SOURCE: Cacao Verapaz
REGION: Alta Verapaz
SOURCE TYPE: Social Enterprise
BEANS: Purchased (dry) from farmer associations
FERMENTATION STYLE: Centralized, three tiers over eight days
TASTING NOTES: Chocolatey, liquid caramel, walnuts
These beans come from a new project by the Uncommon Cocoa Group, the same folks behind Maya Mountain Cacao Ltd. (MMC) in Belize. In 2014, MMC co-founder Emily Stone expanded into Guatemala with a new export company, Cacao Verapaz, that is working to help farmers meet market standards and improve the quality of their cacao.
Cacao Verapaz sources from farmer associations who buy beans from 220 farming families, 99% of whom are indigenous Maya, and 65% of whom live in conditions of extreme poverty. Fermentation is centralized at the community level, which means groups of 20 to 50 farmers share a fermenting and drying facility. Cacao Verapaz provides technical assistance and quality control throughout the harvest, and buys the cacao once drying is complete. At a warehouse and drying facility in central Guatemala, the company re-dries the cacao to remove more moisture, sorts the beans, and packs shipping containers. The Alta Verapaz region is comprised mostly of rippling, hilly terrain, and most farms are planted along steep slopes that present an especially physical challenge to farmers.
The varietal of cacao we get from Cahabón is primarily a hybrid called IMC-67, or Iquitos Mixed Calabacillo, which was named for the pods’ likeness to the smooth, rounded fruit of the Calabash tree. The beans themselves are gargantuan—some of the largest we’ve ever seen in the factory, but the size also means they are especially difficult to ferment evenly. Even so, Cahabón farmers are taking careful measures to track and improve the fermentation process. IMC-67 is an old and robust hybrid, developed from seeds collected near the Peruvian city of Iquitos by the plant researcher F. J. Pound around the late 1930’s. At the time, Pound was researching and developing cultivars that were resistant to witches’ broom, a disease that had begun to impoverish the cacao supply in places like Trinidad.
The farmer associations in Cahabón are continually making improvements to increase quality. In 2015, Cacao Verapaz is financing the construction of new wooden drying decks to replace the concrete decks that were originally financed by John Scharffenberger. The cement decks are good for trapping heat, but wood decks are better for maximizing airflow and preventing mold. Because Cahabón beans are so large, they require an unusually long time in the fermentation boxes. This makes consistency a challenge, and provides Cacao Verapaz with a point for focused research in coming years. Cacao Verapaz’s model in Guatemala differs from the company’s Belizean sister model in a few ways, but the values and mission are the same—to build a monitored, traceable, centralized post-harvest processing system, to provide technical support and credit to farmers, and to raise the market price by improving quality and building relationships with specialty chocolate makers.
In our Cahabón bar, which launched in May of 2015, we taste rich chocolate cookies with hints of walnut and a liquid caramel finish.