In Southern Belize, Every Week Is Chocolate Week

At a tiny factory in southern Belize, Juli Puryear and her team of chocolate makers are creating small batches of 70%, 55%, and 40% organic, Fair Trade bars. Most of the work (milling, winnowing, molding) is done by hand, but some steps (grinding, conching, tempering) use small pieces of mechanized equipment, including a Champion Juicer. It’s a surprising object to find in this undeveloped part of the country, where many of the Mayan residents still live in traditional thatch homes and rural villages.

The air is cool inside the workshop, a nice contrast to humid breezes coming off the Caribbean just outside. The factory is on the edge of Punta Gorda, the last major town along the southern Belizean coast before the Guatemalan border. The local produce market bustles along the main street, and a few fishermen pull their boats up to the docks to try and sell the day’s catch.

The Cotton Tree Chocolate factory produces its bars from cacao grown by the farmers of Toledo District, Belize. The chocolate is made in small batches from a single harvest from a single farmer. To keep the connection to the cacao growers personal, each package contains the name of the farmer who grew the pods.

The chocolate company began as a side project to Cotton Tree Lodge, an eco-lodge in southern Belize which brings guests to local cacao farms to pick the pods, taste the fruit, and share lunch with the farmer’s family. Now Cotton Tree Chocolate is a growing operation in its own right, selling bars all over Belize though not yet abroad.

Erin Andrews, who started out as a casual guest at the lodge and then co-founded Cotton Tree Chocolate with Anne Simmons, spent last week in Belize checking up on the workshop. She also met with Traveller’s Liquors, the company which produce’s Belize’s beloved One Barrel Rum, about creating a signature rum-filled chocolate. Here’s what she had to say:

“The taste is so amazing, it’s worth the trip to Central America to get your own. Cotton Tree Chocolate in Belize has been known for our outstanding chocolate bars and work with the local farmers and community of Belize, but now we are taking it up a notch by introducing even more variety.

Cotton Tree Chocolate met with Sustainable Harvest International this week to determine how we can work more closely with the local farmers in sourcing our chocolate ingredients locally in Belize. Look forward to our chocolate bars with coffee coming out soon. We will also be rolling out a seventy percent bar with nibs.

Also this week, we are meeting with Belize’s greatest rum company’s, Traveler’s. Our rum filled chocolates will be debuting this week. We’ve had so many people begging us to sell these that we can wait no longer. Nothing could be better than two of the greatest tastes of the Carribean together at last.

I was in our cool room today tempering chocolate and filling up our rum and barrel molds. The conches are spinning and tomorow we’ll be making more cocoa butter. I don’t think it’s possible to make chocolate in a more wonderful place. Come on down and taste some and I think you’ll agree.”

If you have any questions about Cotton Tree Chocolate, contact Juli Puryear at juli@cottontreechocolate.com. Any questions about Cotton Tree Lodge or traveling to Belize, contact Holly Masek at holly@cottontreelodge.com.

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