Why is the direct contact with cacao farmers so important to you?
Julia: The direct contact with cacao farmers is really important to us because we value quality above all else. After all, cacao is our most important raw material! I want to know how the farmers work, how their life looks like – and to show them our appreciation for their efforts. I think that cacao farmers should see, feel and taste the chocolates made with their own beans and compare them to other origins so they can understand better that their good work really does make a difference in the final chocolate. It’s all about being in this together, we want the farmers to feel ownership, pride and responsibility so they’ll deliver the best cacao they can.
What makes cacao in Guatemala so special?
Julia: In both Guatemala and Belize we work with Mayans, whose incredible diversity is reflected in the 26 Mayan dialects spoken in Guatemala, for example. The style of life is still very traditional in most parts. There are many hidden valleys that have cacao trees beyond 200 years of age, which don’t have much productivity in terms of yield but we’re supporting the cooperatives to plant the seeds of these old varieties. There are still some varieties of white cacao to be found, which speaks to their Criollo origin. Guatemala is very mountainous, and each region has its own micro climate that impacts the flavor of the cacao. Because their farms are scattered all over the hills many farmers carry their harvest along paths and suspension bridges, without pack animals, to reach the collection points. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people carry their cacao on their backs before. When the cacao farmers tasted the chocolate made with their cacao I was super pleased that they enjoyed it very much, despite it being much darker than what they’re used to. That’s definitely one of the things I enjoy most when visiting: the joyful look on farmer’s faces when they’re proud of the product made with their cacao!
Belize is the neighbouring country of Guatemala, Mayas also live there. Is it fascinating to meet the forefathers of chocolate?
Julia: Oh, yes, definitely! Usually one would’ve heard about the Maya in history class. It’s almost like time travel! They all still speak their dialect, live very traditionally, and the social cohesion within the communities is very strong. Belize has this alluring Caribbean vibe, the landscape is rather flat and thus the flavor profiles of cacao are fairly consistent. The typical yield of cacao isn’t very much, but this is also due to farmers cultivating multiple crops to live as self-sustaining as possible.
What are your takes from this trip?
Julia: It is becoming more and more important to buy cacao directly, under fair conditions and for good prices, otherwise the young generations won’t be interested to keep cultivating cacao and will move to the cities in search of a better life. Economic opportunities are needed for people to stay in their communities, whose traditional lifestyle works well - also in the future, provided that payment is fair.