Roasting Haitian Cacao Tips

roasting Haitian cacao advice

In late spring, early summer, Singing Rooster imports tons of Haitian cacao. Like our work with coffee farmers, we’re opening markets on behalf of small producers — creating inroads to long-lasting economy building in rural Haiti.

In that vein, we want chocolate makers big and small to know this bean and roast it well. Roasting cacao from Haiti (or elsewhere) is an artful science, and Singing Rooster’s advice is to help get you going in the right direction.

Having roasted coffee for years, we know your roasting equipment has tremendous impact on results.  Unlike the coffee business (we all use a variation of a drum roaster), chocolate makers use a wider variety of roaster types (this makes advice-giving hard). A convection oven may take twice the time to roast a few pounds of cacao vs. a drum (heat transfer in ovens is S L O W). Now toss in a drum using hot air, and the time needed to roast a batch of cacao is a fraction of an oven.  With this in mind, knowing your roaster is key to becoming an expert in cacao.  Our general advice:

Roasted Haitian Cacao Flavor Profiles :

Haitian cacao has a broad range of flavor potential; roasting becomes a balancing act to achieve flavors you desire.

Lighter roast / bean surface temp 240 F  = floral notes – experiment with a hotter and faster approach when roasting Haitian lighter.

Medium Roast / bean surface temp 255 F = toasted oat and red fruity currant with a hint of hazelnut  – experiment with a Goldilocks approach:  not too hot, not too cold, not too short, not too long when roasting Haitian medium.

Darker Roast / bean surface temp 265 F = a majority of feedback we receive is a preference to roast Haitian dark.  Haitian cacao can take the punch of a dark roast without developing undesirable acrid or burned flavors. Classic but complex flavors with hints of licorice, chocolate cake and marshmallow. Some chocolate makers have told us fruitiness increases with darker roasting. When roasting dark, use a cooler and slower approach while reaching a bean surface temp ~ 265

Do experiment: Take a trick out of the coffee roaster’s playbook & try mélanging roasts (mix lighter & darker roasts together) to create interesting flavors for this versatile bean.  Lighter roasts reveal bright fruity highs but tend to be more bitter/astringent like an unripe strawberry or nut skin.  Balance those out with a second and third, darker roast which pull out hazelnut, chocolate cake, licorice and marshmallow as well as tame astringency.

Buy a Singing Rooster chocolate bar & we’ll plant a tree in Haiti.

Benchmarks to achieve desired flavors:

In general, you want a hot / well preheated roaster when you drop/place your beans into your roaster.  Most preheat the roaster to 375 – 400 F.

The initial high heat ensures beans gain thermal momentum and allows for a good separation of the husk as beans expand. This makes winnowing easier. If you’re roasting several pounds, the preheat temp can be hotter.  Roasting just a pound or two? Your preheat temp will likely be lower.

Add your cacao when the oven is ready. When you add room temp beans to the roaster, the roaster immediately gets “colder”. The benefit of commercial roasters is that you can measure the temp drop when beans are introduced. The bean temp should bottom out in the low 100’s.   If they bottom out in the 90’s or lower, use a hotter pre-heat next time.  If they bottom out higher, lower your preheat temperature next time (it was too hot).

Spend the first several minutes in the hot zone, 375 – 400 F.   Your beans go into the roaster at room temperature & are gaining heat as they begin to dry out.  Beans acquire heat quickly in an air roaster, medium in a drum and slow in an oven.  This means you’ll start lowering your temperature more quickly in a drum roaster vs. oven.

When you reach a bean temperature of around 150 F, begin incrementally lowering the temperature.  For example, in an air roaster, lower the temperature 10 degrees every 60 seconds, in a drum roaster lower the temperature 10 degrees every 90 seconds, maybe every 2 minutes in an oven.  Think of it this way:  as your beans begin to dry, they’ll acquire heat faster.  You don’t want them to get too hot too fast or to dry out too quickly. Easy does it.  You’ll find the rhythm after several test roasts.  If the roast smells like baking brownies, you are on the right track.

Your general goal is to reach a  bean temperature of 232 F around the same time as you reach a roasting temperature of 300 F.  Experiment with finishing the roast at 300 F until you drop/remove your beans.  Your bean temperature will climb from 232 to 265 F in the next several minutes during this phase.

Clues for removing / dropping cacao beans from the roaster roaster:

Your beans should be dropped/removed from the roaster before the optimal flavor is reached. Why?  They’ll keep roasting after you remove them from the roaster.

Stop the roast before the “baking chocolate smell” goes away.

*note:  you may or may not hear a popping / cracking sound as you near the completion of the roast — some roasters are too noisy to hear the cracking.

Troubleshooting cacao roasting defects:

Undesirable flavors can be roasted, conched or rested away.   Of the 3 ways, improving your roasting is your best/easiest route.

After roasting and cooling, if the husk does not easily separate from the bean, you roasted too cool or not long enough.

Lighter roasts reveal bright fruity highs but tend to be more bitter/astringent like an unripe strawberry or nut skin.  This isn’t a bad thing – but you want to control it.  Take a trick out of the coffee roaster’s playbook & try mélanging roasts (mix lighter & darker roasts together) to maximize flavors of this versatile bean.  Balance out a lighter roast with  a second and third, darker roast (which pull out hazelnut, chocolate cake, licorice and marshmallow as well as tamed astringency).

Do your beans taste sour?   Perform 2 test roasts:  one where you roast longer, the second where you roast hotter. Which is better? Go that way from now on.

Raw, unfinished flavor?  You’re not roasting long enough or you’re not roasting hot enough.

We’re finding the biggest challenge of transforming Haitian cacao will be in taming astringency.  Too astringent?  Dry?  Chalky?  Roast longer (to reduce acidity) but more gently (to reduce acridness).

Cocoa tastes baked and sort of flat?  You’re roasting too long, or you’re roasting too hot.

Too  acrid / smoky / bitter?  You’re either roasting too hot or for too long.

Getting a sense of caramelized onions?  You’ve roasted too long.  Try targeting a bean surface temperature ~ 265 max.

Longer conching may be a work-around for a roast gone bad.  It  reduces acidity (but also reduces high fruity notes).   You’ll find a better clarity of flavor after a reasonable amount of conching (not over conching).  Roasting better is your goal.  Fixing flavors through conching should be a last resort.

Resting :  we’ve heard from multiple chocolate makers that there’s no reason to rest Haitian

Have a roasting tip we can share?  Let us know on Facebook or Instagram! Perhaps this post got your interested in roasting your own Haitian cacao — we sell it in 3 pound increments. Enjoy!