Hello and good day!
Our 2023 cacao harvest is coming to a close. Out where we buy cacao, harvest season runs from January through August.
It is hard to believe, but this is our 15th year in a row buying cacao.
Back when we first got started, we only bought cacao from a dozen farm families. This year we purchased from over 500.
If our wonderful customers and our cacao farm partners continue to believe in the work we do, hopefully we can stack up another 15 years.
And then another 15.
And then another 15.
Thinking in terms of 15 years is sort of a strange thing. If I wanted to set a lunch date with you for 15 years from now, you'd think I'd lost my mind. Nobody knows what they'll be doing or where they'll be 15 years from now.
But you can also look at 15 years another way. My brother has a 15-year-old daughter. I've been married 19 years. I recently had a long conversation in our chocolate shop with a customer who was married for 62 years.
We all share the same consensus.
Time goes by fast.
This dual nature of time makes it a very tricky thing to deal with. It is both fast and slow at the same time. 15 years is undoubtedly a long stretch, but it is sure to fly by. We plan simply to stick to our knitting, continuing to do the work we were put on this earth to do, day in and day out.
If we keep our heads down and focus on making people happy, and if we produce chocolate and products to the best of our ability, we'll be able to look back on the next 15 years with great pride and satisfaction.
Anyhow, with the cacao harvest coming to an end, we have several shipments of cacao and chocolate in transit. We have cacao and chocolate on trucks, traveling across land in Peru, Europe, and the United States. We have cacao and chocolate on boats, sailing from Peru to Europe, from Europe to the United States, and from Peru to the United States.
The next couple of months will be a time of logistics and repairs and planning. Then the busy build up towards the holiday season and winter will be upon us.
The basis for all of this work is seeds. Take a look at the photo. That is what a farm looks like after cacao has been harvested. Farmers cut down pods down off their trees. Cacao stems are thick and many of the trees are tall.
The most common tool for cutting down cacao pods is a long wooden stick with a half-moon metal blade on the end. You pull the blade down on the thick stem and the pod falls onto the farm floor. The farm floor will be covered in decomposing brown and black cacao tree leaves. The sound of the stem breaking is a crack.When the pod hits the floor, it is a plop, followed by a wisp of leaves floating up into the air.
Crack. Plop. Wisp. Crack. Plop. Wisp.
This goes on for hours until there is a pile of cacao pods gathered in a mound. The pods are broken open, either with a machete or a rock.We prefer a rock because machetes tend to slice open the seeds on the inside, which has a negative impact on fermentation later down the line.
But farmers are much more agile with machetes because they use them all the time. We request that our farm partners use rocks, but not all honor that request. Back at our facility, we can easily spot cacao that has been nicked by a machete and we take it out of production.
My brother is very finnicky about using quality cacao.
Once the pod has been cracked open, we hand scrape the seeds into a plastic bucket or a thick, sealable, plastic bag for transport. The seeds are covered in a sugary white gel inside the pod and the work of scraping out seeds is slimy.
Your hands are covered in goo. The goo stains your clothes. It is all part of the job.
Once all the seeds have been scraped, the buckets and bags are carried to vehicles that are parked on the road. The road might be close, or it might be a real schlep, sometimes a several acre hike.
A customer of ours who just visited another cacao farming region in Peru, showed me a picture of the farm he visited. It was a big, well planned, plantation.mIt had roads running through every part of the farm where trucks could drive right up next to harvested cacao.
We buy from independent, small, family farms and almost all of the farms are multi-cropped. There is very little free ground space for driving vehicles onto the farms. Maybe a motorcycle, but not a truck.
The scraped pods are left behind to decompose into the farm's soil. If you look closely enough at the photo, you can see black, rotting pods on the sides and in the background. The abundance of compostable organic material that rots into the ground on a small multi-crop farm is a big part of why all the cacao we buy is organically grown.
Most big plantation farms have to bring in all manner of fertilizers and pesticides because of the nature of their farming.
After the harvest is complete, the journey of the seeds begins. On trucks along muddy roads from farms to our processing facility for fermentation and drying.
From our processing facility to the local storage warehouse on "motocargueras", three wheeled motorcycles with a wagon on the back, good for hauling small loads. From the local warehouse on a mid-sized truck, out of the jungle and to the closest city. From the city, on a big freight truck, over and through the northern Andes mountains and down the coast to Lima.
From Lima, back north on a boat through the Panama Canal and north across the Atlantic, through the English Channel, and into the North Sea to the port of Rotterdam in The Netherlands.
On a truck south from Rotterdam and into the Swiss Alps to Schwyz, Switzerland. From there on trucks and boats to several wholesale chocolate clients throughout Europe and Asia.
For our wonderful customers in the United States, finished chocolate is put on a truck from Schwyz due north either to Rotterdam or Antwerp in Belgium. Then on a boat to Port of Houston. From the port of Houston on a truck to Issaquah, WA.
From Issaquah, WA, on trucks to our customers all over the United States, and from our retail shops, in cars or on foot, going back home.
All of this because the sweet white gel in the pod makes the seeds taste like chocolate when you ferment them. And if you roast fermented cacao seeds and grind them and add a little sweetener, you get chocolate.
Managing the journey of the seeds is our job this time of year.
We wouldn't rather be doing anything else.
Thank you so much for your time today.
I hope that you have a truly blessed day!