SOURCE: Kokoa Kamili
REGION: Kilombero District
SOURCE TYPE: Social Enterprise and Fermentary
BEANS: Purchased (wet) from 1500+ farmers
FERMENTATION STYLE: Centralized, 3-tier box system over six days
TASTING NOTES: caramelized red berries, ripe mango, soft tropical fruits, brownie batter
After cacao came to Tanzania with German colonialists in the 1880s, it followed the typical growth pattern of an agricultural commodity—bred for yield, not quality. Nowadays, farmers are still typically responsible for fermenting and drying their own beans, sometimes without technical support or adequate equipment. In the end, this often results in an inconsistent, low quality product that can fetch little more than the world market price, usually paid by large, conglomerate buyers. Lately, thanks to social enterprises and companies like Kokoa Kamili, there is a glimmer of change.
A few years ago, Simran Bindra and Brian LoBue recognized an opportunity to sustainably improve livelihoods across Tanzania’s rural reaches by improving cacao quality. To actualize the dream, Bindra and LoBue convened with villages and chiefs around the Kilombero District in central Tanzania to pitch a new business. Ten hours outside of Dar Es Salaam by car, 55 kilometers from the closest town, and 150 kilometers from the closest tar road, the pair set up the headquarters of Kokoa Kamili.
To convert a defunct bar and wedding hall into the fermentary they needed, Bindra and LoBue poured a cement floor, installed a fence and fermentation lines, and hired a local carpenter to build fermentation boxes and 160 drying tables.
Kokoa Kamili buys wet cacao—freshly harvested and pulled from the pod the same morning—from its neighbors, purchasing 95% of beans from farmers within a 15-kilometer radius. If farmers have two 20-liter buckets of beans or more, Kokoa Kamili will pick them up for free. This past harvest season, between June and November, Kokoa Kamili sourced from 1,519 farmers. By maintaining rigorous quality standards and centralizing fermentation, Kokoa Kamili controls the price it can fetch for the cacao, garnering a premium that trickles down to the producers from which it buys.
Of the 8,000 metric tonnes that Tanzania exports annually, Kokoa Kamili is responsible for 43. It’s a small drop in the bucket, but Kokoa Kamili’s impact is rippling further than the numbers imply.
Last year, Kokoa Kamili paid 24% above the equivalent price for dried cacao—how most cacao in Tanzania is purchased—which effectively succeeded in raising the region’s dried market rate to the highest in Tanzania thanks to increased competition. This coming year, Kokoa Kamili will distribute 100,000 seedlings from its nursery, begin providing technical support to producers, and work towards organic certification.
The first lot of beans we bought from Kokoa Kamili showcases a wildly dynamic range of flavors. We found an unusually perfect balance of bright red fruit notes and a rich, chocolatey finish. More particularly, caramelized red berries, ripe mango, soft tropical fruits, and brownie batter.