Elman Cabrera, one of our lead chocolate makers, developed the flavor profile (i.e. bean roasting parameters, and more) for the newest harvest of beans from Maya Mountain Cacao, Ltd. In his previous post, he writes all about that process. In this one, we get to hear about his experience traveling to origin, Belize, to meet the folks at Maya Mountain Cacao Ltd. who helped produce these beans.
Working with Belizean beans that came from so close to my home in Guatemala was a thrill for me, especially because those beans from Maya Mountain were so delicious, and filled with such flavor possibility. I thought my time with them would be finished once I’d honed in on roast profile that we loved, but I’d soon find out the excitement had only just begun.
The real blessing came when I was offered an opportunity to travel to the source. The annual Maya Mountain Farmer’s Meeting was taking place in Punta Gorda, Belize, at Maya Mountain Cacao, Ltd. on January 28th of this year, and when Karen and our Chocolate Sourcerer, Greg, asked me if I wanted to go, I packed my bags in a flash. Thinking about the opportunity of traveling to a country close to mine, about the adventures, and the privilege of visiting an origin—the origin whose beans I’d worked with—was too exciting to even describe. Obviously, my trip was so much more than all those things.
Throughout the time I was making test batches and running taste test after taste test, I had been digging into the story of Maya Mountain Cacao, Ltd., the social enterprise and fermentary that supplies those beans. I revisited our sourcing report and through some more research, learned some eye-opening things about how MMC helps and supports the farmers they work with, most of whom are Q’eqchi or Mopan Maya—a detail that really hit close home for me.
Once in Belize, I met Emily (co-founder of MMC) and Minni (manager of MMC). The meeting—an annual gathering of all the farmers Maya Mountain works with—is an opportunity for MMC to communicate its values and goals to those farmers, and reestablish their commitment over the long run. At the meeting, MMC promised to stay in the market for many years, and committed to paying a fair price and buying the farmers’ cacao no matter the fluctuations of the market or competition that crops up in Belize. Maya Mountain was founded with the vision of creating access to the craft chocolate market for smallholder Belizean cacao farmers; they work directly with both parties which not only guarantees a high quality cacao, but it also means the farmers are getting a high price for it.
I met many of the farmers, and visited a cocoa farm for the very first time in my life. I think I will never forget those three cocoa pods (not three beans, three whole pods of beans) whose pulp I ate or walking through the rainforest and finding a well-kept cocoa farm. Nor will I forget Ermain Requena, who manages the demonstration cocoa farm, cutting some cocoa pods for us to try, his face lighting up full of pride while giving us insights about the farm. I’ll remember hearing from the farmers about the challenges that come with planting and starting a new cocoa farm, and visiting a fermentery for first time. I had the chance to see what fermentation actually looks (and smells) like, and enjoyed learning from two experts who did an excellent job explaining the process to a chocolate maker who was new to it all.
I can’t adequately describe what it’s like to experience all of this, and the feelings that came with it. To see and feel the hard work, the hopes, and the daily struggles of the producers I met. Those farmers who rely on selling their cacao to have an income, to bring food to their table, to send their kids to school, or to supply the everyday needs of life, who see their future through a cocoa bean, I appreciate the work they do so much more deeply now.
You see, we get our bean delivery every week. Burlap sacks over burlap sacks full of beans. Had you asked me about the beans a month ago I would probably had told you some basic facts—the process of cutting a cocoa pod, that the beans’ pulp is insanely delicious, that its fermentation takes up to 5 -7 days, and that even drying the beans can affect their flavor in so many ways. But I would be missing one important thing: the faces and stories behind those beans. Now, I can tell you about those faces and stories as well. Come in and ask me!
I started by developing a roast profile, and ended up in places I’d never dreamt I’d be, with people I never dreamed I’d meet. I’m a proud chocolate maker, and I’m a proud Maya descendant. My heroes don’t wear a cap but a hat, a machete, and rubber boots. And they also make possible one of the best experiences your palate can taste: Chocolate.