I recently traveled to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic to attend a conference provided by Direct Cacao.
When I first learned of the conference I jumped at the chance to attend. It was over my budget to make the trip but I really had to be part of something that can be so good for cacao producers and for the future of chocolate.
I was disappointed to hear the conference was paired down from three days of workshops to one day of lectures from the members of the organization. This was due to a lack of response to the three day conference. I was able to attend nevertheless.
Direct Cacao wishes to create a certification that would allow chocolate makers to certify their cacao is "directly sourced". They also want the cacao to be certified fine flavor cacao (it would seem they want to certify fine flavor as well).
What is fine flavor?
There is a clear difference in the chocolates that have won awards recently and the average chocolate bar. The chocolate we tasted from fine Dominican cacao was clearly much more fruity and flowery and very complex. However the average cacao producer finds that flavor sour and bitter. Many of these cacao farmers prefer the sweeter and less intense flavors of (bulk) cacao. Even in our own local awards it is cacao that has less flavor intensity that wins the popular vote.
The cacao that makes award winning chocolate is normally more acidic in fruit flavor and can have floral aromas and flavor. However the chocolate that often sells the best is much more simple on the palette.
While it is true that eventually fine flavor cacao will gain much higher prices, for a cacao producer this is a moving target which will be nearly impossible to hit with the blindfold of economic realities covering his eyes.
The same is true here in Puerto Viejo. The cacao that makes award winning chocolate is normally more acidic in fruit flavor and can have floral aromas and flavor. However the chocolate that often sells the best is much more simple on the palette. The simple cacao blends well with nearly every spice and is easy to use as a base for inclusions. Farmers who have this type of cacao should be able to benefit from direct trade as well, no?
I hope the Direct Cacao Organization will recognize this and stop vilifying the simpler flavor chocolate which many cacao farmers already have and like. It is good to encourage excellent practices. It is good to encourage the growth of fine cacao.
If the point of Direct Cacao is to make a farmer direct relationship better for farmers (which in my opinion should be the only reason), does it have to exclude cacao that the farmers want to work with and some chocolate makers want to use?
If chocolate makers want the award winning cacao they will need to pay the farmers about three times the current price of cacao in the market. Even that may not make it sustainable for a modern farmer. Since the farmer would need to change the genetics in his trees (a costly project which will last five years without production) they should offer three to five years of advance income while the farmers wait for the newly grafted trees on their farm to produce.
The average chocolate maker for the future is even smaller that these micro producers of fine chocolate. I as a chocolate maker of course would love to be the winner of an international chocolate award. However it would seem to do that as a cacao producer will take a long time. Besides, who knows what cacao is going to be winning in five years.
My original hope in going to this conference was to meet the leaders in Direct Cacao sourcing cacao directly and fairly is one of my biggest passions.
After going to the Dominica Republic. where Christopher Columbus is buried. I feel there is a long way to go to truly enable cacao growers to thrive as they should.
Cacao was as valuable as gold in the beginning after all.
But it seems to me the only way true change will really happen when cacao growers discover chocolate. And so it will be around the world.
Chocolate Diaries from the Caribeans Bean-To-Bar chocolate maker..