Portrait of an Eco-Entrepreneur and Friend.
The journey to this amazing cacao started with a friendship. In the spring of 2014, I explored the ancient cacao land and rainforests of Tabasco and Chiapas in Southern Mexico with my good friend Hugo. We visited the homes and farms of Zoque and Tzotzil families in the Selva Zoque rainforest and we soon realized that if harvested, fermented and dried with craft, the local ancient cacao with its rich terroir could become an authentic original bean. Over mole and tacos in the local food markets, we soon developed a vision for a unique conservation-cacao project designed to help the indigenous cacao farmers grow exquisite cacao in harmony with the rainforest that they call their home. And what an amazing journey it has been since then!
Today we are at the fermentadora, where the fermentation, drying and quality control of the fresh cacao beans takes place. We pour the freshly harvested cacao beans into the fermentation boxes and taste the cacao juice that is squeezed from the fruit-pulp that encases the cacao beans and that runs through the holes in the fermentation boxes. The cacao juice will start fermenting immediately in this heat, but we enjoy it while it’s fresh and sweet.
The farmers hike up to 4 hours uphill to harvest the cacao fruits in their cacaotales. The cacao beans – still in their sweet fruity pulp – are then bought in the villages by Agrofloresta and thereafter brought directly to this fermentadora. The beans typically ferment for five to six days in Tabebuia wood boxes and closely monitored fermentation harnesses the flavour potential that the local cacao strains offer. Sugar levels, temperatures and atmospheric conditions are tracked throughout the fermentation. The beans are thereafter dried on elevated trays inside tunnels that guarantee a good slow sun drying.
We taste the latest harvest of cacao beans: deep and rich, with notes of lychee and coconut. I am so proud and I tell Hugo. I have always had an amazing time with this guy, while travelling through the mountains and forests of Chiapas and Tabasco. Long nights talking about poetry and life’s wonders, laughing over a bottle of good artisanal mezcal. Long days working in the cacaotales. He is always smiling and exploring, while keeping the head high and the vision clear. He is a visionary conservationist and agronomist. A man who has dedicated his life to helping the indigenous peoples of the Selva Zoque improve their lives and revive their ancient traditions and cultures. His obsession with flowers tells so much about him. It’s an honour to work with you, my friend.
Photos by: Jacqueline Dersjant – PHTGRPHR