Source: Coperativa Flor de Mantuano
Region: Carabobo Province
Source Type: Women-run cooperative
Fermentation Style: varied
Tasting Notes: cinnamon, gingerbread, espresso
Until a few years ago, Mantuano was a foreign name to chocolate makers. The small town in northern Venezuela produced very little cacao, and what it did produce was traditionally mixed in with other regional lots and sold to large buyers. In 2008, a few women from Mantuano took a two-hour bus ride to a local NGO that provided support for cacao farmers, organized themselves under the NGO, and received government financing to build out a small chocolate maker and fermenting depot in their village. In 2010, Tisano—a cacao exporter and tea company—saw potential in the new project, and helped to finance the completion of drying patios, fermenting boxes, and tools. The company began to send technical support for fermentation, and in 2010, exported the first lot. So far, the results have been stunning. In 2013, Greg and Caitlin visited Mantuano and met the women who run the cooperative as they were working on a variety of projects to improve quality and consistency.
Coperativa Flor de Mantuano is composed of six operative members from three families, a group that runs the fermenting, drying, bean purchasing, and quality control. They source from ten families in the village, including their own. The average farm ranges in size from two to five hectares, and most of the village is within a 15-minute walk of the co-op.
Mantuano has the capacity to export up to ten metric tonnes a year, but the real number hovers somewhere around 6.4 metric tonnes because day laborers are scarce in the small town, which slows the processes of pruning, harvesting, and replanting.
In 2012, we purchased our first beans from Mantuano, and made the first single origin bar to come from that village. We were immediately smitten with the bright cinnamon notes and the warm, classic chocolate flavor redolent of perfect brownies. It quickly became a stalwart favorite inside and outside the factory, and we’re thrilled to have these beans again. In 2014, we bought beans from the newest harvest, but shipping them turned out to be much more difficult than we anticipated thanks to some political unrest in Venezuela. Eventually, we opted to airfreight the cacao, and this winter it finally began making its way through production and onto shelves. Everything we loved about last harvest shows up even more brightly in this harvest—clear, distinct cinnamon notes, a warm suggestion of gingerbread, and that classic chocolate note that we came to love the first time.
Mantuano is a notable project, not least because of the consistently high quality cacao it produces. The women who run the cooperative have made remarkable, inspiring strides to elevate Mantuano from a small Venezuelan town that rarely appears on a standard map to a place known by name and taste.