It’s a real struggle for anyone currently working in hospitality, and the story is no different for Haberfield’s bean-to-bar chocolate shop South Pacific Cacao. With a little downtime on their side, owners Jessica Pedemont and Brian Atkin have come up with a way to use a generally discarded by-product of chocolate making, and do it in a way that makes it approachable: they’re turning cacao husks into a tea – a tisane to be precise – and packaging it up into tea bags.
“It’s much easier to get people enticed when we’re doing the chocolate they can eat or the hot chocolate they can drink, but the tisane is a tough one,” says former Rockpool chef and self-proclaimed “chocolate evangelist” Pedemont.
Usually, as part of the commercial chocolate making process, the husk is discarded after the winnowing process (where the husk is separated from the bean) because the beans are roasted at such high temperatures they become “pretty lifeless”. But Pedemont explains that given the quality and careful treatment of their sun-dried chocolate beans, the husks are too valuable to throw away.
“There’s an expression in Japanese … which means a product is a by-product and a by-product is a product, so I don’t look at the husk as a by-product,” she tells Broadsheet. “When I do the winnowing I don’t produce that much husk. I’m lucky if I get 15 per cent,” Pedemont says.
All of South Pacific Cacao’s beans are from Makira Gold, a social enterprise run by Atkin in the Solomon Islands that empowers cacao farmers to ditch low-quality, low-margin chocolate farming practices for more sustainable methods that produce premium-grade cacao. All proceeds go back into supporting the social enterprise and its farmers.
The artisan chocolate company has teamed up with local small-batch coffee roaster Stitch to package its lightly roasted cacao husk into dunkable, biodegradable tea bags. When boiling water is poured over the bags, the tisane seeps out a rich, dark chocolate, barley-like aroma that is light and bright on the palate with enough chocolate flavour to curb any three o’clock sugar cravings.
While a loose-leaf version has always been available, Pedemont says putting the grounded husk into tea bags makes it more accessible. “To get general folk to enjoy it as a beverage is very much the essence of these pouches. People love something that has already been figured out for them … so putting it into pouches was essentially just trying to regulate that for people and make it convenient.”
Beside the sustainability aspect, the husk is also considered a superfood. “It’s got a lot of nutritional value. It’s full of theobromine, which is [said to be] good for mental clarity and focus, and it’s a good mood enhancer,” Pedemont adds.
She also points out that when the husk is not being used for tea, kitchens all over town are cooking with it, listing Pioik Bakery in Pyrmont, which uses it in its panettone, and north shore craft brewery Flat Rock, which has used it in its beers. “I lived in a cacao plantation in Hawaii and to me it wasn’t foreign to consume the product like this. Cacao husk is an ingredient people can cook and consume.”
South Pacific Cacao’s cacao tea bags are available for $22 per box. Each box contains 10 tea bags, and each pouch can be used twice.