August 13, 2008

Latin American tour August 2008 – Day 13 – Paria Peninsula, Venezuela

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Written by: Martin Christy

Today we head east to the Paria Peninsula to visit the Hacienda San José plantation, the source of beans for some of Domori’s finest chocolate, and also for many other chocolate makers.

Our flight to Cumana was in the afternoon though, so in the usual spirit of this trip of “exactly how many chocolate related visits can we squeeze in on one day”, we got up early and took a three hour taxi ride to an artisanal chocolate maker on a plantation, Mis Poemas, in San José de Barlovento.

We were met by owner Amanda de Garcia, and shown into the factory shop, a very pleasant little enterprise full of Mis Poemas’s range of bars and pralines. Further back in the room the packers were busy wrapping up Amanda’s products, destined for local trade and Venezuelan supermarkets.

We were given a guided tour by Simon Perez, who also builds and maintains the factory’s machines. Mis Poemas was launched as part of a government initiative to encourage artisanal chocolate production, along with nine other companies. Simon built the machines for all these operations, though only five now remain, including Mis Poemas.

The production at Mis Poemas was certainly very inventive, with refiners built from spare car parts, and the branding and presentation was well thought out. The texture of the chocolate still needs a lot of work though, and the flavour profile could be more balanced. Some very sour, off butter notes suggest that the chocolate is unlikely to reach beyond the local market at the moment.

Our taxi driver came with us on the visit – I hope he was beginning to like fine chocolate – then drove us to the main airport in Caracas, we were meant to meet my fellow Seventypercent founder, Steve Chung, and fly on to Cumana. Steve got delayed in Frankfurt though, due to baggage problems and couldn’t make the connection – and this was just the beginning of our travel frustrations today.

We couldn’t get Steve on the next flight to Cumana, and after checking in ourselves, Andrés and I were bemused by the lack of information and the general disorganisation in the airport. Our flight wasn’t even listed on the departure boards. Eventual we found the pilot and hostess, waiting with the public at the gate. They seemed as confused as the rest of us, but at least we could stick with them until it was time to board, about an hour late.

Cumana was a lot more relaxed, but we still had to take a taxi on to Carupano – about an hour and a half’s drive. (A direct flight to Carupano is possible, but logistics meant we couldn’t use this.)

We’d had trouble getting a hotel in Carupano, so the Francesci family had booked us into a posanda – a bed and breakfast lodging. I’d no idea what kind of place we’d be in. By the time we got there, it was dark, about 10pm and we were very tired from a long day.

Sometimes travelling brings unexpected moments of joy. The owner showed us in through the main gate, up the stairs, and to a patio overlooking the Caribbean sea, bedecked with hammocks.

About one minute after we arrived there was a power cut. We had no choice but to sit in the hammocks in the moonlight, listening to the sound of the sea breaking on the nearby beach and eating the Pizza kindly brought by our hosts, the Franceschi family, ownders of the Hacienda San José plantation. A long day ends with a small piece of heaven.

About the Author

Martin Christy
Martin Christy is Seventy%’s editor and founder and is a leading voice in the chocolate industry, promoting the cause of fine chocolate and fine cacao and those who produce them. With twenty years’ experience of fine chocolate, he has travelled extensively visiting cocoa plantations and meeting the world’s top producers and is a consultant to the fine chocolate and cacao growing industries worldwide. Martin is Judging Director of the International Chocolate Awards, which he founded in the UK with Kate Johns of Chocolate Week. He is also Acting Chairman of the new fine cacao and chocolate industry association, Direct Cacao and is a member of the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Initiative Tasting Panel. He is also a freelance writer about fine chocolate, contributing to UK magazines and several books about fine chocolate.



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