Our Sourcing & Process - From Tree To Cup
KAKAO's Sourcing in Peru & Guatemala
Through our travels and research, we were ultimately guided to source a native strain of cacao from Peru called cacao chuncho and a native strain from Guatemala called cacao criollo. Having been exposed to and vastly educated on cacao chuncho and cacao criollo over the years, we are extremely passionate about their history, preservation, and the farmers and communities responsible for their cultivation.
KAKAO is sourced from small family farms in the remote jungles of Peru and Guatemala, far from industrial influence. Most of the farms we source from have only recently developed the infrastructure necessary to access their cacao. We have established direct-trade relationships with the farmers that we work with, meaning they set their prices and determine for themselves what their cacao is worth. They are the ones that get to place a value on their time and sacred life force energy.
In addition to paying beyond fair-trade prices, it's part of KAKAO's mission as a 501c3 nonprofit to give back to the farmers and communities that we source from, the ones responsible for cultivating and protecting native strains of cacao. We do this annually by donating at least 10% of our profits to on the ground projects in both Peru and Guatemala. In addition, KAKAO occasionally raises funds for specific on the ground projects that require even more resources than what we alone can provide.
This year we are launching a project with the potential to revolutionize cacao farming for cacao farmers in Peru. Currently, cacao farmers are required to take on debt to harvest the cacao on their 2-5 hectre farms. They borrow money from co-ops (because banks won't lend to them) to hire labor, the same co-ops to whom they then sell their cacao. Dependent on the co-ops for survival, the co-ops have no competition and a complete monopoly over the cacao industry in Peru. Most farmers are barely able to cover their overhead let alone profit to reinvest into their farm. This fundamentally threatens not only the cacao farmers way of living but also the native cacao these brave men and women are trying to protect.
In addition, the cacao farmers are required to harvest and ferment the cacao baobab, something they most often do not have the proper resources, equipment, or expertise to do, or at least do well. This not only damages the quality of the cacao, but also places an additional burden on the cacao farmers to do something that is not their specialty, costing them extra time and resources. Without the proper equipment or training, farmers often lose yields and sacrifice profits.
This year, we are launching a project with our partners on the ground committed to changing all this by allowing the farmers to sell their cacao in fruit and avoid their dealings with co-ops all together. This will allow the cacao farmers to focus on what they do best, farming cacao, without the risk involved with going into debt. Stay tuned for more details as this project unfolds.
You may be surprised to discover all that is ACTUALLY involved in making whole bean, heirloom drinking chocolate available to the world. Here's a step-by-step break down of our tree-to-cup process.
1. Growing: all cacao comes from cacao trees (Theobroma cacao). Cacao trees take up to 5 years to mature. Once mature, cacao trees grow thousands of flowers every year. However, only a small percentage (as low as 1%) produce a cacao pod. Each football sized pod takes nearly 6 months to ripen and contains about 20-40 almond-shaped seeds surrounded by a sweet, juicy pulp (cacao baobab).
2. Harvesting: Once the cacao pods have ripened, they are cut down from the trees. This is no easy task given that cacao trees can reach heights of nearly 40ft. The pods are then split in half with a machete or wooden club and the pulp removed by hand. Though cacao can be harvested nearly year round, there are two main harvesting times each year, which varies depending on the type of cacao strain you are working with.
3. Fermentation: the cacao bean, still inside its pulp, must be fermented anywhere from 1-4 days. Typically taking place in a wooden fermentation box, this process allows the cacao bean to shed its pulp and undergo specific chemical changes that allow it to obtain its characteristic aroma and flavor.
4. Drying: after fermentation the cacao beans are then laid out to dry in a designated drying center. Weather permitting, the beans will reduce their moisture content from about 60% to 7.5% over the course of one week. Once dried, the cacao beans can be stored for 4-5 years.
5. Shipping: the beans are then packed, sacked, and shipped to their end destination. Depending on their country of origin, this process can take anywhere from 1-3 weeks.
6. Roasting & Winnowing: once at their final destination, the beans can then begin to be processed. Compared to coffee beans, cacao beans are roasted at much lower temperatures and for much shorter periods of time. This process must be monitored very closely as over-roasting is common and can easily destroy the flavor profile of the bean. After roasting, the beans are then cooled and "winnowed." Winnowing is a technical term for the process of removing the husks (or shells) from the bean.
7. Grinding: the remaining cacao beans are then stone ground with a traditional stone grinder into what's known as a 'cacao paste'. At this point, unrefined sugar is added to the cacao causing the paste to thicken and take on a coarse consistency, like the one you see in each scoop of KAKAO. Other ingredients like vanilla and spices can be ground along with and at the same time as the cacao.
8. Drying & Food Processing: The dry paste is then chopped up and put briefly through a food processor, so that you don't have to chop it at home! Sometimes, if exposed to summer temperatures, the paste can melt back together again. If this happens with your KAKAO, simply chop it up with a large knife and/or run it through a food processor. You can use a kitchen scale to weigh out your daily dose of KAKAO.
9. Packaging and Shipping: Each order received is packed and shipped by hand, meaning it's sent away with love to your doorstep.
We approach each cup of KAKAO with absolute gratitude, respect, and reverence, not only for the divine plant wisdom that lies within, but also for all the time, energy, and love (from all the people involved) that goes into making this beautiful plant available to the world.
Our invitation to you is that you invite this same reverence into your heart as you participate in your own daily practice with cacao.
"Indigenous mythology recounts how whenever the balance between humans and nature becomes threatened, cacao leaves the rainforest to open people's hearts and return the planet to harmony."