Hello and good day!
Please take a look at the photos above.
The first photo is of an industrial hybrid cacao called CCN-51. CCN-51 has several distinctive features. The pods are bright red, elongated, and skinny. The mucilage around the cacao seeds is thin and acidic. Because the mucilage is thin, the pink color on the outside of the seeds shows through.
We've always said that CCN-51 shows its color.
Now please take a look at the second photo. That is a bucket of pure Nacional cacao, the only genetic variety of cacao that we use to make our chocolate. The mucilage on the outside of the seed is thick, sweet, frothy, and delicious. The pods are round and fat and bright yellow.
I really love this photo of pure Nacional.
There is a healthy coffee bush next to the bucket in the second photo. Note the brown cacao tree leaves on the farm floor. All the leaves and discarded cacao pods will be left to decompose into the soil. Healthy soil means that all of the cacao in our chocolate is organically grown.
Whereas CCN-51 tends to suck excess nutrients out of the soil and kill off all life around it so as to produce unnaturally high yields, pure Nacional is native to the area and symbiotic with other plant life.
Nacional grows best in an agroforestry environment, side by side with a multitude of other crops and life. When we first started doing business in campo, there was a long-term trend towards pulling up Nacional and replacing it with CCN-51.
This continues to be an ongoing trend in cacao growing regions all over the world. Not where our Nacional beans grow.
Several factors drive the trend. The most prominent force was and always will be poverty. Cacao farmers tend to live in very remote places. They work extremely hard and under grueling conditions. They are highly intelligent folks and a darn sight more resourceful than your average American, me included.
No offense, but to survive and thrive in the jungle requires extreme ingenuity on a daily basis. Stuff isn't just sitting on shelves waiting for you to come put it in your cart. You have to coax your living out of the ground.
One of the primordial facts of life is that you don't choose where you are born. You show up one day and there you are. If you are born on a cacao farm in northern Peru, one of the given facts of your life is that you are a subsistence level farmer. You earn about what you need to stay alive and not much more. You are subject to commodity market swings based on the entire world's cacao production.
A bumper crop in Africa drives down prices in northern Peru. Price negotiations are carried out world's away, in New York and London, by commodity brokers and giant industrial chocolate concerns. One day a buyer shows up on your farm and tells you they are paying 30% less for cacao than the year before. You can take it or leave it, but you have to take it because you are sitting on a perishable good that has no value unless you sell it right now.
In this context, you are forced to plant for yield, and you are forced to sacrifice the long-term health of your soil for short term survival. When the buyer shows up, you want to have as much cacao on hand as possible to sell him.Another market force that was driving farmers to plant CCN-51 was the notion that cacao is essentially a generic ingredient.
For a very long time, cacao was considered nothing more than a vehicle for delivering other flavors. You don't buy a mainstream chocolate bar for the flavor of the cacao. You buy it for the way engineers at the chocolate company make it taste.That doesn't mean it tastes bad. Millions of people wouldn't buy it if it tasted bad. It means that the flavor of the cacao is a not a primary consideration.
When we came on the scene, industry professionals were purchasing chocolate primarily for its workability. Was it easy to work with? The flavor of the confection was their job.Highly flavorful cacao was even considered a detriment in some cases.
Back when I was making sales calls, I'd sometimes hear that our chocolate was delicious, but that it overpowered the recipe. Fair enough.
Thankfully, right around the time when we were getting into business, there was a trend burgeoning. Chocolate lovers wanted to think of chocolate more like wine. With wine, everybody knows that different grapes have different profiles.
The same is true with cacao. Different genetic varieties and different post-harvest processing leads to a wide array of possible flavor outcomes.
This was the basis for the single origin chocolate movement.
Our business model provided the proper economic incentive for our 500 cacao farm partners to pull up their CCN-51 and replant pure Nacional.
And the market was ready to embrace heirloom varieties of cacao that were delicious and unique in their own right. nThe star of the show was no longer the texture and the inclusions, it was the chocolate itself.
When people tell us that they love our chocolate, we do our best to explain that the secret ingredient is the cacao. Better cacao makes better chocolate. And when done right, better cacao is more lucrative for cacao farmers and more environmentally friendly.
A lot of people ask us how we ensure that only pure Nacional makes it into our chocolate. In general, our team is onsite for the harvest, and we see which pods farmers are breaking open.
But some villages and farms are too remote, and it wouldn't be time efficient to go all the way out there for the harvest. In that case, farmers hoof their cacao on a donkey or a horse to a central meeting spot. Our buying team checks the cacao for color and tastes the mucilage.
CCN-51 isn't hard to spot.
Thankfully, very few farmers ever try to fool us anymore. Way back at the beginning of our business it was more prevalent.
Anyhow, this is a big part of how we keep the quality of our chocolate very high year in and year out. Of course, I wouldn't sign off without trying to extract a lesson from this for daily life.
What stands out to me most from this line of thought is the goodness of holistic solutions.
There are times in business when economics and quality and environmental considerations all line up. In one fell swoop, you solve a bunch of problems with a single paradigm shift.
I think that this is true of life as well. Many times, there is a single tweak that can fix a lot all at once.
For example, making an effort to inject more kind words into a relationship.
Or eating healthier.
Or sleeping more.
Or smiling more often.
Or expressing gratitude more widely.
One change like that can have a tremendous ripple effect.
Thank you so much for your time today.
I hope that you have a truly blessed day!