Hello and good day!
Chocolate isn't fancy until the very end.
Same with pretty much all of our favorite food.
Come to think of it, this is true of pretty much every finished product in existence. It applies to houses and roads and power lines as well.If you keep tracing it all the way back to the beginning, just about every single thing we depend on for material sustenance requires dirty hands and a strong back at its inception.
This has been one of the most important lessons we've learned during our 15 years in the chocolate business.Somewhere in the supply chain, really hard, physical, blue-collar work i needed.
Our family has been required to participate in the hard work, out in the jungle, under the blazing hot sun. We've also been responsible for admin, logistics, sales, and customer service.Believe me when I tell you that working at the end of the supply chain is much easier than working at the beginning of it.
One of the great gifts from our involvement in the entire process of bringing chocolate into existence, from the moment a cacao pod comes off the tree, until the moment when a customer enjoys chocolate as a finished product, is the perspective we've gained.
For me personally, the perspective manifests itself in two important life lessons.
The first is gratitude.
In the United States, we have easy access to a tremendous variety of food without having to do very much of the required grunt work to produce it. We're blessed. We should remember that.
The second is an obligation to work hard.
By a sheer twist of fate, people in some parts of the world have to work much harder than people in other parts of the world. It's ironic that in many places it is precisely the people who work the hardest who have the lowest standard of living.
No single individual can correct this situation. But there is great contentment in knowing that we are doing the best we can in our given work.It would add insult to injury to be lazy when our work is comparatively easy.
We're spurred by a sense of fairness to give an excellent effort day in and day out. Along these lines, I'd like to share a bunch of photos with you today. My hope is that by showing you where chocolate really comes from, you will take a moment to give thanks the next time you eat something wonderful.
I also hope that a sense of fairness will continue to motivate all of us to give our best effort as often as possible.
This is a typical cacao farmhouse kitchen. Mothers and grandmothers spend decades in these kitchens cooking for their families, nourishing family members for the hard work they must engage in every single day. Wood for the stoves is foraged from the farm.
All of these cacao pods need to be manually broken open and the seeds scraped into buckets.This is just one of dozens of piles that a cacao farm family will have to work on in a single day. Your arm and back muscles start to burn and tremble a couple hours in. Plus, it is blazing hot out there.
If there is no road out to the farm, our cacao farm partners have to hike several miles through the bush to a central meeting spot to deliver their cacao to us. This may require several trips back and forth with donkeys.
This is a typical road out to a cacao farm. We pick up cacao in trucks and station wagons. Imagine how terrible this road gets when it rains hard.
Here is another typical road.
This was our first cacao processing facility out in the jungle. It was an abandoned rice mill that my brother and his team had to refit from the ground up.
Note the tan colored mountain behind the old rice mill. It is a big old hundred-foot-tall rice husk mountain. he mill discarded husks onto that mountain for decades.
Just when that first processing facility was finally built and we had done one excellent cacao harvest in it, the husk mountain caught fire. Ash blew uncontrollably into the facility, and we had to abandon it.
My brother and his team had no choice but to build a second processing facility in a different abandoned rice mill.
It was a race against the clock getting the second facility built and operational in time for the next cacao harvest.The rice mill was in awful shape.
Dealing with fermenting cacao is extremely vinegary and hot. Over the years, we've experimented with ways to protect the eyes and noses of our team members. Unfortunately, the jungle heat is so suffocating that it isn't realistic to wear goggles and snorkels for long stretches.
The only option is to grit it out and frequently rotate the people doing the work.
Bees love the sugary cacao mucilage that drips down the side of fermentation boxes. Most post-harvest cacao processing work is done in a room filled with bees.You get stung a lot.
Most folks out in campo shop in little bodegas like this.
No Costco. No Amazon. No variety in food. No electronics section.No clothing section. Just a few shelves stocked with the essentials.
Kids walk alone or ride horses down dirt roads to get to school or run errands for their parents. Walking 5 or 10 miles in a day is no big deal for campo kids. It is a normal part of life.
Too many beat up old rickety bridges like this one to count, going out to cacao farms. During harvest season, our team and our cacao farm partners have to hoof cacao across these bridges, carefully of course.
About five hundred small cacao farms like this one are what make our chocolate possible.
Around midday, when the heat is simply unbearable, a bunch of neighbors might get together in front of the adobe church, sit on a bench, and catch up on local gossip, weather, and how the harvest is coming along.
None of it would be possible if these little seeds didn't miraculously grow into big, productive trees.
Savor your chocolate my friend!
Thank you so much for your time today.
I hope that you have a truly blessed day!