Chocoa 2017 Prologue

By Clay Gordon, 2017-02-20
Chocoa 2017 Prologue

I am getting ready to head to the airport tomorrow afternoon to travel to Amsterdam for Cocoa 2017.

I am going to be moderating both days of the Chocolate Makers Forum, so part of my preparation is thinking about the program and what my I want to achieve. Last week I had a conversation about the Chocolate Makers Forum program with Caroline Lubbers, one of Chocoa’s main organizers. Some of that discussion was about the wording of the program description and some of it was what the goals of a session might be. We also talked about the speaker list and how the Forum would be moderated.

It took some persuasion (not a whole lot, really, but some) to convince the organizers to let me moderate the entire program.

I don’t know how other people approach their duties as a moderator, but I definitely believe that my roles as a moderator are more than just introducing the speakers and making sure that things move along and stay on time.

My reasons for wanting to moderate the entire program include providing continuity and connection. By being an active participant in each session I can, by interjecting observations and questions, provide a through-line for the entire program. This is especially valuable, at least in my experience, when attendees miss a session for one reason or another, because I can help bridge gaps.

In past program where I have not been the moderator I routinely ask to go last. When that is allowed, almost I never prepare remarks in advance, or if I do, I only fill up half the time. What I do is listen to what has been said and then seek to summarize what I think are the key points as brought up by the other speakers.

As the moderator of the Chocolate Makers’ Forum at Cocoa next week on thing I want to do is get people to think about diversity in a slightly different way by suggesting that all kinds of monocultures, not just agricultural monocultures, are bad ideas.

Examples of possible monocultures in chocolate include monocultures of ideas, production pathways, and even types of chocolate. 

One of the strengths of Chocoa is that it encourages diversity of ideas and does so, in part, by involving actors from every facet of cocoa and chocolate, from farmers to small makers to industrial giants, from banks to brokers to scientists and researchers and sustainability experts to logistics companies and the companies that provide equipment to makers of all sizes. And it does so in the atmosphere of openness and collaboration that has been one of the hallmarks of the extended cocoa and chocolate family (sometimes I find it difficult to use ‘chocolate industry’ in this context, because it’s so much more).

I am looking forward to Chocoa next week and seeing many of you there.

:: Clay

Our second batch!!!

By Coco Queens, 2017-02-08
Our second batch!!!

Our second batch will be made with the same cocoa beans from the Dominican Republic. Our first batch consisted of 60% cocoa and 40% sugar. This time we are using 70% cocoa and 30% sugar. It was a first try at winnowing. We used sylph winnower and assembled it in class. For our first time using the winnower we were pretty successful. Not a lot of shells got onto our bowl.

Buying Chocolate to gift for Valentine’s Day - or any other

Valentine’s Day is one of the most popular occasions for gifting chocolate. And, yet, many people pay surprising little attention to what they buy. If it’s in a red, heart-shaped box, and it costs more than $20 it has to be good, right?

Maybe not? Where did you get that box and how much thought did you put into purchasing it? Was it a last minute purchase from a drug store on your way to dinner – because it slipped your mind? If so, it’s not likely to deliver the message or impact you want.

Chocolate is known for its ability to forge strong emotional connections and memories and the best way to gift chocolate, for Valentine’s Day or any other day, is to recognize that and work with it. A nice two-piece box that you thought about can say a lot more than the boxed assortment you picked up in a chain store - even if it’s a chocolate chain store.

Buying chocolate for someone you know

The key point to remember is that the gift is about them, it’s not about you. Never buy something you know the recipient does not like.

Buying a boxed assortment says that you punted on thinking; the choice was more about convenience or quantity or price, not quality. When you walk into the store, go to the case (no case? you are not in the right store), and tell the person behind the counter that you’re buying chocolate for a gift - and that the recipient really likes the following flavors. Then ask what they have that matches what you know the recipient likes. If there are five that might work and the choice is either a four-piece box or a nine-piece box, go for four.

Take your time deciding which four and remember the reasons why you chose the ones you did. Then, when you present the box, tell the story about buying it … being presented with so many options and having to make choices and then connecting your reasons for purchasing with something you know, like, or admire about the person … or connect it to a shared experience.

