A cocao bean story and my night at Winnowing Wednesday with @EastVanRoasters

Tonight I went to Winnow Wednesday at EastVanRoasters. It was a great foodie experience all about chocolate and helping a social enterprise at the same time. I discovered this event via a @ScoutMagazine Tweet:

And later read Mia Stainsby’s review of the shop in her Vancouver Sun article.

I signed up instantly.

The work we did over the two-hour event is the same that community members they hire do for 80 hours a week in the shop — they winnow cocao beans. It takes 40 hours to make enough beans to make one batch of chocolate: 30 kg is one batch, thats a lot of beans!

EastVanRoasters is a social enterprise – a nonprofit initiative – that creates employment for local women. Check out their website to learn more.

Winnowing cocao beans is very labour intensive so it works out well that this sweet shop can help locals in need of work and do something exciting in the culinary industry – work with great cocao.

EastVanRoasters orders the chocolate from fair trade, sustainable sources in 70kg bags, in raw form. Currently they source beans from Peru, Madagascar and the Dominican Republic.  My photos below are of beans we winnowed from Peru. After the beans arrive, they roast them and turn them into local hand made chocolate.

Bonus: they also roast coffee beans too! Coffee + chocolate = timeless combination.

Once the cocao beans are roasted they puff up into the form below, where there is a shell on the outer edge that needs to be winnowed off. Basically we gently crunched the bean and the shell comes off but often the bean crumbles too, so we sorted through the shells and beans.  We chatted among our tables and met new people – agreeing that it was nice to experience something different like this in Vancouver.

Jeanette at EastVanRoasters March 19 2014

EastVanRoasters started winnow wednesday in March to meet Easter chocolate demands. They still have locals employees to help but because their chocolate is so tasty, made from bean-to-bar, in Vancouver, I can see why they sell out so fast! I was happy to help out. The owners and staff clearly have extensive chocolate training and pastry experience, so we were in good hands. The staff chatted with us as we winnowed and served us tea and coffee and treats.

After the cocao is roasted and winnowed, then they grind it on a marble slab that pulverizes it into a paste. Later organic cane sugar is added, but in total the beans spend about 70-90 hours in the grinder. Then its tempered and turned into chocolate, packaged in various forms, and sold for $40/ kg. Which is more than other shops, but it is single-origin, organic, fair trade, and very high quality. In other words, you can taste the difference.

There are pictures throughout the shop of cocao trees and fruit, so you can see what the beans look like pre-harvest. Before the beans can be roasted though, there is a long fermentation and drying process too. We learned so much more than these tidbits I captured here.

The cocao bean is an amazing thing of nature: one tree takes about 5 years before it bears fruit, where each fruit bears about 40 – 50 beans, and only one tree makes enough beans to create 1kg of chocolate. That means ALOT of trees need to be harvested to meet the demands of chocolate consumed by the world.

I was blown away, I think this topic is so fascinating. I can’t wait for chocolate week at pastry school. They just posted some chocolate photos from chocolate week on the NWCAV Facebook page too.

You can join Winnow Wednesday next week, sign up here at East Van Roasters’ EventBrite page.

Here’s some photos from my night.



Roasted cocao beans before being winnowed.



Cocao beans after winnowing. This is the edible form of 100% pure chocolate. Its full of amazing nutrients for you too.



Some of the sweet treats @EastVanRoasters served us during a break from winnowing.


Where the coaco becomes chocolate…



Butter caramels with cocao nibs (pieces) inside were shared with us for our help. I cut one up when I arrived home to show you. You’ll have to trust me that they taste heavenly, or visit the shop to buy some and test for yourself.


Peru chocolate truffles, hand rolled. I couldn’t resist buying a box to try at home. Beautiful work.


BONUS: the shells that come from the cocao beans can be steeped in hot water to make chocolate tea. We all took some home, it was that or the compost! Can’t wait to have my chocolate tea tomorrow.

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