The latest in beans

Welcome back to Tonga, where I am catching up with the week’s reports on this windy Saturday night. As I mentioned before, we got our last harvest in this week, and it’s been sorted and cooked.

A good bean starts with the vine: say you’ve got eight orchids blooming on that vine (and they will be blooming very soon—we’re close to pollinating season), you only want to pollinate four or five of them. This means the beans will be a good size. Since Tongan beans are among the largest in the world, big means big. We’ve seen several this week alone that are 25, 26 centimeters.

Next, the beans have to harvested at the right time: when they’re yellow-green; with a tip that is fully yellow or—for Gourmet Grade A—yellow-and-slightly-split.

Split beans are exceptional for extract: you know it when you smell them.

These are the beans we got in, mostly Grade A. Splits aren’t considered Grade A as they’re extract beans. But when a long gourmet bean is just split at the end you’ve got perfection.

The beans that you see that are partially brown have fully ripened and started to cure naturally on the vine. They will cure faster than the other beans, and, though they aren’t considered prime for gourmet beans, need to be mixed in with the others.


See the yellow tips: ripe for picking.

See the yellow tips: ripe for picking.

The beans are “killed” at very high temperatures to start the enzymatic reactions that create the aroma and flavor that are vital for a high quality product.

But that’s just the beginning: all the processing we do daily, of tons of beans, all by hand, is meant to monitor the temperatures and keep those reactions happening at the rate they should be.

That’s why I worry about weather so much. If the sun doesn’t come out for days, we have to get creative to keep the beans warm.

We also have to make sure they continue sweating water (gourmet beans retain only about 35 percent of their water weight, and extract beans much less than that), and that the water is removed to prevent mold.

Once the water’s out, the oils start to form to produce a beautiful, supple bean that carries the full rich aroma.

Ani’s set up some pretty amazing contraptions to heat the beans evenly inside the containers, and we’ve seen (and smelled) the results.

As if this weren’t enough, all the beans—since they’re harvested bit by bit—are all at different stages, kept in different kinds of containers. Some have to be sealed away from oxygen since they’re at optimum dryness.

All this complexity has driven Joe (the son of our Tonga operations manager) to focus his energies on coconut.


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