Hello and good day!
Recently my brother Brian and I were reflecting on the very first cacao farm Brian ever visited. This is back when we were first getting interested in cacao. The farm was located in a little town called Bellavista. It is about an hour south of where we buy cacao now.
What was so interesting about this farm was that the farmer had invested in, and built, fermentation boxes and dryer beds. He and his family wanted to process cacao correctly. But when Brian toured the farm and was taken to see the small post harvest processing set-up, the boxes and the dryer bead were bone dry and completely clean.
They looked as if they hadn't been used in a long time. Brian inquired as to why the boxes and dryer bed weren't in use.Instead of answering the question directly, the farmer motioned to Brian to follow him out onto the farm, into a grove of cacao trees.
Cacao groves are generally shady places where you can get a bit of relief from the blazing jungle sun. It is still hot in there, but not as hot as the rest of the farm.
Cacao doesn't like direct sunlight and is generally grown under a canopy of banana trees, with their long, floppy leaves.Within the grove, there was a tarp on the ground, smartly placed under a break in the canopy, where the sun could shine through. On top of the tarp was drying cacao.
Around the tarp were a bunch of animals, dogs, ducks, chickens, turkeys. They were pecking at and smelling the cacao.A duck walked right over the cacao on the tarp, rubbing its duck bottom across the seeds.On the tarp itself, in and among the cacao, were ants, worms, beetles, and a lot of other creepy crawlies.
The floor of a cacao farm is not the cleanest place. It is fertile with life, but not exactly clean in the human sense.Leaned up against several of the cacao trees were thick, plastic bags.
The farmer motioned Brian over to look into the plastic bags.When Brian stuck his head down to get a look, the vinegar smell of fermenting cacao wafted up and stung Brian's eyes and nostrils.On this farm, the cacao was being fermented in plastic bags for a couple of days, maybe 2, or 3 at the most, before being laid out on the floor to dry.
Brian knew from research that this was not the right way to do it. The farmer knew too. He had attended a conference where a speaker explained that fine flavored cacao needs proper fermentation and drying.
After leaving the conference filled with inspiration and enthusiasm, the farmer decided to build fermentation boxes and a dryer bed. He figured that proper fermentation and good, clean, drying practices could fetch him premium prices for his cacao.
Unfortunately, his hopes were dashed the next time a cacao buyer from Jaen, the closest big city, came out to his farm.
The farmer proudly presented his cacao to the farmer, with its improved fermentation and drying.The buyer was impressed, but offered the same rock bottom commodity price as always.
Some haggling ensued. But ultimately, the buyer made clear that he was buying for a particular supply chain and that he could only offer one price, the lowest price possible. The farmer could take it or leave it.The farmer dejectedly accepted the offer and then tried to look around for different buyers.
Unfortunately, all were buying for the same supply chain and couldn't offer a better price. Without getting a better price, the farmer couldn't justify to the extra time and attention he had to spend on processing cacao correctly.
So he abandoned the project entirely and went back to processing his cacao the old way. Sweat it out in plastic bags for a few days. Let it dry on the farm floor, exposed to animals, and all kinds of bugs. Bag it when the buyer shows up.
This is how almost all cacao in the world is processed.
If you were to make a simple two or three ingredient dark chocolate with cacao processed in this way, it would gross you out. You would find it totally inedible But if you douse it with a whole bunch of added flavors, you can make something that tastes pretty good. But it isn't chocolate you are enjoying in that case. It is the other stuff.
One of the things in life that is very sad to see is somebody who wants to do right, but because of circumstances just can't.
They have good intentions.
They are making an effort.
They have the right idea.
However, the world just won't cooperate.
After visiting that first farm, Brian and my dad Dan went on a tour of dozens of villages throughout this region and saw the same thing over and over again.
Hundreds of proud farm families who take pride in what they produce and who wanted to do right, but who were forced into doing things in an inferior way because of the market they had to sell into to survive.
That tour made clear that the value we could add would be to help with processing cacao correctly without adding a burden to cacao farmers.This meant buying wet cacao off the tree, not already processed cacao like other buyers. We'd do the fermenting and drying ourselves in a centralized facility.
And we'd have to create a new supply chain for properly processed cacao coming out of that region one way or another. We had to learn how to do all that and it took several years when it was all said and done.
But it was worth it because the farmers we work with could be genuinely proud of what they were producing, which wasn't the case before. Of course, this concept has application beyond this little story.
I wonder if there is anybody out there who one of us might know who wants to do right, but has run into an insurmountable obstacle.
Could we help break the deadlock for them in some way?
Anyhow, I thank you so much for your time today.
I hope that you have a truly blessed day!
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