Source: Cacao del Bosque S.R.L.; DBA – Zorzal Cacao; Produces “Estate” and “Comunitario”
Country: Dominican Republic
Source Type: Privately owned fermentary and estate (which is also a bird sanctuary)
Beans Source: Grown on reserve (estate) and purchased wet from neighboring farms (comunitario)
Fermentation Style: Linear two-box system, fermented for 6 days
Drying Style: Greenhouse design with mesh covered decks (using heaters to kickstart the process) as well as a cement patio
Cultivation Notes: 10 cacao lots planted by specific clones with unique flavor profiles on bird sanctuary
Exporter: Cacao del Bosque
Importer: Dandelion Chocolate
Tasting Notes: walnut, caramel and brandied cherry
Start of working relationship: 2013
Last Visit: Oct 2016 by Greg
Tonnes Purchased in 2016: 10.2 MT
Purchased TOTAL (lifetime): ~16.2 MT
Charles Kerchner Ph.D (or “Chuck”) co-founded Reserva Zorzal as well as Zorzal Cacao (aka Cacao del Bosque S.R.L) years ago with the hope of proving that for-profit business could be a viable, economically sustainable driver of environmental conservation. So far, he’s right. Zorzal Cacao processes and sells cacao grown on an affiliated 412-hectare (around 1000-acre) bird sanctuary, Reserva Zorzal, where a rare migratory bird—Bicknell’s Thrush—spends its winters away from the cold snows in Vermont (zorzal is the spanish word for “thrush”). On the reserve itself, 70% of the land is dedicated to staying ”‘forever wild,” providing a healthy habitat for the birds to flourish, while the rest of the land is used for growing cacao and other commercial goods. Zorzal Cacao runs a fermentary where the beans from Reserva Zorzal are fermented and sold under the name “Zorzal Estate.” Zorzal Cacao also buys freshly harvested beans from neighboring farms, ferments them, and sells them under the title “comunitario.” Both of these sets of beans are sold to chocolate makers like ourselves who are interested in high quality beans with good flavor and an impactful mission behind them.
Our relationship with Zorzal Cacao has evolved steadily since it began years ago, when Chuck wandered into our factory to see if we might be interested in his beans. We liked the sound of the project, and our values seemed to be aligned, but Zorzal Cacao was still growing. At the time they did not have fermentation and drying facilities so they harvested their cacao and brought it to Öko-Caribe—a well-regarded fermentary nearby— in order to do the post-harvest processing. After a few years, Zorzal Cacao finished building its fermentary and started fermenting its own, and in 2016 we bought from the first lot of beans grown and fermented exclusively on the reserve. But things evolve quickly, and Chuck and his team are already building a new fermentary down the road, in a drier microclimate with readier access to a main road. The first fermentary has been a great source of research and development, but the Zorzal Cacao team has accumulated some more ideas and tips after traveling to other farms like Costa Esmeraldas in Ecuador and Camino Verde in Ecuador.
Zorzal Cacao started around the same time as a number of other producers we work with, and it’s interesting to note that many of them are learning similar lessons at the same time. Maya Mountain Cacao, Kokoa Kamili, Camino Verde, and Zorzal Cacao have all either already rebuilt or are planning to rebuild their post-harvest processing facilities based on what they learned the first time around, and from other cacao producers, in order to produce a better product.
As a chocolate maker, we are constantly experimenting and evolving, and we like working with producers who are learning and growing too. When Chuck and his co-founders, Jamie Phillips Jesus Moreno, Jaimie Moreno, Angelica Moreno, and Sesar Rodriguez initially began Reserva Zorzal, the land was relatively wild – perfect for bird habitat but not exactly perfect for effective cacao production. By dividing the land between Reserva Zorzal (the bird sanctuary) and the estate (the farm), they could leave most of the space untouched while simultaneously growing high-quality cacao. When they began their initiative, most of the pre-existing cacao trees—diseased and overgrown trinitario and criollo varieties— weren’t in great shape. They decided to experiment with grafting new criollo, an unidentified genetic variety of “white beans” and a mixture of hearty hybrids, about three years ago. Nevertheless, no time was wasted waiting for these new trees to bear fruit. Zorzal Cacao began a new project, dubbed Zorzal Comunitario, wherein the company buys wet beans from 12 of the bird sanctuary’s farming neighbors and ferments them at the company’s newly built fermentary. Chuck knows that the cacao grown on the Estate will have its ups and downs but by buying wet beans from neighbors they are able to smooth out those edges. This year, we purchased a split of 3.9 tonnes from Zorzal Estate and about 6.3 tonnes from the Zorzal Comunitario.
Another great thing about working with Zorzal Cacao is they are also helping to reforest the Dominican Republic through the implementation of a carbon offset project with the Plan Vivo standard, which certifies forest carbon offset projects. Plan Vivo is a program whereby carbon credits can be purchased which will pay local farmers annually to set aside a portion of their land and grow native tree species on that land. To fund this, chocolate makers who buy from Zorzal Cacao purchase $200 worth of Plan Vivo credits for each tonne of cocoa purchased. This approach is special in that it’s directly supporting environmental regeneration within the direct supply chain of a business, in this case, contributing to the natural ecosystems at the source through Zorzal Cacao. When companies offset their own greenhouse gas emissions within their own supply chain, it’s called “insetting.” Some of the land in the Plan Vivo program is within Reserva Zorzal, but some is also spread around local farms. This means that some of the beans we buy were grown near trees that are being planted to replenish biodiversity on the reserve. To date, Zorzal has planted 33 hectares (about 82 acres) of trees through Plan Vivo.
Unlike many of the places we source beans from, the Dominican Republic has a thriving national cacao industry. While this is good in many ways, it makes it difficult for newcomers to find their place in an old industry. Zorzal goes through great effort to ensure best practices, not only through their conservation efforts and high quality production, but for every individual they work with. By seeking out people who are excited to learn and absorb new approaches to cacao farming, Zorzal has optimized their staff retention and created a thriving working community. The staff has opportunities to travel with Chuck to other farms, the U.S., and Europe in order to learn and grow with the company. We’re proud to partner with Chuck and Zorzal Cacao, so proud that we’d love to bring you there with us!