Since I have been working with cacao beans my biggest challenge has been to find a good cacao that will satisfy five basic needs:
Good fermentation; right drying; clean beans; single origin; and availability
Many chocolate makers and chocolatiers readers probably agree that most of the beans that are available in the market only fulfill one or two of these requirements. The first question that should come to our minds is- how to find a good product?
Some adventurous chocolate producers decide to take their chances and travel to one or two of the many exotic countries that produce cocoa beans. But after the tough decision regarding which country to visit, they normally end up in the hands of a jealous group of cocoa exporters or intermediaries that only show to them what they want to sell. Rarely the chocolate producers arrive to find a farm that has what they need. But once again, even if they were lucky either the farmers try to sell their beans at a prohibitive price or they do not even know how to export. In the end our adventurous travelers return to their country of origin with a great experience and with many samples, but they are at the same point where they were before the travel.
So what is the best approach so we don’t end up always where we started?; let me provide you with an easier way to find what you need.
Honestly there are not too many people that are in this business because they believe in it, please do not misunderstand me, this is a business and everybody should look for a financial return, but there is a thin line were some believers fight for quality and integrity.
My first recommendation is to ask- who are the specialist, exporters and farmers that are promoting the cocoa business in their country and abroad. Believe me!, even if it sounds basic and natural, the first signal of a serious company is measurable by their efforts towards quality and service to the whole business.
Once you have identified a potential supplier, the second step is easier. You will need to do some basic due diligence and identify the cocoa regions of the country selected in order to prepare yourself to have a very good idea of what is the flavor and taste patterns of the region to be visited. I know it sounds logic, but once in the field you will see how easy it is to get confused with all the tasting you will be exposed to.
Once you have selected your cocoa beans, the hard part starts. Unfortunate but truth, there is a big breach of communication, even in this century, between cocoa farmers and chocolate producers. Both parties know that the costumer is willing to pay for a product with a unique taste, quality and presentation; but their vision of this special product is completely different. My particular background gives me a special insight in this matter. I come from a family that produced chocolate for more than three generations and we were pioneers in the local market. Now I became a cocoa producer and let me tell you that by having been at both sides of the table I have come to truly understand the complexity of this model. Most of the cocoa producers do not even think about chocolate, they only produce beans to be sold by pounds; that is the main reason why they do not ferment it well or why you normally find a significant amount of impurities in the bags but not in the samples.
Many farmers think that the result of a good chocolate is only responsibility of the chocolate maker or chocolatier. As we all agree that vision is WRONG! As my wise "Nonna" says if you want to prepare something delicious you need fresh and good ingredients; the same is true for an excellent chocolate. Basically what is necessary is an interaction between both parts of the chocolate industry; fine chocolate makers are probably the most qualify professionals to support this hard labor, as a matter of fact, many of us have already made big efforts towards this goal, but we need to refresh this initiative by bringing more and lager companies involved in this important crusade.
I can assure you that what I have written here is a pattern that I have seen in every country that I have visited, some in major scale, some in minor scale but "The complexity of finding good cocoa beans" presented the same difficulties everywhere. I hope my writing helps you to clear some doubts and bring some of you to the crusade of reducing the breach between an excellent cacao and an excellent chocolate.
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