Hello and good day!
We currently have two containers of cacao on the water and another one just about ready to ship. If you've been following for a while, you may recall that the cacao harvest where we operate runs from January through August.
This year is our 15th year in a row buying cacao in northern Peru. That first harvest was pretty small, just one container. Nowadays, we ship many, many containers each year out of the jungle in northern Peru to make Fortunato No. 4 chocolate for our wonderful customers. After this current container, we should have one or two more to ship before wrapping up the harvest.
We're doing what we need to do to make sure that we never run out of chocolate. Our supply chain is long and complex, with many potential pitfalls. From the time cacao leaves the jungle until we have finished chocolate in our warehouse here in Washington state is a 7 - 8 month, 10,000 mile odyssey.
We never want to get caught without inventory. It has happened to us before and it is painful. As a result, we buy as much cacao as possible during harvests and get it out of campo as quick as we can.
Here is something that I was thinking about the other day. When we got into the chocolate business, my dad was in his late sixties and my brother was in his early forties. The work of preparing cacao for export is hard physical labor. And my brother, in order to set an example of hard work for his team, participated in all the heavy lifting to export cacao for ten long years.
Now he supervises, but all the heavy lifting took a serious toll on his body. He has had shoulder surgery on both shoulders.
Take a look at the picture above. That is cacao drying on a dryer bed. After fermentation, cacao is set out in the sun to dry. Once the cacao is dried, as measured by a meter that detects moisture levels, the cacao will be whisked into jute bags and taken to a warehouse.
The warehouse is in a different location. The jute bags filled with dry cacao need to be picked up and loaded into a "motocarguera", which is a motorcycle pulling a big wagon.
The bags weigh 80 or 90 pounds at this point, which is pretty heavy. There will be several trips back and forth between the processing facility and the warehouse. Each trip requires lifting many heavy bags into the wagon. Once to the warehouse, the cacao will be nicely organized, as shown in the picture below.
The cacao sits in the warehouse for many weeks until we accumulate enough to export. Now here is where it starts to get really brutal. The rules require us to stencil the weight of the bag on each sack. We've arbitrarily decided to go with 50 kilograms because it is easy to calculate the total weight of the shipment that way.
50 kilograms is 110 pounds, which is heavy. One by one, our team has to put sacks on a scale and weigh them out to exactly 110 pounds. This means pouring cacao from one bag into another, over and over again until we have about 13 tons of cacao in perfectly measured 110-pound sacks.
Then the sacks have to be sewed shut using an industrial sewing machine we own. This process is very physically taxing And when it is all said and done, there is even more physical work to do.
Next, the cacao needs to be loaded in a truck, one sack at a time, carried on the shoulders of team members. Mind you, Brian was doing this work all throughout his forties. The guys working on the team are mostly in their early twenties.
After the cacao is loaded, the truck drives over a bridge crossing the Chinchipe River and heads due southwest for the city of Jaen.
In Jaen, the cacao goes on another truck that makes the long drive up and over the main ridge of the Andes mountains, due west, and then down the long Pacific coast to Lima. From Lima, the cacao goes on a boat through the Panama Canal, across the Atlantic, and to the port of Rotterdam in The Netherlands.
In Rotterdam, the container goes south on a river barge and then on a truck into the Swiss Alps, to the city of Schwyz. The chocolate is manufactured and then sent from Schwyz to the port of Antwerp in Belgium on a truck.
From Antwerp the chocolate goes back across the Atlantic to the port of Houston, and then across land to Washington state. It is a lot of work bringing our chocolate into the world.
But it is worth it, and our pleasure to do it.
It took a couple of busted shoulders and more than a decade of learning, but we finally got it all figured out. Now all our wonderful customers have to do is push a few buttons online or walk into one of our shops, and there it is, just waiting for you.
Very satisfying. And only possible because of the support we receive from excellent people like you. By the way, our customers ended up paying for those shoulder surgeries as well :).
Thank you so much for your time today.
I hope that you have a truly blessed day!
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