Are chocolate makers going crazy for cocoa beans from Belize?
If you go and check the assortment of the finest bean-to-bar makers in the World, you will find an interesting pattern. The majority of them has a single-origin bar from Belize. Some always carried it, some others recently created one, some others just put it back in stock.
Chocolate makers are eager to put their hands on these precious beans and turn them into shining edible bars. You can feel their excitement on Social Media whenever they post pictures of cacao bags tagged Belize or they show their conching machines working those beans.
The result is that fine chocolate lovers now have a vast choice of crafted bars made with Belizean cocoa beans available on the market. Why all this hype?
Situated next to other fine cacao producers like Guatemala and Mexico, Belize offers the perfect climate and soil conditions to satisfy fine chocolate makers. In fact, ICCO (International Cocoa Organization)’s Ad Hoc Panel of Fine or Flavor Cocoa that met in London in November, 2015 decided to include Belize in the list of recommended countries where fine or flavor cocoa grows together with Nicaragua, Vietnam and many more. However, Belize hasn’t always been a place for fine flavor cacao.
Here is the full story on how Belize has become one of the most popular countries of origin among chocolate makers.
In 2013 Lee Mccoy, International Chocolate Award judge and co-founder of CocoaRunners, in his popular blog Chocolatiers.co.uk stated: “Cacao farmers in Belize are today largely dependent on a financial relationship with a disrespected company”.
What was this company?
In the ’80s there was Hershey’s in Belize. With their main cacao farm of 1,800 acre located along the Hummingbird Highway, the largest chocolate producer in the World promised big investments in the Latin American country. Excited by the great opportunity and a guaranteed good price, many locals were drawn to farming cacao.
Thanks to the cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture, Hershey’s also participated in the Belize Accelerated Cacao Production Project from 1984 to 1987. Fine cacao was still not an object of desire in Belize. Only the most productive varieties of cacao were taken into consideration. Then the unpredictable happened.
Faster than the fall of the price of cacao from $1.00 U.S. to less than 30cents was the withdraw of Hershey’s in 1993 from Belize to more profitable producing countries. Belizean cacao farmers were left with financial losses and unprofitable lands. Until the next savior arrived.
Its name was Green & Black’s.
At that time, the chocolate company was still owned by Craig Sam and Josephine Fairley, organic food pioneer and journalist respectively who began purchasing Fairtrade and organic cacao from Maya farmers in Belize. Thanks to an extensive collaboration between Green & Black’s and the TCGA (Toledo Cacao Growers Association), cacao farmers were assisted with loans, higher prices and technical advise to grow organic cacao. This is supposedly how the quality of Belizean cacao reached a very high standard and started becoming an object of desire.
Unfortunately, in 2005 Green & Black’s was sold to the multinational Cadbury Schweppes, who was then taken over by the Kraft Foods Inc. (now better known as Mondelez International). THIS is the infamous company that Lee Mccoy was referring to in his blog Chocolatiers.co.uk in 2013.
So, how does the exquisite Belizean cacao arrive today in the hands of big and small bean-to-bar chocolate makers?
Since 2010, the company to thank is Maya Mountain Cacao Ltd.
Believing in the power of direct relationship, MMC has implemented a revolutionary way to source high-quality cacao from indigenous Maya smallholder farmers in Belize. Their mission is to provide high-quality cacao that is the result of organic and innovative farming techniques, prosperous farming communities, sustainable agroforestry and ethical trade practices. To achieve this goal, every aspect of the production is supervised by MMC teams that operate at four different levels: field, quality, buying and administrative.
Maya Mountain Cacao is sister to Cacao Verapaz, company operating in Guatemala on the same sustainable business model. They both belong under Uncommon Cacao. Transparent supply chains that drive maximum value for the farmers while delivering high-quality cacao for the specialty cacao industry. This is the main goal for the co-founder Emily Stone and her team.
MMC sources the majority of its cacao in the Toledo District of southern Belize.
The recipients of this cacao are responsible and ultra-premium chocolate makers that aim to work with extra-fine cacao while contributing to the well-being of both the environment and cacao farmers in developing countries. No surprise that the waiting list for samples from MMC counts more than 100 makers.
Jim & Maureen, owner of Zak’s Chocolate in Scottsdale, Arizona say:
“We feel privileged to make chocolate using cacao from Maya Mountain Cacao in Belize for two main reasons. First, there are uniquely wonderful, complex natural flavors in this Belizean heirloom cacao. Second, this cacao gives us a true connection between people, place & product that comes through our direct trade relationships and in the actions of MMC environmentally, socially and economically”.
Glenn Petriello, founder of Glennmade Craft Chocolate in Hoboken, New Jersey adds:
“It’s the story behind them. It’s the 300+ shareholder farmers who have worked tirelessly with MMC to improve their yield and their quality over the years. It’s the impact MMC has had on the average annual family income in the Toledo District. It’s the beautifully delicate blackberry notes which would brighten anyone’s day – the result of my first batch with beans from their 2015 harvest.”
Thanks to Maya Mountain Cacao many US and European chocolate makers can now enjoy the pleasure of working with such precious beans, and chocolate consumers are equally enthusiastic of the results.
How do YOU like chocolate made with fine cacao from belize?
I did NOT get paid and did NOT receive any kind of favor for writing this article. These are my honest opinions at your service.