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What Makes Your Chocolate Special?

What Makes Your Chocolate Special?

Hello and good day!

The most common question customers ask us is, "what makes your chocolate so special?". The person asking is usually a new customer in one of our retail shops. Depending on how busy we are, we might give a summarized answer, or we might talk their ears off for 30 minutes.

I'd like to address a few things we do that are truly special. By special, I mean things we do that almost no other chocolate company does.

Before launching in though, please allow me a moment to discuss the following phrase. It ain't bragging if you've done it.

Ever heard this one? It has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?

As far as I can think it through though, it is one hundred percent false.

Bragging is a way of talking that makes you seem superior. If you consider yourself superior, the implication is that others are inferior.

I'd argue that those who have done something noteworthy are the ones most likely to brag. But bragging takes a lot of the shine off the accomplishment in my opinion. A person who might otherwise have genuinely admired and appreciated what you are doing, is likely to be turned off by boasting. That being said, please don't take what is to follow as bragging.

We're just a small family business doing the best we can. We've almost gone out of business several times.

If you've met us in person, you know that we are just a bunch of regular, down to earth folks, trying to make good chocolate and trying to make people happy.

Without further ado.

We only buy one origin of cacao and we're the only ones who buy that origin of cacao.

There are a lot of single origin chocolates out there in the world. However, most cacao origins are available from different chocolate companies. A broker buys cacao from an origin and sells it to a bunch of companies who each develop their own interpretation. Along the same lines, most fine flavored chocolate companies buy from many origins and have several single origin products.

That isn't the case with us. Every single one of our products is made with a single variety of cacao from a single place.

Some might find this limiting, to always and forever be bound in by the flavor profile of a single origin of cacao. We don't find it limiting.

Here's why.

The destiny of our company is intimately tied up with the community of cacao growers from whom we buy. This is a second point of uniqueness.

If a plague comes through and wipes out all of the cacao trees in the district of Huarango, we'll be out of business.

Our cacao farm partners will have to rebuild their lives, and so will we. Participating in a never-ending struggle to survive and thrive, side by side with 500 cacao farm families, isn't limiting. It is exhilarating.

Having a deep, personal connection with a community is much more satisfying than being able to cherry pick a bunch different flavor profiles.

How did a bunch of gringos like us end up doing business in the district of Huarango in northern Peru anyways?

Well, we've been doing business in Peru for more than 20 years. We started as distributors of mining equipment to a big gold mine. Along the way, both my brother and I have married Peruvian women and have engendered Peruvian-American children.

Our kids speak Spanish.   All of our in-laws are Peruvian. Brian is officially a dual Peruvian-American citizen. We don't just go to Peru to buy and sell stuff and turn a profit.

We're honorary Peruvians. It goes far beyond business. The country of origin is a second home for us.  

This is not the case with most chocolate companies.

In early 2009, after we'd already been buying and processing cacao for 2 years, we learned that the genetic variety of cacao we'd been buying was special. We already knew it tasted good, but we didn't know exactly why.

Under the guidance of the USDA, we did genetic testing on cacao trees growing natively in the district of Huarango. When the results came back, we learned that we'd stumbled across a variety of cacao that was thought to have gone extinct more than 100 years earlier.

Nacional cacao was one of the pre-eminent varieties of cacao, used all over the world by high end chocolate makers to make their best tasting chocolate.

It was famous for growing in Ecuador where it was discovered by the Swiss in the 1600s.And it was thought to have been completely wiped out in the early 1900's by a disease called Witch's Broom.

As I write this, 13 years later, cacao growing in the district of Huarango remains the only scientifically verified origin of pure Nacional cacao in the world naturally growing for hundreds of years on hundreds of thousands of trees in a isolated protected valley.

One of the trees in the district of Huarango, the tree we call the mother tree, remains the purest expression of pure Nacional cacao ever tested. It was found on the farm of Don Fortunato Colala, the person our company is named after.

When we received the results, my brother immediately went to work on establishing a clone garden to clone the mother tree for propagation throughout the district.

Here is another item for the list.

We own and operate a clone garden that subsidizes the replanting of this rare on of kind  variety of cacao.

Prior to doing genetic testing, the trend was towards pulling up the native variety of cacao and replacing it with a high yield, disease resistant hybrid variety. This would have had very bad long-term environmental and economic consequences. But it was providing a short-term economic gain for cacao farmers in the district of Huarango.

When you are a subsistence farmer, barely scraping by, many times you don't have the privilege of thinking a decade in the future. Had the trend continued, pure Nacional may have been wiped out a second time. And chocolate lovers never would have had the chance to taste delicious chocolate made from it.

With the help and trust of our wonderful cacao farm partners, we are successfully repropagating the native variety of cacao in the district of Huarango.

Most chocolate companies aren't involved in long-term replanting projects like this. But like I said, the fate of our company is tied in with the long-run prosperity of our cacao farm partners.

I'm running out of space for today.

More to come on this topic tomorrow.

Thank you so much for your time.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!