There’s a certain level of excitement you get when you know that after six years of making chocolate and never having a seen a cacao pod in ‘real life’, you’re going to be able to go and visit a cacao growing region to see first-hand the process from tree to fermented and then sun-dried cacao bean.
This dream came alive last month with a trip to Kokoa Kamili, a premium cacao producer in Tanzania. Kokoa Kamili is situated within the Kilombero Valley, about a 10 – 15hr drive from Dar es Salaam. Trying to leave Dar es Salaam after a night of heavy downpour was quite an experience with washed out roads and backed up traffic. In true Dar style nothing came to a halt: motorbikes and bicycles still making their way through the water to get to their destination. Dar es Salaam really is a fascinating and diverse place to walk around in and the Kariakoo area where I stayed the night before even more so.
After eventually getting out of Dar, the surrounding landscape became sparser as we made our way toward Mikumi National Park which is dissected by the road leading to the Kilombero Region and our destination. After Mikumi the landscape really started to change and become much more tropical with lots of banana and mango trees along the side of the road, an indication the cacao trees were not far. Cacao trees only grow within 20 degrees of the equator, they love the tropical environment and generally prefer to grow under taller trees that they can get shade from.
The trip also coincided with two experienced chocolate makers from America visiting. Greg from Dandelion Chocolate and Ryan from Parliament Chocolate were incredibly helpful answering questions and discussing the future of chocolate. Greg and Ryan are both very passionate about the sourcing of ethical cacao and the future of chocolate toward being more sustainable and fair to the farmers, something Kokoa Kamili are equally passionate about.
As mentioned on their website, Kokoa Kamili is “ethically sourced, centrally fermented, organic cocoa from the heart of Tanzania”. It was amazing to see what a great job Simran and Brian from Kokoa Kamili are doing in Tanzania, not only with regards to the quality of the cacao beans but also down to the exchange with local farmers. Kokoa Kamili source from up to 3500 local farmers buying anything from 1kg upwards of ‘wet’ cacao beans from individual farmers.
Wet cacao beans are the fresh beans from a cacao pod and still need to be fermented and dried before being able to be used to make chocolate. We’ll explain in more detail in a blog post next month about the specific processes involved in getting to a dried cacao bean and the importance of fermentation of the bean to produce the amazing chocolate flavour profiles that so many chocolate makers are producing.