April 2013 Visit
While in Belize this past week, I took a trip to Maya Mountain Cacao, adjacent to the Cotton Tree Lodge, with Belcampo Lodge (Punta Gorda) staff.
Several highly regarded craft chocolate makers in North America and Europe have made bars with cacao from this area (the Toledo District of Southern Belize). Maya Mountain Cacao sources premium beans from local cacao farmers and focuses on quality fermentation and drying of cacao beans. These beans are then sent to chocolate makers.
During our visit, we saw different shades of brown beans (all purple in the middle when cut in half) that had been fermented carefully in horizontal wooden boxes for the required number of days, then sun-dried on a tarp on the ground and under covered, solar drying areas. Beans were segregated in groups/batches as they dried. The fermentation area smelled a bit like a winery (a pleasant yeasty, wine aromas).
Two Maya women were hard at work helping to sort and grade the beans. Once beans were dried and sorted, they were packed in bags (large plastic and burlap sacks) and sent to (or picked up by) chocolate makers, who will roast, winnow and grind them into dark, rich paste -- that will eventually be made into chocolate bars.
Seneca Klassen, a cacao grower and chocolate maker from Hawaii, observed that Maya Mountain Cacao staff seemed to be taking extra steps to sort, grade and ensure that undesirable particles, broken pieces and twig bits were being removed -- steps that may or may not happen to this degree in different countries, especially if farmers are paid by the pound for their harvest.
Thank you to everyone at Maya Mountain Cacao and Belcampo for the tour. Sorry to have missed meeting you Emily (Stone); maybe next time!
Toledo Cacao Growers Association
There are a few different options for cacao farmers to get their beans to market in Southern Belize. Maya Mountain Cacao is one. I also made a very quick stop at the Toledo Cacao Growers Association (TCGA) in Punta Gorda.
According to the man I spoke to at TCGA -- who was very kind to show me their holding and weighing area for cacao beans when I dropped by -- almost 500 farmers regularly bring cacao beans to sell to this non-profit organization. Beans are weighed and inspected as part of this process. Local Belize chocolate makers that buy beans from TCGA include Cotton Tree Chocolate (Punta Gorda), Goss Chocolate (Placencia), Kakaw Chocolate (San Pedro), and Wangla Chocolate.