Joann Travels to the source of Cacao - Ecuador
Xchocol’Art begun with the intention to use chocolate as a meaningful tool to create, connect, and have my family bond while working with something delicious.
From the start, my dream has always been to meet and work directly with the farmers whose chocolate I would later touch, taste and talk about to our customers.
As it has happened many times before, chocolate led the way as well as a good friend who sent me a link to check out. It was a trip to Ecuador led by two lovely ladies. Jody Hayden, owner of Grocer’s Daughter, Michigan and Jenny Samaniego from Conexion Chocolate, Ecuador. From Quito, we flew to Manta in the West Coast municipality of Manabi. We drove to Calceta where we visited Don Francisco, a cocoa farmer who is one of the 900+ suppliers to Fortaleza Del Valle co-op. This is where as a chocolatier one realizes that our challenges running a business are a walk in the park compared to the cacao farmers and their families. He showed us the farm. His precious cacao trees whom he named gifts from ‘mama pacha’ (mother earth) and what gifts they were. As he opened each and every football size pod to show us the white pulp and let us delight in its flavor, all we could do was savor and make wide eyes at each other. This was the moment that as a chocolatier, I was waiting to indulge in. Its taste of lychee combined with citrus notes and even a hint of peach was unlike any other flavor I had ever tasted, only to reveal its precious bean at the core. He proudly showed us his ‘laboratory’ which was composed of buckets of cow dung, fruit pulp and natural fertilizers to care for his cocoa trees. All I wanted was to take a minute and take it all in, count my blessings in being able to work everyday with this most delicious but stubborn material.
Humbling was the realization that this gift from earth must pass through so many hands and must endure so many changes to become the truffle we bite into in a moment of indulgence. It has always been clear that sourcing our main ingredient would have to be from cocoa producers who use ethical and sustainable means to attain it. Many confectionery businesses in the pursuit for higher margins, settle to use low grade chocolate or even chocolate “coating” and artificial ingredients for their products. This is not a valid option for me.
Ecuador has a healthy minimum wage compared to most cacao growing countries. Most make $10-$15 /day minimum as day laborers compared to $.91 in Ivory Coast. The farmers who are members of this Co-Op have a savvy manager in Berto Zambrano who ensures that only the highest quality is received from the area farms, paying a good price for a quintal of wet beans and making certain that his farmers are guided in terms of the latest forms of organic farming and clean reproduction of cocoa trees.
The question that has hounded me in the past is ... where is my place in all this? How can I be an instrument through my daily work to influence a little piece of the big picture of chocolate. It is certainly clear that running a business is hard but now, sourcing from single origin organic and fair trade chocolate from farmers and a co op that I know, is not. Maximizing practices for greater profit is not our goal, working to attain a greater good is our path. And running Xchocol’Art with this conviction to certain criteria is a compromise that would make for opening a more creative path. This added to the realization that I have just made lasting cocoa friendships with Jody and Jenny is like “cocoa on the cake”. Like Jody said “ this is the beginning of a new solidarity cocoa economy that benefits everyone along the chain”.
My intention is to keep on making each and every piece with passion and care to each and every ingredient and every person who touched it, so that it can be savored as an ‘unguilty pleasure’. Taste with INtention.
with sweet regards, Joann