An Ode(-ish) to Koko Samoa

Let me formally introduce you to my Achilles heel: KOKO SAMOA (Samoan Cocoa) — or as I like to call it my Kavity Kulprit. Served hot, strong, and sweet, Koko Samoa is my Unofficial Official National Drink of Samoa. It is unlike anything I’ve had before and reminds me  of a hybrid between hot chocolate and coffeeit has a gritty, bitter texture reminiscent of coffee, with a chocolatey aroma, and an extremely roasted flavor. Personally, I prefer the unstrained version where the grinds of the cocoa seeds (pegu) are left as a reminder of what you’re drinking.

Samoa was first introduced to cacao from its’ German colonizers in the 19th century as it was among the commercially farmed products brought from abroad. Since then, these technically foreign seedlings have become ingrained into Samoan culture.

My district in Western Savai’i is known for its’ cocoa. While not much else grows here, the cacao tree thrives. So much, in fact, a partnership among the Samoan and New Zealand governments, Savaii Cocoa Farmers Association and Whittaker’s Chocolates, helped to recently establish a local organic cocoa nursery, which I’ve had the pleasure of visiting a few times. The partnership created the Samoa Cocoa Export Improvement Programme (SCEIP), which aims at increasing the production of cocoa by providing access to and education about high quality, high yield cocoa plants for local growers, which would strengthen the cocoa supply chain from the grassroots up.

Cacao seedlings at the nursery

Making Koko Samoa is as much a cultural tradition as drinking is a comfort.
Women gather near my house to prep koko to sell in Apia. I hear their singing and know right away what they’re up to. To me, it is a cultural symbol of unity and togetherness and is meant to be sipped slowly and savored.

Women in my village working together

Lena/Lina’s How To Make Koko Samoa*:

*featuring help from my host sister, Uluiva

1. Cut open the locally grown cacao fruit with a giant, slightly rusted knife/mini-machete that your host sister has entrusted you to use without slicing open your hand

2. Take out seeds and place them to roast on the metal sheet placed over the fire

Cocoa seeds

3. Constantly move and spread seeds out so that they are all evenly roasted. Meanwhile cough and tear up from the smoke and heat of the open fire enough times that your host sister is unsure if you’re dying from smoke inhalation or actually enjoying your time

Roasting the seeds with my host sister

4. Once roasted (they must be extremely dark in color), use a spoon to scoop the seeds out and burn your hands multiple times as you remove the cracked outer shells of the seeds, all the while your host sister is laughing at your “weak hands.” (I found out later it’s optional to wait and let the seeds cool, but that’s for the “weak”)

Removing the shells from the roasted seeds

5. Question why your Girl Scout training never prepared you for this. (No Koko Samoa badge? We’ll see about that…)

6. Using a mortar and pestle, pound the seeds whole until a paste-like consistency is formed. At this point, a few hours have passed since you first began so if your host sister sends you away to “rest,” use the opportunity to go and try to get the smell of fire out of your hair

7. Now, the paste can be placed into cups to harden for use at another time or could be used to serve the beverage right away

8. Put the paste into a large metal teapot (that may or may not be missing a handle) and add water

9. Let simmer for an hour or two (less if you’re in a rush and your host mom puts it on high heat)

10. As previously mentioned, Samoans like Koko Samoa SWEET. So after eyeballing my host family’s measurements, I’m guessing you add in maybe 7 or 8 or 12 heaping tablespoons of sugar (Like I said, Kavity Kulprit. I usually ask to have a cup poured out for me after the second tablespoon)

11. Sit with your Samoan family who have embraced you as their own foreign seedling and enjoy the fruits of your labor

My usual cup o’koko

12. Find some pegu (grinds) in your teeth a couple hours later and remind yourself to brush and floss your teeth for the upteenth time and hope your teeth don’t rot while you’re in country

Sit with your Samoan family who have embraced you as their own foreign seedling and enjoy the fruits of your labor

Here’s my 1 Second of the Day for the month of June. I know I haven’t updated my blog in a minute or two, so here’s a monthly recap for you!

2 thoughts on “An Ode(-ish) to Koko Samoa

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