground, balanced on four stones/ bricks for 6 -8 days in direct sunlight. Make sure there are tiny spaces between the slats of bamboo. As the cacao seeds dry, the remaining mucilage will turn papery, disintegrate and fall to the ground between the slats. Cover the beans with fine mesh to keep them safe from bugs. Roughly rub and move them around every few days. The friction will further separate lingering mucilage from the bean.
  • Dehydrators are much more convenient and fast. Spread the seeds on the drying trays and dry at 113°F/ 45°C for 48-72 hours. Test for dryness by cracking one between your fingers. If you hear a clean snap, it is dry the whole way through, but if the snap is dull, it still needs a few more hours. Adjust the time accordingly and continue drying.
  • Convection oven. The convection oven method is not fantastic, but it will do in a pinch. Spread the seeds on oven trays, and dry them in the oven on its absolute lowest setting, 170°F/ 76°C. Turn the oven fan on too, and leave the door ajar. Dry for 12 to 36 hours. Do the same snap method to check for dryness.

After drying the beans, please clean them. Get rid of beans that are flat or germinated. You can tell a germinated bean from the appearance of a hole at one end.

drying cacao beans for homemade cocoa powder
Traditionally the cocoa beans are sun-dried (like this shot from Venezuela), but a dehydrator is better if your climate is variable or you don’t like the idea of putting your food outdoors for a week!

Step 4: Roast the cacao beans

Although the roasting stage is worthy of an entire book, the fundamentals remain constant. Roasting allows the +/-600 compounds in cacao to alchemize and enriches the bean with its distinctive flavor and digestive properties. It also evaporates the remaining acetic acid from fermentation. Use a glass, oven-proof dish since metal can scorch the beans.

Roast in a preheated oven/ roaster starting at 350°F/ 176°C -450°F/232°C, depending on the kind of bean you procure, and every 5 to 10 minutes, stir the beans and decrease the temperature by 10 degrees. The total roasting time is about 25 minutes. At 250°F/ 121°C, you should hear the beans crack and pop, which signifies the release of water vapor, and indicates that roasting is complete.

Some beans, like Criollo, require a longer roast at lower temperatures to retain their fruity, floral notes. But, more robust beans, like Forestaro, need a deeper roast at a higher temperature (up to 450°F/232°C to begin). It all depends on the origins of your beans, so please do more reading about your particular bean. It is advisable to start roasting at a higher temperature (350°F/176°C), so the bean can expand and separate from the skin.

Roasting methods

Here are a few roasting methods to consider.

  • Drum roasting in steel drums is typically a commercial method, which you can do at home in a table-top drum roaster. Beans are added to a horizontal steel drum inside a convection oven with a fan. The drum constantly rotates as the beans roast to ensure even roasting. If you do this method, follow the temperature guidelines outlined above.
  • Air roasting is the new kid on the block, gaining popularity among artisan makers. With this method, the beans are kept afloat in the air with the aid of solid fans, thus forcibly removing the skins (winnowing) in the process. It also takes half the time of drum roasting and avoids a burnt-tasting product which can sometimes happen in drum roasting when beans come into contact with the steel surface of the drum roaster.
  • Oven roasting. If you opt for oven roasting, follow the same guidelines as above. Every ten minutes, stir to maintain even roasting but avoid opening the oven door too frequently, as it creates temperature fluctuations.
  • Coffee roaster. If you use a coffee roaster, please note that cacao roasts at lower temperatures than coffee, so reduce the heat setting to 350°F/176°C and adjust the rotation speed.

How do you tell when the beans are roasted? Look for a deep chocolate brown color and a chocolatey aroma. The next indicator is puffiness. The skins should puff and easily come off if lightly rubbed. Bite into one. The perfect roasted texture is crunchy.

Step 5: Cool and winnow

Cool down the roasted beans with fans. Spread them out on the counter. Direct the fans at them at high speed until they cool to room temperature.

Then, remove the skins (skip this step if you use an air roaster). Here again, you can try various methods. You could place the beans in a cheesecloth bag and gently rub them between the palms of your hands or across the table. The friction will easily cause their skins to come off. Then, you can open the bags and pick out the skinned beans.

You could also spread the cooled beans on one half of a clean beach towel and fold the other half over. Rub the beans between the towel to remove the skins. Pick the beans up with your fingers. If you are outdoors, blow the skins off with a hair dryer or leaf blower.

Step 6: Grind the cocoa beans

You can grind your roasted cocoa beans in a coffee grinder, food processor, or flour mill. For fine powder, pass it through a double-meshed sieve.

Store in an airtight container with a desiccant bag as well.

how to make cocoa powder with coffee grinder
A coffee grinder works well for grinding cacao beans too. Small electric coffee grinders are a good choice, and often have an option for ‘fine grind’ if you want a fine cocoa powder.

Final thoughts on how to make cocoa powder

Congratulations, you have now made your first batch of cocoa powder from cacao beans!

In this article, we have shared the complete step-by-step process for how to make cocoa powder from cacao beans at home. The equipment is easily obtainable and the steps can be achieved with tools you already own.

While air roasters are gaining popularity, they are not necessary and most home chocolate-makers probably don’t own one. If you are using a coffee roaster, make sure to reduce the temperature so you don’t burn the beans, since coffee roasts at a significantly higher temperature than cacao.

Importantly, make sure you read up about the type of cacao bean you have purchased (or grown). Different cacao beans, as mentioned earlier, are best treated at different temperatures so feel free to adjust according to the specific cacao bean you have on hand.

The greatest challenge to making home made cocoa powder is sourcing raw, fresh cocoa pods. A search online will show you where you can buy them, and we hope to share some recommendations for cacao sellers with you in the future.

Further reading on how to make cocoa powder and related topics

The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) is a good, reliable website for cocoa making resources. For more guides on making chocolate and cocoa goodies at home, head to the Chocolatiering home page.

Happy cocoa-making!

Article Author

  • Chef Prish

    Prashantha Lachanna is a South African contemporary raw, vegan chef. After introducing the raw food concept in Taipei through a series of workshops and events, she co-founded Taiwan’s first contemporary raw, vegan restaurant, NAKEDFOOD, 2015 – 2018. NAKEDFOOD’s services also included designing and executing inventive pop-up events, corporate and wedding catering, culinary workshops, demos, and talks. Thereafter, in 2020, Chef Prish co-founded Vegan Yumz, an online vegan store. It is her intention to showcase vegan chocolate to a wider audience.

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