Or maybe the person you’re gifting to is really adventurous when it comes to eating. A selection that is composed of unusual flavors (which you might not like) could be a big hit as it would acknowledge their desire to explore new flavor combinations.

What you’re doing by selecting a gift this way is showing that you thought about the process and the person who the gift is for - while also revealing what it is about the recipient that either attracts you or that you admire, and you’re looking to establish, or reinforce, a strong emotional connection.

That four-piece box selected with care will get you many more props than a larger boxed assortment – even from the same store — unless, of course, you know that the recipient is a fan of a particular brand of boxed assortment chocolates from childhood. Then by all means gift one of those. What’s important is that the gift reflects your understanding of what the recipient likes and values.

Buying chocolate for someone you don’t know

This advice is mostly for selecting chocolate for someone you’d like to get to know better, and it’s basically the inverse of the advice for buying for someone else.

Approach the case and ask the person behind the counter if they have flavors that are what you like, or that you have a special connection with – maybe something from childhood. Select those and be prepared to tell stories about what the pieces mean to you: why you selected them. By sharing the stories behind the chocolate you tell the recipient a lot about yourself. Hopefully in a way that is totally endearing. This is what you want.

For example, growing up in Southern California, we would gift my mother a box of See’s Victoria English Toffee – a childhood favorite of hers from growing up in LA in the 1920s and 1930s – on Christmas Eve. If I were gifting chocolate to someone I wanted to get to know better I would definitely include a piece of toffee covered in dark chocolate and sprinkled with roasted almond pieces and tell a story about the ceremony around gifting the box, my mother unwrapping it, and then sharing the box around so everyone got a piece.

Still don’t know what to gift?

If the gift is for someone you are romantically involved with (or want to declare those intentions) - you simply cannot go wrong by selecting nicely decorated heart-shaped pieces with a filling flavored with passionfruit. Two - one for each of you. And you’ll find that a nice rosé or Prosecco is a tasty pairing.

A great technique when you’re gifting for a boss or other colleague is to go into the store and ask the person behind the case what the most popular items are - what sells best is also often the freshest. You can ask them their favorites, as well, and I sometimes ask to be pointed out a selection that they think represents the best work they do. Pick an unusual flavor - something you might never buy on your own but that is really popular. You could even buy one for yourself (packed separately) and then suggest you both eat the piece at the same time and figure out whether you like it or not.

And in closing ...

Whatever you do, make it fun. If it involves chocolate and you are not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.

Turn outs

By Coco Queens, 2017-01-24
Turn outs

Okay followers since our last batch we have made amazing progress!!!! OUR CHOCOLATE HAS WENT THOUGH THE WHOLE PROGRESSES AND WE GOT TO TRY IT TODAY!!! attached are some pictures through out of process!!! We had a lot of  fun and our chocolate came out tasting really good Erika didn't like it because she doesn't like dark chocolate!!! but its okay because she still had fun the whole process was fun and we cant wait till next batch!!! we will make it 10X better!!! We as well has a picture of our happy customer (Erika's parents). We want to know what do you guys do to make the temping step easier any tips for us!?!? thank you ahead of time.

(look at our gallery for more pictures!!!) 


Coco Queens 

The Importance of Togetherness.

By Enliveninternational, 2017-01-19

Partnering with other organizations and individuals is not just one step in our process, its the crucial step that keeps us alive. As in the lives of individuals, one would have to live a dismal and uninspired life without relationships. Why would the system look any different for an organization? Our partners, and the relationships that they cultivate, keep our fire burning, so to speak.

Last year we were on the hunt to hire a director of operations for our base in Nicaragua. After many long days of back to back interviews and meetings, we were feeling extremely tired and slightly hopeless. Jonathan was our last interview of them all, and within the hour of meeting him in the lobby of a hostel in rural Nicaragua, we were convinced we had struck gold. A long interview turned into a late dinner where we learned that Jonathan would come as a package deal with his fiance´, Anielka. Yes, we found it difficult to pronounce her name correctly as well, so lets just go with Ani. Ani joined us for dinner and ice cream that same evening, and afterwards we each crashed in bed certain that we had found our new team member, but surprised that we had found friends in them as well.

We spent the next day traveling through Nicaragua together, talking about our hopes for this country and listening to one another’s stories. We learned that Ani and Jonathan had met years beforehand when Jonathan left his life in California behind to move to Nicaragua. Ani grew up in rural Nicaragua with six siblings, all raised by a single mother. When Ani was a teenager she witnessed something no child should ever have to watch, her mothers slow death caused by cervical cancer. In honor of her mother’s life Ani went off to university, a rare opportunity having been raised in such a rural environment, and graduated with training in cervical cancer prevention.

You see, cervical cancer is the number one killer of women in Nicaragua and yet is easily diagnosed as well as treatable. What you have to understand is that Nicaraguan women are generally ignored and rarely given the opportunity to give light to their struggles, needs or desires. This has produced a generation of silent, longing women. Not having the opportunity to get health care, education or treatment, an alarming number of Nicaraguan women are dying, rendering an alarming number of children motherless. Anielka took notice to this, and has started one of the only organizations in Nicaragua that is fighting against this disease. Shortly after graduation, she founded The Lily Project alongside a determined team of doctors with a simple yet revolutionary goal:

To be the most trusted provider of health services for women and girls living in rural communities. Their mission is to prevent cervical cancer for over 200,000 impoverished women in Nicaragua.

Jonathan and Ani have relocated to be closely integrated in La Colonia, a community that enliven and Lily Project work within. Anielka and her Cervical Technician, Hortencia, have officially established a Lily Project base in La Colonia and are providing the women and girls of this village with health education and treatment. Within the first 3 months of The Lily Project in La Colonia, 4 women were identified with pre-cancerous cells and were treated. That means 4 families that wont go mother-less. Education and treatment of this killer disease indeed saves lives, but it also speaks value. The treatment that Lily provides silently speaks, “Your life is worth saving.”

Now with enliven’s help, the same women of La Colonia who once had little community are coming together as an organized unit and choosing to change the culture of La Colonia. They have started the first ever organized women’s group, with their own goal, to better their community and the future of their children. So far, they have established their first project, purchasing and reselling clothing at affordable prices to the community at large. This project has allowed the women to begin to work alongside each other while answering the critical need for clothing in a way that keeps scarce funding in the community.


Enliven is determined to create sustainable work and added value to the women and men of La Colonia. Lily is determined to promote abundant life in the lives of women and girls. Two organizations working along side each other to support the community’s goals and future. It isn’t the projects that make what we do worth it, its the relationships. It’s Anielka and Jonathan, Hortencia, the farmers such as Harving and Jairo, their children, and the women of La Colonia.


Posted in: Partnership | 0 comments

Poverty Isn't Pathetic.

By Enliveninternational, 2017-01-19
Poverty Isn't Pathetic.

When thinking of poverty in direct terms of a person’s (or a nation’s) livelihood, we generally call to mind starving refugee children, squalid living conditions, unprevented preventable diseases, seemingly incapable people, and a routine feeling of guilt. Guilt that perhaps we are not directly assisting those impoverished nations well enough, and if we are – why are the statistics about those living in poverty still paralyzingly huge?

There is a constant murmuring in the general public when speaking about charitable giving that says “We are not doing enough. We are obviously not doing enough.” or “We are doing too much.”

Two Arguments

There are two highly contrasting yet valid arguments here, but I’ll allow people that are much smarter than me do the talking. Jeffrey Sachs from Columbia University argues that foreign aid is key because



On the other hand William Easterly from Columbia University contrasts that “Aid does more bad than good: It prevents people from searching for their own solutions, while corrupting and undermining local institutions and creating a self-perpetuating lobby of aid agencies. The best bet for poor countries is to rely on one simple idea: When markets are free and the incentives are right, people can find ways to solve their problems.”

So, is there no middle ground here? Is it possible to merge these two solid arguments to create an influential force against poverty? Or shall it always be a warring choice between not helping, and avoiding dependency or helping and avoiding poverty but risking a myriad of generations dependent on outside aid and unable to problem solve themselves?

Overwhelming, yes? Lets take a step back. We enter a crippling zone when thinking about the poverty trap in terms of millions of unseen faces instead of just people. People that are stuck in dreadful circumstances and yes, they need help and money. But these people that make up the overwhelming statistics need us charitable givers to speak to their value as a people group as well as our skills and money. When thinking of poverty, all of those things listed above sure are huge factors. But what about these thousands, millions, of people that operate with the mindset that they don’t deserve to be freed from poverty? What about lack of cultural worth? Value and worth may sound like emotionally flippant concerns but the lack of value and worth in people is as constant a variable in impoverished communities as economic dread.

When we walk into poverty stricken places and say “Here is money, do this or that with it”, we are communicating lack of trust in the fact that these people have minds of their own. Thus, communicating that we are much smarter than them. Thus creating dependency.

But what if we looked less at statistical graphs and looked straight into the eyes of an impoverished person and asked, “What do you need? What do you dream of? Where do you want this money to go?” What an abundance of value that would speak to the mindset of these fatigued cultures. Philosopher Peter Singer from Princeton University points out that the majority of us would jump into a shallow pond to save a drowning child, then says that everyone with the ability to do so should help a little to prevent the thousands of child deaths occurring every day in the growing world. Essentially, none of us would decide against saving the child in order to teach them a lesson about how to swim. YET, once that child has been rescued a valuable second step might be to invest in swimming lessons. Go to Singer’s website to learn more about what they do.

We must break the belief that lack of resources speaks directly to a person’s value.

We have the ability to give greatly, yes. But we also must harness our ability to speak to the destitute and say, “You are worth wading in the pond for. You are worth investing in. Your situation is miserable but you are not.” This is not to say that a few words of encouragement will terminate poverty and all of its traps. We are not “off the hook” by hoarding our resources as long as we speak nicely to those in need. As an organization we believe in both. We believe in investing in people and we believe in empowering them to believe that they are worth investing in, thus creating a culture of autonomy. We have seen people that were once trapped set free simply because we believed in investing in them, and they learned to believe it as well.

Our First Batch!!!!

By Coco Queens, 2017-01-18
Our First Batch!!!!

We are a group of high school girls from Aurora Colorado.

We are making our first batch of chocolate.

1.What do you guys do to make the batch what you would call"perfect"

2.What are good tips for making the batch?

3. what was the hardiest  part that you think is during the process?

Thank you for the help before hand!!!


Coco Queens

Nature vs Nurture in Cocoa

By Clay Gordon, 2017-01-14
Nature vs Nurture in Cocoa

There is a lot of discussion and interest on this point: what are the contributions of genetics, terroir, and post-harvest processing when it comes to the flavor of cocoa (and how chocolate gets its taste).

Let’s conduct a thought experiment to examine the complexity of looking for answers.

Imagine that you have the ability to plant grafted seedlings from the same mother tree on 1Ha of land in two very different locations - different altitudes, different soils, different rain and wind patterns, different slopes so even the pattern of the sun is different. These differences related to place are what we think of as terroir.

We would imagine - and would expect based on our experience with other crops - that the fresh cocoa beans, and maybe event the fresh pulp, would taste different. The genetics of the tree are modified by the terroir.

However, we don’t eat fresh cocoa beans as a general rule. They are fermented. In order to test the relative contributions of genetics, terroir, and post-harvest processing we need to control for all of the variables.

Going back to the above scenario with exactly the same genetics planted in two different places.

If the post-harvest practices between the two places are different - the resulting beans will taste different. And even if the post-harvest practices are substantially the same, differences in the presence and relative dominance of yeast and bacteria strains play a part in flavor development. What’s the more important contributing factor here? Genetics? Terroir (and this includes microbiology, not just factors we can see and taste and experience physically)? Fermentation? Drying?

To find out, it is necessary to be able to control fermentation and drying precisely enough to be able to understand their influences. And this means applying science, rigorously.

Based on my experience working with Ingemann in Nicaragua and with Zoi Paplexandratou on my project down in Mexico, it is possible to take the same genetics and terroir and generate very different flavors consistently. You can see this in the Friis-Holm double turn and triple-turn Chunos. The same variety and the same overall length of fermentation, the primary difference is that one pile gets turned twice and another gets turned three times. Ingemann has expanded on this concept and now markets Chunos (i.e., the same genetics) with six different flavor profiles. The differences are created by differences in fermentation protocols, which are in turn driven by an understanding of the microbiology and chemistry underlying what’s going on. And, our understanding of fermentation is much better developed than drying.

And this is before we event start talking about other confounding factors, one of which is the presence of other varieties of cacao within pollination range - now known to be 3km. If the varieties close to one of the two areas are different from the varieties in the other, then there is the possibility that differences in pollination could be a part of the difference in flavor. Is that genetics? Terroir? What? Another confounding factor is the introduction of tailored cultures. (BTW, everything that Ingemann is doing in production is done with naturally-present yeasts and bacteria not the introduction of cultures.)

In some places, “pre-fermentation” techniques are implemented. One such technique is resting pods between harvesting and opening. In other places, “pre-drying” techniques are implemented. One such technique is to put the beans in sacks after fermentation is complete and letting them sit in the sacks overnight. IMO this is another fermentation step, not a drying step because there is little to no moisture loss in the beans and temperatures in the center of the bag may still be elevated.

In my mind, it’s impossible to say reliably that beans of the same genetics grown in different places will have the same basic flavor profile ... unless the basic microbiology and post-harvest protocols are substantially the same. The same genetics, planted in different places, subject to different post-harvest processes should have recognizable differences in flavors (that will result in chocolate with different flavors even when processed substantially the same way).

I am working on a project proposal for #CacaoMEX in Central America right now (ahoritita!) and one sub-project is to run an in-situ test with the same variety (grafted monoculture) in different locations to increase our understanding of the nature/nurture question as it applies to cocoa.

Posted in: CacaoMEX | 0 comments

By Vercruysse Geert, 2016-12-21

Project Grijalva - 2016 Report

By Clay Gordon, 2016-12-04
Project Grijalva - 2016 Report

Back in April, I wrote a blog post about a project in Mexico I started working on: Cacao Grijalva. I won't go into much background here - that's covered in the post and I encourage you to read that before continuing.

I returned from Villahermosa a couple of days ago and I this is an update of the work we did in 2016.

The work of the project involved:

  • Contributing to the formal Denominacion de Origen for Cacao Grijalva.
  • Working with dozens of producers, from small farmers through beneficiadores to the UNPC, the cocoa producers union representing 10 co-ops and over half the small farmers in Tabasco.
  • Working with research and educational institutes, from the national agricultural research station (INIFAP) to the National University in Tabasco (UJAT) and local technical institutes in Sierra, Villahermosa, and Comalcalco.
  • Coordinating with federal, state, and local government agencies.
  • Searching for endemic cacao varieties and cacao varieties in production.
  • Selecting candidates to develop improved fermentation protocols.
  • Developing those protocols, and document and disseminate them.
  • Organizing a contest for the best cacao in Tabasco.
  • Promoting our work in Tabasco within Tabasco.
  • Promoting our work internationally to grow awareness of, and interest in buying and using, cocoa from Grijalva.


The first thing I had to do, in the process of writing the initial proposal, was to assemble a team to do the work. In fact, this was the first step, as I needed their assistance to produce a budget and schedule. To keep the budget within a reasonable range, the team I gathered was small (a total of five, including me):

  • Zoi Papalexandratou (Brussels, Belgium). I first met Zoi while working with Ingemann in Nicaragua. Besides earning one of the few PhDs in cacao fermentation in the world, Zoi probably has more experience in "technified" fermentation in production in the world, outside - maybe - of multinationals. Zoi is in charge of all the scientific and technical aspects of the project.
  • Elisa Montiel (Puebla, Mexico). Elisa sources cocoa and vanilla for Maison Bonnat in over 50 countries around the world. That experience, coupled with her knowledge of Mexican cocoa through her work in Chiapas, and being a native, provides the team with a unique perspective on local and international markets and quality. Elisa is in charge of locating and documenting endemic cocoas and is the project's liaison with chocolate makers internationally.
  • Alejandro Campos (Comalcalco, Mexico). Alejandro and his wife Ana Parizot own Hacienda La Luz, a working cacao farm and chocolate tourism destination in Comalcalco as well as Wolter Chocolates, a working chocolate factory on the Hacienda since 1958. Alejandro and Ana have been active in local, state, and federal governments for decades and originally proposed the Festival del Chocolate. Alejandro, who is also the president of the Consejo Regulador del Cacao Grijalva (the group in charge of figuring out how to implement the Denominacion de Origen and with enforcing its use)  is the project's liaison with the farmers, producers, and government agencies (and chefs - we eat very well).
  • Oscar Romero (Puebla, Mexico). Oscar owns Pixtlan, an award-winning branding and promotions agency in Puebla. His team has created the logo for CacaoMEX, produced several videos for the project, taken thousands of photos, and developed the CacaoMEX web site and other aspects of the project's Internet presence.
  • Clay Gordon (New York, USA). I provide overall project management and guidance for the project. I develop the project proposals and budgets as well as produce and present progress reports to the government agencies funding the project - SEDAFOP (the Ministry of Agriculture) and SDET (the Ministry of Development, Economics, and Tourism) - and work on marketing and promotions.

The above team has strong and overlapping professional and personal networks that can be called upon to provide services and give advice as needed.

The need for a CacaoMEX brand arose out of the desire to provide a symbol that would provide farmers, producers, buyers, and consumers with additional trust in the cocoa being produced and exported by the project. This additional layer of trust is especially valuable while the rules for implementing the Denominacion are being developed, a process that is estimated will take two years, if not longer.

Denominacion de Origen Cacao Grijalva

Mexico has over a dozen denominacions, but only two that are active and successful: mezcal and tequila.

There are very few denominations for cocoa in the world - arguably two: Chuao and Arriba. Both of these suffer from two very real problems from a commercialization perspective: 1) the definitions are not adequate; and 2) they are not well enforced. Thus, the meaning (and value) of the terms are diluted. The reason that only 2 of the 14 denominations in Mexico are successful is that in the other 12 have poorly-defined implementation rules, making it extremely difficult for producers to register their products.

Mindful of past failures, IMPI and the Consejo Regulador del Cacao Grijalva are working hard to ensure that this does not happen to Cacao Grijalva. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of politics involved.

First off is the fact that cacao is grown in only four of the thirty-one states (plus a federal district) in Mexico. While important culturally, Mexico is a net importer of cocoa (producing only about one-third of its needs), making it less important to the country overall than other products.

Next is the name of the denomination itself: Grijalva. The Rio Grijalva originates in Chiapas and flows through Tabasco, joining the Rio Usumacinta before adding its water to the Caribbean. Put bluntly, the governments and people of Tabascao and Chiapas are not on the friendliest terms. Our project, and the push to create the DO itself, are overseen by the government of Tabasco. Chiapas has not (yet) agreed to support the work financially or politically.

Now that the NOMs (the political framework) have been announced it is up to the Consejo to figure out how to implement them. But there is one twist - cacaos can only be included in the denomination if they are in federal register of approved varieties. This makes a lot of sense, and it is the technical/legal underpinning for ensuring that Tequila can only be made with Weber Blue agave. The Mezcal denomination allows for the use of many other varieties of agave, but each and every one must be in the approved register. This will also be the case for the DO for cocoa. Only approved varieties will be able to use the Grijalva DO. Problem is, at the moment there is only one! INIFAP is working to register another 15-20 in 2017 and the CacaoMEX team will be recommending other varieties we find in production for adding to the registry in 2018.

We also supplied technical input to IMPI with respect to grading standards and possible naming structures. Recognizing the economic importance of cacao lavado (the unfermented, washed cocoa that forms the bulk of what is produced in Tabasco) our recommendations to IMPI included lavado as one of the classifications within the DO. As a part of the naming structure, we also recommended that the technified fermentation protocols we are developing be incorporated as a further sign of quality, on top of the grading standards themselves.

There is a huge amount of work to be done over the course of the next couple if years, and I am excited about the thought of contributing to the process for what will probably the first meaningful, enforceable, DO in cocoa.

Concurso Premios Grijalva

Holding a contest for the best cacao in Tabasco was a key conceptual part of the project from the very beginning. It provided a reason and a framework for all of the other work of the project: improving - and recognizing - quality cocoa and producers (farmers and beneficiadores).

We used the guidelines created for the Cocoa of Excellence Awards as the basis for the project and established several web presences (including one here on TheChocolateLife) to promote the contest as well as mentioning to every farmer, beneficiado, and anyone and everyone else we visited on our visits down there. Unfortunately, the late start to the project meant that the cocoa we collected was not from the main harvest, and this undoubtedly affected the quality of the cocoa.

Nonetheless, we collected a dozen samples in September to be judged (the minimum number we hoped to collect). The contributors were mostly beneficiadores, which was to be expected because of their greater resources. Nonetheless we had five samples from three smaller producers, which included two samples from an independent farmer. Four of the entries were from producers with whom we have been working on preliminary fermentation protocols.

Bean samples were sent to Seguine Cacao Services (Ed Seguine, the same lab that produces samples for the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund and the Cocoa of Excellence) for processing into liquor and chocolate for judging.

The judging itself was held on the last day of Festival, mostly because some of the judges were coming from the US and did not even arrive in Villahermosa until Saturday. If there is one aspect of the contest I would change is the timing of the judging. We were literally compiling the results an hour before the winners were to be announced, at the closing ceremony for the Festival.

We were lucky to have a great panel of judges for the initial Concurso:

  • Maria Salvadora Jiménez from Daarnhouwer – a specialty brokerage firm located in Holland.
  • Sophie Vandebecken of Caméleon – an award-winning confectioner in Mexico.
  • Gaby Ruiz of Gourmet MX – widely considered to be one of the top chefs in one of the top restaurants in Villahermosa (and all of Mexico).
  • Christopher Curtin of Éclat Chocolate - perhaps most notorious for working with chefs Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain on the Good and Evil bar and with over a dozen years' experience classical training in Europe.
  • Stéphane Bonnat – who should need no introduction in this forum.
  • Zoi Papalexandratou
  • Elisa Montiel

Alejandro and I oversaw the logistics of the judging process, so we did not judge.

In the end, the jury selected three winners, the first two from beneficiadores – Industrias Serranas and Le Crema de Cacao. Third place was awarded to Hacienda Jésus Maria (Vicente Gutiérrez Cacep) and well–known farmer and chocolate maker. Fourth place (and out of the awards) was awarded to the small independent producer.

The Concurso was a success at most levels, though there were some glass-half-full responses from people who wanted to know why more small farmers were not represented. We certainly worked hard to get small farmers to enter, but many were not interested in a first-year contest. We hope to attract more in 2017.

The Concurso is having its desired effect: the overall winner (Industrias Serranas) realized that even though they won this year, that did not mean anything for next year. Alberto Andrade, the owner, plans to show the certificate to all the farmers from whom he buys to let them know that winning this Concurso is just a beginning and that they must work to continuously improve quality if they are going to place in future Concursos. This is the attitude and spirit the award is meant to engender.

The prize for winning the Concurso this year is to shepherd the winners to the Mexican national organizing committee for the Cocoa of Excellence Awards for 2017.

Marketing, Promotion, Education, and Chocolate Tourism

One lesson I learned from my visits to Peru for the Salon del Cacao y Chocolate in 2013–2015 is that there is little use in growing the quantity and quality of cocoa in production if there is no work being done to find buyers for that cocoa at the same time. That is part of the thinking behind bringing international guests from the US and Europe (Maria, Christopher, and Stéphane). A major project goal is to increase international awareness and interest in the cocoa the project is working on - as well as the pride Tabasqueños feel about their cocoa and how international markets see them.

CacaoMEX shared a stand at The Big Chocolate Show in New Work with Wolter Chocolates, made two presentations about the project at the Origin Chocolate event in Amsterdam, and was on the conference program at the Salon du Chocolat in Paris. That conference program was led by CacaoMEX team member Elisa Welti, and featured Stéphane Bonnat, who produced chocolate bars from a bag of beans supplied by one of the producers who submitted an entry into the Concurs (but did not win).

The conference at the Salon in Paris was standing room only and attendees got to the taste the first bar of chocolate produced from beans from project cocoa. This chocolate was met with overwhelming interest and the team has fielded requests from many top chocolate makers in France and elsewhere in Europe and the US for beans when they become available. CacaoMEX will be working with small producers and beneficiados to supply this cocoa in the upcoming harvest, using fermentation protocols developed by the team.

During Festival, the CacaoMEX team helped organize a series of talks on cacao fino and the project. These talks could be attended by anyone attending the Festival, not just farmers and cocoa professionals. Topics ranged from fermentation to the place and importance of biodiversity in cacao agriculture to international markets, to a free-ranging talk by Mr Bonnat. Making the work output of the project available is an important part of the project and we will be publishing PDF versions of the presentations as well as videos over the course of the upcoming weeks and months.

Finally, we organized a full-day excursion for our international invited guests to visit the INIFAP research station in Huimangillo, Tabasco, cacao farmers, and to have a lunch with local staple foods. Joining us was Pepe Nieves, ex-minister of Tourism for Tabasco and a current cacao farmer. Of course, we ran long at INIFAP so we did not get to visit all the cacao farmers we wanted to, but the director of cacao research at INIFAP conducted a tasting of some of the varieties they are working on getting into production.

Two of the varieties, known only as 14 and 33 at the moment, hold a great deal of promise as they are examples of the holy trinity of cacao:

  • They are highly productive varieties.
  • They are highly disease resistant varieties - particularly monilia which has cut production in Tabasco by 50% over the past decade, and mancha negra (black pod).
  • The show great promise as cacao fino varieties according to Mr Bonnat, who participated in the tasting.

INIFAP is looking at putting both of those varieties into production into 2017 (and making sure they are in the federal register for the purposes of the Denominacion de Origen), and CacaoMEX will be working with INIFAP to create a program to propagate twigs for grafting in two different nurseries in Tabasco. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of these twigs will be given to INIFAP to help fund ongoing research.

Lunch on Monday was held on the veranda of Hacienda la Luz, and featured fresh corn tortillas, cochinita pibil, potato puree with chorizo, seasoned arroz (rice), mole poblano w/ shredded chicken, rajas (peppers) con crema, and garnishes. To drink were pozol (finely ground corn meal with cocoa powder in water, unsweetened), horchata, and jamaica (hibiscus tea). Typically, an unsweetened pozol is consumed with candied fruits, which in this case included candied royal lemon and black papaya. Though we also had meals in two of the top restaurants in Villahermosa, this meal of comida tipica y criolla on the veranda of an old hacienda, was, hands down, the standout meal of the entire trip.

On Tuesday, we were lucky enough to persuade Pepe to host a tour of Parque Museo La Venta, the most important Olmec museum in the region, for our guests, followed up by a tour through the local market for lunch. The CacaoMEX team spent the time meeting in a conference room at the hotel, going over business prior to having a final meeting with the Minister of Development, Economics, and Tourism to close the books on 2016 and start the planning for 2017 before Zoi, Elisa, and I - departed.

In Conclusion

We accomplished a lot, but as in many projects, what we did manage to achieve only revealed how much more work there is to do in the years ahead. In 2017 the CacaoMEX team will:

  • Continue to work developing fermentation protocols.
  • Conduct another Concurso.
  • Engage with more farmers to process cocoa that can be sold to the chocolate makers who have expressed interest.
  • Work to support the Denominacion.
  • Work with INIFAP to get at least two new interesting new cacaos into production (you will be able to support those efforts through a crowdfunding campaign we are contemplating).
  • Work to expand the mini-forum at Festival into a much larger regional technical/academic meeting.
  • Continue to promote the work at international festivals.
  • Engage with international professionals to get them to come down to Tabasco during Festival (which, unfortunately for people from the US, happens over the course of the Thanksgiving weekend – which is why we're looking at working with the Tourism ministry to create special family-oriented tourism packages; I had a great Thanksgiving celebration on this trip).
  • And ... start to expand our work outside of Mexico. Already we have been approached to take the framework we developed for Tabasco and adapt it to work in three different countries in Central and South America.

And finally ...

Between now and Christmas I will be creating a series of photo albums with images from all of our trips. I will link to them in the comments section of this post. If you have any questions about the project please do not hesitate to ask them in the comments section and I will be happy to reply.

:: Clay

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