I just returned from my cacao finding mission to Alta Guaymi indigenous reserve. On my trip I learned that the Guaymi people actually call themselves the Ngöbe people.
Like many indigenous people in Central and South America, they have strong cultural ties to cacao. They offer cacao drink to anyone visiting their homes as an "ice breaker" and to ensure a good bond of friendship is made. I was served a sweetened chocolate drink when I arrived in Alta Guaymi and indeed a strong bond of friendship has begun. I also learned that the Ngöbe people use cacao pared with a typical dance to gain freedom from evil spirits. Thankfully, Augustino's father mentioned right away that he didn't think it was necessary with me since I didn't bring any bad sprits with me. Good discernment is always a key!
Augustino and his father have been working the cacao for about 30 years but recently abandoned the work due to low prices compared to the work involved in harvesting, fermenting, and drying the cacao (not to mention the 4-5 hour hike just to reach the nearest taxi).
Thankfully CariBeans has met these Ngöbe farmers before they slashed and burned the cacao fields for more grazing land. In support of their renewed efforts, we will be starting a new line of chocolate that will contain 100% single sourced beans from Alta Guaymi. In fact the first batch is in the melanguer as we speak!
As with many small family farms in Costa Rica, there is a lack of understanding of the importance of fermentation and proper harvesting of cacao. I was able to pack with me some of our 72% dark chocolate as a "chocolate feedback" method for talking about the new movement in cacao. Typically cacao producers have simply harvested and dried the beans because no one really seemed to care and they were more interested in the volume of cacao.
Because we are a micro producer of bean-to-bar chocolate, CariBeans is more interested in the quality of the cacao and paying the farmer a higher price for higher quality. By using single sourced beans in the different chocolate bars we produce, consumers will pick which chocolate they like best and support the farmers directly through their purchase.
Another way of supporting cacao producers is free training and infrastructure support so they can realistically expect the highest prices for their product. In line with that goal CariBeans will be organising a special trip to help teach the process as well as build some fermenting stations and drying racks.
You can get involved! Come to Costa Rica as a volunteer, meet the Ngöbe people, eat lots of chocolate and have the adventure of a lifetime!
If you are interested in volunteering or donating for this project contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chocolate Diaries from the Caribeans Bean-To-Bar chocolate maker..