All chocolate is made from cacao beans but not all cacao beans are created equal.
What makes KAKAO "ceremonial grade"?
1. It's produced from Native Cacao Strains: native meaning it's found growing naturally, in the wild, without human interaction/cultivation. These strains are both the rarest and most concentrated in the compounds necessary for ceremonial use.
Criollo: native to Guatemala
Chuncho: native to Peru
Other cacao varieties exist, such as Forastero, (literally meaning "Foreigner" in Spanish), Trinitario, and CN51. These strains accounts for about 95% of the world's chocolate production. It is cultivated for mass production because of its large seeds, higher yield potential, and resistance to bugs & bacteria.
Many challenges arise for farmers and the planet when man-made strains of cacao are planted and harvested in places that cacao is not naturally meant to grow. When non-native strains of cacao are grown in the same region as the native strains, the farmers are typically incentivized to focus on the non-native cacao harvest due to higher global demand and wage security, hence why the native strains are considered endangered. Furthermore, the amount in which these man-made strains are being cultivated is having huge detriment on the soil and driving the prices down for farmers to the point of slavery.
To learn more about the dark sides of chocolate, and our motivation for doing it differently, view the Chocolate/Cacao episode of ROTTEN on Netflix.
Our sources and partners on the ground in both Peru & Guatemala have shared the following information with us:
In Guatemala, the true native strain of cacao is called Criollo. There are only around 12 true criollo trees left in Guatemala, which our source Laurent is working on protecting and salvaging. If you are being sold cacao called Criollo from Guatemala, be very wary of the source and do your best to go to the farms yourself and learn.
In Peru, the true native strain of cacao is called Chuncho. There is a lot of cacao in Peru called 'criollo' yet this is not truly the original & wild strain of cacao in this region. If you are being sold ceremonial cacao from Peru, please use your discernment and do your best to go the farms yourself and learn.
2. Minimal processing: this means the beans still contain all or most of their natural compounds. Ceremonial cacao is made from whole bean, organic cacao. These beans undergo a fermentation process necessary for cultivating their flavor profile and activating certain natural compounds. The beans are then roasted at low temperatures, cracked, and stone ground by traditional means. Ceremonial cacao is NEVER tempered.
3. Intention: from tree to cup, ceremonial cacao is cultivated with intention, and in alignment with the Cacao Spirit. This means the lands, the farmers, the process, and the finished cacao are treated with compassion, love, respect, and reverence.
Learn more about KAKAO's Sourcing & Production methods from Makenzie and Michael: