Cocoa Origin Trip Report – Ecuador
Behind every bite of a Starbucks chocolate bar there are many stories of farmers, processors and chocolate confectioners. This is my story.
I am with John Kehoe, a cocoa expert from TCHO who has dedicated his life to find the finest cocoas in the world. Our journey starts in Ecuador, a beautiful country with a long tradition of cocoa production. As is traditional in Starbucks sourcing practices, we want to establish direct relationships with the farmers, so we start by visiting a small farmer cooperative named La Fortaleza (which means “strength of a fortress”), located a couple of hours from the town of Portoviejo.
Our first stop is at the farm of Mr. Alfonso. It really caught our attention how his plantation was neat and organized – he had a quite novel irrigation system, and the benefits of all the trainings he has attended really showed. Later on he told us he used to be cab driver in New York for 17 years(!) until he felt the need to come back to his native land 15 years ago.
Mr. Alfonso harvests the cocoa pods, breaks them down and removes the internal contents (beans and mucilage). He bags and delivers it to La Fortaleza’s fermentation station. This white mucilage is quite sweet, and during the fermentation process its transformation gives the cocoa beans floral and fruity flavors. The smallholder supply chains in Ecuador’s Pinguasa region are well-suited to produce high-end cocoa with unique flavors and aromas. However, controlling the fermentation process requires a lot of knowledge, patience and artisan skills.
This is where our friends at TCHO are at their best. John’s dedication to pursue the very best beans and his attention to detail are instrumental in getting the great quality chocolate bars we are currently offering in our stores. TCHO’s process involves monitoring fermentation times and temperatures to control the process as much as possible. The farmers are really excited to learn these new techniques and are even more excited when they taste the chocolate bars Starbucks offers that have been manufactured with their cocoa.
In my next blog, I will talk about more farmer stories delivering their cocoa in canoes, a family that has been cultivating cocoa for many generations, the D.R.E.A.M. project and a little bit about processing.
Please feel free to comment and ask questions below, I will be more than glad to answer them. Thank you and so long from Ecuador.