We're chocolate makers but really coffee buyers and roasters in Comitán, Chiapas. Chocolate was an accident because of our community activism. Three or four years ago a leprosy patient of my wife came to our house from his small village in the Tojolabal Meseta of Chiapas about 5 hours from the house. He came to get some drugs and do a general consult. After they completed he mentioned he was going over to the central de abastos to sell some cacao and wanted to know if we wanted some. We hadn't messed with cacao before but we're foodies and ready to try anything. So on the spur of the moment we bought all he had with him - mostly to help him out. It was about 30 kilos. Jump forward almost 3 years. We were cleaning out a storage area and found the bag. I decided to start playing with it and after about 6 months of trial and error got some bean to bar chocolate going and another 6 months later we did local sales from our new packaging.
It was just okay in my opinion but people said they liked it and we kept puttering with it and I did more research on how to get better chocolate. I realized fermenting was the key to vast improvements.
This year we decided to get more proactive on the cacao end of things. The brother of the guy we started off with has a local degree in Agriculture and was interested in more promoting and improving their cacao as were we. To backtrack here in most of Chiapas cacao (like coffee) is bought cheap by local coyotes that run around in trucks offering cash for anything. They don't care about quality, organics, anything except product. Producers have no incentive (nor even know the differences) to produce quality products. They also desperately need cash and in the middle of nowhere will take whatever offered. Most of these small mixed indigenous, ladino farmers might produce a bag of year (either coffee or cacao). They've no money to use chemicals for those quantities nor can they afford to get certificated which cost is more than they make in a year. Even big, somewhat socially conscientious distributors won't mess with these guys. Like our coffee we know our cacao producers personally and only buy from little guys who have no access to good markets. We pay them a bit extra to give us clean products. We don't buy from distributors - even a couple we have very good relationships with. In the case of coffee we do our own processing from pergamino - allowing us to buy direct from our farmers. We're not rich but we like to help where really needed. All these organic, shade grown, ya ya ya ya, guys don't do anything for the super small granny. Hey. I understand. They need a steady source of volume in qualities they control - not a granny bag. Most of them have bought into bigger producers. But we DO help out. We don't make money but we try not to lose it either.
So back to cacao. We spent a bit of time training (like we're experts ) Chon to ferment his cacao. We also gave him a scale and a stack of money and told him to buy from everyone in the village who was willing to follow his (our) guidelines. In addition to offering 30% above coyote price we also pay Chon another 10% on every kilo bought. So effectively he's become a village banker, buyer, and weighing center. It's a small very remote village 4 hours by our 4WD (5 or 6 by pickup/colectivos) from our also remote town. He knows everyone and knows their trees and knows how they cultivate. He rejects cacao from people not fermenting or cultivating to our standards.
The upshot of all this is we've excited the village and pissed off the coyotes. The other upshot is we've bought way more good fermented cacao than we need in our chocolate business. But after doing all this proactive work I really couldn't say no and said I'd buy everything that fit our standards this harvest season.
I'm not quite sure where we're going with this. I can't afford to do it next harvest since we're pretty small and we're kinda close to simply retiring from it all. So we're kicking it around. I can't figure out how to ship it for reasonable prices unless I just bring a half ton up in my pickup. I checked with customs and apparently it's no problem. But I don't know. I'm not confident after reading all the single origin, specialty tasting, high end gab that it's great cacao. But we like it and even more other people also do and the farmers are really benefiting.